In our last post we explored the difference between grassroots and direct lobbying. In this post we’ll uncover the differences between advocacy and lobbying. The lines can easily become blurred between advocacy and lobbying (especially grassroots lobbying), making it important to distinguish between the two. Let’s look at the differences in detail:

What Is Advocacy?

Advocacy is generally defined as arguing in favor of a cause or idea, whether it’s environmental protection, minority rights, or the myriad other issues that affect people every day. There is no limit to the amount of advocacy a person or organization (such as a nonprofit) can do.

What Is Lobbying?

Lobbying can generally be defined as any attempt to influence a politician or public official on an issue. Lobbying is further broken down into:

  • Direct lobbying: Any attempt to influence new or existing legislation via communication with a member of the legislative body or other government representative who has a say in the legislation.
  • Grassroots lobbying: Asking the general public to contact their legislator and/or mobilizing the public around a legislative issue. Organizations, such as nonprofits, cannot ask their members to contact their legislators or government agencies regarding the legislation, though, as this is considered direct lobbying. Examples of grassroots lobbying include creating an online petition to generate public support for a cause, distributing flyers, and organizing a public demonstration or rally.

Nonprofit organizations can engage in some lobbying without having to register; however, the IRS has strict rules about what portion of an organization’s budget can go toward lobbying activities, and federal funds cannot be used for lobbying.

Examples of Advocacy vs. Lobbying


  • Telling a member of Congress how a policy affects constituents
  • Using social media to get the word out about a cause/issue
  • Meeting with a government official to explain how a particular problem/issue is affecting a particular group or organization, the environment, etc.


  • Asking your member of Congress to vote for or against, or to amend or introduce, particular legislation
  • Emailing members of your group asking them to contact their member of Congress in support of or opposition to legislation or pending regulations
  • Generating an online petition asking members of your organization (direct lobbying) or members of the public (grassroots lobbying) to contact their legislator(s) to support or oppose particular legislation


lobbyists in DCWho Can Advocate?

Anyone can engage in advocacy. Educating policymakers about the needs of your organization or community is something anyone can do. You can advocate by organizing supporters on important issues and encouraging them to email or call their elected officials, using social media to educate people about issues/causes, and meeting with elected officials to let them know in person how an issue is affecting the community/organization.

Keep in mind that asking elected officials to support or introduce legislation crosses the line into lobbying. Sometimes advocacy alone isn’t enough, and legislation is necessary to fully address an issue or problem—this is where an experienced DC lobbyist can be a huge help. The expert lobbyists at Lobbyit have been helping small and mid-size organizations establish their voice on Capitol Hill for years. We offer competitively-priced lobbying packages for organizations of every size.