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Arts Advocacy as a Double-Edged Sword, Part Two: What is Advocacy Anyway?

advocacy.ashx.jpgAs a follow-up to Jane Remer’s finely-honed blog on Dewey21c (Arts Advocacy is a Double-Edged Sword), I thought it might be helpful to post a bit of a rundown on the various types of advocacy. While the term “advocacy” may be bounced around in a singular manner, it is after all an umbrella term describing many different types of activities.

Before I get to that, I do think it’s important to note that the nature of arts education advocacy is changing rapidly. If you look at the work of Arts for All in Los Angeles, you’re going to see some very interesting and hopefully promising organizing and training activities. Big Thought is also engaging a broad community is new ways. My own organization, The Center for Arts Education, has quite a bit going on in this arena, including parent training, campaigns, coalition-building, legislative advocacy, and more.

I would argue that arts education “advocacy” has been slow to develop, and that most of it is in the category of random acts of advocacy (as exemplified by arts lobby days on the hill and with state and local governments). It has tended to be more about a budget line to an individual organization than actual policy or constituency building. While this is a bit less the case on the federal level, it’s certainly true on the local level. Don’t they say that all politics is local?

Yes, the issue of message is still a tough one, as Jane points out so very, very well. However, the making of common cause with those not directly from the arts education field is really starting to move forward.

Here is a nice representation of the various types of advocacy, thanks to the W. K. Kellogg Foundation:

Types of Advocacy Including Lobbying


Types of Advocacy Including Lobbying

Advocacy encompasses a broad range of
activities that involve identifying, embracing, and promoting a cause.
It is an effort to shape public perception to effect change that may or
may not require changes in the law. Advocacy is about using effective
tools to create social change. Lobbying is only one of these activities.

The following activities do not involve lobbying:

• Public Education
nonprofit develops a public information campaign to raise awareness of
the rise in childhood obesity. In this campaign they recommend a
variety of approaches to reverse this trend.

• Issue Research
A nonprofit regularly creates
and distributes briefs describing policy barriers to improving
end-of-life care to its state’s legislative committees on health,
insurance, and aging.

• Policy Education
At the request of a
congressional committee investigating how to move children out of
foster care into adoptive families more quickly, several nonprofit
organizations from various states describe their innovative foster care
reform models to help policymakers make a more informed decision as
they grapple with policy decisions on this topic.

• Voter and Candidate Education
A nonprofit
sends a questionnaire about their priority issue to all the mayoral
candidates in a local election and published the received responses
(unedited) in their newsletter or the local paper.

• Organizing and Mobilizing
A grantee nonprofit
organized a series of community meetings, public hearings, interviews
with target group members, scientific surveys, and events that drew
hundreds of child welfare system stakeholders together over a period of
months to “vision” a comprehensive strategy to reform child welfare
system policies and practices in its state.

• Judicial Advocacy
The NAACP files a class action suit to compel a state to integrate public schools.

• Executive (Administrative) Advocacy
nonprofit representing patients and loved ones struggling with
Alzheimer’s disease consulted with state health department officials to
help rewrite eligibility rules to ensure better access to subsidized
assisted living facilities. Legislation is not discussed.

A nonprofit promoting school-based health centers met with
representatives from its state’s Medicaid office to recommend an
innovative way to structure a Medicaid waiver that will increase
funding to all centers in its state.

A nonprofit urges the general public to send comments to the
Department of Health and Human Services on a proposed federal
rulemaking that is open for public comment.

When these kinds of advocacy (above) take positions on
specific pieces of legislation, particularly pending legislation, they
become lobbying. For example, if the Alzheimer’s association mentioned
immediately above, took a position on pending legislation and asked for
health department officials’ support for their position, they would be



  • “Lobbying” is virtually any advocacy activity aimed at influencing a “legislator’s” vote on specific legislation.
  • Legislator” refers to
     –Members of Congress or their staff
     –State legislators or their staff
     –Local legislative representatives (e.g., on county boards and city councils)
     –The public, in case of a ballot measure
     –Members of an organization (if asked to take action on legislation)
  • Legislation” is defined as action by a
    legislative body including the introduction, amendment, enactment,
    defeat or repeal of Acts, bills, resolutions, appropriations, and
    budgets. Also included are the U.S. Senate confirmations of executive
    and judicial branch nominees and proposed treaties that need U.S.
    Senate approval.

Direct Lobbying
Direct lobbying occurs when a
nonprofit organization attempts to influence specific legislation by
stating a position to a “legislator” or other government employee who
participates in the formulation of legislation.

  • Leaders from a nonprofit offer unsolicited testimony before the
    local city council meeting just before it was to vote on a proposed ban
    on soda in school vending machines.
  • A nonprofit sends a letter to the chair of the appropriation
    committee opposing certain budget cuts and proposing other budget
  • There are four statutory exceptions:

Nonpartisan analysis, study or research – may have a point
of view but must provide a full and fair exposition of the underlying
facts to enable reader to form an independent opinion or conclusion on
the subject and be widely disseminated and not limited to people on one
side of an issue.

Request for technical advice or assistance – a written request from a legislative body that is available to all members of the requesting body.

Self-defense – communication on an action which could
impact an organization’s existence, powers, duties, tax-exempt status
or the deductibility of contributions to the organization.

Discussion of broad, social, economic, and similar problems
– discussion on general topics which may be the subject of specific
legislation but must not refer to specific legislation or directly
encourage action.

Grass Roots Lobbying
Grass roots lobbying occurs when a nonprofit organization urges the general public to take action on specific legislation.

For example, MADD organizes a massive “call or write your governor
and senate president campaign” to urge toughening a state drunk-driving

Key indicators of Grass Roots Lobbying:

  • Relates to specific legislation
  • Reflects a point of view on the legislation’s merits
  • Encourages the general public to contact legislators

Lobbying is Legal and Important

The term “lobbying” carries negative connotations for many people
because it may raise the specter of violating federal law and losing
tax-exempt status, or because it is often associated with scandals
involving paid lobbyists representing corporate interests. Nonetheless,
lobbying by nonprofit organizations exempt under 501(c)3 of the
Internal Revenue Code is a legal and acceptable activity that is often
essential to creating good public policy and stronger, more democratic


  1. Phil Alexander says

    Thanks, Richard. As a pair, your latest post and Jane’s provide a succinct beginning course in Arts Ed Advocacy, addressing the basics of both the how (your post) and the why (Jane’s).
    When thinking of new initiatives and new strategies, I always ask myself: “Who’s been successful in this type of endeavor, and what did they do? Are their strategies applicable to mine?”
    So: as advocates for arts education, who provides examples of success that we should look to? Arts advocates and/or reform education advocates? Advocates for other “social programs”? Science and business advocates?

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