January 6, 2021
An advocate is someone who champions the unheard, the unseen, and the underrepresented. To advocate is to shine a light on specific struggles, such as poverty, mental health problems, domestic abuse, discrimination and other important social issues. And to work toward positive change. Advocates don’t just speak up for themselves, they serve as a loudspeaker for others.
People are called to advocacy for many reasons. Perhaps you’ve been personally affected by a particular issue. You may have watched those around you struggle to overcome what seem like impossible or unfair odds. Maybe someone you love has been a victim of violence, abuse, or discrimination. Sometimes, it’s as simple as learning about an issue you never knew existed, or being frustrated by a lack of progress on an ongoing social problem.
No matter what inspires you to become an advocate, there are a few basic things you can do to help you be most effective.
1.) Research the issues
The more you know about a specific social problem, the more empowered you will be to help.
Learn as much as you can about the issues you care about and the change you want to see. For example, if you want to become an advocate for people with disabilities, speak with people who are living the experience. Learn about the obstacles they face and the solutions they’d like to see put in place. Find out how you can use your voice to help amplify theirs.
Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and be open to learning whenever an opportunity presents itself. Dive into books and videos created by people facing the issues you want to help change. Talk with organizations and nonprofits that are working to help solve these problems to learn what types of advocacy are most helpful. Do they need financial support? Volunteers? Policy advocacy?
There are no specific skills required to advocate for the people and causes you care about. All you need is a willingness to learn about the issues and a desire to help create solutions.
2. Make connections
You’ve taken the time to soak up lots of information and data. You’ve asked questions and learned about potential solutions. Now, it’s time to share that information with others-- not just on social media, but in real time and with real conversations.
In order to be effective, you can’t just repeatedly shout your views out into the world. True advocacy requires working together. If you want to be a good advocate, you’ll need to speak AND listen.
Make a habit of meeting new people, and getting to know your community on a personal level. Trade difficult stories and varying points of view honestly and without judgment. Engage with people beyond the surface level. Find out what their dreams are and what their struggles are.
Empathy is a key ingredient in advocacy. Whether you want to learn more about those you are advocating for or educate those you want to bring into the fold, the foundation of effective advocacy is getting to know people beyond their labels and relating to them as individuals with unique thoughts, feelings, experiences, and needs. This is what allows you to build trust and inspire change.
3. Give, work, or volunteer at local social services organizations
Social services nonprofits are charities dealing with humanitarian issues. United Way funds a network of nonprofits focusing on a variety of issues in our community to address complex problems in a collective way. All of these agencies are vetted to make sure they are working efficiently and effectively and that their United Way grant dollars are being well spent.
Charitable giving is one way you can be an advocate for change. By donating to social services organizations, you’re supporting critical advocacy systems designed to lift up those who need it most. You’re lending the power of your resources to the power of their missions. This is a great way to help the causes you care about.
If you’re a hands on person, you can also advocate by volunteering with one or more agencies in your community. Many of these organizations rely on dedicated volunteers to run their programs and deliver their services.
You may also choose to make advocacy your full time job by working in the nonprofit sector. Many nonprofit organizations are full of smart, talented, and passionate advocates who want to change the world for the better. Why not join them in this work?
For ideas about which organizations you may want to get involved with in Whatcom County, check out our list of current partner agencies. Not from around here? Visit your hometown United Way website for a list of trustworthy charities near you.
There are so many nonprofit agencies out there doing amazing work. By joining forces with them, you can help those who need it and be part of the solution. By supporting them financially, you can help them change the world.
And that’s how you become a great advocate.