Where to Find the Time for Advocacy

By Brian Henderson • November 20, 2019

Is there a tradition so American as feeling overstretched in one’s personal and professional life?

With Americans increasingly reporting burnout, and with many ruminating on a new age of “digital distraction,” the question of where to find time in your schedule for advocacy is a daunting one. Nonetheless, many people have found ways to carve out time in their schedules to participate in advocacy. This is evidenced by the trouble that lawmakers themselves have keeping up with the flood of communications from constituents and other politicians they have to sift through. As I have written in Association Adviser previously: “The ease and speed of electronic communication has massively increased the volume of correspondence that policymakers have to sift through. Lawmakers’ time is structurally limited, but their responsibilities and workload are not subject to the same constraints.”

Although this means that successful advocacy requires a thoughtful and in-depth approach, it is also possible to find sufficient time to participate.

Time is at the core of the common structural barriers to participating in advocacy. Legislatures operate during common business hours, so visiting means citizens and activists must take time off of work. The legislature may be located prohibitively far away for a quick visit. Participation opportunities may come on short notice or be unexpectedly delayed.

Unfortunately, there is no way to fiat our way out of these barriers, but there are certain types of advocacy participation that can help you avoid these obstacles and fit advocacy into your schedule.

The aforementioned hurdles are almost always associated with the time intensive activity of travelling to a capitol. Traveling to a state capitol, however, is just one of the ways to amplify your or your association’s message. There are numerous ways to participate that don’t require nearly as much time and effort. For example, you might:

  • Write a letter to the lawmakers representing you,
  • Tag lawmakers in social media posts,
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, or
  • Meet your elected representatives when they are back in the district.

To be clear – in-person advocacy at a capitol remains invaluable. It helps raise the profile of an issue by bringing a personal human element to a policy debate. In-person activities allow for more expansive conversation and have a higher degree of noticeability for lawmakers, if you are able to do so.

Remember too that the time you sacrifice to participate in advocacy is time that can be gained back through improvements in public policy. Consider, for example, a physician who advocates for a law that reduces administrative burden and associated costs in their practice. Advocacy is often not time lost, but time invested.

Advocacy is often not time lost, but time invested.

Using a government affairs firm can also help reduce the time burden associated with participating in advocacy by outsourcing many details of the process for you or your association’s members. For example, a government affairs firm may use digital engagement tools (existing databases) that prevent you from having to track down contact information for your legislators when you would like to send them a letter. The firm could also assist you in scheduling an in-district visit.

In any case, there’s never a better time to engage a government affairs firm than now. Effective advocacy requires relationship building, and a government affairs firm can not only streamline that process, but also begin building the foundation you will need tomorrow. Those relationships and foundations take time to cultivate. Investing that time for advocacy gradually in the present makes the process of advocacy less burdensome for your members in the future when your association’s efforts are needed the most. Government affairs firms are well-positioned to identify and coordinate many of the less time consuming advocacy activities for your members, driving participation and enhancing your chances of success.

About The Author

Brian Henderson is a senior government affairs psecialist with Naylor Government Affairs. Reach him at [email protected].