Advocacy is the act of speaking out for someone or something. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects advocacy in the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Over the course of American history, the United States Supreme Court has expanded the protected expressions of this right to include highly unpopular and even potentially dangerous speech.

There are several types of advocacy, but they all have to do with the act of speaking out—an act that requires commitment, persuasiveness, and support-building skills. Within a business organization, “knowledge workers” who develop good ideas must also learn how to sell their idea by persuading the right people. In the early twenty-first century, most advocacy takes place in large institutional settings, but advocacy often begins in smaller settings where an idea is hatched and then incubated. Whatever the setting, few ideas sell themselves ( Daly 2011 ).

Lawyers (avocat in French) represent and argue persuasively for a client in a legal setting. Social workers are advocates when they represent a client in an institutional setting such as a nursing home. People in institutional care should have a designated family member who advocates for their needs and rights.

Policy advocacy is the translation of basic advocacy skills into a political setting in which advocates seek to persuade the right people to adopt a public policy proposal. Policy advocacy has a role in each stage of the policy process, from agenda setting to policy adoption and implementation. Lobbyists are professional policy advocates who are paid to influence legislative members and other public decision makers to adopt or block a specific bill or other policy measure. Federal and state laws require such persons to register as lobbyists. Lobbyist registration laws do not apply to persons who, without pay, advocate for a policy in their capacity as concerned persons, whether they are citizens or not.

Many organizations post sophisticated policy advocacy guides on their websites. These guides keep organization members informed about and ready to assist grassroots efforts in policy advocacy. The website of the Girl Scouts, for example, features an Advocacy Network that instructs potential network members:

The Girl Scouts Advocacy Network provides a tool for you to become a voice for girls and to make a difference in your community and across the nation. Together, we can educate policymakers and community leaders on issues that directly affect girls and the Girl Scouts. By being an advocate, you will have an impact on girl policy issues moving through Congress and state legislatures.

Be the Voice for Girls

Please Click Here to Join

When you join the Girl Scout Advocacy Network, you will ensure your voice is heard in Congress, the state legislatures and your local governments.

As this example suggests, a successful policy advocacy effort requires a campaign with a strategy that includes more than “inside advocacy” by lobbyists. Advocacy campaigns also require media advocacy, grassroots advocacy, networking and coalition building, fundraising, and often campaign financing. Policy advocacy, then, is a way in which all persons can become more engaged in the governance process. The reference to “persons,” not “citizens,” is meant to indicate that policy advocacy, like all rights in the US Bill of Rights, is a human right that belongs to all persons, not only US citizens.

SEE ALSO Entrepreneurship and Innovation ; Freedom of Speech: Advocacy in Times of Crisis ; Governance ; Interest Groups ; Lobbying and Lobbyists ; Networking .


Daly, John A. Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

Girl Scouts. “Girl Scout Advocacy Network.” 2015. .

Stephen Schechter
Russell Sage College