I think people get advocacy confused with lobbying. To my mind, there is a huge difference. Advocacy is about educating people so they can make an informed choice between options. Certainly you are passionate about what you are advocating for, certainly you will share the information in the best possible light, surely your will encourage those you are educating to come and see your program in action for themselves, but the intent of your efforts is to educate and inform. On the other hand, lobbying, to me, is about trying to influence a person’s decision on a particular topic. Now one could say that when you are lobbying you will do the very same things that you would do when advocating for something, and I think that this is true. However, I think the intent is different when you are lobbying. When lobbying, you expect to influence the person’s thinking.
In the movie, An American President, the Annette Benning character is a lobbyist who is working to change the way members of Congress are voting on a particular issue. Her entire office staff is focused on getting the number of votes needed to pass the initiative. I think this is a fair portrayal of a lobbyist. I certainly have no quarrel with lobbyists as long as they identify the intent of the work they are doing, which they do.
An advocate, on the other hand, is more like a maven—defined as an “expert or knowledgeable enthusiast” whose intent it is to educate and inform. Think about it, if you want to fix a particular dish you either contact a friend who makes it or the internet and look to an expert to share with you the information you need to inform you so you can create the dish you want to serve. Mavens, or advocates, seek to bring folks up to speed by providing them with the information they need to have full understanding so they can make an informed decision.
I would encourage all of you who are passionate about after-school programming to become a maven, an advocate whose mission it is to educate those in your community—parents, business people, government officials and others, who do not understand the value-add of your work. The value-add for the students, certainly, but also the value-add to the business owner who needs a strong work force, parents who are their child’s first teacher and also need a safe place for youth to be in the hours after-school, and the government officials who can ensure that after-school programs can continue.