“Advocacy” often refers to legal advocacy, which is when an individual represents another person within the legal system. Advocacy extends beyond courtrooms and law offices, however. Put simply, advocacy is arguing for a cause. In the nonprofit, humanitarian, and human rights world, advocacy is about promoting social change. It can include researching, educating the public, building coalitions, and developing policies. Advocacy jobs are diverse in their scope, responsibilities, and locations, but they’re all based on the idea that change and progress are within reach. Here is our quick guide on advocacy jobs, including why they matter, what advocacy professionals do, and how to become an advocate.
Why are advocacy jobs important?
Advocacy has a two-pillar function: it raises awareness and fuels action. On the awareness side, advocacy takes research and data and presents it to the world. An advocate’s audience can include politicians, businesses, other advocacy groups, and the general public. Without research and education, it would be near impossible to bring about effective change. Advocacy also fuels action by supporting communities, amplifying the voices of those most affected by issues, and holding the powerful accountable. Mobilization is as important to advocacy as research and education. The best advocates understand the significance of grassroots organization and coalition-building. With the two pillars of awareness + action, advocacy jobs make the world a better place.
What do advocacy professionals do?
Specific responsibilities vary significantly depending on the field you’re in. When working at NGOs and human rights bodies, advocates engage with international rights organizations, governments, communities, and other relevant entities. The goal is to represent an organization’s or group’s cause, which can include putting pressure on governments and/or companies to stop harmful practices. Advocates also call for practices and policies that change things for the better. While lobbying is a type of advocacy, advocates undertake additional activities that fall outside the formal scope of lobbying. Here are some examples of different advocacy jobs and what these professionals do:
Victims advocates work within the legal system serving victims of crimes. The advocate’s role is to guide and support the victim through the justice process. That can include offering counseling services and other practical support, as well as providing informational resources. Victim advocates work in places like prosecutor’s offices, government offices, and organizations committed to helping victims.
Patient advocates work in hospitals, healthcare facilities, or other healthcare-focused organizations. They help patients coordinate treatment plans, answer billing questions, and represent an individual’s best interests. Some healthcare systems are more complicated than others, but even in countries with fairly straightforward healthcare, there will always be people who need extra help. Advocates serve as essential liaisons and guides.
Advocacy researchers gather the data necessary for developing strong strategy and action plans. Responsibilities include tracking and monitoring issues, collecting photographs and other visual evidence, writing reports, working with databases, conducting surveys, and more. A researcher’s work ensures that organizations are relying on accurate information.
Housing advocates are a type of social worker. They focus on finding individuals and families temporary or permanent housing, depending on their needs. Responsibilities include serving as a liaison between clients and landlords, as well as connecting clients with other needed social services.
Public policy advocate
Public policy advocates work on legislation, so they need to understand the interests of the organization and any rules surrounding formal lobbying. These advocates often represent their organization to the media by explaining what various policies are and what the organization’s position is. They communicate public policies to governments, companies, nonprofits, and the broader community.
Voter outreach specialist
This job can have a handful of titles (like outreach manager or election specialist), but it always involves responsibilities like voter education, election awareness campaigning, and seasonal election worker recruitment. The goal is to educate and encourage voters. County offices and voting rights organizations hire these kinds of advocates.
Where do advocacy professionals work?
Many types of organizations offer advocate jobs, but for those interested in human rights and humanitarian advocacy work, here are some of the most prominent organizations:
Amnesty International focuses on research, advocacy, lobbying, and campaigning. Created to advocate for political prisoners, AI has expanded to human rights violations such as torture and the death penalty. Researchers compile data on these violations and push governments and other decision-makers to take action. Letter-writing and protests are just two examples of the type of advocacy the organization undertakes.
Founded in 1982, this Swedish-based organization defends civil and political rights. The organization collaborates with 200 local partners around the world while also acting as Sweden’s civil rights watchdog group. Using litigation, public campaigns, and advocacy, Civil Rights Defenders provide support and expertise to human rights defenders. Advocacy work includes raising awareness of issues through seminars, public reports, and the media. In repressive countries, the group provides independent information through alternative media. The organization works to improve access to freedom, justice, and accountability.
Girls Who Code is a US-based nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology by supporting young women in computer science. Work includes after-school clubs, a seven-week Summer Immersion Program, and a two-week specialized Campus Program. Girls Who Code works with legislators on their Policy Agenda, which recommends actions like expanding computer science courses to middle schools and funding gender inclusion training within professional development. The organization has worked with state governments to pass legislation in states like Colorado, Washington, and Indiana.
This Brussels-based international nonprofit encourages respect for human rights and advocates for democracy. Abbreviated as HRFW, the organization is very active in EU institutions. International treaties and covenants on human rights direct HRWF’s mission. The organization’s advocacy work includes publishing research, sharing information, organizing public events, and engaging with political leaders.
Formed from nearly 200 organizations in 117 countries, this NGO defends and promotes respect for human rights. Its advocacy includes investigative missions, political dialogue, public awareness campaigns, and other tools to raise awareness of human rights violations. Using its network, FDIH responds to abuses and calls for accountability for perpetrators. FDIH advocates at the United Nations, European Union, African Union, and other regional organizations.
How do you become an advocacy professional?
Because there are many types of advocates, career paths can look very different. While specifics vary, every path includes some version of the following: getting an education/training, finding a job, and developing essential skills.
Most advocates have at least a bachelor’s degree. While you’re in school, consider your interests and the field you want to be an advocate in. As an example, if you want to work as a victim advocate, you’ll need a degree in criminal justice, social work, or psychology. Most advocacy jobs don’t require a specific degree, but it’s a good idea to make sure before choosing your path. Depending on where you live and the advocacy you’re interested in, you may need to become certified. As an example, to become a victim advocate in the state of Oregon, individuals need to complete mandated training and be a current employee (or volunteer) in an advocate capacity with a “qualified community, campus, or tribal-based victim advocacy program.” There isn’t one standardized certificate for advocacy, so check what your area/field requires.
Finding a job
Advocacy is a broad field with many options. For advocates wanting to go into nonprofit work, volunteering is often the first step. Many nonprofits have small staffs, but always welcome qualified volunteers. While volunteers are rarely guaranteed a job, building a good track record with nonprofits as a volunteer increases your chances when a position opens up. Working with nonprofits in any capacity also helps you build a network of people who can provide references and information about employment. Networking and relationship-building are essential for an advocate, no matter what field they’re in.
Victim advocates have different responsibilities than advocacy researchers or housing advocates, but all advocates share a core set of skills. They all have excellent communication abilities, no matter what format (speaking, writing, etc) they’re working in. Advocates communicate all the time – to team members, to other organizations, to politicians, to the press, and to the public. They have to adjust their messaging based on their audience and go beyond simply sharing information. Advocates aren’t just sources of knowledge. They’re facilitators. Through their communication, good advocates persuade their audience to take action.
Because advocates represent the interests of individuals or organizations, they need to maintain a high standard of professionalism. That means collaborating, negotiating, and resolving conflicts. In emotionally-charged environments, staying calm and professional can be difficult, which is one reason why being an advocate is a challenging job. Advocacy is also difficult because many barriers block meaningful progress. Victories can be few and far between. Due to the stressful (and often dangerous) nature of the work, many advocates experience high levels of burnout. Stress management is another essential skill advocates must sharpen if they hope to sustain their efforts. In the face of slow progress, a big-picture perspective is also helpful. An advocate is unlikely to see all their hopes fulfilled in their lifetime, but recognizing they played a part holds back despair.
How much do NGO advocates get paid?
An advocate’s salary depends on the size of the NGO they’re working in and their particular role. Here’s a sample of salaries from Payscale under the industry tag for advocacy and human rights organizations:
- Victim advocate: $30,000-$48,000
- Community organizer: $29,000 – $57,000
- Public policy associate: $39,000-$73,000
- Communications specialist: $34,000-$69,000
- Research associate: $42,000-$64,000