What is advocacy?

If you’ve ever tried to promote an issue you care about, you’ve engaged in advocacy. 

Advocacy is the act of supporting, defending, or arguing for a specific cause or issue.


The purpose of advocacy is to bring about change, whether that’s accomplished through raising public awareness, increasing support, or influencing policy for a certain issue. 

What are the different types of advocacy?

There are many types of advocacy, each with different objectives and end goals. Below are three common types of advocacy.

•    Self-advocacy: when you stand up for yourself, defend your rights, or represent your own views and interests, you are being a self-advocate. 

•    Individual advocacy: this type of advocacy involves acting on behalf of others (a client, an individual, or a group) to advance their goals. A parent might advocate on behalf of their child, or a lawyer may advocate for the legal rights of their client in court.   

•    Systems advocacy: the goal of systems advocacy is to change policy, rules, or laws on a particular issue. This can happen at the local, state, or national level. Both individuals and organizations engage in systems advocacy. 

These types of advocacy are like tools. They can be used separately or in conjunction with each other. The type of advocacy best suited for your situation depends on the goals you want to achieve and the resources you have at hand. 

What does advocacy look like?

What does it mean to advocate for something? Just like there are several different types of advocacy, there are many different activities that you can do to advocate for your issue. 

•    Contact your member of Congress
•    Attend a march or protest
•    Organize a campaign in your community or on social media 
•    Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for your local newspaper 
•    Start a petition 


Advocacy helps others understand your point of view and support your cause. Ultimately, the goal of advocacy is to effect change on the issue you care about. 

Advocacy vs. Lobbying: What’s the Difference? 

All lobbyists are advocates, but not all advocates are lobbyists. 

So what’s the difference?


Lobbying is a type of political advocacy. Professional lobbyists are paid to directly interact with politicians or public officials with the goal of influencing them on a particular piece of legislation. Many corporations and organizations hire professionals to lobby lawmakers on their behalf. But you don’t have to be a fulltime lobbyist to influence the government. Anyone can engage in lobbying by meeting with public officials and persuading them to take action on a certain law. 


Learn more about lobbying here.


Advocacy, on the other hand, includes a much broader range of activities. The goal of advocacy isn’t just limited to influencing lawmakers on a piece of legislation. Although advocacy can involve lobbying, it also encompasses everything else you do to communicate and promote your cause. 


Both lobbying and advocacy are about influencing others to make decisions on a given issue. Oftentimes, advocacy is about promoting a cause on behalf of others. This makes it distinct from activism. Whereas advocates listen to and amplify others, activists engage in direct action that leads to social change. There is a significant overlap in the work that advocates and activists do. Many individuals and organizations engage in both advocacy and activism to advance their goals.   

5 Advocacy Myths Debunked 

Because advocacy has such a broad definition, there are a number of misconceptions around the term. 

Myth #1: Advocacy is political.


Standing up for others and speaking out on behalf of an issue doesn’t always have to involve politics. There are many other types of advocacy that are not focused on a piece of legislation. People can advocate for companies to change their practices, have insurance companies cover their neighbor's medical condition, or advocate for more diversity on your local PTA committee.

Myth #2: Advocates march in the streets and organize protests.


These are things activists do. Activism can help advocacy work by increasing public awareness and mobilizing supporters, but it isn’t always the most effective way to advocate for an issue. 

Myth #3: Advocacy is for professionals and lawyers.


Lobbyists and other legal professionals interact with lawmakers on a regular basis and understand how the legislative system works from the inside. That doesn’t mean ordinary citizens can’t get involved in advocacy work, like setting up appointments with members of Congress and organizing campaigns. 

Myth #4: Advocacy doesn’t matter.


You don’t have to focus on the most polarized issue in Congress to make a big impact. Consider starting local. Advocacy at the municipal, or even the neighborhood or school-district level, can bring about meaningful change.    

Myth #5: Advocacy takes too much time and effort. 

There are different options to get involved in advocacy depending on your schedule. Writing an email to a Congress member can take half an hour, although it may not be particularly effective. Partnering with other advocates and organizations who share your goals is another way to make advocacy more manageable. One time-efficient way to make a big impact is to hire a lobbyist through Lobbyists 4 Good.     

What are the types of advocacy groups? 

Individuals aren’t the only ones who engage in advocacy. Advocacy groups are organizations that form around a shared interest in order to influence public opinion and policy.


These groups promote their cause in a number of ways: 

•    They lobby the government
•    They litigate a law related to their issue
•    They educate or advertise to influence public opinion 
•    They organize campaigns and events  

Not all advocacy groups operate under the same rules. Depending on the type, advocacy groups are subject to different tax laws and restrictions regarding how much political activity they are allowed to engage in.

501(c) groups

501(c) groups are tax-exempt nonprofits. Common types of nonprofits include public charities, foundations, social welfare organizations, and trade organizations. 501(c) groups can engage in varying levels of political activity depending on their classification. Some nonprofits are not allowed to engage in any kind of political activity, like 501(c)(3) groups. Others are allowed to engage in a limited amount of lobbying as long as their primary activities do not involve influencing lawmakers. 


527 groups 

“527” refers to the tax code of these nonprofit groups. The primary purpose of 527 groups is to influence the outcome of an election. 527 groups are allowed to raise unlimited money for their campaigns, but they cannot give money directly to candidates or tell voters how to cast their votes. Examples of 527 groups include political parties, associations, committees, or funds.  


Political action committees, or PACs, are 527 groups that raise money to fund certain political candidates in an election. They’ve been around since 1944, and they represent the interests of corporate businesses, labor groups, or individuals with shared interests. PACs are limited in the amount of funds they can receive and distribute in a given year. 

Super PACs

Super PACs can receive unlimited funds from corporations, unions, and individuals to support or defeat a political candidate in an election. Super PACs came into the picture in 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to control financial contributions to campaigns. 

With Super PACs, there’s no limit to how much money can enter politics. That’s why Super PACs have the power to be extremely influential in the outcome of elections. The caveat is that they are not allowed to contribute to or coordinate directly with candidates’ campaigns. 

How to make an advocacy plan?

To help you with your advocacy planning, we have created six steps for you to follow to develop a foolproof advocacy plan. ​

  1. Choose a policy issue

  2. Make your issue personal

  3. Become a "Subject Matter Expert"

  4. Create a legislative ask

  5. Practice, Practice, Practice

  6. Partner with others

How to write an advocacy letter?

  1. Use your own words, do not use a pre-written message.

  2. Include a return address so the staffer knows you are from the member's district or state. They may also want to mail you a response.

  3. Introduce yourself and tell the reader a little bit about yourself.

  4. After the greeting, be clear and concise about what your issue is and what position you want your lawmaker to take.

  5. Include a personal story.

  6. Be sure to back up your stance with statistics and facts. Add some data to your personal story to strengthen your argument.

  7. Try to show how the issue affects other constituents in your congressional district.

  8. ALWAYS be courteous and respectful.

  9. Write your letter or email in a clear and concise manner and show your member of Congress the impact a change will have on you and your community.

  10. If you are writing as part of a campaign from an advocacy organization, try to personalize it as much as you can.