Updated May 15, 2012
Methods and Strategies
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New Media Strategies
Strategies for Global Advocacy
The Pew Forum used responses to a mail and email questionnaire to gather data about the
strategies religious advocacy groups use to try to influence public policy. Early in the study,
questionnaires were mailed to 148 separate, active groups that had been identified as religious
advocacy groups at that point, and 61 of these groups returned completed questionnaires. (For more details, see Methodology.)
About nine-in-ten groups that responded to the questionnaire report that they contact
policymakers in person (90%) and in writing (93%). Leaders of the groups say they use both
issue-specific research and broader moral or theological arguments in these communications.
About seven-in-ten of the groups that returned a questionnaire say they give testimony at
hearings (70%) or author policy papers (75%). Far fewer groups produce scorecards on how
members of Congress vote on legislation (8%) or support candidates in elections (7%). Because
of their tax status, many religious advocacy groups are barred from supporting or opposing
candidates in elections. In addition, leaders of many groups say they eschew partisan political
activity on moral grounds. Interviews conducted as part of this study found that many of the
leaders, particularly those who represent official religious bodies, tend to view electioneering
as divisive and theologically inappropriate.
More than nine-in-ten groups that responded to the questionnaire also say that informing
their grassroots constituencies (95%) and informing the general public (97%) are among their
advocacy strategies. About three-quarters of the groups say they initiate letter-writing or email
campaigns (77%) and issue news releases (82%). More than half participate in demonstrations
or rallies (57%).
Among the other activities listed by religious advocacy organizations are participating in other
groups’ conferences and events, holding leadership workshops, and conducting academic and
polling research to inform advocacy work.
The questionnaire also asked
groups to report which
activities they use most often.
Informing constituents about
issues is by far the most
common strategy, cited by
41% of the groups as the one
they use most often.
An increasingly common
strategy that blends
grassroots pressure and
lobbying is the “lobby
day,” when a group brings
members from around the
country to Washington, D.C.,
for a conference, provides
training (and sometimes detailed scripts) to participants, then organizes their visits to congressional offices. One
example is the Mobilization to End Poverty, sponsored by the group Sojourners along with
other faith and anti-poverty groups in April 2009. The meeting drew more than 1,100 activists
who visited 83 Senate offices and 200 House offices to advocate for inclusion of low-income
people in economic recovery policies. Another example is the Sikh Advocate Academy, held
for the first time by The Sikh Coalition in June 2011. Billed as “a week-long, all expenses paid,
experiential learning course in Washington D.C.,” it offered activists from across the country a
chance to be “certified” as members of a volunteer network, the Sikh Coalition Advocacy Corps.
Another category of strategy is litigation aimed at establishing national legal precedents. This
is a prime focus of certain organizations, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association,
Christian Legal Society, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Americans United
for Separation of Church and State, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. For example,
the Becket Fund has argued in federal courts that the denial of zoning permits to religious
groups seeking to construct or expand houses of worship violates the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act.21
Nearly all religious advocacy group leaders interviewed for this study agreed that building
coalitions is vital to their efforts. Similarly, 95% of the groups that completed the Pew Forum’s
questionnaire said that signing coalition letters to public officials is one of their advocacy
strategies, and several mentioned more informal collaboration with like-minded groups, such
as attending other groups’ conferences or meetings.
New Media Strategies
The growing popularity of new media has transformed the nature of constituent mobilization
and woven it more deeply into the policymaking process. Previous studies of religious advocacy
found that most religious groups did not have the means of operating large direct-mail
operations to generate pressure on policymakers from constituents.22 Today, maintaining a
large email list is relatively inexpensive, and with the click of a mouse constituents can register
their views with their congressional representatives. And because email messages are easily
shared, a group’s reach can expand beyond its core mailing list. For example, the executive
secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation reported that some of its email
alerts, such as its campaign against torture, have gone viral and generated as many as 160,000 messages to Congress, more than twice the number of people the Friends Committee has on its
email list (60,000).
Additionally, many groups use sophisticated lobbying software to monitor constituent
communications. Not long ago, Washington advocates had no way to know how many people
responded to issue alerts urging them to write to members of Congress. Now, through email
messaging software, many can track who wrote to which congressional offices and when.
Six-in-ten of the groups that responded to the questionnaire (61%) maintain blogs on their
websites, and more than eight-in-ten use targeted emails (85%) or mass emails (89%) to
mobilize constituents. As of 2009, when the questionnaire was administered, more than sixin-
ten groups already were using social networking tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, to
engage and grow their audiences. Since new media usage – particularly social networking –
has continued to grow since then, it is likely that new media use is even more prevalent today.23
In addition to the Web-based activities listed in the graph above, religious advocacy groups
also reported hosting webinars, sending email newsletters, circulating online petitions and
posting videos online.
The size and sophistication of constituent operations vary, but new technologies act as a kind
of equalizer, enabling even small Washington staffs to reach deeper into the lives of their
constituents through online networks.
Digital technologies also speed the process by facilitating the real-time response of grassroots
constituencies to breaking developments in Washington, D.C., or around the world. And
new media also allow people to take action easily, even from a distance, as religious leaders
and advocates connect with other individuals and groups across the globe. In an interview
for this study, for example, the Washington director of World Vision reported that the
organization gained more than 100,000 new activists by using Facebook Causes. Similarly,
the lobbying director of NETWORK, which describes itself as a national Catholic social justice
lobby, observed that Twitter allowed her to generate virtually immediate discussion among
constituents about breaking legislative developments.
Strategies for Global Advocacy
Some strategies are specific to groups that engage in global advocacy. Ninety groups promote
their causes to governments outside the U.S. or to international bodies, and many of them
have gained official nongovernmental organization (NGO) status at the United Nations,
giving them an ongoing platform for their advocacy. Achieving “consultative” or “observer”
status at the U.N. requires considerable time and dedication and bespeaks a serious ongoing
commitment to international advocacy. An increasing number of groups also press their
concerns before specific U.N. agencies, such as the Human Rights Council or the High
Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.
Some religious groups concerned with poverty and economic development strive to influence
other global institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Given that legal precedents influence the enforcement of international law on human rights
and religious freedom, American legal advocacy groups also take cases before the European
Court of Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other
Establishing offices in other countries also facilitates global advocacy. Several faith-based
international relief and development organizations maintain offices on every inhabited continent, and some of the larger organizations – such as Catholic Relief Services, World
Vision and Adventist Development and Relief Agency International – staff operations in nearly
100 countries, or more. Several groups concerned with human rights and discrimination
against minorities also maintain offices around the world. These include B’nai B’rith
International (offices in London, Paris and Santiago, Chile, as well as other international
cities), the International Campaign for Tibet (offices in Amsterdam, Brussels and Berlin) and
the American Islamic Congress (offices in Cairo and Basra, Iraq).
Grassroots mobilization of constituents is another important strategy in global advocacy.24 For example, American activists monitor events along the border between Sudan and the
newly independent nation of South Sudan, alerting congressional staffs, the State Department
and the news media to developments they think are important.
For some organizations, advocacy takes a more diplomatic turn. The Institute for Global
Engagement, for instance, seeks to promote religious freedom abroad through a combination
of quiet negotiations with governmental officials and grassroots workshops to help religious
communities practice their new freedom responsibly. The group cites as an example its work
with Vietnamese Christians and the government of Vietnam to enable churches to operate
more freely there.
21 For more on the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act, see “A Fluid Boundary: The Free Exercise
Clause and the Legislative and Executive Branches,” Pew Forum on Religion &
Public Life, 2008, http://pewforum.org/Church-State-Law/A-Fluid-Boundary-The-Free-Exercise-Clause-and-the-Legislative-and-Executive-Branches.aspx. (return to text)
22 See Hertzke 1988. (return to text)
23 See, for example, “65% of online
adults use social networking sites,” Pew Research Center’s Internet &
American Life Project, 2011, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Social-Networking-Sites.aspx. (return to text)
24 For more information, see Hertzke
2004. (return to text)