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What a School Theatre Association Teaches Us About Advocacy During Lean Times

Associations, Community Strategy // We chatted with Hans Weichhart, Chief Membership Officer at school theatre association EdTA, about how they grow and activate their strong member network - and how they did it even during lean times.

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Associations of all kinds met tougher challenges than they’d ever faced before during and immediately after the pandemic. But what if you were an association whose membership has always been challenged with cuts and threats of cuts to their funding and operations, pandemic or no pandemic? Welcome to the world of trying to run a vibrant theatre program in schools. In an episode of Higher Logic’s Member Engagement Show, we found out how just such an association not only survived but thrived even in difficult areas like inspiring grassroots advocacy.

The Guest

Name: Hans Weichhart

Who They Are: Hans Weichhart is Chief Membership Officer for the Educational Theatre Association. The association serves both as a professional association for theatre teachers and as an international honor society for students grades 6-12. They also have the Educational Theatre Foundation, which serves as the fundraising arm. The association operates in all 50 states and 13 countries around the world.

How to Reach Hans: LinkedIn

Episode Takeaways

Best Advice:

“The best primary means of communication to get people invested in what you’re talking about is storytelling. It’s the oldest art form there is, as well as the most effective way to get human beings to feel an emotion about something, which subsequently gets them to care. That kind of human-to-human interaction bridges language, cultural, religious, geographic, and socioeconomic divides. Convincing with logic always loses out to pulling people in with emotive storytelling.” – Hans Weichhart

What’s going on with arts funding post-pandemic

“In general, it’s always under constant threat. And when times get tough, it’s the first thing to get cut. Theatre teachers are the only one at their school and have to self-support programs through tickets and concessions. When live events got put on hold, theatre programs saw funding vanish. We’ve been working really hard to find ways through our foundation to sustain programs.”

How to know which issues to advocate for

“We have an advocacy leadership network, a volunteer-led committee of members responsible for advocacy efforts. That’s led by a longtime staff member. We don’t have paid lobbyists. We work with members to develop strong, self-sustaining advocates. The issues that are most important to our members are federal, state, and local funding for the arts, so for us that’s been pretty clear.”

The secret for associations with student members

“If I walk in with a group of students to meet with a congressperson or legislator, they ignore me. It doesn’t matter what I say. But they want to hear from the students. They’re able to make an impact that adults just can’t. They’re the ones being directly affected.”

How to find members who will participate in grassroots efforts

“We’re unique in that theatre students are a tight knit, passionate group. They belong to an all-encompassing, accepting community. But the best way to get members involved is member to member. You need to establish a strong member leadership program then foster it. It’s up to us to help and provide resources so members can succeed in their grassroots efforts.”

The attraction of an active community for building advocates

“We get to go on and monitor what’s being talked about in the community every day. You’ll see anything from, ‘Hey, I’m doing Wizard of Oz. How did you make the wicked witch melt?’ to ‘My school board just passed a policy restricting what we’re doing. What should I do?’ It’s remarkable to see members coming to each other’s aid. We also have a strong emeritus community of retired theatre teachers and teaching artists. And we have exhibitors who are active. They can answer things like licensing questions.”

Listen to the full conversation over on the Member Engagement Show.

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