The ultimate goal of most representative groups is effective advocacy. What does this mean, you ask? Well, the word advocacy is generally defined as “the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea or policy; providing earnest and active support.” It is the act of speaking on behalf of or in support of another person, place or thing. It is this act that brings about change and fosters initiatives in many different areas of government and on many different levels of management.
The reasons we advocate or lobby for a cause seem simple enough.
- A single person can make a difference. Think of instances where you have influenced another person to make a beneficial decision about the course of their life or health care.
- A group of people can make a greater difference. It is often advocacy that gives rise to organizations with a specific focus, such as the Alzheimer’s Association.
- People can change laws. History gives testimony to this.
- Advocacy, in the form of lobbying, is a democratic tradition. We speak, we write, we vote. We make our voices heard to effect change.
- Advocacy is instrumental in finding solutions to problems and issues. It can be perceived as both learning and teaching tools in our bag of tricks. Researching a cause and offering this knowledge to others is extremely valuable.
- It is an easy thing to do. It is a matter of knowing who to contact, when and what to say. Put your “ducks in a row” and you or your organization can make things happen easily and in a timely manner.
- Your knowledge and experience are valuable to others who can facilitate change on a larger scale. Personal experience cannot be underestimated. It is what makes a cause real and genuine.
- Advocacy helps you feel that you have fulfilled the purpose of your efforts or those of your group. While you may not directly bring about change, your advocacy, your voice can enable others to get the job done.
- Advocacy brings attention to issues and causes, especially on a local level. Smaller groups can often effect direct change more readily and more immediately.
- Advocacy further legitimizes a group’s mission and vision and gains public trust through visibility. It is critical to build relationships with local, state and federal change agents.
Advocacy can happen in many ways and in many arenas –
political, personal, economic and environmental. We attempt to change “what is” into “what should be” by questioning that which is current practice. We can make ourselves available to engage in forums that include our cause on their agenda. We may, in fact, ask to have our issue placed on an agenda so we can help control the dissemination of information. We offer factual information that tells how “current practices” or laws are not working or may be making matters worse. Preparing arguments that feature the pros and cons of any proposal help to promote discussion and involvement. Advocacy can be specific to certain issues such as budget, which strives to increase accountability and transparency to the monetary contributors. It can also influence the allocation of funds to areas of need. Political parties ask you to vote for a party member, while other election options ask you to vote on specific issues. Health advocacy both supports and influences issues pertaining to health services, safety and quality of life. Protest groups engage in ideological advocacy in their attempt to publicly make their ideas known to decision-making entities. Legislative advocacy, often labeled “lobbying,” relies
on law makers to create or facilitate change on a grander scale. Media advocacy, sometimes seen as the most influential in our technologically advanced society, uses a variety of media to make an issue or cause known to a broader audience and to garner support to change social or public policy.
The skill sets needed for effective advocacy include: good communications skills; knowledge of your rights or the rights of the person or cause you are advocating for; knowledge of the system you are working within; having the confidence to ask questions; listening to what others have to say; preparation and organization of thought, research and presentation; the ability to be assertive, but polite and respectful; and, knowledge of additional support systems.
Lobbying, in contrast or by comparison to advocacy, is defined by federal tax law as any attempt to influence specific legislation. It can be done by a) contacting or urging the public to contact policy makers for the purpose of proposing, supporting or opposing legislation or b) by advocating the adoption or rejection of legislation. Lobbying can and should be done by 501(c)3 organizations in the form of influencing legislation, but not participating in partisan politics, i.e. working for a political party or candidate.
Policy makers are those individuals who have direct influence over the outcome of legislation and legislative initiatives. In the case of a ballot initiative or referendum, voters are considered the policy makers, because they decide the outcome of legislation.
The reasons for lobbying are similar to those of advocacy but can create or change laws that impact a larger segment of the general population.
There are two types of lobbying – direct or grassroots. Direct lobbying is any attempt to influence legislation through communication with policy makers and other government officials who can influence legislation. The specific activities that are recognized as direct lobbying are that the primary purpose is to influence legislation with a reference to a specific piece of legislation (current or future) and to express a point of view. Members of an organization can be involved in direct lobbying when asked to contact legislators as they are presumably working on the organization’s behalf. Grassroots lobbying is an attempt to influence legislation by affecting the opinion of the general public; in effect, getting the public to lobby for the legislation you support.
The IRS closely monitors lobbying activities by organizations, with a detailed list of activities that are considered lobbying and those that are not considered lobbying. There are substantiation and financial expenditure guidelines that give parameters to organizations who engage in lobbying. There are
different status categories, standards and violation parameters governing lobbying activities. Record keeping guidelines are explicit as are funding sources which enable lobbying activities.