Dictionary.com tells us that to advocate is to “speak or write in favor of; recommend publicly; support or urge by argument.” Sometimes, it can be all too easy to get caught up in that argument approach—especially in today’s political climate. To be a truly effective advocate, you’ll find winning support for your cause is far more successful than winning arguments.
As the old saying goes: When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Here are three ways to approach your advocacy challenges from a different angle:
1. Do something nice, and don’t expect anything in return. Some of the most effective advocacy initiatives begin not with the statement “we need your help”, but with the question “how can we help you?”
Plan to visit with the elected officials and other influencers most important to your organization. Start the conversation by telling them you’re not there to ask for money or anything else. You want to know how you can be a resource for them. Ask what challenges they are facing in providing constituent services, or what information they’d like to share with the people you serve. Offer to be a point of contact for their constituents.
Invite them to your organization to meet your staff and talk about what they are working on. People in those positions are constantly bombarded by those who want something from them. Find a way to be of help (in a way that is consistent with your mission and values) without asking for a quid pro quo, and you will have made a friend forever!
2. Get a bigger boat. The more voices there are to carry your message, the further it will go.
Think about who you’ve invited to spread the word about your issue. Look beyond your most natural allies (such as your staff, volunteers, and those you serve).
The most effective spokespeople are often those who don’t benefit directly from your success. Human service providers can advocate for the arts. Artists can advocate for public safety. Educators can speak about the importance of public transportation, etc. Your message can carry added weight when delivered by an unlikely messenger.
Reach out to organizations and audiences that are less obvious choices and invite their participation. Offer to help them in return. You may end up finding new allies and a newly amplified message.
3. Tell me why I should care. When you believe strongly in a cause or an issue, it’s easy to assume that everyone else understands why it’s important.
It’s a mistake to think that the person or audience you are trying to influence cares about the same things you do. Always take the time to know your audience and be prepared to explain your issue in the context of why it should matter to them. How many of their constituents will be impacted?
If it’s something with a very narrow focus, be able to demonstrate how it fits into a bigger picture or connects to another issue they can relate to. Above all, avoid creating the impression they should only care because you do. Don’t just tug at their heart strings—stand in their shoes.
Do you have a story to share about how you approached an advocacy challenge from a different perspective? We’d love to hear it. Email our Advocacy Network Program Director, Betty Dean, at firstname.lastname@example.org.