Discussion board

What are your top advocacy tips?
What works well for you when building relationships?


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24.08.2010, 17:41
The main ingredients for advocacy are passion and enthusiasm. All members of staff need to be passionate about the museum, its collections and all the activities and events that take place - and that passion needs to be fed to the stakeholders to make them enthusiastic about the museum. Quoting facts and figures to senior officers, councillors, politicians and funders is all very well and certainly has its place, but to get these stakeholders to care about the museum, you need to get them enthusiastic about what goes on. To do so, you have to involve them.

In our museum we hold regular open evenings for stakeholders, where we serve wine and get them to participate in various activities created for visitors, and especially for children. Over the years our guests have learnt rock 'n roll dancing; taken part in a Victorian lesson; built sandcastles, made scrap-books and painted their own portraits.

Not only does such participation give them a taste of what happens in the museum, but they also get to enjoy themselves and then they become enthusiastic about the museum and its activities. For many of our guests these open evenings have become events ‘not to be missed’ and they have certainly helped senior officers and councillors understand the importance of the museum.
24.08.2010, 17:38
I have some golden rules when it comes to advocacy. The first is to know what you want – whether it’s money, influence, support, sympathy, it’s very hard to fight for it if you don’t know what outcome you’re trying to achieve.

The second is to sell the benefits, not the features. Instead of advocating your museum on the basis of how important it is, or how great the collection is, try putting yourself in the shoes of the person you are trying to influence. What do they want? What inspires them? What can you offer that they really value? It’s amazing how often people waste their time trying to get someone else to see the world their way.

Thirdly, the direct approach is seldom best, whereas if you can get to the people who influence the person you’re trying to convince, then you’re onto a winner. Think about it – how much more likely are you to support something if someone you trust recommends it than if someone comes and shakes a tin at you in the street?

Finally, and this is crucial, always follow the advice of the Charity Commission: know your worth and don’t undersell yourself. Advocacy isn’t about going cap in hand – it’s about giving people an opportunity to work with you to pursue their passion or solve their problem. Enthusiasm and confidence are infectious!
24.08.2010, 17:35
Wales is the first UK nation to publish a museum strategy, so is in the unique position of having a clear framework within which to promote the work museums are doing. The Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales has a clear mandate to advocate for museums in Wales and is currently working to produce an advocacy strategy.

We are fortunate that our political structure allows us more direct access to the Minister for Heritage than our English counterparts have to ministers in Westminster. Whilst we must remain independent and retain the facility to criticise when needed, having this privilege is a tremendous opportunity and it is important to use it wisely. For us this means providing updates about the sector through letters and meetings, whilst also realising that we need to offer our minister assistance to help us, not just expecting to offload our concerns and expecting something to be done. I think this is a key point with advocacy work, it’s about offering something to the other party and helping them to help you.
24.08.2010, 17:32
My top tips for advocacy? 1) Be prepared for change when advocating to organisations: individuals move on/change roles/change lifestyles, and right now we all find ourselves in the middle of a change tsunami with public sector bodies. It is disheartening when your advocacy success depends on a good relationship with one person and then they leave. It is wise to ensure that you have good links in at a variety of levels and that the arguments about your work are clear and evidence-based – understandable by new incumbents, as well as old.

2) Be nice to people on the way down as well as on the way up: you never know where and when they will next turn up!

3) Give it time: good relationships do not materialise overnight, and people will not respond to you if they haven't had the time to get to know you. Invitations (in the right style, using the right contact information and spelling), information (presented in the appropriate format for busy folk) and conversation will all play their part - but don't bombard people!

4) Build alliances: it is often more effective presenting an argument when you are in agreement with colleagues in the sector, rather than just speaking on behalf of your own organisation.

5) Ensure you are presenting the right information in the right way to the right person: do the research you need to be clear about what they’re interested in hearing.

6) Be optimistic: people are more interested in hearing from cheerful people! But be realistic - and never over-egg your evidence. Proof needs to be independent and rock solid on the stats front.
Iain, Assistant Director, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
24.08.2010, 17:26
The scattergun approach to advocacy may make you feel better, but it's not sustainable and probably not effective. Start with who you know and then find out who they know. Concentrate on making personal contacts but make sure you've got something to say to people who you speak to that will make a connection with what they're interested in. Make time to talk to and listen to people and don't expect to be able to influence someone simply by launching some statistics at them - relationship building is important. 'Killer facts' are very useful and good stats always help but even in these straitened times it's worth remembering that storytelling is one of the oldest ways of conveying meaning and people remember stories in a way that they probably don't remember statistics.
Bill, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
24.08.2010, 17:24
Always think about the objectives of your advocacy target and make your points relevant to their agenda. Advocacy that just defends or promotes a particular position rarely works. Backing advocacy with solid evidence is essential and some killer facts help the recipient make the case on your behalf. Its great when you hear your argument repeated back as policy!

Building business relationships is no different than personal ones. Think about what makes the potential partner organisation tick. Relationships are two-way things so demonstrating how your partner benefits from a proposal first can be helpful. Always be honest and transparent, nasty surprises are what kill most business relationships! Bad news must be shared but always with a solution or range of solutions, so that the conversation becomes positive immediately.
24.08.2010, 17:14
We work in museums because we value what museums do and recognise the benefits they can bring. We cannot and should not expect others to share our passion, enthusiasm and commitment and must work constantly to capture and maintain broad support.

Museums are about objects and for people. In the current financial climate, it is vital that sight is not lost of the particular need for public support, capturing it and maintaining it through engaging programmes of exhibitions and events.

What arguments have worked for you when convincing others of the value of museums?

What arguments are likely to work in the future?

How have you convinced others of the case for your museum and how will you do so in the current climate?


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22.07.2010, 11:31
It depends who you are talking to! Arguments are stronger when you are able to appeal to both the head and heart. For example in my community I know that my museum provides a shared space for people to come together, to look at the world differently and to think about the things they value such as the landscape and a sense of shared culture. But I can also prove that our social and training programmes have helped 50 people get jobs in the last year, have provided training for 120 vulnerable adults and have had a palpable benefit to the care of people with mental health problems. You also need others outside your organisation to prove your worth. MEAL was cited in a Commission for Rural Communities report earlier in the year as having a significant impact on economic well-being.

Over the last few years museums have tried to prove that they have impacts in a range of areas; from the economy, to strengthening communities and improving educational attainment in children. While this may be true, we often lack the evidence to prove it beyond the anecdotal. Museums will have to prove beyond doubt that they are good value for money and can contribute to the well-being of their community. The sector needs to embrace sound metrics to go along with the narrative (which we are pretty good at). For example the Association of Independent Museums has recently published a thorough and balanced study of the Economic Impact of Independent Museums. Likewise we need a more robust approach to measuring our social impact. At MEAL we are evaluating two of our social programmes using the Social Return on Investment (SROI) framework. This methodology (which MLA are also keen on) puts financial value on the important impacts identified by stakeholders, that do not have market values, so that you end up with both story and number. The story should show how you understand the value created, manage it and can prove.

Museums might also pay heed to talk of Big Society. We’ve been doing it for years. Volunteering, community building, community involvement with governance - it’s all there. Perhaps any future Renaissance settlement might mirror David Cameron’s Big Society bank: rewarding entrepreneurialism and efforts to encourage community resilience.
22.07.2010, 11:26
Working within a county council, we are finding that the kind of arguments that carry weight amongst elected members and senior officers are those that can either be backed up by powerful statistical evidence or anecdotal evidence that appeals to the heart. Having both in your arsenal can be really helpful. For example, impressive statistics about just how extensively local authority schools use our museums: 'here in Hampshire over 80% of local authority schools use County Council managed museums. Put that together with the work that the fantastic independent museums in the area do with schools and you get the highest proportion of schools using museums of anywhere in the South East.' The messages about the social impact of museums on people's lives have really hit home in the past through case studies featuring individuals, with quotes, and DVDs that include short interviews with people who have benefited from our services. We are now be honing our key messages that demonstrate the economic impact of museums, mainly through tourism, and the great value for money that we provide.
Sally, Public Affairs Manager, The Art Fund
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
22.07.2010, 11:24
Funders always want to know they're getting value for money so clear, hard figures - visitor numbers, on-site spending and so on - are vitally important. But the most persuasive arguments come not from the museum or organisation itself, but from the 'end users' - the visitors: gathering quotes, asking school groups to write about what they learned from the collection or project, asking members or Friends groups to make the case on your behalf. Added together, these can be powerful voices. What persuaded this government to pledge to introduce our long-campaigned-for tax incentive to encourage art donations to museums was not just the facts and statistics we presented, but the letters of support from art owners and philanthropists.
22.07.2010, 11:20
There are so many convincing arguments to support museums; for me the trick is to argue the right case with the right people. Writing an advocacy strategy has been helpful to identify our key arguments and the stakeholders that we need to convince. It’s important to understand the concerns of the stakeholder before trying to argue the case. For example, spending time describing the impressive community cohesion work that you have been doing with urban estates is wasted if the stakeholder’s main interest is rural communities, and could do more harm than good. Knowing our successes and ensuring that those successes are communicated to the right people has helped me to argue the case for the value of Tunbridge Wells Museum.

I think that in the future museums will need to argue that by sharing collections, they can make a unique and positive contribution to local and national agendas and society as a whole. I am currently working on a project, which aims to raise the profile of museums in Kent by tapping into ‘Sense of Place’ and community cohesion agendas. Kentish Delights, funded by Renaissance South East, is a touring exhibition that takes museum objects to the places that people visit – supermarkets, football clubs, pubs and cinemas. By working with non-traditional audiences, venues and partners, we hope to make the argument that the objects in our museums tell a unique story about Kent, one that can’t be told elsewhere.
22.07.2010, 11:17
Some of the successful arguments used by the NMDC (see our publication Museums Deliver) include the unique reach and resonance of museums, from engaging local communities to boosting the UK’s international reputation; the contribution of museums to the UK economy, through the key role they play in tourism, regeneration and the creative industries; and museums’ status as an unparalleled learning resource.

In a climate of cuts across the whole public sector we need to continue to make the case for why museums are unique, but avoid pleading for special treatment. Arguments around the economic and social value of museums will always be important, but we also need to ensure policy makers understand why it is particularly difficult for museums, with their high fixed costs, to absorb large budget cuts, and highlight the potentially irreparable damage that cuts could cause.
22.07.2010, 11:13
Of course it depends who you are talking to. We can talk about the economic benefit/jobs created/other businesses growing on the back of our successes, and so on. We can put some nice snaps of young people engaging with the collections in a glossy report. But for us it’s been the constant singing about the museum’s role in people’s lives that has got us where we are. It really is in the work that we do that the advocacy is apparent, and part of the work is creating a constant din about what we enable. Without the work there would be no din.

What arguments are likely to work in the future? We still need to be constantly building advocacy into our daily work. Is the sector as brilliant as it thinks it is at this? In the current climate we'll have to be able to demonstrate value for money (and be as creative as we can in how we raise and spend our money). And linked to this: we need to demonstrate that we work hard and are focused. In the longer term we've got to show we are really looking at how we work: institutions big and small will need to learn (and keep learning) how to unleash talent better than we do, both inside and outside of our organisations. We must make the most of every opportunity - our traditional models of managing and our structures need to be questioned.

If we maximise our work and our opportunities with advocacy built-in, constantly learning and striving to improve, we'll be fine. The arguments are in the work... it does not matter how sophisticated our advocacy techniques become if the work is not good enough it’s not good enough and folks will see through the gloss.
22.07.2010, 11:02
In the past I have always been able to argue on multiple fronts e.g. social value, educational value etc. I am not sure those arguments are heard now (as the primary motivators for funding) especially when everyone is taking the same pain. We all must respond positively and make efficiencies where they count. If any advocacy is going to work I would hope it is around value for money (for National Museums for every £1 of Government money invested £4.50 is generated) and also our contribution to the recovery, especially within the tourist economy.

What advocacy should we be doing in the post-election period?

The election is over. The Lib-Dem/Conservative coalition government is in power. Cuts are being made. What sort of advocacy should we be doing now?


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28.06.2010, 12:09
We’re still in a position of uncertainty; we’ve heard the broad messages yet the detail of where the axe will fall – and where the opportunities will arise – is lacking. These are difficult times but we know that many of the outcomes we deliver chime with Big Society principles and we need to continue to lobby leaders and opinion formers about the benefits of museums and culture. Those who survive and prosper will be the ones who offer creative, practical and positive solutions, not those who sit and wait - or who hope against hope that no one will notice them.
28.06.2010, 12:06
The last election saw the largest turn over of MPs since the war. With hundreds of new Members, we need to redouble our efforts to build relationships with this next generation of lawmakers. After all, they will be the Culture Secretaries and Prime Ministers of tomorrow.
28.06.2010, 12:03
To quote Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “The first duty of a wise advocate is to convince his opponents that he understands their arguments, and sympathizes with their feelings”. In this post-election period, with government departments and councils facing massive reductions in budgets, the first task of the advocate is to understand the pressure to do more for less… probably much less. Museums need to be asking themselves what purpose they serve and the social and economic value that others would put on this; is there a market for what you’re selling? On 7 June David Cameron said that the new coalition government’s economic measures will ‘change our way of life’ – how can museums help society to hold on to our cultural values?
28.06.2010, 11:54
In a climate of fierce spending pressure, museums’ best argument for receiving public subsidy or attracting other support will be their value for money. Such value might be demonstrated in many ways - the quality of exhibitions, the sharing of collections, the learning that is inspired, the audiences they reach, the volunteers they empower, the investment they lever in. Testimonials from visitors of all ages and backgrounds are far more powerful than anything our sector can say about ourselves. The best way to demonstrate success is to take opportunities to enable decision makers (local MPs and leading councillors for instance) to see the work that is done first hand.
28.06.2010, 09:19
As well as museums advocating for themselves, I think we need to encourage our stakeholders to advocate on our behalf and make statements about how much they value our services. At a time when everybody is going to be engaging in special pleading, organisations with a broad and vocal spectrum of support will be better placed to resist indiscriminate cuts.
Hilary, Director, Visual Arts & Galleries Association
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
22.06.2010, 18:20
There is so much change afoot and a prevailing sense of limbo as one waits for the next pronouncement to fall, but at a local level muster your resources: follow up on all your political contacts - even those who weren’t successful and consolidate relationships; think what the Big Society means for you - how can the arts shape ideas? How can your organisation lead? Demonstrate your public engagement and know what outcomes matter locally. Nationally develop your Lib Dem contacts, it’s such a small party they are all likely to have a relationship with someone of influence within government.
22.06.2010, 18:16
In the immediate post-election, pre-cuts period museums should use every opportunity to emphasise the positive contribution they make. For us it will include: visitors in 2009 up by 48% and how this supports the local economy, learning and wellbeing; the opportunities and achievement flowing from the re-opening of a refurbished museum - visits up, very successful outreach activities and positive engagement with community, local industries, schools and FE; Museums are free - a huge benefit in a time of economic recession.

The achievements have more clout when they are properly evidenced, use statistic, performance indicators, reviews and quotes from partners, local councillors and visitors.
22.06.2010, 18:11
Museums are great. We're great at looking after old things and we're great at helping people get loads of good stuff out of the old things we look after. We help people develop their sense of place, give young people the confidence to learn new skills and gently prompt our visitors to look at the world in a fresh and exciting way. So tell your MP, tell your local councillors, tell anyone that you stop in the street. Grab your local politicians by the hand this summer and drag them into your museum so they can see what great things you do for themselves.
Sandy, Director, National Portrait Gallery
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
22.06.2010, 18:09
Despite the difficulties faced by us all - in terms of the state of public finances - it is vital to keep putting the argument that museums and galleries make a vital contribution to British society and the British economy. Cuts are taking place, but what we all need to avoid is such a diminution in public service that we can no longer provide the displays, exhibitions and activities that will make people want to continue visiting. We have to convince central and local government to avoid such a negative spiral.