Practical Tips for Reproductive Health Advocates

Tips on Meeting with Policymakers,from Population Action International

  1. It's all about relationships. Walk into every office as if you are about to meet a new friend. If they can't help you now, they may help you later. Never vilify your enemy; they could turn the tables at any minute.
  2. Be authentic, be clear, be confident, MOST importantly, be honest.
    Never lie. If you don't know an answer, say so. Preserving a relationship is more important than looking good.
  3. Do your homework. To the extent possible, know your issue inside and out. New information can change their minds, but don't be afraid to say "I don't know, but I can get back to you".
  4. Know your audience. When you walk into an office know everything you can about the record of the politician you are going to see. If they are new, spend most of the time getting to know their views.
  5. Don't expect the royal treatment. Legislators are busy and their offices are fast-paced. Don't be shocked to be asked to meet with staff. Offices are also very small. Don't be surprised if you are asked to conduct your meeting in the hallway.
  6. Keep it simple and short. No meeting should last more than twenty minutes. The goal is to make a connection, an impression, and leave a few key ideas in the head of the person that you met with. After that, leave them your business card.
  7. Don't drown people in paper. Staffers in legislative offices often meet with more than a dozen people a day. Handing them more than a couple of sheets of paper can be overwhelming for them and a waste of resources for you.
  8. Plan a strategy. Map out your route from problem identification to your final goal. Find a sponsor for your proposal. Work with that sponsor to build support for your proposal. Know the extent of your existing political support and identify whose votes you need to win over. Plan ways to win the support of those individuals. It may not happen overnight. Keep your sights on your final goal and keep the ball moving forward.
  9. All politics are local. The most effective way to win the support of an elected member is through his or her constituent. If your organization doesn't have local affiliates or a local membership that can cultivate their legislative representative, then collaborate with groups that do. Work in coalition with other organizations to strengthen your position.
  10. Follow up. After your meeting, send the person you met with all the information that you didn't want to burden them with when you met. Follow-up on the promises that they made and provide them with any information that you offered during the meeting.
  11. Always say thank you. The quickest way to establish a standing welcome in the office of public official is to thank them quickly and often for the support they give you. No one likes feeling taken for granted. Thank you notes are a must after all meetings.

Tips on Working with the Media

  1. Dealing with the media: A practical guide (PDF 156KB), prepared by the EC/UNFPA Initiative for Reproductive Health in Asia. This 12-page booklet explains why an NGO would want to deal with the media and describes three steps for obtaining good media coverage: (1) developing a communication strategy; (2) building up effective media contacts; and (3) defining available tools and materials. There is also a section on dealing with disaster.
  2. Advanced dealing with the media: A practical guide (PDF 154KB), prepared by the EC/UNFPA Initiative for Reproductive Health in Asia. The second 12-page booklet in this series gives tips on: (1) news releases and feature stories; (2) interviews; (3) presentations; (4) press conferences; and (5) press tours for journalists.
  3. How to write a news release, prepared by Sidney B. Westley, East-West Center
  4. Communicating science news (website): A guide for public information officers from the (US) National Association of Science Writers
  5. Is your website media friendly?, prepared by Rebecca Bernstein and Arthur Page, CURRENTS Online
  6. Media advocacy for contraceptive security: Key findings and recommendations from an Asia regional workshop, 28 September–1 October 2003, prepared by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs
  7. Partnership with the media: Working with the media for HIV/AIDS prevention (PDF 48KB), prepared by the AIDS Control and Prevention (AIDSCAP) Project implemented by Family Health International

Dealing with Advocacy: A Practical Guide and Other Material from the EC/UNFPA Initiative for Reproductive Health in Asia

The EC/UNFPA Initiative for Reproductive Health in Asia (RHI) works together with 19 European NGOs and over 60 local partners towards improving the overall reproductive and sexual health status in seven South and South East Asian countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam). It currently represents one of the largest programmes supported by the European Commission (EC) in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the field of reproductive health.

As part of this initiative, the Information and Communication Network (ComNet, co-ordinated by the German Foundation for World Population —DSW) has published a series of three capacity-building guides: "Dealing with Advocacy(PDF 156KB)”, "Dealing with Media” and "Advanced Dealing with Media” written by Ms. Joke van Kampen. All guides are aimed at strengthening capacity to create awareness at the local level. They have been complemented by corresponding workshops within the RHI.

The guides are available here as PDFs. Should you wish to receive a hard copy, contact Caroline Jane Kent at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Tips on Raising Funds and Approaching Foundations

Raising funds and mobilizing resources for HIV/AIDS work, a comprehensive toolkit from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Tips on Approaching Foundations, by Jim Schoff, Program Officer, US-Japan Foundation

All Foundations do things a little differently, so most importantly get to know the Foundation you are going to approach. These tips represent my own experience and perspective.

Like a consumer making an important purchase or a procurement officer in a large corporation, a program officer in a foundation is looking for professionalism, quality, cost, experience, preparation, clarity, attention to detail, personality, and trust. It is an unequal relationship in the beginning. Once you decide to work together, it should become an equal relationship. You are partners now.

Some basics/common sense

  • Professionalism and quality are key. Project goals should be simple, clear and concrete (e.g. not, "bring peace to NE Asia"). Be practical. Start small if this is your first time working with a particular foundation.
  • Each Foundation has a mission and a basic strategy, but most try to stay flexible and open to new ideas in the actual design and implementation of projects. Remember, you're the expert. Play to your organization's strengths and how you match to the Foundation's mission (i.e. don't change what you do, find the right foundation to fit what you want to do). Square peg—round hole occasionally works, but not often.
  • Your project should have a "doing" component (not just a report or plan to do something).
  • Build your proposal from the ground up (i.e. don't start with "let's do a $100,000 media exchange program"). Develop an efficient, practical plan to achieve a specific objective and see where that leads.
  • Know what else is out there (compliment other projects, don't duplicate; differentiate yourself…why is your project/organization unique, different, better, etc.?). Don't build yourself up by tearing others down.
  • Foundations don't need "bells or whistles" in proposals. Only content and clarity counts.
  • In a project, try not to switch leadership or points of contact. Relationships matter. Take care of the business basics (accounting, reporting, etc.).
  • Try to link objectives with outcomes, audience and indicators.

Some additional thoughts on Foundation dynamics

  • There are two basic types of project approaches: 1) venture capital (see as investment, to be catalyst, leverage other resources, or action itself has long-term value); or 2) vital service (i.e., valuable service for some reason not financially viable). The second type has the greatest "partnership" potential. If we find a group doing a project or providing a service particularly well and that project runs to the core of our mission…then that's a very good partner for our Foundation.
  • Numbers game. The reality is that 9 out of 10 who approach us are turned down. About half the turn-downs are due to merit/quality; but the other half is simply due to a lack of resources…so sometimes there are no good reasons why one project is chosen over another…sometimes I'm looking for any reason not to choose some project, simply because a choice has to be made.
  • Board phenomenon. The Program Officer has about a 2-page summary in the Board Book and 3–5 minutes of presentation time at the meeting for each new project. In this time he/she needs to capture the imagination and allay any skepticism among the Board Members. At the same meeting the Program Officer is trying to update the Board on results of past grants, so keeping the foundation abreast of progress in the project helps keep your organization in the minds of the Trustees. Help the staff help you make a good impression in front of the Board. Give them "ammunition".
  • The trend of project-specific dollars will not go away; it might even get worse. My local United Way chapter has just switched to project only funding, with outcome indicators required. Part of the reason is the lack of resources to satisfy demand. If more overhead were approved or projects funded for a longer period of time, the 10% success rate would get even smaller.
  • Foundations (like schools, businesses, and government agencies) are concerned with"accountability" like never before. Money spent on projects is easier to evaluate than overhead dollars.
  • Also, Foundations have an allergy to seeing large percentages of budgets going to overhead expenses as this detracts from the issue at hand. They still see NGOs as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Therefore NGOs will always be low-overhead organizations. Since governments are high-overhead organizations, perhaps there are ways that some "division of labor" can be arranged. This could also be true for Foundations, where some would get out of the project business and get into the NGO-support business (i.e. giving block grants to "the best" organizations in their respective fields).
  • In the end, perhaps foundations and NGOs and other organizations can form small, flexible partnerships within a program or issue area. If the individual organizations can compliment each other well, perform well, keep track of their progress, and present the results well to their leadership, then an effective and stable partnership can be formed.

Writing for the Web, Tips from Jakob Nielsen

How Do Users Read on the Web?... They don't.

People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In a recent study John Morkes and I found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

As a result, Web pages have to employ scannable text, using:

  • Highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
  • Meaningful sub-headings (not "clever" ones)
  • Bulleted lists
  • One idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  • The inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • Half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

We found that credibility is important for Web users, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links. Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.

Users detest "marketese"; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims ("hottest ever") that currently is prevalent on the Web. Our conjecture to explain this finding is that promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts.

Measuring the effect of improved web writing
To measure the effect of some of the content guidelines we had identified, we developed five different versions of the same website (same basic information; different wording; same site navigation). We then had users perform the same tasks with the different sites. As shown in the table, measured usability was dramatically higher for the concise version (58% better) and for the scannable version (47% better). And when we combined three ideas for improved writing style into a single site, the result was truly stellar: 124% better usability.

Site Version Sample Paragraph Usability
(relative to control
Promotional writing
(control condition)
using the "marketese"
found on many
commercial websites
Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. In 1996, some of the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr> Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446). 0%
(by definition)
Concise text
with about half the
word count as the
control condition
In 1996, six of the best-attended attractions in Nebraska were Fort Robinson State Park, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum, Carhenge, Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park. 58%
Scannable layout
using the same text as
the control condition in
a layout that facilitated
Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. In 1996, some of the most popular places were:
  • Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors)
  • Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166)
  • Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000)
  • Carhenge (86,598)
  • Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002)
  • Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).
Objective language
using neutral rather than
subjective, boastful, or
exaggerated language
(otherwise the same as
the control condition)
Nebraska has several attractions. In 1996, some of the most-visited places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446). 27%
Combined version
using all three
improvements in writing
style together: concise,
scannable, and
In 1996, six of the most-visited places in Nebraska were:
  • Fort Robinson State Park
  • Scotts Bluff National Monument
  • Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum
  • Carhenge
  • Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
  • Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park

It was somewhat surprising to us that usability was improved by a good deal in the objective language version (27% better). We had expected that users would like this version better than the promotional site (as indeed they did), but we thought that the performance metrics would have been the same for both kinds of language. As it turned out, our four performance measures (time, errors, memory, and site structure) were also better for the objective version than for the promotional version.

Our conjecture to explain this finding is that promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts "Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions," their first reaction is no, it's not, and this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site.

Why web users scan instead of read
More research is needed to truly know why 79 percent of Web users scan rather than read, but here are four plausible reasons:

  • Reading from computer screens is tiring for the eyes and about 25 percent slower than reading from paper. No wonder people attempt to minimize the number of words they read. To the extent this reason explains users' behavior, they should read more when we get high-resolution, high-scanrate monitors in five years since lab studies have shown such screens to have the same readability as paper.
  • The Web is a user-driven medium where users feel that they have to move on and click on things. One of our users said: "If I have to sit here and read the whole article, then I'm not productive." People want to feel that they are active when they are on the Web.
  • Each page has to compete with hundreds of millions of other pages for the user's attention. Users don't know whether this page is the one they need or whether some other page would be better: they are not willing to commit the investment of reading the page in the hope that it will be good. Most pages are in fact not worth the users' time, so experience encourages them to rely on information foraging. Instead of spending a lot of time on a single page, users move between many pages and try to pick the most tasty segments of each.
  • Modern life is hectic and people simply don't have time to work too hard for their information. As one of our test users said, "If this [long page with blocks of text] happened to me at work, where I get 70 emails and 50 voicemails a day, then that would be the end of it. If it doesn't come right out at me, I'm going to give up on it."

For more, go to

Tips for Working with Communities

24 Tips for Culturally Sensitive Programming: A Guide to Working from Within, by UNFPA

The Citizen's Handbook: A Guide to Building Community, by Charles Dobson

Strategy for Social Change from the Grassroots Policy Project (


Most dictionaries describe strategy as a game plan or plan of action. In our daily lives, we develop plans of action for all sorts of things—going on a trip, planning for our children's futures, getting a better job, etc. In political arenas, developing a game plan to win an election or pass legislation takes strategy to another level: combining planning with ongoing analysis and evaluation. The word ‘strategy’ is most commonly associated with armies and generals. The root word strata is the Greek term for both ‘army’ and ‘plane’ (or battlefield). To better understand the relationships between all the factors at their command, generals, who were called strategos in ancient Greece, weigh their enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, their troops' capacities and limitations, and the terrain on which they are fighting. Sometimes, generals decide to 'lose a battle in order to win the war.' This is a pure example of applying strategy to decision-making, bringing together all the factors–campaigns, tactics, resources, opportunities, organization, long-term goals—and looking at them all at once.

For community organizations that are trying to win long-term social change and build a just society, strategy is what links their day-to-day work and organizing to their larger organizational mission. Most groups have far-reaching mission statements that embody their long-term vision for social justice. However, a good mission statement does not ensure that daily practices and organizational structures will reflect that mission. Without strategy, an organization has no way to connect their specific activities—organizing, fundraising, campaign work, etc. to their long-term goals for lasting social change. A process of analysis, action and evaluation helps groups to link specific issues, daily practice and organizational forms with the broader mission.

Strategy gives us a broad overview of all the things that affect our ability to achieve our goals: it is the ‘big picture’ that helps us fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. The less we know about what the puzzle is supposed to look like, the more difficult it is to put the pieces together. Having a strategy to refer to helps us keep all the different factors in mind at once, even when we are focusing on one specific piece of the puzzle. Strategy is an ongoing process, not something we do once and then move on. As a process, strategy development provides an opportunity to engage everyone in the organization—leaders, members, staff and allies—in collective analysis and ‘big picture’ thinking. With a shared plan of action understood by everyone involved, our chances of success are much greater. But even if we do not succeed in achieving a specific goal, the process of analysis—strategy, action, evaluation—leaves us stronger and better able to move on to the next goal.

A long-term strategy for social change has 4 components:

1) Developing goals that are based in our vision and values for a just society

2) Analysis of current political and social conditions in society

3) Theories about how social change occurs, and the roles that our constituents and our organization could play in making change happen

4) Approaches to campaign tactics and organization-building that reflect these first 3 components.

Strategy and Goals. Achieving some defined goal or goals is the whole point of strategy. Groups have many kinds and multiple levels of goals. If a group takes their overall social change mission seriously, then they need to develop, evaluate and adjust an overall or long-term strategy for social change. Within this overall strategy are many other kinds of goals, for specific campaigns, for organizing, for building the organization, for committees and chapters, for leadership and Board development, etc. Most campaigns have immediate, or short-term goals. A campaign also should be linked to a long-term goal that reflects the organization’s mission.

Developing a strategy to achieve a goal or set of goals involves multiple levels of analysis, or many steps toward understanding where we are now, where we want to be, and how we can get there from here. If the goals are very complex and far-reaching, such as ‘good health care for all,’ then the strategy will involve many variables and long-term planning. If the goal is very specific and relatively short-term, such as getting bilingual services at the local hospital, then the analysis will involve fewer variables. For each kind of goal, we need a strategy that matches the goal.

Levels of strategy. Just as there are levels of goals—for campaigns, for our organizations, for organizing, and for long-term social change—there are corresponding levels of strategy. Our campaign strategies should be developed in the context of long-term strategies for achieving broader social change goals. However, in the heat of the campaign, we can start to lose the connection between the specific campaign and our larger goals. Using different levels of goals for health care as an example, if your specific campaign is bilingual services, your campaign strategy should keep in mind that you want to link this issue to a much bigger set of goals—quality health care for all, especially for your members. If you lose sight of this larger goal, you may miss an opportunity to use the campaign to build power and support for greater demands. To ensure that we are making the connections, we need a larger sense of strategy that reminds us that no campaign is an ‘end in itself.’

Strategy and critical consciousness. At the heart of a long-term social change strategy is developing political consciousness. The point of any one campaign is not just to win the specific demands, but in the course of the struggle, to develop political consciousness and a sense of solidarity among the people involved, so that you can advance toward bigger demands and broader changes. A key component in this is contesting our opponents’ power along the 3rd dimension–to challenge the ways that they shape political ideas and control the terms of the debate to keep people from thinking of alternative solutions to social and economic problems. A good campaign can and should create a sense that there are other possibilities–to expand the ideological ground, broaden the political debate and build critical consciousness. We are more likely to use our campaigns to address these kinds of goals if this is part of our strategy.

Strategy and tactics. If strategy refers to the overall plan of action, tactics are the specific actions and approaches that we use in order to implement the strategy. When tactics are closely connected to strategy, then the tactics become strategy in motion. Tactics can link a long-term strategy to the 'here and now.' Tactics usually are targeted in specific ways, focused on specific arenas and carried out at specific times.

There are many types of tactics that social change groups use. Here are a few: direct action, lobbying, media events, advocacy, public hearings and accountability sessions, negotiations, strikes, popular education events, action research, law suits, providing services, such as job training, language classes, health education, etc.

A good strategy requires good tactics. You can have the best analysis of the problems and a great plan, but if you do not have tactics available that fit your strategy, then you cannot act on the strategy. Strategy without tactics is all 'big picture' thinking and no action. Likewise, tactics can become too narrowly focused. Using tactics without strategy can lead to decisions that don’t build toward achieving our mission.

The process of choosing tactics is the process of 'naming the moment,' or assessing the opportunities within the current social and political climate that will help you advance your broader agenda. A group’s choice of tactics depends on a lot of variables–where you are in the campaign, who your targets are, who your allies are, whether the people who are most affected by the issues are comfortable with and ready to engage in the action. Something that worked in one situation may not work well in another.

Strategic analysis

Here are ten areas of analysis that you can use in the process of strategy development:

Clarifying goals. What are the main problems and conditions that you want to address through actions, campaigns and organizing? What are the causes of the problems? What are the solutions you want to push for?

Identifying issues that are linked to your goals. If the goal is better access to health care services, what issue or issues can you organize around that will help build toward this goal? To start, the issue might be a modest demand. You need to assess whether you can start with a bigger demand or a more modest one, depending on current political opportunities and conditions.

Clarifying who must be involved in the struggle for social change to achieve these goals. Who is the main constituency? Does it include those who are directly affected by the problems you are trying to address? If not, why not? Who are your allies and what role will they play? Are their ‘friendly’ people among the powerful who could be involved, at some level?

Assessing your members’ and constituents’ political consciousness. How do they currently understand the issues, the causes, and possible solutions? Is this issue one that resonates with them? What might hold them back from getting involved? What kinds of education and analysis do you need to do with members, constituents and allies?

Framing and frame analysis. What are the terms of the debate around these issues and how will you impact the debate? What are your members and constituents currently thinking and how will you develop their capacity to understand the issues differently?

Doing an analysis of power. Who has the power to block you, or to help you achieve changes, how do they exercise their power and along which dimensions, what kinds of power do you have and how will you use it, etc?

Assessment of opportunities and constraints. What resources do you have? How best can you use those resources? What is missing, that you will need to get, in order to advance your goals? What problems exist within your organization that you need to address in order to do this work more effectively?

Identifying arenas of struggle. What institutions are involved in the problems or issues you are working on? Where do you need to focus your attention? The City Council? The courts? The property management company? The School Board? Who are the main targets within these arenas? Council President, Mayor, School Board President?

Making choices about the tactics you will use. Strategic analysis should help us make choices about which tactics are appropriate to use at any given moment, depending on the levels of goals we have, the arenas of struggle, who needs to be involved in the campaign, and our timeframe. A good practice is to develop criteria for choosing and evaluating tactics. Some questions to ask about a tactic include:

· Does it unify your constituency and involve them in taking action?
· Is it flexible and creative?
· Does it make sense to your members? Will they support the action?
· Are you clear about the target(s) of the action?
· Does it build on your strengths while exposing your opponents’ weaknesses?
· How does it build your power as an organization? How does it confront the power of your opponents?
· Does is build the political consciousness of your constituents and challenge the dominant frame, or terms of the debate?
· Does it involve trade-offs that you may regret later?
· Is it consistent with your goals?

Evaluating and re-evaluating, as you go along. As part of ongoing analysis, education and evaluation for members and leaders, involve as many people as you can in the process of evaluating actions and readjusting strategy.

While these may look like ten ‘steps,’ they are not meant to be linear. You may need to start with question 3, Who are the constituents, and then go to questions 1 and 2. Or, you may need to start with number 4, your members’ political consciousness, and focus your strategy around building critical consciousness and awareness. Each part is interactive with the other parts. Changes in one area will affect all the others. Therefore, the process of analysis, action and reflection is more like a circle than a line.

Advocacy Tools and Guidelines: Promoting Policy Change: A Resource Manual for CARE Program Managers

By Sofia Sprechman and Emily Pelton, January 2001 (PDF)

Photoshare - Images from international public health activities

The Information and Knowledge for Optimal Health Project, or INFO, is a reproductive health knowledge-sharing resource supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. INFO's Photoshare is a unique photo resource for non-profits to share photos and communicate health and development issues through photography. The Photoshare archive, available exclusively for educational and non-profit purposes, contains thousands of photos that capture urban and rural life in developing countries as well as global efforts to improve health and save lives.

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