Helping inform public decisions is our role as citizens and is possible at every level. Advocacy may seem unrelated to your art, but policies are affecting us. Artists are in a unique position to communicate our public value creatively and inform community leaders throughout greater Cleveland about our needs and the impact our creative practices have on their communities.

This information is intended for both novice and expert. These articles and resources will arm you with the information you need no matter how deep you want to go with advocacy work.

You’re not in it alone!

Assembly is always here to field a question or find you resources to help you be successful. We offer on-site training for organizations’ staff and board, and we are happy to meet with individuals with questions or to help solidify ideas. There are also plenty of artists working in this arena and there is power in working together, rather than duplicating work. We can help get you connected.

Advocacy is defined as any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. This fact sheet offers a look at how advocacy is defined and what kinds of activities comprise advocacy work.

How is advocacy different than lobbying?

Lobbying is only one kind of advocacy. Not all advocacy is lobbying but all lobbying is advocacy.

What kind of activities comprise advocacy work?

The following list of advocacy activities is not exhaustive.

  • Organizing: Build power at the base. Organizing constituents and organizations around a common advocacy message allows for mobilization during critical times.
  • Educate Public Officials: Provide information on issues. Offering fact sheets, research or other information on your issues will educate public officials on the critical issues facing the people you serve.
  • Regulatory efforts: Take action at the agencies. Work with regulatory agencies to change public policies in ways that positively impact the population your organization serves.
  • Public education: Educate the community on the issues. There are many ways to educate the general public on your issues.
  • Nonpartisan voter mobilization: Encourage citizens to vote. Engage in a campaign to register individuals to vote and encourage them to do so.
  • Educational conferences: Gather, network, share information, and plan for the future. Convene to discuss issues and strategies affecting your targeted community.
  • Lobbying: Advocate for or against specific legislation. All nonprofits are permitted to lobby. 501(c)(3) public charities can engage in a generous but limited amount of lobbying.

How can your organization get more involved in advocacy? 

  • Educate. Inform your organization about current policies and problems affecting your community.
  • Evaluate. Evaluate your organization’s mission and goals, and examine whether current programs involve advocacy as a means to address problems or grievances in the community. If not, how could advocacy play a larger role in your organization’s programs?
  • Collaborate. Work in coalitions with groups whose philosophy and goals resonate with yours. Together, pooling staff and resources, all parties involved in the coalition should be equipped to take on campaigns and work for change.

Public meetings provide an inside look at process and decision-making. By attending meetings, you are in a better position to become informed and to have a say in the outcome. Knowing the history of Cuyahoga County’s economic development efforts, we can see the impact of arts and culture in the success of our local economy and back it up with research. Through our presence at meetings, we can showcase the arts and culture sector’s commitment to serving as an essential vehicle for reaching the goals of our larger community and region.

Benefits of Attending a Public Meeting

  • Understand how systems and procedures work
  • Hear how decisions are being made
  • Recognize specific concerns of individual representatives
  • Gain information to make clearer arguments for your causes
  • Make informed decisions as you vote for candidates and issues

Recommended Meetings

Quarterly Assemblies

Stay up to date on the most recent creative-industry-wide information over a meal and good company. Each quarter, we share updates on industry data trends, public policy, artist funding, racial equity initiatives, and more.

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture Board Meetings

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) is the public subdivision responsible for distributing the tax dollars generated by the cigarette tax to arts and culture organizations. Since 2007, CAC has invested millions of dollars into local nonprofits. Their board meetings are open to the public and anyone interested may attend. During these meetings, CAC discusses changes to program guidelines, staff and board, funding strategies and more. In addition, CAC provides an annual Report to the Community each spring.

Cuyahoga County Council Meeting

The Cuyahoga County Council is responsible for making a number of community decisions that directly affect the arts and culture sector. For example they ratify CAC board appointments and authorize the process for renewal of public funding for arts and culture returning to the ballot. The 11-member body is elected by Cuyahoga County residents. If you have an issue you feel strongly about, be sure to contact the official in your district, and let them know how it will strengthen the region.

City of Cleveland Health, Human Services & the Arts Committee

The Committee on Health, Human Services and the Arts shall research, investigate and develop public policy and advocate for a healthy environment for the City and its residents.

Nonprofit organizations have a unique opportunity to address issues of voter participation. We can help close participation gaps and strengthen democracy.


Nonprofits are often located in and serve communities with lower voter participation.


Most of us nonprofit professionals are extremely dedicated to improving our communities for the better. We have the ability to make positive change.


Nonprofits have the credibility and respect necessary to reach out to discouraged and disengaged voters. There is great opportunity to make the process less daunting and more meaningful for those who are new to voting and politics.


Nonprofit organizations reach populations missed by political campaigns. We are highly effective at increasing voter and civic participation when we actively engage people in the voting process.

What Are the Rules?

This webinar training session answers questions on what nonprofits can do to encourage voter participation through outreach and education to voters in their communities.

Educating Voters

Distribute Ballot Measure Guides

Ballot measures are about laws or constitutional amendments, not candidate elections. You may advocate for or against a ballot measure as a lobbying activity. You may also choose to distribute nonpartisan information on ballot measures as a nonpartisan voter education activity.

Take a position

  • † Sign onto a coalition or a public statement advocating a “yes” or “no” vote.
  • † Pass out materials to your constituents explaining why to vote “yes” or “no” on a ballot measure.
  • † Report advocacy expenditures, if any, as a lobbying activity subject to normal limits on lobbying.
  • † If your nonprofit lobbies, you should file the 501(h) Election with the IRS to standardize lobbying reporting on your 990, including a clear guideline for lobbying spending.

Distribute neutral voter guides on ballot measures that explain the measures but don’t take a position for or against passage.

  • Find a neutral ballot measure guide that discusses what happens if the measure does or doesn’t pass. You can often find nonpartisan ballot measure guides from the same sources that produce candidate guides.
  • Remember, nonpartisan voter guides are education, not lobbying. There are no financial or time restrictions on a 501(c)(3)’s nonpartisan ballot measure education activities.”

A Local Context

A chief example of how we’ve transformed our community through a local ballot issue can be seen within our own sector. In 2006, arts and culture projects, organizations and artists were supported with millions of dollars through the passage of Issue 18. This allowed for a 30-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in Cuyahoga County to be dedicated to the support of arts and culture. Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the public subdivision responsible for distributing the funds, has supported organizations that have significantly improved the lives of greater Cleveland residents and beyond.

Whether you consider your right to vote a unique opportunity or your social responsibility, please make your opinion count through your vote. It’s amazing such a small act can make such a difference.

All types of advocacy require campaigning and mobilizing support. Through various communication strategies you can easily share important messages and pique constituent interest. Advocacy essentially involves ‘influencing’ decision makers and thereby decision-making. By using current research and data you can build a case with the right message to support your work and the work of others. It’s important, however this data be interpreted and translated to fit your intended audience. This becomes even more critical when deciding the appropriate communication channel.

Integrated into your work, advocacy efforts should be simple, powerful and strategic. Most important, clarity around the outcome of these efforts is essential. Conversations with your colleagues, your board and/or your staff is a great starting point in determining where advocacy best fits for you. This dialogue might help you think through specific priorities and goals, how you might measure your impact and how to support that work through a more formalized structure.

The tips and tools below provide greater insight into building or reactivating your advocacy structure. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need assistance in getting started!

Tools and Resources

Taking the time to build relationships with the policy makers in your community is an important step in creating change. We are here to provide you with the necessary tips and tools to set you up for success.

Tools and Resources

As a 501(c)(3) organization, you can and should actively support campaigns you are passionate about by following some simple state and federal guidelines. Your organization and staff can work directly or indirectly with campaign organizers, events and fundraising efforts. We encourage you to contact your financial and legal counsel before you engage in campaign activity, and we hope these tools provide further insight for those conversations.

Tools and Resources