Advocacy and Lobbying

As The Borgen Project is a nonprofit advocacy organization, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of advocacy and lobbying. These words and the actions that come along with them have gotten much more popular in the last few years. What do they really mean?

What is Advocacy?

Political advocacy is the “act of supporting a change… on a local, state, or federal level.” Political advocacy involves participants expressing their opinion on an issue to elected officials through emails, calls, letters and social media. An advocate’s main goal is to increase support for an organization, cause or policy. With regard to nonprofit organizations, advocacy generates advancements in issues concerning people and their communities. The Borgen Project uses advocacy as a tool to influence federal legislation to reduce global poverty.

Advocacy reinforces democratic political involvement by providing people with decision-making roles in public policies and strengthens civil society. Advocacy is a group effort and presents plans that model sustainable solutions to current social, economic and political problems.

There are three main types of advocacy:

  1. Self-advocacy
  2. Individual advocacy
  3. Systems advocacy

Self-advocacy refers to an individual’s ability to effectively negotiate on behalf of their personal goals.

Individual advocacy involves a person or a group communicating on behalf of others.

Systems advocacy focuses on changing local, state and federal policies to impact lives on a global scale.

The Borgen Project uses systems advocacy.

Advocacy Activities

There are five principal activities used to encourage supporters to be more involved in a cause:

  1. Click-to-call campaigns. This tool connects supporters to representatives through telephone communication. The Borgen Project asks ambassadors and supporters to call their federal legislators in support of specific global poverty reduction legislation and initiatives.
  2. Social campaigns. This tool utilizes social media accounts to keep supporters updated on current legislation and events. The Borgen Project’s website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram keep supporters updated.
  3. Petitions. This tool is used to gather signatures that indicate people’s support for or against a certain policy.
  4. Campaign events. Campaign events are vital for reaching out to the community and to legislators. Events can revolve around gaining signatures for petitions, explaining legislation and/or fundraising. The Borgen Project and its ambassadors host campaign events to advocate for the organization’s mission.
  5. Campaign reporting. This tool requires members to actively communicate with managers to ensure the campaign’s success. Advocacy campaigns require recordkeeping to document petition signatures, event registrations and budget transcripts to record overall campaign outcomes.

What is Lobbying?

Lobbying is a form of advocacy and involves communicating with legislators about existing or pending legislation to influence their decision to support or abandon policies. People who engage in lobbying are referred to as lobbyists. Lobbyists are knowledgeable experts on the issues that they lobby for or against. 

Lobbying as an Activity

There are two main types of lobbying:

  1. Direct lobbying refers to any attempt to influence legislation through communication with a legislator. This form of lobbying is about directly communicating support for or opposition against specific legislation and the possible effects of the legislation if put into place.
  2. Grassroots lobbying involves encouraging the public to contact their legislators in support of or against specific legislation. Grassroots lobbying is considered to be an indirect form of lobbying, as grassroots lobbyists encourage others (typically, constituents) to contact their legislators.

The Borgen Project utilizes both direct lobbying and grassroots lobbying by meeting with congressional leaders and mobilizing carried out by Borgen Project ambassadors.

Importance of Lobbying

Sometimes, the term lobbying has a negative connotation as only benefiting small interest groups excessively, but lobbying is ultimately an important educational tool and impacts good change.

Lobbying requires engagement from both lobbyists and legislators. Lobbying is essential to legislators because the reality is that tens of thousands of bills are introduced in each congressional cycle. Even if a legislator is supportive of an issue, they might just not know that a bill on the issue has been introduced. Without support, bills can easily stall in Congress and die when a congressional cycle ends. Lobbyists are essential in informing a legislator on an issue and advocating for policies that drive change on a specific issue.

Lobbying Success Stories

The Borgen Project’s use of lobbying has helped move impactful global poverty legislation through Congress. Some examples are the passage of the Water for the World Act and the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act. 

  • The Water for the World Act passed in December 2014 after being stalled in the House of Representatives. From 2009 to 2014, The Borgen Project held 410 meetings with congressional offices and mobilized thousands of Americans to contact their congressional leaders in support of the bill. Lobbying efforts by humanitarian organizations, including The Borgen Project, helped to move the bill out of the House of Representatives and into the hands of former President Barack Obama, who signed the bill into law. The Water for the World Act was the first White House strategy for addressing the lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and the law worked to provide 100 million people with first-time access to clean water.
  • The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act was signed into law on January 13, 2021. It helps Pakistani women and girls gain access to higher education by guaranteeing that USAID awards at least half of its Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program to women through 2022. It also supports initiatives of the Pakistani government that improves the quality of and access to education.

Organizations that Lobby!

The Borgen Project is not the only organization that lobbies! The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Oxfam are two more examples of humanitarian organizations, out of many, that lobby. Humanitarian organizations lobby to further bring change in the institutional and legislative arenas for human rights advancements.

Lobbying by humanitarian organizations helps raise the voices of people in marginalized groups. For example, UNICEF lobbies governments for laws that prevent and address child abuse. Oxfam lobbies Congress for global poverty and inequality reduction legislation. Similar to The Borgen Project, UNICEF and Oxfam engage the public and their professional staff in lobbying efforts to further human rights legislation in government.