Advocacy 101

Advocacy is telling your story to a decision-maker, through various means, with the express purpose of compelling that person to do (or not to do) something. It is a process that normally takes time to realize tangible results, and there is no one way to go about advocating.

Advocacy is also grounded in two fundamental components:

  • Your ability to tell your personal story – it is personal to your own style and comfort level.
  • Establishing and fostering mutually beneficial relationships with those who have the ability to effect change.

Finally, advocacy is empowerment – exerting some form of control or initiating some form of action around an issue that matters to you.

Creating an Effective Advocacy Plan

While individuals can create their own advocacy plan, most often the organization representing their cause (e.g., Colorectal Cancer Canada) has spent time developing an advocacy strategy with the following three components, which individuals can play a role in.

  • Step 1 – Key Message Development: Decide what issues you want to advocate for, and then craft corresponding key messages to support your position.  This requires you to take an array of information and distill it down to its simplest form.
  • Step 2 – Advocacy Tools: Next, decide the means by which your key messages will be delivered to decision-makers.  These are your communication tools and they represent the core of any effective advocacy plan.  Anything you can use to communicate with people is a potential tool.
  • Examples of advocacy tools include:
  • Website
  • Newsletter
  • In-person meeting
  • Telephone call
  • Letter / fax / e-mail
  • Petition
  • Postcard campaign
  • Brochureé
  • Fact sheet
  • Advocacy Day
  • Information session
  • E-advocacy
  • Step 3 – Your One ‘Ask’: This is the goal of any advocacy plan, to be able to ask a decision-maker for the one thing you need them to do, not a list of what you want from them. Your ‘ask’ needs to be tangible, something that can be measured.  Asking someone for their support is akin to an empty promise; it won’t ever amount to much unless you outline what exactly you want them to do to demonstrate their support for your issues.

Meeting With Decision Makers

Initially, you may need to determine who your local federal Member of Parliament (MP) or provincial representative is (MPP, MNA, MLA, or MHA depending on which province you are in).  The person you need to meet with will be determined by the issue you face.  In health care, it’s likely your provincial member.  In that case, you can find your provincial representative on the Internet.

Of all of the tools you may choose to use in support of your advocacy efforts, one of the most effective is an in-person meeting with a decision maker (in the case of government, an elected representative or civil servant).  There is really no substitute for sitting down face-to-face. When presented in a clear, compelling, consistent manner, your key messages can go a long way to building a good working relationship and achieving your one ‘ask.’  But the real secret to success in advocacy is not giving up.  So keep meeting and communicating with your elected official until you’ve achieved what you need.

Developing and Telling Your Story

As you’re preparing to advocate, take the time to craft your personal story.  Write it out if you can, or get help to put it down on paper.  Whether you are a cancer survivor, caregiver, family member or friend, you have a unique story to tell about the issues and challenges faced from your perspective.  Make sure you capture those thoughts and feelings.  It will be fundamental to your advocacy activities.

Whether you’re meeting with a decision maker in person or writing them a letter, you should always take a moment to tell them your personal story or experience.  It is what connects you to the listener and humanizes the issues you’re bringing forward.

To learn more about how to develop your personal story, please review Telling Your Personal Story: A How-To Guide.

Advocacy and The Media

Sharing your story with the media – newspapers, radio, television and the Internet – can be a powerful way to advocate for change or action on an issue.  In advocacy, it is important to remember that proactively speaking to the media should be only considered after you have engaged with your elected official and given them the chance to help you.  Communicating through the media takes your issue from being private to being public and can educate a broader audience on the issue as a way to gather more support.  This can put pressure on the government, who care greatly what their constituents believe.

For this reason, engaging media in advocacy efforts is a serious step that should only be considered after exhausting all other avenues and consulting with Colorectal Cancer Canada. We are here to help!

Social Media and Advocacy

Social media has become an integral part of many peoples’ everyday lives and like traditional media (print and broadcast), it can be a powerful tool in advocacy. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can help you raise awareness about your issue among a broader group of people.

In its simplest form, social media makes it easy for people to discover, read and share news and information.  By advocating about your issue through social media, everyday people can engage with and comment on information you share in ways that are not possible through traditional media. Importantly, elected officials pay attention to what is being shared on social media – especially on Twitter – but it’s important to use these tools wisely and at the right time.

So as a patient, caregiver, family member or friend of someone with colorectal cancer, this means more than ever before you have the opportunity to have a voice and have it heard by many people.  The more contacts you make or followers you attract through social media can increase the volume of your voice, so it is heard by the right people.

Start by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn and contact us if you have any questions about social media in advocacy.