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Totally Non-Non-Non-Partisan Dude!
Brandon Gryde, Director of Government Affairs, OPERA America
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Original Content4/4/2012

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Believe me — I completely understand. I, too, have friends on Facebook who continue to post political memes. These posts beget even more ridiculous comments from their friends, ones that make online super contributors sound intelligent. The comments can rile you so much that you believe yourself to be the only person capable of setting these individuals straight.

But before you add your obviously rational voice to the discussion and inform your friends-of-friends of their comment's inaccuracies, PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOU'RE NOT POSTING TO YOUR OPERA COMPANY'S FACEBOOK ACCOUNT.

During an election year, emotions run high; candidates from both parties, eager to increase their media exposure, tend to make extreme statements. This makes it even easier to get caught up on the fracas.

It's important to remember that arts advocates are not only lobbying for increased appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts. We're also working on policies for tax, technology, education and international exchange. When entering a congressional office, we arrive focused on the issue, not the party. This is so important because supporters for any of these issues may sit on either side of the aisle, making it crucial that we not burn bridges.

Below are a few helpful tips to make sure that your political opinions don't undermine your advocacy capital during campaign season:

  • Keep your personal politics at arm's length from your professional life.
    A recent article in The NonProfit Times states that the IRS investigated more than 250 organizations in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 election cycles, "including 16 cases where it found that an 'organization endorsed candidates on its website through links on the website.'" These are not the eyes that we hope will be attracted to our opera company's social media.
  • Continue to engage your community in the issues that impact our field.
    Keeping your constituency — staff, stakeholders, audiences and even candidates — talking about issues, rather than politics, helps keep everyone working towards goals, regardless of party lines.
  • Encourage your staff and coworkers to participate in the election process.
    Engaging colleagues in the process in fine but, outside of the "I Voted" sticker, they should keep all other campaign materials at home and not in their office.
  • Congratulate the winners.
    All of them. Remember, it's important to already have a relationship in place before you need to ask for something. In fact, make sure that you maintain your relationships with your elected officials who were not up for election.

As nonprofits, we receive a number of tax benefits. Along with those benefits comes the requirement  to act in a non-partisan manner, while still advocating for issues important to the performing arts. Once again, OPERA America is serving as a National Co-Sponsor for Arts Advocacy Day 2012. In March, updated issue briefs will be posted in the advocacy section on OPERA America's website. These briefs will include a background on the issues, an update on current policy and talking points that help individuals make their case. They are a great resource when visiting, writing and calling your elected officials. (Are you attending Arts Advocacy Day or planning on being in Washington, D.C. on April 16 and 17? Contact the government affairs office to connect with others in opera.)

Would you like to learn more about lobbying and advocacy? Visit the Performing Arts Alliance (OPERA America is a founding member) to read Advocacy Basics for Performing Arts Organizations.

For an in-depth overview of what nonprofits can and can't do during an election year, visit Nonprofit Vote and register for their free webinar on March 22.

If you have additional questions about what your opera company can do during the election, or you would like to schedule a visit with your Congressional leaders, please contact OPERA America's government affairs office at any time: 202-375-7523 or BGryde@operaamerica.org.
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