Monday, September 27, 2010

Museum Advocacy 101

Today, I had the privilege of attending AAM’s free webinar on Museum Advocacy, which was led by outside consultant, Stephanie Vance. There were many useful tips for how to get started with advocacy, and I’ve consolidated some of them that were particularly useful to smaller institutions. Let me know what you think!

Why Is Advocacy Important?
I already knew that over a quarter of many small museums’ funding comes from the government – especially from the local level. (See Museum Financial Information 2009, Elizabeth E. Merritt and Philip M. Katz, Eds., The AAM Press, 2009) To retain and possibly increase that funding and to remain relevant to elected officials, we need to let them know that we’re important.
  • Do they know how you’re enriching students’ educational experiences?
  • Do they know about the rich treasure trove of programming you provide?
  • Do they understand the importance of the cultural heritage you are preserving?
  • Do they know what will happen if your museum ceases to exist?!
As one of my colleagues says, “Museums have great show and tell.” So – get out there, museums, and strut your stuff!

The Rules: What You Can Do
As a non-profit/501c3, your museum can promote advocacy and lobby candidates and elected officials. Your museum can also encourage voter registration.

As a private citizen, you can do whatever you want within the scope of the law, including promoting a particular candidate. Just make sure it’s separate from your museum persona!

The Rules: What You Can’t Do
No electioneering! Do not single out candidates or officials.
Remain non-partisan at all times.

Simple Ideas for Local Advocacy
  • Add legislative officials to mailing and email lists. Invite them to your events on a regular basis.
  • Conduct candidate surveys. Use free survey software, like or, to send short surveys to candidates about their work with and views upon museums. Share those results. Just make sure you share everyone’s results, so as not to appear to be singling people out.
  • Remind your visitors, members, volunteers, trustees, and other stakeholders to vote! Make voter registration information available at your museum (and maybe on your website).
  • While you’re at it, let your visitors, members, volunteers, trustees, and other stakeholders know about issues that are important to your museum (e.g. funding concerns). This can also be spearheaded by your trustees and/or volunteers.
  • Create a free online petition at According to Ms. Vance, a recent petition helped raise over 10,000 signatures towards a monument in Las Vegas. Is there an issue regarding your museum you’d like to see supported?
  • Volunteer. You’ll learn even more about the electoral process by volunteering on election day as a judge.
  • Host a reception for elected officials. Your museum can host events for candidates, if the museum’s officials stay out of it, but that can be tricky waters to navigate. But you can invite people to the museum for an event learning more about your site and the issues that are important to you.
  • Attend AAM’s Museum Advocacy Day! Check out for more information. You can also attend their webinars – for FREE! – learn more here.


Okay, now it’s your turn! Tell us what you’re doing in advocacy and how it’s worked out for your museum.

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