Running the Race for Advocacy

Running the Race for Advocacy

By Jordan Wildermuth, MSW, Manager, Health Policy and Advocacy

Kenyans and Ethiopians have dominated the sport of distance running for many years. What sets them apart from the rest of the field is their technique of pack running. They run in a large group (or pack) and use each other to set the pace, fend off the wind, and conserve energy. Even though they are working together, and the goal of each individual is to try and win the race, they realize that in order to do so they need the help of their teammates.

So what happens when associations utilize the pack running technique in advocacy? Just like in running, they give themselves a better chance of being competitive.

Many times, it’s easy to brush off advocacy to a larger organization with similar interests, but is that other organization truly representing your membership and your strategic plan? You are running in the same pack but at any point in the race the pace could change and you could find yourself behind, breathing heavily, or dropping out.

So how does a small to mid-sized association accomplish their advocacy goals while being cognizant of available resources? It’s not necessarily about doing more with less, but rather clearing the clutter and uncovering hidden talent and resources.

Here are a few ideas to ensure you’re giving yourself the best chance to win the race for advocacy.

Join a Team

By participating in a coalition you are contributing your association’s expertise and voice. Here are a couple ways to maximize your coalition participation:

  • Identify a member to serve as the key representative who participates in meetings and activities and then have that individual report back to the Board with any action items.
  • Align each policy priority with a coalition that is currently working on the same or similar issues as a way to carry out your agenda.

These two items can lead to the dilemma of having signed onto many different letters to Congress or Federal agencies, but not having done anything to highlight your association’s niche. Most coalitions operate on modified consensus so the issues are usually discussed in more general terms that are applicable to all coalition members. This provides the opportunity to sign on to the coalition letter, then also submit your own letter that integrates the coalition’s perspective AND highlights your niche or specialty. This also opens up the opportunity for further collaboration.

Find New Training Partners

Another opportunity that is increasing is nominating members for committees or work groups within Federal Agencies. Through the nomination process you are not only putting forth an individual but raising the profile of your association by nominating them on your behalf. Nomination opportunities routinely require specialized skill sets which lend themselves to the work of smaller specialty associations.

Be Competitive

Internal lobbying is an important aspect of advocacy as well. Members are being inundated with blast emails about conference, educational opportunities, membership benefits, and advocacy tends to be buried because it is not a revenue generator. Work across departments to integrate some advocacy component in your marketing and education.

There’s no doubt that advocacy can be a viable function of your association. No matter the size of your membership or your budget, by doing these things and using the pack technique, you can be a competitor in the advocacy race.


Jordan Wildermuth, MSW, is a health policy and advocacy manager for three AMC client organizations. He also knows racing, as he was a 2014 Boston Marathon participant. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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