The Top 4 Rookie Advocacy Mistakes

The Top 4 Rookie Advocacy Mistakes

Ayelet Hines No Comment

These common mistakes are easy to fall into if you and your team don’t make them part of your conversations. As you plan, check in with each other to make sure you aren’t committing these crimes against advocacy.

  1. Confusing a problem with an issue. “We want to do something about food deserts because all people in our area have to eat is Doritos and Mad Dog” is a great idea, but it’s not actionable. “We want to pass a city ordinance requiring that at least 60 percent of receipts from grocery and convenience stores come from non-alcohol, tobacco or junk food sales” is actionable, and thus an issue.
  2. Going for quick wins without gaining broad public support. Sometimes it’s possible to do something legislatively and get the powerbrokers on your side without having popular support. Friendly policymakers may do what you want them to do but get a lot of blowback from constituents if you haven’t laid a supportive foundation in the district. Without it, it may only take small number of unsupportive constituents to derail your progress. Also, in states where ballot initiatives are an option, this situation can lead to a ballot initiative sponsored by the “other side,” and a big loss.
  3. Focusing on big national issues when the odds are much better for a local win. With the polarization of federal politics, I’m more inclined than ever to keep campaigns local, where there’s still a middle ground and people are willing to negotiate and compromise. There are more endangered Javan rhinos than there are moderates in Congress, and more of them head for the exits every day (both the members and the rhinos). At the local level, policymakers are embedded in the same communities so working together may be more important for them than for people who can return to their separate corners of the country.

Also, if there’s large-scale opposition, it’s often easier to defeat that opposition at the local level than at the state or national level, and sometimes we can and do use action at the local level to push state or national policies. For example, when advocates were trying to make tobacco companies create and market self-extinguishing cigarettes, they got several states to introduce legislation mandating slightly different technical specifications in each state, in effect forcing tobacco companies to support a national standard so they didn’t have to create different cigarettes for each state.

  1. Not focusing on specific decision-makers: An acquaintance who works for a big environmental group recently told me his boss instructed him to round up all his canvassers and go to Capitol Hill to talk about why it’s a bad idea to drill off the South Atlantic coast. Who will make the decision? He didn’t know. How did the people he was bringing to the Hill correspond to the people who would be deciding? He didn’t know. The day amounted to a gigantic waste of time and resources. Focus on the specific people who can give you what you want, determine who influences then, what constituencies they listen to, and what tactics will be effective for each specific target.


Got questions? Happy to help however I can.

And if you haven’t downloaded these free tools, you can get them here:

  1. 11 Proven Steps to Designing & Winning Campaigns
  • The 11-point plan that I use with organizations, as well as with my grad students at Johns Hopkins
  • The critical elements your campaign must have
  • Easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers
  • Designed for beginners.


  1. Power Up & Amplify: Turbocharge Your Campaign Through Coalitions
  • Who to recruit
  • What coalitions do
  • How to pick a good coalition name
  • Attracting diverse coalition partners
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  • Designed for intermediate advocates.


  1.  Laser Focus on Power: How to Find & Engage Influencers
  • Get policymakers to say yes to you by mobilizing their inner circles
  • The 10 steps of power mapping
  • The questions to ask and where to find answers
  • Easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers
  • Designed for advanced advocates.

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Shifting Power, Building Movements

Ayelet Hines - Change University

For over 20 years, I’ve helped people win campaigns on progressive Issues.

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