Top Tips for Nervous Advocates

Every March, we organize Humanities Advocacy Day to ensure that Members of Congress hear from their constituents about the value of federal funding for the humanities. For first time advocates, walking through the marble halls of the Rayburn House Office Building, the Hill’s largest congressional office building, can be intimidating. And meeting with your Member of Congress to ask them for millions of dollars for the National Endowment for the Humanities can be even more so.

As we gear up for this year’s Humanities Advocacy Day, we’ve asked some of our more seasoned advocates for their top advocacy tips to help put new advocates’ minds at ease and, perhaps, convince those on the fence to join us for Humanities Advocacy Day.

  1. Do your homework. Jill Mannor, communications coordinator at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities at Northwestern University advises new advocates to take the time to research local grants on both the NEH’s grants database and on their state humanities council’s website: “I found the most effective tactic was to mention something that had been funded by the NEH in [the Member of Congress’] district. [This] always made ears perk up and notes [were] taken. This involves some homework from the NEH database, since many Members/staffers don’t realize that their local libraries and historical societies get grants to preserve local heritage and cultural/historical collections.”

  2. Plan ahead with your group. Attend the advocacy group meeting on Monday afternoon and use that time to plan with your group how you are going to approach each meeting. “It definitely works better if you decide as a group who will start the discussion. We always defer to a person who is in the Member’s district for this role. We usually decide who will pop in with specific examples (of NEH impact in their district) and/or who will ask about the Dear Colleague Letter, or tell them about the Congressional Humanities Caucus, etc. It makes the conversation flow much more smoothly and it’s more interesting if more people get to talk,” Mannor said. Mannor also shared that it's a good idea to share cell phone numbers that way it is easy to keep in contact throughout the day on Tuesday.

  3. Make a personal connection. Kathryn Sloan, the director of the humanities and professor of history at the University of Arkansas stated that she always tried to start meetings by making a personal connection with the staffer or Member she was meeting with: “I always start with small talk and then launch into the NEH discussion. I try to bring up something that they mentioned last time we visited or talk about one of their staffers and interns, who is usually a University of Arkansas graduate.”

  4. Put it all in perspective. Sloan, whose Members of Congress are all fiscal conservatives, said that “when Members would bring up needing to cut the budget, I put the NEH budget in perspective to the total budget. It made them laugh and I think get the point.”

  5. Don’t be nervous. “I learned not to be so nervous – all of the people are in this work because they care about public policy, whether they share your viewpoints or not. The staffers' jobs are to be the ears/eyes for their Member, and they are all intelligent and dutiful in listening,” Mannor shared.

Still on the fence? We will have several training sessions throughout the day on Monday where we will discuss these tips and many more and answer any lingering questions you might have about advocating for the humanities on Capitol Hill. Have we convinced you to join us? Register here. We hope to see you in March!


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