Who Can Be an Advocate?
Quite simply, anyone and everyone can be an advocate!
Advocacy is the number-one way that nonprofits and community-based organizations advance social change that affects the people they serve. There is a common misconception that nonprofit organizations cannot engage in advocacy, but in fact, nonprofit organizations can:
- Play a vital role in developing and implementing public policies that promote an informed, healthy and strong democratic society.
- Make connections between policymakers and their constituents.
- Educate lawmakers and the public about policy issues and how public policy affects particular groups of people.
Lawmakers are experts in making laws, but laws get made in a range of ways and cover a variety of topics—and lawmakers cannot possibly understand every protocol for making a law or every nuance of the topics on which they must govern. Thus, in order for lawmakers to feel comfortable adopting a policy, they must (1) care about the people affected by the policy, and (2) be educated on the issue. That’s where you come in!
As practitioners, direct service providers or simply as generally concerned citizens, you have perhaps the best view of how policy issues play out in your community. As a result, you are uniquely positioned to educate lawmakers and inspire them to care about the issues playing out in your community. In turn, you can persuade your lawmakers that your call to action is one worth heeding.
Although you may not think of yourself as an advocate, chances are that you have advocated more than once in your life. After all, advocacy takes many forms. Advocacy can be as simple as calling the utility company on behalf of an elderly neighbor who has been wrongly charged for services they didn’t receive, or it can be as advanced as meeting with your members of Congress to educate them on how a policy decision might impact a program in your community and the clients served by that program. In the latter example, by educating your lawmakers, you are equipping them with data and facts that help them make an informed decision about the policy in question.
In addition to the fact that advocacy happens on a spectrum from simple to complex, the outcome of advocacy can happen directly or indirectly. In some instances, you may ask your city councilmember to vote “no” on a particular measure, and in these cases, your advocacy is relatively direct. However, in other instances, advocates must consider the “long game.” Longer-term activities, often focused on building lasting relationships with lawmakers, can help them see you as a credible source of information. Over time, lawmakers will seek your counsel as they consider particular measures. In this way, the work you do as an advocate is indirect, but can have a significant impact on the rules and ordinances put into effect in your community.