Advocacy — effectively making the case for public diplomacy in legislative, policy, and public circles — is central to our work. PDC President Sherry Mueller and Board Member Michael McCarry laid out the imperative in this post on our blog. The advocacy toolkit provided here is intended to assist PDC members who wish to engage with officials in the federal government or your own states and communities.
Our approach to advocacy
Like so much else in life, successful advocacy is based on relationships. When we need advice about a new tax accountant, a plumber, or a better way to roast a chicken, we most often turn to a trusted relative, friend or neighbor.
Policy makers in Congressional offices and federal agencies work the same way. They get plenty of unsolicited policy suggestions, but like the rest of us, they most value input from people they know and trust.
Advocating with your congressional representatives
Congress is a great example. When you ask a Member of Congress to cast a vote to support your preferred outcome, you are asking them to invest a bit of their political capital. Are they likely to make that investment for a stranger?
Therefore, an effective advocate needs to build a relationship with a Congressional office.
If you are advocating about an aspect of public diplomacy, the Congressional staffer you need to know is your Member’s foreign affairs legislative assistant (LA in Hill parlance).
It is easy to identify these staffers. Just call the Washington office of your Representative or Senator, and ask to speak with the foreign affairs LA. You’ll likely be asked to identify yourself and why you are calling, and you’ll then get to talk with the LA or his/her voice mail.
- House of Representatives, Members by State and District: https://www.house.gov/representatives
- The Senate, Members by State and by Committee: https://www.senate.gov/senators/index.htm
You can find the phone numbers of individual offices on Members websites. You can also call the U.S. Capitol switchboard to be connected with Senate and House offices:
- House switchboard: 202-225-3121 | Senate switchboard: 202-224-3121
Here are the committees that focus on foreign affairs and public diplomacy. Members changed with the Congress’ new session in 2021.
House Foreign Affairs Committee:
Once you get the office on the phone, make note of the LA’s name, because having the name will give you the email address in most cases. Here are hypothetical addresses for illustration.
- House email convention: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Senate email convention: email@example.com
There will be a few cases where staffers will customize their names in the email address, but in most cases, these formulae will work. You can also confirm the email address with the staffer or the receptionist.
When you reach out to a House or Senate staffer, make sure you have something substantive to discuss. Staffers are exceptionally busy and they may not find value in a ‘getting to know you’ conversation. But if you have an issue to address, they’ll listen. And, working in some relevant personal questions –
- Are you from the state/district?
- How did you happen to get the foreign affairs portfolio (international relations major, study abroad, other overseas experience)?
— can help build connections.
All the foregoing comes with a caveat — most Hill staffers are young, talented, and upwardly mobile. Job turnover is continual, and as you start down the advocacy path, know that you are likely to find yourself meeting a new foreign affairs LA every 18 months or so.
Writing to your representative
Use the link below to access the ‘Find Your Representative’ section of the House website
This link is useful even if you know your Member, because it takes you to an online form into which you can paste your letter.
Please note that e-mail (not postal) is the best way to write to Congressional offices. Since the anthrax scare, postal mail to Congress has been irradiated, which dramatically slows down delivery.
Congressional offices much prefer e-mail, because it allows them to better manage and understand their correspondence. They can sort messages by issue, more easily measure popular sentiment on particular topics, and exclude mail from outside their state or district.
Leveraging the media
Short pieces in local media that are relevant to your issue can inform and persuade legislative staff and others. The PD Council’s Facebook page shares media stories and opinions. If you’re on Facebook, make sure to like https://www.facebook.com/PublicDiplomacyCouncil so that updates will appear on your feed.
You can also write a letter to the editor of your local paper on your issue – great if it gets printed, but if not, you can still send it— “Here’s a letter I submitted to The Daily Bugle on the issue” can amplify your message.
And if it’s hard to break into print in your media market, you could write and post a piece on the PD Council blog. That will give you a permanent link that you can forward. To submit an article, write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Advocacy and the Council’s nonprofit status
Advocacy is consistent with the Council’s 501c(3) status. Under IRS definitions, as long as a nonprofit is not advocating for or against a specific piece of legislation, or rallying grassroots support for its desired outcome, it is not lobbying. Nonprofits may not endorse candidates. But as long as nonprofits are educating policy makers without pursuing specific legislative outcomes, they are in compliance with IRS standards. See the attached Fact Sheet about IRS regulations pertaining to advocacy by nonprofits.
Additional Readings and Reference Sources
For information on budgets and programs across U.S. public diplomacy and the U.S. Agency for Global Media, see the Comprehensive Annual Report from the Advisory Commission.
Reports from the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy
For background on U.S. exchanges and cultural programs
Key Topics on State Department Educational and Cultural Affairs
For information about State Department external partners for exchanges
Alliance for International Exchange
Public Diplomacy Council’s statement of priorities for the Biden Administration, published November 29, 2020
10 tips for making the perfect pitch (about anything)
A calculator for the economic impact of arts and culture organizations
Article by Dr. Sherry Mueller, PD Council President, on using advocacy to shape public policy, with a case study