Types of Advocacy
Grassroots Advocacy: This type of advocacy involves educating the general public about an issue and mobilizing them to apply pressure to those in a position to take action. One of the most important foundations of grassroots advocacy is to build your contact list. Whether you’re communicating via e-mail or social media or even by mail, you need to know who in the community supports your organization/issue and will advocate on your behalf when you reach out to them.
Start today by reviewing your database and determining who might be your strongest supporters. For example, could you quickly pull a list of board members and former board members who you could e-mail about an upcoming council meeting? Could you pull a list of people who have taken classes or participated in a sport for more than five years so you could invite them to attend a meeting opposing proposed budget cuts? If not, create a database tool that can work more quickly for you and the benefit of your department.
Your social media networks are also a great way to reach out to a large group of people who are supportive of your cause. Elected and appointed officials pay attention to their constituents so make sure you have lots of voices showing him/her that the community cares about your issue.
Grasstops Advocacy: Grasstops advocacy involves engaging people with a high professional and/or public profile in support of your issue. These supporters can raise public attention or influence decision makers through their personal and professional connections. Make sure you know your board or council members and understand their connections in the community. They can be some of your strongest advocates and help you strategize how best to approach and influence decision makers. Letters to the editor or articles written by your grasstops advocates can also have a powerful influence on decision makers and the general public.
Direct advocacy: Direct advocacy involves educating leaders about an issue in order to influence policies, procedures and/or funding. You can advocate directly to elected or appointed officials by calling their office and talking with a staff member or the elected official directly. You can also write a letter or e-mail, or request a personal meeting. Another great approach is to bring up your issue when your local elected official is in the district and holding a town hall meeting or other public event. Use every opportunity you can to keep your issue front and center. Any member of the community can advocate to elected officials who are making decisions that will impact their community. Children can’t vote, but they can be strong advocates for the importance of safe places to play an opportunities for athletic and artistic involvement.
You may worry about your ability to advocate in your official role as part of a city or county department or a nonprofit. But lobbying and advocacy are not necessarily the same thing. The easiest way to describe it is that lobbying always involves advocacy, but advocacy doesn’t necessarily involve lobbying.
Click here to learn more about the distinction between lobbying and advocacy from the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest. CLPI also has great resources to help you make the case to your supporters (and maybe even your boss) about why it’s important to lobby for your cause.
The Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy Initiative is an excellent resource for learning more about advocacy and lobbying and the role that your staff and supporters can play.