Advocacy and Volunteerism

Difference between Advocacy and Volunteerism

Non-profits across the world are divided into those that are advocacy oriented and those that volunteer their services for the public good. Advocacy groups often promote views and opinions of likeminded citizens regarding public policy and suggest specific courses of action that can be actualized. On the other hand, the non-profits that are volunteerism oriented actually get their hands dirty by participating in ground level work and grassroots mobilization. The difference between advocacy and volunteerism is that whereas the former is theoretical in approach and concentrates on pressure as a means of goading the policymakers to adopt specific courses of action, the latter is more grassroots based with practical actions aimed at changing or influencing the public discourse. In other words, whereas advocacy groups are urban based and are largely content with meetings, conferences, publishing reports, and focusing on measures that work with the policymakers, the volunteer based nonprofits are spread across the countryside and involve taking actionable steps to influence the public discourse.

Commonalities between Advocacy and Volunteerism

Having said that, there are some commonalities between the advocacy groups and the volunteerism groups as both seek to influence the public discourse towards the realization of goals that promote social justice and public welfare. Moreover, the lines between advocacy and volunteerism are blurred often since advocacy groups also have volunteers and rely on grassroots activists for inputs and the volunteerism groups also play advocacy roles. The point here is that in the nonprofits sector, the organizations working for the public good have an umbrella of activities that comprise of both advocacy and volunteerism and they cannot draw a hard and fast line between these activities. The net result is that many nonprofits end up doing both advocacy and grassroots campaigns.

Define the Base Objectives

As mentioned above, the nonprofits often have a mix of strategies to promote public welfare. However, it needs to be mentioned that nonprofits have to define the objectives and goals for which they are in existence or to use a phrase, raison d’Ítre of existence, wherein they formulate their bottom line goals. There is no point in nonprofits spreading themselves too thin because they are doing everything at once. Further, there is also no gain in espousing too many causes and ending up not doing justice to any of them. Hence, the nonprofits have to first draw up a charter of what they would do and what they would not do and even though they might cross the line sometimes, it helps if they define their core principles clearly.

Closing Thoughts

The complex world that we live in needs non-linear thinking to solve problems and hence, the nonprofits too have to work within uncertainty and chaos. For this reason alone, the nonprofits have to ensure that whether they are advocating a particular stance or mobilizing volunteers at the grassroots, they do not stray too far from their stated objectives and remain true to their basic goals and objectives.


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