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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“Policy-makers just don't think the public has enough experience and expertise to be credible advocates. And many times they are right. Americans are not as focused as they should be on these issues.”
— Douglas Gould,
Doug Gould & Co.


The Save Darfur Coalition was started by advocacy and humanitarian relief groups affiliated with the Jewish community. At first it mobilized predominantly members of this community across the country, calling them to action to help stop the genocide in Darfur. In less than two years the coalition has evolved to become a diverse alliance of over 100 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations. Read more »

Who's Your Constituency?

Building a constituency or advocacy base for your cause can often be the most important component of a successful advocacy campaign. Citizens who believe in your advocacy goal and become engaged advocates are your most powerful allies, especially over the long run. A recent report by Carolyn Long for the GII stated that “Groups also understand the need to develop a much wider constituency for foreign assistance and many are taking steps to expand their outreach efforts.”

Policy elites often underestimate the public's level of concern about global issues, which seriously undermines the efforts of advocacy groups to represent a strong constituency and diminishes the pressure that policymakers feel. Many of these elites, and especially elected officials, correctly perceive that there is a significant gap between what the public thinks about global issues, and the actions they take (or rather do not take) to act upon these beliefs. This is why it is so critical to invest in constituency building efforts, and to help members of the public speak up and make their beliefs and concerns known to decision makers and to the media. What's more, the media will be more receptive to your issue if they know the public is interested. When media outlets receive several letters to the editor on a given topic, or when an article is on top of “the most emailed list” on their Web site, the media knows it matters to their readers.

Building a constituency of advocates is a process that requires a long-term organizational commitment. The public needs to be adequately informed about the issue before they can act on it. When constituents speak to or write to their policy makers, it is equally important that they are passionate and informed about the issues. Foreign policy advocacy often requires a significant investment in public education work because many of the so-called 'global issues' are not part of people's daily lives and concerns. Moreover, if you plan to encourage citizen action in global affairs, you will need to help counter the global mayhem frame through which many Americans habitually view global issues. The good news is that studies have shown that the public reacts more positively to “calls to action” when they are placed within what some researchers have called the global interconnectedness frame. The GII and the U.S. in the World project propose several guidelines for reframing issues and shifting U.S. public attitudes towards our role in global affairs and helping to build a proactive constituency. Refer to the Message Framing section for more information on this topic.

Plan to build your constituency and to track your progress
You need to plan ahead to define the groups of constituents you want to involve in your cause. ”The American public” is not a constituency; you need to be specific. Who could help you reach your advocacy goals? Which groups would be inclined to support your organization and your cause? Faith-based groups, college-based groups, professional trade associations, members of immigrant communities, and educators—these are examples of groups you could target with your messaging. Additionally, if you are working on legislative advocacy, you will need to mobilize constituents at the state and district level. The more specific you are in articulating your advocacy base, the easier it will be to monitor your progress towards achieving your constituency building goals.

It is equally important to research whether there is an existing constituency for your issue. You might not be the first group to advocate on this issue, and it is only encouraging to learn that there is an existing advocacy base that you could tap into, or other advocacy groups that you could collaborate with. Also, you might learn that there are constituencies who could be predisposed to supporting your issue. Check out the Save Darfur Coalition as an example.

There will be times when you will need a quick reaction from your constituency, such as when you are faced with an impending legislative or executive decision. Having communication systems in place to quickly reach and mobilize your constituents will be critical to generating a timely response. If your resources allow, it is important to have field or grassroots coordinators present in the districts and states where you plan to be active to help mobilize constituents.

It would be ideal to perform a survey or run some focus groups before you start your campaign to learn more about what your constituency knows and feels about your issue. This will help you monitor progress of your public education and outreach efforts. Some reports are already available for you to use.


  • Try to make a connection between your issue and values your audience already holds.
  • Keep your constituents informed about the issues; it will help them become effective advocates. But don't overwhelm them with information. One e-mail per month is usually a good practice.
  • Provide your constituents with concrete ways to take action.
  • Celebrate small and big victories with them!
  • Proactively seek feedback about their involvement in the campaign: What are they doing? How are they getting others involved? Encourage them to share their stories with you.