The twelve rules of advocacy

Posted on 09 May 2024

By Chris Borthwick, thinker-in-residence, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Dozen Eggs shutterstock 2424230909

Our Community’s resident Agony Uncle and thinker-in-residence, Chris Borthwick, examines the conundrums facing not-for-profits. In this comment, he nominates a few hard-won truths about advocacy. Contact Agony Uncle with your gnarly NFP problem.

1. The best battle is the one you don't have to fight
If you can find a way around the problem, do that. If you can live with it, do that. If you can cut a deal, do that.

2. Find the weak point
And make it a photogenic angle where the public is on your side.

3. Symbols are powerful
What's your symbol? What's theirs? How can you bring them both into a story?

4. Ask for something specific
It minimises confusion across your coalition.

5. Keep it simple, stupid
If you can't make your case in 140 characters (old style), you're not going to conquer the world.

6. People trust their friends
Word of mouth is magic. That's where social media comes in. One retweet and you're inside the magic circle. You have to go viral.

7. Let someone do you a favour and they're yours for life
If you can get your members to join in your advocacy, it strengthens their commitment to the cause. Studies find, for example, that people who've signed your petitions give more than your other members.

8. Easy come, easy go
The easier it is to sign on to a campaign, the less weight people place on your contribution. And vice versa.

9. Your enemy isn't evil. It's apathy.
Friction slows you down. Inertia almost always prevails. Like a shark, if you don't keep moving, you die.

10. Half a loaf is better than no bread
Don't die in the last ditch for the last inch. Every step forward is valuable.

11. Credit where credit is due
For any gesture at all towards your position by a politician, reward them with enthusiastic praise, no matter how much you object to everything else they're doing. Classic behaviourism: that's how you teach pigeons to play ping pong.

12. It's got to be fun
The other side is paid by the hour. It's no hardship for them to sit back and outwait you. The only way you can keep the pressure on is by keeping your supporters interested and excited and motivated and having fun.

Read more of Agony Uncle’s guidance.

ICDA help sheets: How to do great advocacy

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