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Advocacy Vs. Lobbying: Their Unique Roles, Examples and FAQs

Published: Sep 15, 2023

This guide will help you navigate advocacy vs. lobbying, understand the key differences, and know when to advocate and when to lobby. You’ll see why advocacy and lobbying aren’t just interchangeable terms but distinct strategies with different rules and implications. 

We’ll explore examples and common terminology and address concerns you might have about the limits and boundaries of these activities. Whether you’re a nonprofit organization, an activist, or an individual passionate about change, this knowledge will empower you to make a more significant impact.

So, why should you care about advocacy vs. lobbying? Why is this distinction vital? How does it relate to your goals and aspirations?

Let’s uncover the answers.

What is advocacy?

Advocacy is a form of proactive support or action to promote a particular cause, idea, or policy that aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social institutions. It includes speaking up on behalf of or defending a specific interest. 

Advocacy encompasses various activities and publications designed to influence public policy, laws, budgets, and multiple aspects of society. It is a fundamental tool to create positive change and address critical societal issues.

Recommended: Say The Right Things: How to Use Communication For Advocacy

What is lobbying?

Lobbying is a planned effort to influence government officials, legislators, or policymakers to shape decisions or policies for a specific cause or group. It involves various tactics and methods to persuade these decision-makers to adopt a particular stance or take specific actions.

Lobbying is crucial for businesses, interest groups, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations to participate in the democratic process and advocate for their interests within the government and legislative arenas.

There are two primary types of lobbying:

Grassroots lobbying

Grassroots lobbying involves mobilizing and engaging the general public or constituents to influence legislators and government officials on specific issues or legislation. It aims to create a groundswell of public support that can influence lawmakers’ decisions and policy outcomes.

Direct lobbying

Direct lobbying, or traditional lobbying, involves direct communication between lobbyists and legislators or government officials. It focuses on building personal relationships with lawmakers and directly influencing their decisions through persuasive communication.

Read Next: What Are The Restrictions On 501c3 Political Activity?

Advocacy vs. lobbying: Difference between advocacy and lobbying


Advocacy and lobbying are both ways to influence change, but they have distinct purposes and approaches. Understanding the nuances between advocacy vs. lobbying is essential for effective engagement in societal change.

Let’s break down the differences between them:

GoalSeeks to raise awareness, educate, and inform the public and policymakers about a particular issue or cause.Lobbying is specifically geared towards influencing government decisions, policies, or legislation or gain political influence.
MethodsAdvocacy involves activities such as public awareness campaigns, providing information, sharing stories, and mobilizing supporters.Includes direct communication with lawmakers, advocating for or against specific bills, providing data and arguments to support a particular position, and mobilizing grassroots support.

Examples of advocacy vs. lobbying

Here are examples that illustrate the distinction between advocacy and lobbying:


  1. Meeting with a legislator to share stories and experiences about how a policy impacts the people you represent.
  2. Utilizing social media platforms to raise awareness about a particular cause or issue without explicitly urging legislative action.
  3. Engaging with government officials to provide information and insights into how a specific problem or issue affects a particular group or organization.
  4. Offering technical expertise and advice to a legislative body in response to a request, such as participating in hearings to provide insights.
  5. Sharing nonpartisan research, studies, or analyses related to broader social, economic, or similar problems without advocating for specific legislation.


  1. Meeting with a Member of Congress and explicitly requesting their vote in favor of, or opposition to, a specific piece of legislation.
  2. Sending emails to members of your organization, urging them to contact their elected officials to support or oppose a specific bill or pending regulations.
  3. Creating an online petition that asks either your organization’s members (direct lobbying) or the general public (grassroots lobbying) to contact their legislators in support of or opposition to specific legislation.
  4. Developing materials or organizing events designed to advocate for a particular position on legislation explicitly.

Advocacy vs. lobbying: Difference in vocabulary

Understanding the key terminology used in advocacy and lobbying can clarify the distinctions between these activities:

Common terms in non-lobbying advocacy

EducateProviding information and knowledge to raise awareness and understanding about an issue.
InformDisseminating facts, data, and insights to keep stakeholders updated on specific matters.
ShowDemonstrating or presenting evidence to illustrate the significance of a cause or issue.
Advance policy issues/Advocate for changePromoting or pushing for specific policy-related concerns without directly engaging in legislative action.
Mobilize supportEncouraging individuals or groups to actively back a cause.
Promote a cause/Campaign for/EndorseHighlighting and endorsing a specific issue through public campaigns.

Expand your knowledge: 5 Advocacy Tools That Stop Your Campaign From Falling Behind

Common terms in lobbying

LobbyActively engaging with lawmakers, policymakers, or government officials to influence their decisions or actions.
Persuade/Sway/InfluenceUsing persuasive arguments and reasoning to win support for a particular stance or position.
ConvinceAchieving agreement or acceptance through effective argumentation or negotiation.
Win legislative victoriesSuccessfully achieving the desired outcomes in the form of legislative actions or decisions.
Petition/Appeal/SolicitFormally request a government body or official to address a specific issue.

Relevant resource: Challenges In Lobbying Strategies: How Not To Lose The Good Fight

Advocacy vs. lobbying: Who can engage in these activities?

Anyone can engage in advocacy. 

Lobbying, on the other hand, often involves specialized professionals known as lobbyists who possess in-depth knowledge of government processes. While individuals and organizations can petition the government directly, it is more common for organizations and businesses to hire lobbyists to represent their interests. 

Effective lobbying involves understanding the concerns and priorities of various lobbying interests and tailoring your efforts accordingly.

Many lobbying groups actively participate in shaping public policy and advocating for their causes. Industries such as health, insurance, oil and gas, technology, and electricity are particularly active in hiring lobbyists. For instance, in 2022, the pharmaceutical and health products industry spent over $375 million on lobbying efforts, as reported by OpenSecrets.


Annual lobbying in pharmaceuticals/health products. Source: OpenSecrets.

FAQs about advocacy vs. lobbying

1. Is advocacy considered lobbying?

No, advocacy is not considered lobbying. Advocacy focuses on raising awareness, educating, and informing about specific issues or causes without directly pushing for specific legislative changes.

2. What is the difference between lobbying and advocacy in healthcare, nursing, and public health? 

In healthcare, nursing, and public health, the distinction between lobbying and advocacy remains the same: Advocacy involves activities like raising awareness, educating the public, and informing policymakers about health-related issues. On the other hand, lobbying specifically targets government decisions and legislative actions related to healthcare policies. The key difference lies in the intent to influence specific legislation.

3. What’s an example of lobbying?

An example of lobbying is a healthcare organization urging lawmakers to support a bill that proposes increased funding for a specific healthcare program. This directly seeks to influence a legislative decision.

4. How can I determine lobbying limits for my 501c3? 

Lobbying must be done within an effective and fair framework that promotes transparency and accountability. Lobbying activities that target the federal government are subject to specific regulations and reporting requirements. 

To determine lobbying limits for your 501(c)(3) organization, refer to the IRS guidelines and use the “expenditure test” and “substantial part test” to ensure compliance. 

For guidance on lobbying restrictions for nonprofits, refer to this article, ‘Can Nonprofits Lobby? How to Lobby Within the Limits’.


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