Main image
19th May
written by Anna Blasco

This is the second in a series of  “Advocacy How-To” blogs. In this series, you’ll find tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns.

As an employee of a mission-driven organization, you can and should conduct advocacy and lobbying activities on behalf of your cause.

Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding what types of advocacy and lobbying are allowed keeps a lot of important voices silent.

What is the difference between lobbying and advocacy?

According to the IRS, which oversees lobbying activities, lobbying involves an attempt to influence specific legislation at the local, state, or federal level. Lobbying activities include contacting any legislative Member, legislative staff, or government employee to influence him or her to propose, support, or oppose specific legislation, as well as trying to persuade the public to share your views on a particular legislative proposal.

Advocacy, however, is focused on education about a specific issue on behalf of the people your organization serves. There are two main types of advocacy: non-lobbying advocacy and lobbying. There is no federal limit on how much non-lobbying advocacy your nonprofit organization can do.

Below are a few key things that nonprofit organizations should and should not do in regards to lobbying and advocacy.


  • DO advocate. As we said above, there are no limits on non-lobbying advocacy activities.
  • DO lobby. Nonprofit organizations have a unique perspective and play a valuable role in shaping federal policy.
  • DO learn how to measure your organization’s lobbying activities with the Advocacy Toolkit.
  • DO talk with all of your funders. Public and private foundations can fund lobbying projects but must follow certain rules.
  • DO work with the Alliance year-round on advocacy and lobbying campaigns, like the effort to increase funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in fiscal year (FY) 2012.


  • DON’T think lobbying can only be done by professional lobbyists. Your lobbying activities can result in better policy, making it easier for your organization to achieve its mission.
  • DON’T use federal funds for lobbying at the state or federal level. A local funding match cannot be used for lobbying purposes either.
  • DON’T ever participate as an organization in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. As a private citizen on your own time, you are perfectly within your rights to participate in such a campaign but not while representing your organization.

Policymakers rely on nonprofit organizations’ expertise to make decisions about policy so you can and should lobby.

You should make informed decisions about how your organization is tracking its lobbying and advocacy activities and seek training about lobbying rules and regulations. Use the information in the Advocacy Toolkit to help you begin to make these decisions. As always, the Alliance can help you as you begin making these considerations and begin your advocacy efforts.

Image courtesy of mrjoro


  1. 20/05/2011

    I appreciate the post because it is always a good refresher to remember that basically the ONLY two things that have to be monitored arehow professional lobbyists are compensated (not through federal or state funds) and that we do not link with a specific political campaign. Other than that lobby and advocate away!! It is super easy to contact staffers and legislators WANT to hear our (voters) voices.

    I was wondering, though, if you guys have or have thought about putting together an email template that is easily copied and pasted for advocates who want to contact their legislators but may be hesitant because they hit the ‘compose’ button and don’t know where to start. Do you have a template?

  2. Amanda Krusemark

    Hi Willie,

    Thanks so much for your comments! You couldn’t have said it better – legislators really DO want to hear from us!

    We absolutely have template letters! We tend to be constantly releasing new sample letters because we want to have something as up-to-date as possible for each key legislative issue that recognizes the latest policy developments. Right now, our “calls to action” are focused on McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants (sample letter available here: and Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs (sample letter available here: If you have any questions or would be interested in a more personalized template, just let me know! I can be reached at


  3. [...] that you know you can and should use advocacy to end homelessness, we are going to focus the next few Advocacy How-To [...]