Advocating to Public Officials and Candidates

RACC’s suggestions for participating in a candidate forum

Below are some ideas for questions to ask at your local candidate or council forum!  If you attend a candidate or council forum in your community, take along this list of questions and ask one. Note that, depending on the format of the forum, you may be required to submit your question in writing in advance.

  • What three things would you do to deepen the City’s investment in its creative economy (cultural tourism, in-direct and direct jobs, nonprofit and for profit)?
  • How would you champion modifications to, or expansion of the City’s current funding stream for local arts and culture and how does the regional cultural plan support this?
  • What do you believe the role of the Mayor/ City Council should be in the development and support of the region’s cultural infrastructure?
  • How would you support the City of Portland’s Equity Initiatives which is aimed at increasing representation, diversity, and access for all people? How is that reflected in the arts and culture?

After you attend the forum, be sure tell us about your experience demonstrate our collective power on social media by tagging @regionalarts on Instagram and Twitter and using the hashtags:
















Goals, tips, and how-to’s for effectively working with public officials

  • Advocacy is defined as the active support of an idea or cause, including the act of informing an individual, group, or body about an issue.
  • Advocacy is not the same as lobbying.  Lobbying is defined as a direct communication with a public official in reference to a specific piece of legislation, with a request to support or oppose that legislation.
  • Effective advocacy is always POSITIVE!
  • Telling our story. Telling your story.

  • It’s all about building relationships and thinking long term.  It’s not just about this campaign or initiative, but any/all campaigns and initiatives in the future.
  • If you are an advocate, you are a leader, and you are a part of a collective group of leaders with a shared vision
  • Have one, strong, clear ASK.  The ASK must be consistent and cohesive with your messaging and overall campaign.  Make sure the official knows exactly what you are asking for
  • You should have no longer than a 5 minute version of your campaign story, including the ASK, for any interaction.  Keep it concise
  • Know your issue inside and out, and think big – who will it benefit, what resources will it take, how will it happen.
  • Know all sides of the story and be ready to “steal thunder”
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your target.  What does official X care about?  What are his/her priorities?  How does your ASK fit into that?
  • Understand the political spectrum – federal, state, county, municipal – how does your official fit into the bigger picture?
  • If you are meeting with your official in person, don’t overwhelm them by bringing too many people.  4 people tops.
  • Be professional and respectful.  They need to see you as someone they want to work with.
  • Again, building relationships is the MOST important thing.  Keep in touch after the meeting – send a thank you note, invite them to events, send them updates of your work, put them on our mailing list, etc.

  • Invite them to speak at an event (and put it on well)
  • Generate letters-to-the-editors/Op-Eds on your issue in the official’s local paper
  • Invite them to speak at a press conference
  • Do a postcard/petition signing campaign addressed to that official – this doesn’t have to be and in most cases shouldn’t be confrontational
  • Schedule a lobby meeting with them and bring a diverse group of stakeholders (no more than 4 total)
  • Go to candidate’s/decision-maker’s events
  • Hold a thank-you campaign when they do something in our interest.  i.e. phone calls, postcards, or emails
  • Send them periodic reports on your work/org, and/or press clips

Most public meetings have a public comment period, with presentations often limited to 2 to 3 minutes each.  This short time is your opportunity to give the Board a unique perspective on your issue and ask for/affirm their support.

  • Often you’ll need to sign up beforehand with your name and address. Look for the secretary when you get to the meeting.  You can usually find them at a table to the side of the Board.
  • Make sure your register with the Clerk and they know how to announce your name.
  • Let them know if you need any accessible accommodations.
  • Provide a printed copy of your remarks for public record. Make sure you have one for yourself ( larger print)
  • Introduce yourself and give your pronoun.
  • Begin your remarks by acknowledging the Board and thanking them for the opportunity to speak.  If they have been good on our issue in the past, acknowledge and thank them for their leadership.
  • Keep it short.  You want to be as effective in your 2 minutes as possible
  • Practice your presentation beforehand so that you can focus on conveying your passion instead of just saying the words.
  • Tell your unique personal story.  What is your perspective?  Parent? Teacher? Student? Artist?
  • End with a clear ask and make sure that it is solution-oriented and POSITIVE.
  • Thank them again.


  • To convince the target to support our position (short term)
  • To build access and credibility (long term)
  • To educate the target about our issue and our group (both)

When lobbying, there are a few key opportunities we have to realize our goals.

  • To provide information – documentation of the problem, proposals for the solution, info on what different groups are doing, etc
  • To gather information – what else they are hearing, competing priorities, opposition (likely irrelevant for Arts Ed)
  • To provide hero opportunities – give them a chance to be a leader on the issue, to get credit for doing the right thing


  • Public officials are in positions of power. Even if they aren’t taking the position we want on our issue, always treat them with respect
  • School Board members are elected by their constituents. Even though we should be confident that there is broad support for Arts Ed, we don’t want to sound threatening about who we represent

  • Bring materials – fact sheets, reports, organization info
  • Learn as much about the decision maker as possible beforehand
  • Know your issue inside and out – have stats and facts to back it up
  • Have a clear goal
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Take notes
  • It’s about building relationships, so schmoozing is just as important as presenting info
  • All persuasion is self-persuasion.  They have to believe that what we’re asking them to do is the right thing to do
  • If you don’t know an answer, just say so.  Don’t make anything up or make any false promises
  • Follow up!

Tips on how to prepare for a meeting with a Board member 

A good campaign story is just that - the story of your campaign. We want people to go on an emotional journey with you – feeling the depth of the problem, the excitement of the solution, and the motivation to be a part of it.

Having a concise and compelling campaign story is critical to every part of the campaign process – recruiting new volunteers, coalition members, getting media coverage, and advocating to decision-makers.

Be ready with different versions – the 2 minute version, the 5 minute version, and the extended version. Different situations will call for different versions. For example, a media call will require a very short version, a presentation to a potential coalition partner may take a little longer, and a coffee meeting with a board member could allow enough time to go into detail.


Context - What is the background that led you to choose your current campaign?

Challenge – What is the challenge that you are currently facing with your issue? Start big and broad and bring it down to specifics. Example: Big – Public education system not producing as competitive a workforce as other global economies. High drop out rate locally. Specific – Our school district only has xx amount of Arts teachers to xx amount of students.

Solution – Again, think broad and get more specific. Think of every possible solution. Big solution – Arts Education for every child to help foster a sense of self-discipline and expression. Specific – hire a full-time arts coordinator for the district and allocate 5% of budget to arts ed.  Having a well-defined solution is the foundation upon which your advocacy will be built. Advocacy should always be solution-oriented and positive.

Objective – Here is where you start to build the actual work you’ll do. Out of the wealth of solutions you've thought of, you want to pick a specific objective. Things to consider.

  • The objective allows you to have a unified vision and focus, and quantify your work
  • When setting your objective, consider the lay-of-the-land of the District – climate, players, competing priorities
  • Is it realistic/feasible? What resources will it take?
  • Is it challenging enough to compel involvement and enable leadership development and group building?

Strategies – These are the methods by which you will realize your objective. More than one strategy is best, but too many will be less effective. Aim for 2-4. Also consider your human resources in choosing campaign strategies. Example – educate Board members on the importance of Arts Ed infrastructure, demonstrate overwhelming public support for the arts initiative or position, build a diverse coalition of community stakeholder groups.

Tactics – these are the specific to-dos within each strategy. If the strategy is to educate the Board, the tactics could be to do a survey, and/or a forum event. Be specific. It’s not enough to say “Hold a forum event” but rather “get 50 attendees to a forum event” Then you can plan where you’ll find those 50 people.

  • Set goals for every piece. There is the overall goal of the campaign, but each strategy and tactic should have specific goals as well to guide our work.
  • Think about the lay-of-land in the District. Who are the players, what are the competing priorities, what’s the political and social climate, what is the current state of the Arts Ed program and how did it come to be that way?
  • Make sure all goals are feasible – if you can’t think of specific tactics to get you to your goal, it may be worth revisiting
  • Be specific! Don’t just say “get media coverage” but rather “get 5 letters-to-the-editor printed and one feature story”
  • Make sure there is a story to every piece of the campaign. Why did you choose these goals? How are the specific tactics you chose going to help us win? Make sure there are no arbitrary goals or numbers.
  • Keep it positive!  Advocacy is about solutions.  it can be easy to fall into the habit of belaboring the problem and using anger to rally people.  It's not enough to understand the problem.  Proposing specific solutions and approaching a campaign with positivity is key to success.

Now that you have your story, the next step is to plan it into a timeline.


  • Plan Backward from Goals and set Dates
  • Use benchmark goals to track progress and keep the group motivated
  • Set times to check in your plan and goals and make sure we’re on track.  Make adjustments where necessary
  • Extract priorities from the plan

In order to execute your campaign most effectively, it is best to divide the work up into specific roles.  This also enables you to build leaders and get more people involved.

How to Create Meaningful Roles

  • Keep leadership development and individual learning in mind – is the role challenging enough while still being realistic for 1 person?
  • Does the role capitalize on a person’s skills, experiences and interests while still offering them room to grow and learn?
  • Is it clear how the role fits into the overall campaign, and with whom that person will be working and how?
  • Make sure the role has its own specific goals and timeline

(RACC acknowledges much of this Advocacy Tool Kit and information is inspired from Arts for LA)