In the simplest terms, advocacy is the process of speaking out for something, such as a cause or a policy. The English word is actually derived from the Latin term “vocare” (“to call”). So with the prefix “ad” (which means “for” or “towards”), advocacy becomes “calling for”. This definition clearly shows that advocacy is active, not passive. As practitioners and researchers have attempted to define advocacy, action words, such as identifying, influencing, supporting, recommending, representing, defending, intervening, and changing, are often used in the definition.  Advocacy is a broad concept that goes beyond changing or shaping legislation; seeking change, securing and promoting social justice, shaping social and political outcomes, systematically influencing decision making, and educating the public with the purpose of bringing about change, are all actions associated with advocacy. These actions are not restricted to legislative involvement. In fact, those working for nonprofits know and understand that systems change often takes place at the local level. Advocacy includes many aspects of civic involvement.

Community advocacy involves challenging assumptions about vulnerable populations. Negative attitudes and myths, often promoted within communities, influence availability of services for those in needs. Using community advocacy to change mistaken public perceptions is one way in which nonprofit professionals can bring about change. Accepting the erroneous portrayal of some segments of the population creates adverse consequences for public opinion and therefore, social policy. Changing these perceptions at the grassroots level, providing accurate information on the issues that matter to the community, and assisting community members to make their voices heard are ways in which community advocacy can take place. Furthermore, educating business owners and executives, influential religious leaders, and others well position within the community on issues impacting vulnerable populations, can sway priorities or practices that can benefit vulnerable populations, while at the same time enhancing community life for all.

11 definitions for the term “advocacy”.

  1. Advocacy is an action directed at changing the policies, positions or programs of any type of institution.
  2. Advocacy is pleading for, defending or recommending an idea before other people.
  3. Advocacy is speaking up, drawing a community’s attention to an important issue, and directing decision makers toward a solution.
  4. Advocacy is working with other people and organizations to make a difference.
  5. Advocacy is putting a problem on the agenda, providing a solution to that problem and building support for acting on both the problem and solution.
  6. Advocacy can aim to change an organization internally or to alter an entire system.
  7. Advocacy can involve many specific, short-term activities to reach a long-term vision of change.
  8. Advocacy consists of different strategies aimed at influencing decision-making at the organizational, local, provincial, national and international levels.
  9. Advocacy strategies can include lobbying, social marketing, information, education and communication (IEC), community organizing, or many other tactics.
  10. Advocacy is the process of people participating in decision-making processes which affect their lives.
  11. Advocacy is winning the support of key constituencies in order to influence policies and spending, and bring about social change.

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