Small Museum Association

Small Museums Working Together

Small Museum Advocacy 101


Why Is Advocacy Important for Small Museums?

Many museums think that advocacy isn’t crucial. However, if you receive any funding from any level of government – or would like to receive funding from them – you need to let them know you are important. 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). While it’s true that you may not receive funding, you will never receive funding if you don’t let your legislators know who you are and what you do. Do your elected officials:

  • Know how you’re enriching students’ educational experiences?
  • Know about the rich treasure trove of programming you provide?
  • Understand the importance of the cultural heritage you are preserving?
  • Know what will happen if your museum ceases to exist?!
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 (and often free) 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 www.Zoomerang.com or www.Surveymonkey.com, 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 www.citizenspeak.org. According to advocacy guru Stephanie 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 www.speakupformuseums.org for more information. You can also attend their webinars – for FREE! – learn more here.
 
Online Resources
www.speakupformuseums.org 
www.ballot.org
www.congress.org
www.opensecrets.org
www.vote-smart.org
www.independentsector.org/election-resources 
  
Print Resources
Silberglied, Gail Ravnitzky, Speak Up for Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy, The AAM Press, 2011


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