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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How Nonprofits Can Engage Volunteers in Advocacy

During my Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management (MNLM) studies, I gained an appreciation for volunteers and an interest in how volunteers can engage in advocacy. Volunteers are considered the backbone of the nonprofit sector. According to the Corporate Social Responsibility Wire, 80 percent of nonprofits rely on volunteers for critical activities but admit they do not have the resources to manage them as they might like.

In addition, according to a Stanford Social Innovation Review report, nonprofit leaders are not taking the time to develop or support volunteer talent adequately, resulting in a weak or bland experience that leads to an unmotivated volunteer who has little reason to return.Nonprofits can enhance the operation by utilizing volunteer skills, talent and expertise. It is vital that nonprofits seek out volunteer talents and interest during the hiring process and assign volunteers to tasks related to their area of interest and skill.

However, volunteers can also be advocates. The terms advocacy and lobbying are generally used interchangeably to describe how nonprofits influence legislation and public policy. During my MNLM studies, I learned to appreciate a new definition of advocacy. 

Advocacy is defined by Higher Logic’s Molly Talbert as “combining a passionate segment of your membership with opportunities to make a difference beyond the walls of the organization.” To use volunteers effectively in advocacy, nonprofits should implement training programs such as a micro-advocacy program, according to Talbert.

For passionate volunteers, micro-advocacy is an easy way to extend their impact throughout the community, beyond the organization’s usual volunteer tasks. The idea is to aid the organization as a whole with small, manageable bits of advocacy, like writing a letter to a local representative or networking with business leaders.

By implementing micro-advocacy as well as training and education programs, nonprofits will create awareness about their mission and the service it provides. In addition, nonprofits will build better relationships with the community, donors and sponsors. With a program specifically designed for volunteers and staff, this will help to create a healthy working environment and motivate volunteers to return.

A micro-advocacy program should include these considerations:

Define Your Goal

Just like any community-related strategy, clearly define what the goals are before planning what the organization needs and wants from this program. 

Who is Your Target Audience? 

Goals and audience targets should go hand-in-hand. 


No matter how well designed or successful the program, it is essential to continually evaluate how you are doing.   For volunteers to be successful as advocates, nonprofits must also provide education, opportunity and invitations.  With experience in volunteering and as a board member for several organizations after completing my degree, I plan to use the information I learned to assist nonprofits with implementing programs according to their needs and design other programs to educate both staff and volunteers. Volunteers donate their time, talent and expertise. Nonprofits should not be afraid to use them, as this will help save money and allow the nonprofit leaders to focus on other projects.

Carletha Sterling has been on the board of directors for Wings for Women, Tucson and A New Way Of Life, Los Angeles, California.  She is passionate about helping others.  Her responsibilities include coordinating and overseeing events, participating in training and facilitating self-help programs. Carletha has raised awareness about the organization by developing creative ways for fundraising and educating the community. She received certificates of appreciation for her service from the Los Angeles Mayor, Supervisor and City Council for her work; she is also the recipient of the 2016 Uncommon Hero Award. She enjoys working with formerly incarcerated women and being a part of the solution and not the problem. Sterling graduated from Arizona State University's Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog