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Why Advocate?

Each year, Congress receives millions of communications from constituents.

A 2010 survey of congressional staff by the Congressional Management Foundation ranked various methods of communicating with members of Congress.

  • Constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district/state office (94%) were found to have 'some' or 'a lot' of influence on an undecided Member, more than any other influence group or strategy.
  • Nearly identical percentages of staffers said postal mail (90%) and e-mail (88%) would influence an undecided member of Congress. Personalized letters and e-mails (not form letters) remain one of the most influential methods of communicating with policymakers.

Getting involved in efforts to educate policymakers is time consuming, but has the potential to reward, in terms of influence and real dollars.

It is important that your voice be heard by your elected representatives in Congress for the following reasons:

  • Your community can benefit from the support of a well-placed legislator. Legislation and administrative policies usually require a broad base of support in order to become enacted.
  • Your professional training, experience in public health and position in the community affords you undeniable credibility.
  • Every legislator is in favor of protecting the health of their family and residents of their community. They just don't know exactly what public health is or what it means.
  • If you don't explain what your local health department does, nobody else will.
What is the difference between advocacy and lobbying

Advocacy is a political process by an individual or a group which normally aims to influence public policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.

Lobbying is a form of advocacy where a direct approach is made to legislators for or against specific legislation or regulation. Some jurisdictions prohibit health departments from lobbying. NACCHO recommends that you check the rules in your jurisdiction before engaging in lobbying activities.

There are many advocacy activities to participate in that are not lobbying, such as:

  • Educating legislators and the public about public health issues in your community
  • Providing data that reflect the real story of your community
  • Engaging in regulatory actions
  • Speaking to the media about public health issues  

(More information about advocacy and lobbying is available from the Alliance for Justice.)

NACCHO's Congressional Action Network, which includes more than 600 local health department leaders, engages in advocacy on behalf of local health departments. NACCHO's Government Affairs staff provide CAN members with technical assistance, training and information about opportunities for advocacy on a regular basis.

NACCHO's Legislative Action Center assists you in communicating with your Members of Congress. More details are available in the Online Advocacy Guide section on "Making Contact with Policymakers."