by Dulce Vega
Advocacy is defined as the active participation of individuals, or organizations, in order to promote, uphold, educate and inform on the benefits of a mission or cause. You can advocate by simply identifying, embracing and promoting a cause. In other words, advocacy is the “shifting the balance of power” to create a positive social change. (Buetzow, Kyle. 2019)
Why social change? Because you as leader in your nonprofit sector will be “advocating for a better world in some way, whether if it’s working to get more children enrolled in early education programs, raising awareness about climate change, fundraising for National Parks, or [insert your solution to a social change issue here]”. (Buetzow, Kyle. 2019)
Advocacy dates to ancient Rome and Greece, when well-established orators would perform as advocates or wrote orations specifically intended at pleading someone else’s cause. Personalities such as Cicero and Caesar were among the greatest Roman lawyers and advocates.
Around the 18th century in England the Society for the Supporters of the Bill of Rights was the first instance of a social advocacy group organizing public meetings, demonstrations and mass petitions marches.
During the 19th century, the industrialization process in U.S. brought several social side effects, such as increased crime, poverty and an economic division between the North and South. Great reform movements were originated, including abolitionism, women’s rights, and educational reforms.
In the late 19th century the socialist movements originated the communist and social-democratic parties and other organizations. During the post-war years women’s, LGBT and civil rights, peace, anti-nuclear and environmental movements emerged among others. The oldest nonprofits in U.S. with advocacy programs still alive today is The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army was founded in 1852, just before The Red Cross. (Eliza Bazzani, 2015)
The utilization of nonprofit advocacy needs to be explored and often redefined in order to optimize this activity as a tool to support nonprofit causes all over the world. Advocacy allows nonprofits to advance the issues they care about and helps bring about lasting change for the people and communities they serve. Advocacy for public charities is a broad concept and incorporates communication about the mission, lobbying for legal change, and even nonpartisan voter education. Advocacy includes many activities, from grassroots organizing, public education, policy research, etc.
Nonprofit advocacy helps our community solve problems because they are the only institutions with a view of both the concerns most important to the constituents and the daily realities of how the government programs works and impact those constituents.
Nonprofit advocacy helps our community avoid problems because if nonprofit voices are not heard in the public policy making process, then who will have complete, unrestrained access to policy makers: people concerned about the broad public interest, or entities that only want to advance their ambitious and narrow agendas?.
Nonprofit advocacy helps give citizens a voice by standing alone while taking an opposite position to powerful interests. Nonprofits serve as the equalizer, where people come together so their voices are amplified; also nonprofit serve as the gathering spot for people concerned about those who have no voice, such as children, poor, the disable who may not be able to travel to be heard; as well as those who truly have no voice, such as future generations who are not here to talk about the environment or governmental deficits. (National Council of Nonprofits. 2019)
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Advocacy is defined as an activity that aims to influence public-policy and resource-allocations decision within political, economic and social institutions. It is an important component of nonprofit and philanthropic work because it can lead to long-term structural change, it can be a tool to improve everyone’s lives, and it can also be a great tactical fundraising instrument.
Nonprofit advocacy ties with the philanthropic sector because is a powerful strategy for making progress on the issues that concern our society, and an important improvement to humankind.
Key Related Ideas
All nonprofit organizations can use their voice for the public good. What matters is understanding the rules about what members of a nonprofit are allowed to do, based on your 501 tax-exempt determination. The government allows all organizations to engage in advocacy at some level. Here is an idea on what would be right for a nonprofit organization:
Members of the nonprofit sector must talk among themselves. Decide the advocacy strategy of the group is a core future of the organization’s mission statement and stated organizational values.
The organization’s Board of Directors and staff will discuss the what (to advocate for), the why (does it meet your mission and vision?) the who (who will be responsible for overseeing this part of your work?) and the how (which tactics might you engage in to make your point?). You may want to also consider how stakeholders (staff, clients, members, or funders) might consider organization’s choices, or if they may have opinions on the types of action that are consistent with the organization’s mission. (Mason, Dyana. 2018)
Important People Related to the Topic
- Greta Thunberg, a 16 years old Swedish advocate for climate change, has mobilized over seven million children across the world to strike, like her, for climate justice. Greta learned about climate change in school at the age of 8. She convinced her family to eat less meat, grow their own food, and give up flying. Greta’s rise to international prominence is unlikely in the sense that she started her climate strike in August 2018 on her own. She was inspired by the Parkland, Florida high school students who became gun safety advocates. Greta is joined in her climate fight advocates like Jamie Margolin, 17, who co-founded the organization Zero-Hour, and Xiye Bastida, also 17, who helped lead a student climate walkout in New York City earlier this year. (Kids Rights, 2019)
- Mahatma Gandhi, from India, was an advocate for human rights, and he is known for initiating the strategy of nonviolent resistance. Gandhi’s journey as an advocate began in South Africa. As a young legal adviser, he saw firsthand the damage caused by race-oriented laws and class-based oppression. This is when Gandhi began to teach his philosophy of passive resistance. Gandhi’s organization of the Indian community in South Africa began widespread social change. When Gandhi returned to India in 1915, he eventually transformed the Indian National Congress into a large movement committed to nonviolent resistance in support of India’s independence, known also as the non-cooperation movement. (Kolezynski, Chistopher, 2014)
- César Chávez, from Arizona, was a civil rights and labor leader, an advocate for farmworkers. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers Union ‘UFW’), which “sought recognition of the importance and dignity of all farm workers.” (UFW, Official Website). Through effective grassroots engagement and peaceful protest, Chávez brought national attention to the struggles of farm workers that led to improvement in working conditions, pay, and other benefits. César Chávez’s legacy teaches us that effective community organizing and grassroots engagement are powerful. These advocacy strategies advance the rights and improve outcome for depressed or disadvantaged communities. (UFW, 2019)
- Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani education advocate. At the age of 17 became the youngest person to win the Noble Prize. Malala became an advocate for girls’ education when she herself was still a child, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her. In 2013, she founded Malala Fund to promote girls’ rights to 12 years of free, safe and quality education. Malala Fund works in regions where the most girls miss out on secondary education, especially in the countries of Afghanistan, Brazil, Indiana, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. (Malala Fund, 2019)
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- Young Minds Advocacy in a nonprofit organization founded to address mental health needs in young people and their families. They use policy research and advocacy, impact litigation, and strategic communication to change attitudes towards mental illness and break down barriers to quality mental healthcare for young people and their families. (http://ymadvocacy.org).
- Alliance for Justice is a national association of 120 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society. Since 1979, AFJ has been the leader in advocacy for a federal judiciary that advances core constitutional values, preserves human rights and access to the courts, and adheres to the even-handed administration of justice for all Americans. AFJ’s work is divided into two main programs: our Justice Program, and our Bolder Advocacy program. Bolder Advocacy is the leading authority on the legal framework governing nonprofit advocacy. (https://www.afj.org)
- Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together the charitable community—a diverse set of nonprofits, foundations, and corporations—to advance the common good. The charitable sector provides millions of people with powerful, independent, and voluntary methods for addressing the issues and expressing the values most important to them. (https://independentsector.org)
- Why is nonprofit advocacy important to you?
- As a young person, how can you engage the organizations to support their advocacy efforts?
- Buetzow, Kyle. 2019 “Nonprofit Advocacy 101: 5 Steps to Change the World. https://mediacause.org/nonprofit-advocacy-101/
- Bazzani, Eliza. 2015. “Advocacy: a brief history”, European Advocacy. December 17, 2015. https://europeanadvocacy.org/advocacy-a-brief-history/
- National Council of Nonprofits, 2019. “Why Should Your Nonprofit Advocate? https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/why-should-your-nonprofit-advocate
- Sarmierto-Mellinger, Marela. 2017. “What is Advocacy”. Philanthropy Journal. June 19, 2017 https://pj.news.chass.ncsu.edu/2017/06/19/what-is-advocacy/
- Mason, Dyana P. 2018. “Yes, You Can - and Should! Nonprofit Advocacy as a Core Competency”. N
- onprofit Quarterly. November 8, 2018. Article published online on November 17, 2017. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/yes-can-nonprofit-advocacy-core-competency/
- Kids Rights, 2019. “Meet Greta Thunberg”. 2019-Greta Thunberg (16), Sweden. https://kidsrights.org/advocacy/international-childrens-peace-prize/winners/greta-thunberg
- Kolezynski, Chistopher, 2014. “How Gandhi Utilized Advocacy”. The Borgen Project. Blog on August 30, 2014. https://borgenproject.org/gandhi-utilized-advocacy/
- United Farm Workers, 2019. “The Story of Cesar Chavez”. https://ufw.org/research/history/story-cesar-chavez/
- Malala Fund, 2019 “Malala’s story”. https://www.malala.org/malalas-story
This briefing paper was authored by a student taking a philanthropic studies course in 2019 at The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.