What is Advocacy?

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Advocacy is on-going relationship building. Arts organizations must be diligent in building and maintaining good communication with arts agencies, legislators, and local officials.

Nonprofit organizations have a responsibility and a right to advocate on behalf of their constituents. Citizen participation and citizen action is essential to democracy.

  • Advocacy: Direct efforts to persuade policymakers to take legislative action; general efforts aimed at advancing a point of view.
  • Lobbying: Activities aimed at influencing members of a lawmaking body on legislation.

Government advocacy in the nonprofit arts simply means expressing a viewpoint to policymakers to try to positively influence the arts in America. Elected public officials owe their jobs to voting citizens, and the law promotes lobbying by nonprofits. Lawmakers want to hear from voters, and they expect “regular people” to lobby, not political or technical experts. Whether policymakers are for or against an important issue, citizens have the ability to speak their mind and show where they stand. Arts organizations generally enjoy good standing in their communities, and as a constituent who speaks on behalf of an arts organization, officials will be more inclined to either meet with you or personally respond to your letters.

Orchestras can and should lobby, as lobbying is just another term for freedom of speech. If orchestras do not lobby legislators, we are inviting our opponents to be the only voices heard. Vital areas of legislation (including National Endowment for the Arts and arts education funding, immigration requirements for foreign guest artists, postal subsidies, and tax issues) have a tremendous impact on the arts, and it is up to arts supporters and organizations to advocate for the field at large.

Trustees, professional staff, volunteers, musicians, and patrons are voters, community stakeholders and arts supporters. Not only are they very familiar with the orchestras in their community, they may have connections to the government or the media that could be politically valuable.

Community coalitions may also be formed to promote the artistic values your organization shares with partner organizations. Identifying local institutional partners will likely span disciplines, budget sizes and audiences, but common policy concerns are what will ultimately create a unified front. Keep in mind that bringing up areas of disagreement (especially in a meeting with a legislator) is not a good idea. Find consensus on matters of importance and advocate together on these common issues.

Click here for more information on advocacy versus lobbying. 

Questions? Contact us at [email protected].