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 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 to consider about lobbying.
  • Lobbying is narrowly defined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (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.
Ways to Foster External Relations:
  1. Highlight your events celebrating undergraduate research with invitations to:
    • members of Congress,
    • state legislators,
    • local leaders and the local community (e.g., city councilors, county commissioners, members of the chamber of commerce, Rotary Clubs, K-12 superintendents, and members of disciplinary societies), and
    • members of your campus community (e.g., Board of Trustees members, general counsel; and representatives from the offices of external affairs, advancement/development, and public relations).
  2. Send press releases to your local media and campus community identifying undergraduate research highlights and accomplishments.
  3. Launch an event at your State House celebrating undergraduate research and invite state legislators (e.g., a "Posters on the Hill"-type event).
  4. Share undergraduate research highlights and accomplishments (including the broader impact of the research) with program officers at funding agencies.
  5. Include undergraduate research as part of your institutional narrative (e.g., by making it an integral component of your institution’s website) and include undergraduate research in your institution’s mission, vision, and strategic plans.
  6. Share your undergraduate research ideas and announcements with others through publications (e.g., Inside Higher Education, Chronicle of Higher Education).
  7. Promote interactions between alumni and students currently involved in undergraduate research.
  8. Establish undergraduate research collaborations with other organizations and research centers at the local, national, and international level.
  9. Get involved in new faculty orientation at your institution, using CUR as a resource.
Other Information Resources:
  • Congressional Record: The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session. It provides daily summaries of action in each chamber, committee hearings, bills introduced, bills signed, and a schedule of committee meetings for the following day.
  • U.S. Senate: This is a useful portal to the U.S. Senate and includes a number of features, including links to senators' web pages. The "Legislation & Records" link provides information about bills and resolutions being considered in the Senate. The site allows viewers to track bills and see how individual members voted on a particular bill. The site also provides a schedule for upcoming legislative activity.
  • U.S. House of Representatives: This is a useful portal to the U.S. House of Representatives and includes a number of features, including a tool to identify your congressperson. The "Legislative Resources" section provides information about bills and resolutions being considered in the House. The site allows viewers to track bills and see how individual members voted on a particular bill. The site also provides a schedule for upcoming legislative activity.
  • Washington Post: This newspaper's website includes a "Today in Congress" section, where information on congressional action items is listed and can be sorted by date.
  • Politico:  This periodical focuses on the U.S. political system.
  • This resource is valuable when attempting to locate information about a particular Member of Congress.