Being an Effective Advocate
“Remember, you can make a difference.” – John Walsh, television personality, criminal investigator, human and victim rights advocate, creator of America’s Most Wanted, founder of the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, and originator of numerous pieces of legislation surrounding child protection and missing children.
What is an Advocate?
An advocate is someone who stands up for a person, group, or cause. They may make phones calls or write letters on someone’s behalf, speak in front of a court or agency, or lobby or campaign for an individual or a group. Anyone can be an advocate. From attorneys or social workers to a nonprofit group or a concerned citizen, advocates can be anyone who is committed to championing a cause. No matter the capacity in which an advocate works, however, he or she must have some key characteristics to be effective.
Being passionate about a cause can be an advocate’s most useful trait. Energy and enthusiasm will come through when an advocate is making their case. Also, that passion will help them overcome any obstacles that they may encounter. Decision-makers and organizational leaders recognize passion in advocates and often listen closely when an argument is presented forcefully with compassion and care.
Knowledgeable & Organized
Advocates need to understand the issues and laws surrounding their cause. They must take time to research the history of the cause and what others have done in regards to the issue, ensuring that their facts are current and accurate. Effective advocates also take the time to find out who the key individuals are and what role each has in the decision-making efforts that affect his or her cause. This is especially important when dealing with political or professional entities or individuals. Having accurate and complete information is critical, but it is also essential for an advocate to have strong organizational skills so that he or she can present a clear and detailed case for their cause.
Advocates are good communicators, both verbally and in writing. Many times they are called on to present a case in front of an organization or a panel on behalf of their cause. An advocate must be able to speak clearly and powerfully but maintain a friendly and open demeanor. They must be able to listen to all sides of an issue as well as understand the needs of those they are advocating. Often, advocates must write articles for the media, informational papers, or letters of reference, so strong written communication skills are also valuable.
Advocates want to create or support change that impacts their cause. Whether they are trying to get assistance for someone, gather support for an initiative, or raise funds from a corporate or governmental entity, advocates must be persuasive. However, they must be careful not to be so pushy that they put people off. Finding that balance can take time, but with practice, it can be a critical skill in the advocate’s arsenal.
Putting Your Skills into Action
Now that you know the characteristics of an effective advocate, you are ready to go out and champion your cause. Where do you start? It helps to determine which opportunities match your interests, abilities, and skills. If your cause is to advocate for cancer, consider the following activities.
If you are a cancer survivor, your unique insight could guide another patient through the experience, whether it be by listening or sharing personal stories. You can also coordinate or participate in support groups, like the Kosten Foundation’s monthly support group for Pancreatic Cancer survivors, patients, their caregivers, and families.
Raising Awareness and Educating the Public
Cancer advocates can help raise awareness at local and national levels through such activities as:
- Speaking with community groups about critical issues such as access to decent care or job discrimination.
- Writing a blog that talks about the importance of cancer screening and early detection.
- Communicating with local and national media about cancer-related issues.
Raising Money for Cancer Research
Cancer research is expensive, and many groups do fundraising. An advocate can help plan or participate in local and national fundraisers. For example, you could:
- Donate money directly to a cancer group.
- Donate money through a workplace-giving or employer match program.
- Buy products from sources that donate a percentage of profit to cancer causes such as Amazon Smile.
- Volunteer to help with a fundraising event.
Changing Public Policy
Cancer advocates can work to support or change laws and regulations affecting people with cancer. Individual advocates can help by:
- Sending a letter or making a phone call to a legislator. For help finding your representatives, click HERE.
- Testifying at legislative hearings.
- Speaking publicly about a cancer-related policy issue.
Being an effective advocate for a person, group, or cause does not have to be an intimidating prospect. By knowing and developing a few essential characteristics, you can champion your cause in whatever forum suits your interests and abilities.