How to Advocate for Your Mission
Advocacy can be as easy as calling your local news station, going to your city hall meeting, or having lunch with an influencer in your community. The National Council of Nonprofits has compiled a series of case studies to help give you an idea of how your colleagues have used advocacy to advance their mission and help their clients.
There are many different types of advocacy.
Raising public awareness about your issue is an important way to advocate for your mission. You can create on-going relationships with reporters or the goofy, local weatherperson or you can just send a press release when a big event happens. If your mission is important to you, it is important to others. Your clients may not be able to share their story. But you can.
You are the expert on your mission. You may realize that a certain legal requirement is prohibiting your clients from accessing services they need. Though you have tried everything else, nothing has been done. It may be that you need to meet with your local legislator and craft a bill that addresses the issue. You may need to advocate with your clients and supporters to get their support for the legislation and to let their senators and representatives know of their support.
Sometimes you may need to advocate for your mission through the court system. If you believe a business is polluting the drinking water of your clients, you may need to take legal action to ensure that the health of your clients is protected. Or if you believe the government is violating obligations set out in the constitution and your mission is adversely affected as a result, bringing the matter to court may be your best option. You may have an attorney on staff or you may need to hire one just for this action. There is a long history of legal advocacy in the United States perhaps most famously Brown vs. Board of Education which mandated desegregation.
Social Media Advocacy
Perhaps the most popular way to advocate these days is through the use of social media. Social media makes it easier for you to reach hundreds or even thousands (or if you’re really lucky millions) of people. A thoughtful post or a fun campaign can raise a large amount of awareness about your mission. You probably have seen videos from the viral Ice Bucket Challenge from the ALS Association. Over two million people participated in the Ice Bucket challenge raising $115 million for the ALS Association’s mission and clients.
Grassroots advocacy are people powered efforts, in which those affected by an issue and those that support them advocate to achieve specific goals. Grassroots efforts are “bottom-up” where every day people work to advance a shared mission. Common techniques used by grassroots advocates include protests, boycotts, and voter registration efforts. Well known grassroots movements included the Civil Rights movement, the Suffragette movement, and the marriage equality movement.
Ever told your friend how great your mission is and encouraged them to volunteer? Ever speak to your mother-in-law about the needs of your clients and encourage her to donate? You advocated! This is the most common and easiest form of advocacy. Again you can be a voice for your mission to anyone you meet.
Educating Versus Lobbying
When you share data about your mission area, invite your legislator to tour your nonprofit, or share stories about your clients, you are educating your legislator. You can educate them as often as you'd like. When you go the next step and try to influence legislation- telling your legislator how you think they should vote or what policies they should create- then you are lobbying. If you spend more than $400 per calendar quarter on lobbying (this includes the cost of staff time) then you are required to register as a lobbyist with state's Secretary of State's office and file quarterly reports. To learn about federal requirements for nonprofit lobbying click here. We promise it is easier than it sounds!
What the law says:
Lobbying- “Lobbying” means to communicate directly or solicit others to communicate with any public servant to influence legislative or administrative action."
Lobbyist- "(a) For purposes of these rules, persons engaged in lobbying activity as defined by § 500(j) will
be considered lobbyists, subject to registration and reporting, if the person:
(1) receives income or reimbursement in a combined amount of $400 or more in acalendar quarter for lobbying activities; or
(2) expends $400 or more in a calendar quarter for lobbying activities, excluding the cost of personal travel, lodging, meals, or dues; or
(3) expends $400 or more in a calendar quarter, including postage, for the express purpose of soliciting others to communicate with any public servant to influence any legislative action or administrative action of one (1) or more governmental bodies unless the communication has been filed with the Secretary of State or has been
published in the news media. If the communication is filed with the Secretary of State, the filing shall include the approximate number of recipients."