What’s the difference between “lobbying” and “advocacy”?
The two terms are often confused because they are interconnected, however they are different and distinct. Lobbying is supporting or opposing a piece of legislation at any level of government or at the ballot (in the form of an initiative or referendum).  Advocacy is the collective term for work done to promote, protect, and preserve an organization or a cause. It covers a much broader range of activities that may or may not include lobbying.  One simple distinction between the two is that lobbying always involves advocacy, but advocacy does not necessarily involve lobbying.

I know there are legal implications to lobbying as a nonprofit, so I feel safest doing nothing. Right?
Wrong. Nonprofits play a vital role in the development and implementation of public policy. Nonprofits can and should participate in public policy discussions that affect their organizations, communities and the people they serve. Most decision makers interpret a lack of advocacy as a lack of interest for the organization or cause. You risk losing funding, philanthropic privileges, and more when you choose to do nothing. Learning the rules of the game is not that difficult and outcomes can be of great importance to your organization. (The rules are explained in the next section, Lobbying and the Law)

Who do I advocate to directly?
Advocacy is sharing your views and opinions with the people elected that make decisions impacting your arts organization. Those decision makers include:

  • City council members
  • Mayor
  • School board members
  • County Commissioners
  • County Judge
  • State Representative and Senator
  • Congressmen and Senator (federal)

Who should I recruit to help with advocacy?

In addition to communicating directly with elected officials, you can advocate your cause through people who have influence on those decision makers. Those influential individuals include:

  • City Manager(s)
  • City department heads
  • Chairs of commissions and boards appointed by city government
  • Individuals and corporations who give major political donations
  • Representatives of the media (TV, radio, newspaper, etc.)
  • Political party activists (Caucus chairs, Union leaders, civic and religious leaders, League of Women Voters, Junior League, Rotary/Lions/Optimist clubs, LULAC, NAACP, AARP, etc.)

What do I advocate and how?
Effective advocacy (the active process of gaining political and financial support for your organization or cause) hinges on continuous education and communication between your supporters (your advocates) themselves, their decision makers (local politicians, state and federal legislators), and the public. What you advocate is up to you, but it is a good idea to create a short list of specific points to stress when communicating with decision makers. This makes it possible to maintain a united voice with a small well-focused list of issues that you want considered.

Use this list to design an effective advocacy campaign:

1.  Put together a plan of action with priorities, strategies and timelines.

Consider these factors when building your plan:

  • Is this issue critical to my organization/community?
  • When will the issue be discussed/decided and by whom?
  • Is there time to call or write to my supporters?  To launch a letter-writing campaign? To meet directly with the decision makers? Etc
  • Who are the decision makers you want to reach?
  • Who should contact those decision makers and how?

2.  State your case and offer a solution.

Be clear and concise; keep everything on one page.
Provide alternatives; don’t just point to the problem.
Clearly state the action you endorse; ask decision makers for their support.
Distill this information into succinct key messages 
see sample Key Message (PDF)

3.  Request action from your supporters.

What exactly are you asking people to do?
By when? Be specific!
To whom? Provide names, addresses and phone numbers as needed.
Give them the statement of the case and ask them to use their own words and to support the position with their own examples or stories.
Make it easy for people to contribute their time and energy.

4.  Get copies and feedback.

Ask advocates to report back immediately after contact. Ask them to report conversations with decision makers, especially if they indicate a concern or position held by the decision maker.
Have them send you copies of everything they sent.

5.  Follow up.

Report to advocates on the results of their efforts.
Thank them—not just once!

What is electioneering and what are those rules?
Electioneering is supporting or opposing a candidate at any level of government. Non-profits cannot engage in electioneering. They may not work to influence the outcome of an election. However, volunteers and board members can and should be directly involved in election campaigns, but as individuals, not representatives of the organization. As an individual, it is perfectly acceptable to express your commitment to the cause represented by the organization (i.e., organization is museum, cause is arts).

What about arts advocacy?
Educating both the public and legislators on the true impact of the arts must be a primary goal for any arts advocate. The arts are often envisioned as social, cultural, or entertainment avenues. When the arts are perceived in this light, they often are associated with personal enjoyment and enrichment for the wealthy while their valuable contribution to the rest of society goes unnoticed. The arts have major impact on the economy (specifically through tourism and economic development), on education, and other areas of our society as well.

Adapted from
Charity Lobbying in the Public Interest
South Dakotans for the Arts Community Arts Handbook