You will be much better positioned to persuade policymakers to support your goals when you've built a solid relationship before you ask for anything. Fostering and maintaining these connections, on the other hand, may be easier said then done. Remember, we're all human, including public leaders. Be honest and straightforward. Make connections based on mutual respect and aligned interests. The ultimate goal is developing champions for arts and culture and the issues closest to your heart.
Research your political contact's positions related to arts and culture and your concerns. Know basics, like which committees they serve on and major assets in their district. Talk to others in your community. Collect a range of perspectives on your political leader’s priorities. Find personal connections your policymaker may have to you and to arts and culture. Think "6 degrees to Kevin Bacon." Although, with the assets we have in Cleveland, a first-degree connection is often all it takes.
Avoid contacting your policymaker only when you need something. Keep in touch regularly and serve as a resource. A great example: keep your eye out for good press clips related to your issues. You may read a letter-to-the-editor from the local paper or find a video profile on an arts organization or an individual artist. Email it with a short note to their office. Help demonstrate that constituents, newspaper editors, and the public are all concerned about arts and culture issues.
Invite them to your events. Send them your stories. Ask for their input. Public leaders are people too.
Policymakers rely a great deal on their staff’s judgment, expertise, and recommendations. Having a good relationship with the staff can be essential to your success.
We can't do it all, as they say. Where possible, find connections your colleagues, Board, staff, volunteers and community partners have with policymakers and their staff (hello LinkedIn). Ask your network to complete an Advocacy Relationship Assessment and build a database of these connections. Those connected individuals may be able to raise your issues with policymakers in a variety of non-traditional settings, and can be called upon to make the ask for you when appropriate.
If your policymakers align a decision with your work, take a minute to call or email their offices and thank them. Even if their efforts ultimately don't achieve the end goal, congratulate them on a step in the right direction. Consider writing a letter-to-the-editor praising their actions and send staff a copy of your submission. This goes for broader legislative issues as well as decisions that impact you directly. If your policymaker has helped you or your organization, encourage your supporters to send “thank you” letters.
If your influencer acts counter to your position, you can politely share your disagreement. Provide information and facts on the potential impact of that decision. Do not say or do anything to damage the relationships or make threats or personal attacks. Think of it as an opportunity to "fail forward." In other words this may be a great time to connect on the issue at hand and turn a disagreement into an information-sharing success for future decision-making. There will be additional opportunities to work together. Clearly convey your interest in continuing your work with them. It's
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