How would you measure successful advocacy? What’s the best way to advocate for your team? Your organization? Your profession? What exactly is lobbying anyway?
As we come to the end of the year, Wyoming residents are poised to welcome a new Governor into office. With inauguration day and the start of the 2019 legislative session just around the corner, now is the ideal time to reinforce the importance of advocacy. No matter what type of organization you work for, or what sector of the economy it operates in, the value of advocacy can’t be understated.
How do you define advocacy? Simply stated, advocacy is an activity that aims to influence decisions within various institutions. On its own, advocacy is nothing more than identifying, embracing and promoting a cause or idea. Broad-based messaging can be an effective form of advocacy. This can include sharing research, contacting media, and educating policymakers about how a bill or policy would affect his or her constituents, a specific group, or an organization.
People frequently use the words advocacy and lobbying interchangeably, but it’s important to understand the distinctions between the two activities. Lobbying refers specifically to advocacy efforts that attempt to influence legislation, whether by directly asking elected officials to vote a certain way or urging members of the public to contact their legislator in support or opposition of a specific piece of legislation.
You don’t need to be a registered lobbyist to engage in advocacy. In Wyoming, the ease of access to our legislators means that informal advocacy can be incredibly effective. Our citizen legislature means that your voice is the most important! Wyoming legislators want to hear from residents, and by developing a relationship with your local legislator you may find a receptive audience for your message. It’s helpful to understand the motivation and priorities of legislators, as well as to be cognizant of the time demands that are placed on them. It’s a good idea to keep your communication short and cordial.
In the nonprofit sector, advocacy can be an effective way to help advance an organization’s mission, increase funding, or solve problems. Sharing and communicating the mission of a nonprofit organization is a broad form of advocacy, and it should be practiced regularly by both staff members and board members-the “ambassadors” for your organization. Remember that advocacy that does not refer to specific legislation is not considered lobbying, and 501c3 organizations are permitted to lobby within specific limits.
With hundreds of pieces of legislation being prepared for introduction into the Wyoming Legislature, it’s more important than ever to make your voice heard. Reach out to your industry’s trade association (or if you’re a nonprofit, the Wyoming Nonprofit Network) to learn more about bills being prepared for introduction that could directly impact your business sector or organization. Get educated and get involved!