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What is Advocacy?


“The Art of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea or  policy; active support” 

- American Heritage Dictionary (2000). 

What is the difference between Advocacy and Lobbying?

Lobbying is “trying to influence the thinking of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause.” Lobbying is a guaranteed right in the United States. Lobbying and advocacy are similar. If you have ever spoken with a public official on an issue that you are for or against, then you have “lobbied” your official and “advocated” on behalf of a cause. However, lobbyists are usually compensated for their services, and therefore need to comply with various ethical and lobbying disclosure laws governing their activities. As a volunteer advocate, you are usually not subject to lobbying, registration and disclosure laws unless you are compensated for your activities.

The Federal Definition of Lobbying: 

"Influencing, for financial or other compensation, the formulation, modification, or adoption of legislation, rules, regulations, executive orders, or any other programs, policies, or positions of the government, the administration or execution of a government program or policy (including the negotiation, award, or administration of a government contract, grant, loan, permit, or license), or the nomination or confirmation of a person for a  position subject to confirmation by the Senate."

The Pennsylvania Definition of Lobbying:

An effort to influence legislative action or administrative action by any individual, association, corporation, partnership, business trust, or other entity that engages in such an activity on behalf of a principal, for economic consideration.

Legislators are hardworking, dedicated individuals. They need to be knowledgeable about everything from Special Education Funding to Agricultural. They kneed to stay current on issues from the Waiting list Initiative to the Trucking Industry. It is our job to inform them of the issues that effect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially personal stories from their constituents. How do we do that?

Understand the Issues

  1. Check out The Arc of Pa’s website or call 1-877-337-1970 to find out the key issues.
  2. Sign up for The Arc Action Alerts to be alerted when any key issues arise that require action.
  3. Read The Arc of PA’s Position Papers and Resolutions on Key issues. Go to, click Disability Resources and then Position Papers and Resolutions.
  4. Learn who to contact on specific issues.

Get Involved

  1. Contact your local chapter of The Arc.
  2. Become a member.
  3. Develop a relationship with your local and state governmental officials.
  4. Ask about, attend or join committees such as MH/MR Advisory Boards, local chapter fundraising efforts, etc. 
  5. Attend Advocacy and Policy Day in Harrisburg and The Arc of US annual Policy Seminar in Washington, DC.
  6. Attend local trainings.

Take Action

  1. Action Alerts through website
  2. Emails to local and state officials.
  3. Letter writing- examples on Advocacy Tools and Telling Your Story.
  4. Phone calls to your legislators' offices.
  5. Visits to Legislators at district office or Harrisburg- found on
  6. Attend community events and talk to legislators.
  7. Inform others in your support groups.
  8. Invite officials to your chapter to Board meetings or special events.
Helpful Hints when Advocating with an Elected Official
  • Be authentic, passionate and professional
  • Identify who you are and who you represent
  • Do your homework and know your issue.
  • Present the facts and any statistics that are area specific
  • If asked a question you do not know, tell them you will research the question and get back to them.  
  • Tell your story , but be brief and to the point and how it relates to the issues
  • Bring along a picture of the person you are representing.
Talking With Your Legislator Over the Phone
  • Identify yourself and your issue.
  • Be concise
  • State your purpose
  • Refer to legislation- whether you favor or oppose the bill
  • State your concern
  • Think about how this effects your local community.
  • State the facts
  • Ask if they  support your view
Meeting With Your Legislator In Person
  • Schedule appointments with your legislator during their time in the district offices.
  • Be on time.
  • Dress appropriately.
  • It is ok to meet with  staff or an aide.  
  • Introduce yourself and why you are there.
  • State your objective.
  • Thank him or her for previous support- if applicable.
  • Explain how this issue effects you and your community.
  • Personal stories help the legislator relate to the human side of the issue.
  • Ask for legislative support.
  • Ask what you can do to help the legislator.
  • Leave fact sheets or other written materials regarding your issue, 1 or 2 pages.
  • Thank the legislator for their time and send a written thank you as soon as you get home.
5 Conversations Your Legislator Wants to Have With You
  1. Local/county statistics
  2. How state monies are being spent in the district
  3. Real life stories that illuminate the statistics
  4. How your organization accesses voters in the district
  5. What specific legislative action would make you happy

Stay Involved

  1. Services constantly change- so it is important to stay involved. Understand that current issues may not be relevant to you now- but are on the horizon for you and your family.
  2. Provide feedback to your local or state chapter of The Arc on visits with local and state officials.

Downloadable Advocacy Training Materials

The information above (and more) is also available in downloadable form below.

These training materials were developed by The Arc of Pennsylvania Advocacy Capacity Committee.