Learning Through Research





What is advocacy?

Advocacy is organized action in support of an idea or cause, with constituents educating elected officials and their staff on important issues as well as establishing ongoing relationships that can be leveraged to create meaningful change.

What is CUR’s role in advocacy?

For CUR, advocacy means bringing the CUR message to lawmakers in Washington, DC. CUR engages in advocacy through many avenues. Examples include the following:

  • Posters on the Hill, the hallmark of CUR’s federal advocacy efforts. During Posters on the Hill, 60 teams of students from across the country come to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, to present their research and demonstrate the value, significance, and impact of undergraduate researchers. Lawmakers and staff flood to this annual evening reception event to learn from their constituents. During the day, the students visit their congressional delegations to convey their unified message on the importance  of undergraduate research.
  • Targeted outreach to Congress and the White House is conducted on an ongoing basis by CUR staff, members of the CUR Executive Board Advocacy Committee, and additional CUR members from key congressional districts. This outreach is done throughout the year, such as in advance or on the eve of important legislative action, when CUR members come to town for events such as CUR Dialogues, and during the August congressional recess when staff has time to dig deep into the subject of undergraduate research.
  • Correspondence to Congress and the White House is another example of how CUR advocates for federal policy. CUR submits formal letters in support of programming that is critical to undergraduate research across all disciplines and weighs in formally on relevant legislation. These letters are aimed at both Congress and the White House, affecting both authorizations and appropriations.
  • CUR joins in coalitions with others to advance specific agenda items. The voice of many is always stronger than the voice of one. Whether the topic is broad, such as nondefense discretionary spending, or narrow, such as funding for the National Science Foundation or the National Endowment for the Arts, CUR lends its name to collective causes that seek to advance undergraduate research through larger funding efforts.

What can advocacy yield?

Advocacy is an incredibly effective tool for delivering the message about undergraduate research to policymakers. Five of the top values of advocacy are the following:

  1. Relationships: successful advocacy means developing ongoing relationships with lawmakers and their staff. Advocacy does not start and stop at the first encounter. It requires ongoing maintenance of relationships to maintain the conversation about undergraduate research.
  2. Inform and educate: advocates never assume that the lawmakers and staff have a working knowledge of their topic. This is often true for undergraduate research. Creating opportunities to advocate can help teach the people key to advancing undergraduate research on the federal level about its far-reaching effects.
  3. Connections: CUR’s legislative agenda and priorities are directly connected to national goals, including education, workforce readiness, innovation, and competitiveness on a global scale. Advocacy “connects the dots” between undergraduate research and these national interests.
  4. Value: lawmakers are particularly compelled to take action when advocates can demonstrate the value of their work to their constituency. Lawmakers take a strong interest in the value of undergraduate research for their local students, institutions, and economies.
  5. Resource: Lawmakers like to connect with success and expertise, so advocates strive to position themselves as go-to resources. CUR has been called upon frequently as a resource on undergraduate research.      

What is the difference between advocacy and lobbying?

As previously mentioned, advocacy is organized action in support of a cause, educating elected officials and their staff as well as creating ongoing relationships and communication. Lobbying, on the other hand, is action in response to a specific piece of legislation. Many people find the differences between advocacy and lobbying to be narrow or unclear. Below are some general rules of thumb about lobbying to consider.


  • Lobbying is narrowly defined by the IRS as “expression of a view or a call to action on specific legislation.”
  • Nonprofits are prohibited from lobbying via IRS regulations but may engage in advocacy.
  • Lobbying does not include nonpartisan analysis of legislation, the expression of a position on issues (as opposed to legislation) of public concern, or action taken in “self-defense” of the organization.

It is rare that CUR advocates find themselves in a gray area between advocacy and lobbying. The above is not intended to be legal advice.


For questions about CUR advocacy, contact Elizabeth L. Ambos