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Before direct action comes planning, and before planning comes an understanding of what needs to be put in the plan. So first, here’s a reminder of what advocacy is (as well as what it’s not).
Some examples may help clarify just what advocacy is:
Advocacy usually involves getting government, business, schools, or some other large institution (also known as Goliath) to correct an unfair or harmful situation affecting people in the community (also known as David, and friends). The situation may be resolved through persuasion, by forcing Goliath to buckle under pressure, by compromise, or through political or legal action.
Several ingredients make for effective advocacy, including:
For some people, advocacy is a new role. It may be uncomfortable–particularly if confrontation and conflict are involved. But, for others, advocacy is more attractive than setting up and running service programs in the community.
Advocacy can be glamorous: the David vs. Goliath image, manning the barricades, making waves. But the decision to put major resources into advocacy is not one to be taken lightly. If it doesn’t work–if you stick your necks way out and don’t succeed–not only will you fail, but you may do so in public, discrediting your cause, perhaps making conditions worse for the people you set out to help.
Advocacy can be confrontational, but conflict is usually a bad place to start. Good advocates know they must think very hard about any confrontation that’s going to be necessary. That’s one reason for careful planning of strategy and tactics. Even if the issue seems as clear as a bell, and your choice of actions seems just as obvious, it’s a good idea to take another long, hard look.
Advocacy is best kept for when “routine” work such as gathering support for a cause, raising money, and recruiting members of a community initiative or program won’t get you where you want to go.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to think twice before launching yourselves (or your group) as advocates, because it’s a strategy that’s more effective if there isn’t too much of it around. Imagine a city where there were public demonstrations every day, where City Hall was besieged constantly by groups with special petitions, resolutions, and assorted agitations. The community would quickly develop advocacy fatigue. So would the advocates.
The best time to start planning for an advocacy campaign is:
This chapter will help you get launched. And this particular section will give you a taste of what’s coming up in the seven remaining sections of the chapter, where you will gain a deeper understanding of the issue, identify allies and opponents, plan out your strategy and tactics, and evaluate your efforts.
Each of these components is addressed in greater depth in the following sections of this chapter, but this is a broad overview of how to advocate for your issue.
Once you go public with an advocacy campaign, you may draw the attention of a number of people, not all of whom will wish you well. If things go wrong, you could end up looking very silly in the local news, which would not be good for your future campaigns. Even worse, in some circumstances a wrong step could land you in court. At the very least, there’s a risk of spinning your wheels if you don’t go about the many tasks of advocacy efficiently.
For example, to look at a worst-case scenario, think of what could go wrong with a campaign to promote better health for the poor:
It’s amateur night!
In the next section of this chapter, we’ve gathered 20 tips that will help members of your group avoid disasters. They’ll be able to take on their tasks efficiently, confidently, and with a low risk of tripping over their shoelaces.
You probably already have a pretty good idea of what the issue or problem is.
However, it is important to develop a deeper unstanding of the issue, including research to analyze of who has power. Remember, advocacy is about power–who can influence things that matter. You will need to know where the power of your opponents lies, and how you can most effectively influence or confront it.
If you are the only people in town who want something done about the problem you have identified, your cause could be in trouble. It’s one thing to fight city hall: much harder to take on a whole community of hostile or indifferent people. If there are only a handful of people on your side, it may be all too easy for those in power to dismiss you as the lunatic fringe. One of your jobs will be to make that “fringe” start to look like a representative slice of the whole population affected by the issue. Then people in power will take notice.
Somewhere, there are allies – people who can band together with you and give your cause bulk, visibility, and clout. You can use methods such as a “power grid” that will help you pinpoint those groups and agencies in town that have the power to help your group. This grid will also help you identify specific ways in which these potential allies can help.
Of course, you’ll need to be careful about who you invite on board–some allies may bring baggage that you don’t need. We’ll help you balance potential benefits against potential risks, and come up with some useful backers who will help, rather than hinder, your cause – whether you want to build a full-fledged coalition, or an informal alliance or network.
In addition to deciding whether other groups have an interest in your cause, it’s important to find out if an alliance with them is in your interest. For example, suppose you are planning to make life difficult for retailers who sell cigarettes to kids, and you know that the American Cancer Society, a couple of local youth groups, and a pair of enlightened churches have the same goals. Just how can you best help each other? Do you want a close relationship? Suppose these people are limited by their own charters in the type of action they can get involved in? Suppose they might want to take over the direction of the whole campaign? Suppose they are with your interests on some matters, and against you in others?
Although it’s possible to advocate without having an opponent (for example, you may be working largely to overcome ignorance and inertia), most advocacy campaigns have a recognizable Goliath–or even several big (and potentially mean) kids on the block. Who are your opponents? Why are they putting up resistance? And what can you do about it?
Those questions should be answered together. There’s not much point knowing the names of your opponents unless you also know why they are opposing you. Sometimes, this may not be for the most obvious reasons, so you’ll need to know what’s going on.
Starting with the cause for resistance is often more fruitful than starting with a list of people you expect to be bad guys: you may get some surprises. For example, a big developer might turn out to support your drive for more low-cost housing, because he recognizes that the presence of homeless people in the neighborhood can deter rich people from buying his expensive houses. Similarly, people from whom you might expect support might turn out to oppose you. Perhaps a big agency that seems to share your goals is bent out of shape because you seem to be trespassing on their turf or accusing them of ineffectiveness in the past. You can’t take anything for granted.
Once you have a plan, you’ll know where you are going, and how to get there. That will give you confidence, and that confidence will give you clout. Armed with that, you may be able to approach certain groups or individuals whom you thought were opposed to you. Maybe they still are, but you may find that you can find help in unexpected quarters. Now that your plan makes you more business-like, people may decide to cut a deal. Or, now that your position can be made clear to others as well as to yourselves, you may find that although a certain group still may oppose you on some issues, you are on the same side of others.
Planning for advocacy is often a complex program because we have to deal with power and opposition. As you know by now, an advocate will usually have to overcome obstacles much greater than “mere” inertia, or lack of funds, which are often the main barriers where other types of community development projects are concerned. In advocacy situations, there are likely to be well-prepared opponents waiting in the tall grass. And they will need to be out-planned.
You will need to develop a plan based on your knowledge of who those opponents are; and knowledge of who can help you.
For a useful analogy, we’ll invite you to think of the overall campaign as a building project:
And all will go together as part of one big action plan.
Advocacy is exciting work. You get the pleasure of fighting the good fight, and sometimes, the thrill of victory. In order to have that, though, you need to get through all of the day-to-day details and specifics. You’ll need to keep an eye on the forest while working on the trees individually. By going through this chapter carefully, we think you will be better prepared to bring about the changes that matter to your community.
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