Arts North Carolina

Advocacy 101

Click Here for the Advocacy 101 handout

Advocacy can be defined as empowered citizens changing an elected official’s perception of the arts from “nice” to “essential”. Nice is expendable. Essential gets support, no matter the economic circumstances. Advocacy is necessary for the arts to thrive and is a core responsibility of arts supporters.

Lobbying is attempting to influence specific legislation related to budget or policy. Lobbying cannot happen without advocacy. Even nonprofit arts organizations can lobby. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies states, “The federal tax law defines lobbying specifically and narrowly as a communication with a legislator in reference to a specific piece of legislation with a request to support or oppose that legislation.” NASSA information further explains that charities have been allowed to spend no more than 5% of total expenditures on lobbying. However, if the non-profit organization files a 501(h) provision with the IRS they are allowed expenditures of up to 20% of their annual budget for their lobbying activities. If you are still uncertain, visit Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest website at

When asked how she learned to weave, one of North Carolina’s old-timers replied, “Well, honey, the learnin’s in the doin’.” Advocacy does not require innate talent or a law degree. The more you advocate the better you become. It is an enjoyable experience to know you have made a positive difference. Take the first step, and never stop being an advocate for the arts.

First Things First – “The time to make a friend of an elected official is before the election.”

  • Know who is running for office
         Arts North Carolina Election Portal –
                      2014 Election Portal
  • If you know the candidate, set a meeting
  • If you do not know the candidate, write a letter
  • Express your views of the role of government in arts funding and policy
  • Volunteer for the campaign
  • Contribute to the election
  • Attend an election event and ask questions related to the candidate’s position on the arts

After the Election
Advocates in Action

  • Write a letter of congratulations.
          Tell the elected official you look forward to working with them
          on arts issues.
  • Make sure elected officials are invited to all arts events.
          Create a special “elected officials” night and recognize
          those attending.
  • Sustain and grow the relationship throughout the year,
          i.e. send a quick, upbeat email when you aren’t asking for anything.
  • Do your homework. “Who knows who” is very important.
          Find close associates of the elected officials who are or might become arts advocates.
  • Take every opportunity to speak for the arts, both publicly and individually.

Advocacy Basics


The most compelling messages are those that are a balance of fact and story. Use “real life” examples from the elected official’s community. Before you can create a strong message to deliver in writing or in person, you need to consider who you are trying to convince. Learn as much as you can about their professional and personal life. Use words and language appropriate to the person, and think of your work as persuasion for the greater good. When you meet, show a genuine interest in their arts experiences or those of their family.
There are five topics that tend to be the most used when building a case for the arts. It’s your choice, and you will tailor your message to where you live and the circumstances of your community. The five issues that make a strong case for the arts and are important topics to government are:
NC Arts Pictures



In the beginning your communications will be focused on developing a relationship and keeping your elected official updated on arts activities and important economic impact data. If the individual is arts inclined, you may need them to work with their peers in support of the arts or better yet, to grow their support to become a “champion” for the arts. If the individual is neutral to arts support, you have the opportunity to make your case because there is strong evidence on how the arts change people, education, and economies. If an individual is opposed to government support for the arts, the smartest action is to find a supporter of the elected official who can help you.

When it is time to make a request, make sure it is specific. Have a follow-up plan to check on the status of the request and to add more support to your case. Organize your community to send support communications for your request through first class mail or personal contact. Email should be used as a last resort.
NC Advocacy Pictures

  • Sign up on Arts North Carolina’s e-mail list to get our Call to Action emails on statewide funding and arts policy issues.
  • Follow Arts North Carolina on Facebook and Twitter. Like us!
  • Check with your local arts council or leading arts organization and see if they have an Advocacy Committee. If not, get a group of like-minded people together and get started. Like other successful endeavors, advocacy requires organization and commitment.
  • Organize an arts advocacy group within a school. Include parents, students, and school personnel.
Constituent relationships with elected officials are the most powerful and effective form of advocacy

Want the Advanced Course?

Check out these 40 Advocacy Action Strategies from National Assembly of State Arts Agencies: