70 Experts Share Their Best Advocacy Planning, Strategy, Skills and Training Tips

Learn from seventy great minds including our CEO Pamela Hawley about advocacy advice! Click here to read the original article on Connectivity.

By Ann Dermody

How would you like to have your own personal government relations or advocacy mentor on speed dial?

Even, if you’d been in the business for years?

Well, we’re about to give you the next best thing.

We conducted 70, (yes, 70!) interviews with some of the leading minds in the worlds of government relations, nonprofit, advocacy, public policy, and fundraising, and asked them four pertinent questions:

  • What advocacy skill have I learned over time, or do I wish I had my first day on the job?
  • Having tried a bunch, the best advocacy strategy I rely on is …?
  • When I’m planning an advocacy campaign, the first thing I always do is … 
  •  What would be the most useful advocacy training?

Just FYI, we asked them a bunch of other questions too, and we’ll give you the full picture of what they had to say soon (including epic campaign fails and successes) – but more of that good stuff later.

For now, here’s a taster of some of the best advocacy strategies, tips and tricks they’ve learned from many collective years toiling in the world of legislation and advocacy.

And when you’ve finished reading, don’t forget to download our great free eBook: The Advocacy Planning, Strategy and Skills Guide.

Finally, to everyone who took part, a big thank you!

And to everyone reading, this is one you’ll want to bookmark!


What’s the greatest advocacy skill I’ve learned over time, or what advocacy skill do I wish I had had the first day on the job?

A better understanding of how advocates use social media. In my job, I’m constantly checking Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds for the latest news and updates on client campaigns, but most advocates don’t have the time to stay this connected. Many advocates favor one channel over the other, and are often not checking their social media feed until later in the evening or on the weekends. So, learning how to communicate more effectively to my audience has been critical to ensuring a successful campaign. – Carolyn Weems, VP, The Herald Group

“Knowing when to be persistent and realizing that if your efforts for change do not succeed this year, there is always next year.” – Frank Harris, Director of State Government Affairs, MADD

I didn’t have an appreciation for the value of relationships. When you work on issues, you think ‘policy’ — which is important — but I didn’t realize or appreciate how important it is to not only have the right message, but to have the right messenger. You can be more acutely effective with the right messenger. – Chip Felkel, CEO of Rap Index


Enthusiasm. If you are passionate about what you do, they will listen. People want to be around people who love what they do. Most people these days want to find a driving purpose for their life. So even if your topic isn’t their immediate interest, your enthusiasm might just persuade them to get involved! – Pamela Hawley, CEO, Universal Giving

I wish I could have had the public speaking presence I have had to develop over many years in my advocacy work. – Meredith Nethercutt, Senior Associate Member Advocacy, SHRM

Networking: specifically, knowing how to strike up a conversation with a stranger or butt into the middle of a conversation between three or four people. – David L. Rosen, Press Officer, Regulatory Affairs, Public Citizen and Founder of First Person Politics

… social media experience. Members of Congress love to use social media and it can be an incredibly powerful and engaging tool. We now recommend social media strategies to all of our clients as part of their overall advocacy initiative.” – Lincoln Clapper, Director Sales & Marketing, Prime Advocacy

“Live social video streaming didn’t exist when I started at Greenpeace, but I wish it did!” – Ryan Schleeter, Online Editor, Greenpeace USA blog

Database and email management skills. Communication to our supporters is key. Once we’ve captured their emails then it’s up to us to engage, educate and inspire. It cannot replace face-to-face interactions but it allows us to control the message, and hopefully turn the mildly interested supporter into a fully engaged advocate. – Jason Amaro, Southwest Chapter Coordinator, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers 

I wish I had a better handle on logistics when I first started. Time management when juggling multiple campaigns and issues can be tough. – Mark J. Walsh, Campaign Director, Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence

There are a few great advocacy skills I’ve learned from my mentors over the years that I now carry with me every day.

  • Develop a solid team.
  • Be persistent, but patient
  • Issue campaigns are like marathons not sprints
  • Define the win up front. – Christine Hill, Deputy Legislative Director, Sierra Club

Listening. When you get your hands on an issue you believe in, it’s easy forget the other voices in the room. The false consensus effect can derail even the strongest campaign. People assume that one point of view is the same as everyone else’s, and too often, people build their campaign from that false consensus. I found that it is best to anchor your advocacy campaign in facts. – Gerry Gunster, CEO, Goddard Gunster

Read the full article here!

Top 4 things not to use your interns for


At UniversalGiving we love our interns and recognize the tremendous amount of value they bring to us. We want all of our interns to experience growth not only as employees but also as human beings during their time with us.

Some of us have been working in the workforce for 20, 30, 40 years plus.  We’ve done a lot of things over our career, step by step, building ourselves and organizations to new levels.  

In your mind, you’ve  worked very hard to advance yourself and your company.  You’ve also rolled up your sleeves thousands of times to help make sure the team can succeed, whether that’s raising a new round of funds, or xeroxing.   Meeting with a millionaire investor, or cleaning the dishes after a team event.   You feel you have paid your dues.

Yet being a part of a company and culture isn’t genuinely driven by that mindset.  Your devotion to work should be because you want to, and would like to help. That sincerity will advance you light years.   Not only will your managers recognize your genuine attitude, but you will feel a sense of integrity within, which is driving you for the right reasons to serve.  

But you might be tempted.  

“I worked so hard!  I need help.  It’s time for the young 18 year old to roll up their sleeves so I can do the important work.”

Part of that is true.  Your interns should want to serve and help in any way they can.   But it can never be your attitude in full.  People of any age deserve to have meaningful opportunities to grow. Provide them an enriching experience that will help them grow as individuals and professionals.


So here are the top 4 things you shouldn’t ask your intern for:

  1. Go get coffee.  Everyone does this! There is no reason why you can’t get up from your office to go get your coffee and show the team that you are working to provide for yourself—your own caffeine fix!  Please keep in mind as well that as the newer generation is more socially conscious, they may not agree with caffeine or even the type of drink you are having, or even feel it is holistic or organic.  So, where you can you want to avoid any sense of conflict of values.
  2. Xerox.  We all need help with copying, faxing, and it’s okay to ask them to do it.  However, please be mindful that this should be no more than 5-10% of their job.  They are coming there to gain experience, not to press buttons.
  3. Personal errands.  Unless you have an agreement—which usually isn’t the case for college interns that they are doing personal errands for you—that should never be the case.  They are coming there to get work experience, not to pick up your dry cleaning.  Remember, they are an important part of the brand that you are building.  They can post online about anything that concerns them, but more important is that you want to make sure you’ve got a great relationship with them.
  4. Leave them manager-less.  If you are not present, make sure someone is.  They are looking for guidance, they want to grow, and they want to learn.  They don’t have anyone to go-to to ask normal questions about business.  They are going to feel stranded, and their work product will suffer, their experience will suffer, and your relationship with them will be not so strong.

We all need help and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Make sure that you give your interns positive ways to succeed in the workplace and build their resume.

A Lesson in Service Delivery Excellence by Muhammad Ali (The Greatest of All Time)

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By Odessa Jenkins, Director of Client Services at YourCause

When I heard the news of Muhammad Ali’s death, I was immediately overcome with thoughts on how to improve my personal performance as a leader and as an individual contributor. Although I never had an opportunity to watch Ali fight live (I was 6 months old when Ali fought Holmes in Oct. 1980), as a sports enthusiast I have always been enamored by the stories of the champ’s work ethic, showmanship, and most of all, results. He was a champion, and more importantly, a results driven activist.

As a competitive athlete, it’s easy to understand how I could apply Ali’s teachings to be a better performing running back.  But I was pondering a greater challenge. How could I translate key elements of Muhammad Ali’s success into core lessons as the Head of Service Delivery and Client Support? After taking the time again to briefly study his life, the lesson jumped off of the pages:

Dedicate Yourself to Training

Multiple sources have revealed that throughout Ali’s boxing career he had a steady regimen of training 6 hours a day, for 6 days a week. Training was the first thing he did in the morning (6 mile run), and the last thing he did at night (2 mile cool down walks). As a young fighter (prior to becoming a champion) Ali understood the value of training and the ultimate impact that it would have on his career.

In the world of Account Management and Customer Service, our training is our stopgap. Building, preparing, and continuing emphasis on training keeps your service work force accountable to the standards set by the organization. We also focus on training as a mechanism for driving service improvements. Multiple opportunities for new services and product improvements have come through the lens of new and existing employees in a training session. As we continue to experience growth at YourCause, the emphasis and expectation for training increases.  Like Ali, my employees expect that the training they receive will ultimately help deliver the results that they want to achieve.

Address challenges head on, BUT always have a plan

Some would regard Ali’s ability to handle adversity as his most impressive attribute. Not only did he defend his title over multiple decades, but he stood up to, and even antagonized racism in a time when that type of behavior was sure to cost a man his life. Additionally, Ali managed to defend his title on many occasions in an era recognized as the most competitive time in boxing history. Nevertheless, what has gone under appreciated is that Ali was a great strategist. His ring generalship was made evident by his flawless execution of the “rope-a-dope” against Forman, and he played the media so harmoniously that no one even cared to try and curb how aggressive his message was.

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This may have seemed like reckless behavior at the time, but we can see clear patterns of actions and considerations that can serve as a key formula for successful customer issue resolution. As service oriented humans, we are natural problem solvers. We are the types that jump right in and typically have a high intensity “all in” solution to getting the problem addressed. We can all learn from Ali’s approach to planning and communication:

  1. Listen closely, speak clearly and address the issues directly
  2. Show empathy, but always stay in control of your emotions
  3. Always share a root cause and preventive measure (and understand the difference between the client facing and internal versions of each)

Your achievements should be authenticated by your titles, and not vise versa

There seems to be a belief in recent years that awards are validation of a job well done. But what Ali taught us time and time again is that personal power comes from within, rather than from external recognition.

According to legend, after being denied service at a restaurant for his color, Ali threw his gold medal into the Ohio River. He knew he was “The Greatest,” and a gold medal or even later being stripped of his Heavyweight Title by not enlisting in the army wouldn’t change that.

For Ali, and customer service professionals, it is the results that matter, not the award. At YourCause we take this lesson to heart, and let our service reputation in the form of client feedback, referrals, and renewals be our ultimate reward.
Muhammad Ali was a true legend in and out of the ring, and his life and career offers many lessons to learn from if you look closely.

Volunteering Around the Corner: Just Get Involved!

By Caroline Blackburn

UniversalGiving® is about incorporating volunteering in everyday life.  This belief that people should volunteer naturally is key to the company’s vision.

I wish I could say that I have been to a cool foreign country to help all of the disadvantaged people there, but sadly I cannot.  I have not travelled the world, nor have I had the opportunity to serve people who live internationally.  What I have come to realize though is that people need help everywhere.  You do not need to travel across the globe to aid people (though if you have the opportunity to do so, by all means do it!) and the people you are serving do not need to be the most impoverished.  Many people could use assistance all across the world.  Volunteering and helping wherever you can will have an impact.

The other thing I realized is the importance of volunteering for something that you are truly passionate about.  It is amazing all of the ways the world needs support – whatever you are passionate about, I can almost guarantee will provide an opportunity for you to contribute to society.

I have always loved sports — playing sports, watching sports, anything relating to sports.  I never thought that this passion could connect with my other passion philanthropy, until I got to college.  I play club lacrosse and my team’s coach mentioned how she volunteered coaching a local middle school team, but had to stop coaching because of her new job.  She asked if anyone had an interest to coach the team.  I immediately realized that this would be a wonderful opportunity to get involved in a new community and share something I love.

So I showed up to this local middle school, unsure if I was even at the right place and with the realization that I had no clue what I was really doing.  Very few of the middle school children had ever played the sport before and they all looked at me as a peer rather than a coach.  I remember feeling anxious before I spoke to them about who I was.  We all then went around and said our names, favorite celebrity, favorite foods, etc.  I showed everyone how to catch and throw a ball and the rest of practice was really spent trying to learn these two skills alone.

At the end of practice, one of the mothers came over to tell me that her daughter would be missing practice every Wednesday.  As she explained this to me, her daughter excitedly ran over to her and exclaimed, “I finally found a sport I like!”  This was a silly thing for me – how did she know if she liked the sport after such a short amount of time?  She had been there for an hour and was still learning to catch and throw a ball.  However, this also brought a smile to my face.  Not only do I remember the excitement of playing lacrosse for the first time, I also remember running to my mom after the first practice proclaiming my love for the sport that I barely knew how to play.

As the season progressed the girls improved but what meant the most to me was the relationships we were building.  Every practice I went to, I was greeted with hugs, smiles and excitement.  By the end of the season, they all made me promise to come back and coach next year.  Some of the girls had signed up to play lacrosse over the summer and all admitted that they loved learning lacrosse and loved the team even more.

I realized that I didn’t have to be on a different continent or in a poverty stricken place.  I could help people from anywhere, using my skills and interests.  Volunteering doesn’t always have to be for the most noteworthy cause, getting involved in any way can be significant.

That is why I am so excited to be a part of UniversalGiving®.  The idea of easily matching people and companies with volunteer and gift opportunities that they are passionate about facilitates and encourages social impact involvement.