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How to Ask for Action or Propose Policy On Behalf of a Group
Tasks for Developing Proposals and Petitions
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Requesting Action:
Tasks for Developing Proposals and Petitions

The Task Outline provided in this section will help you create communications that effectively meet audience expectations.

Task 1: Name the need, the action, and the agent

This is a two-strp process.

Step one: identify a need for policy

If you already know the need that you will address or the option that you will advocate, proceed to the next step, specifying the desired action and the responsible agency.

If you do not know the need or have not decided on an option, or if you are responsible for selecting among many competing needs or options, step back to focus before you proceed.

Start wherever you need to start, whether it is to define the problem and pinpoint the issue (discovery); review the history of action or inaction (legislative history); review the arguments (the range of positions), or use the General Method to reconsider the policy context as well as the communication situation for your proposal.

Step two: specify the action and the agency

Determining the needed action—knowing what is possible, knowing whom to ask, and knowing what to ask for—is not simple. Much time and effort can be wasted in seeking unlikely action or making a proposal to the wrong recipient. The best way is continually, and iteratively, to ask and answer ‘what am I trying to do?’ and ‘how can I do it most effectively?’ That will lead to further guiding questions such as ‘should I start small (e.g., local) should I start big (e.g., national or international)?

Consider the options for action. Consider government action. What do you want government to do? Government can legislate, spend, regulate, and enforce, all within limits. Which type of action is needed for the problem you are concerned about? To which level of government—federal, state, local—should you direct your proposal? Which department or agency can do what you want to accomplish?

Consider nongovernmental options. Does the solution require government action at all?

For example, a citizens group might choose to organize a boycott or initiate a lawsuit to solve a civic problem rather than to ask for government action or propose public policy.

Similarly, a student group might choose a community solution rather than governmental action. For example, in response to a racist incident on campus, one student group developed a constructive plan for educating students about everyday racism in campus life. Rather than proposing it as policy to student governance or to the school’s administration, the group circulated their plan among other campus organizations and sent it to national student associations.

They communicated it by word-of-mouth and publicized it through news media. The strategy was to ask similar student groups nationwide to draw public attention to the problem of race-based harassment on their campus and to offer as a model the original group’s plan for addressing it. In this example, change in human behavior was sought through organized community education.

Task 2: Identify the organizations active on your issue

Here are some ways of locating and identifying nonprofit organizations:

Start locally: check the local phone directory or ask local volunteer services about local nonprofits or local affiliates of national and international nonprofits

Ask a librarian for national guides to nonprofit organizations

Read the transcripts of Congressional hearings on your issue to find witnesses who spoke on behalf of advocacy groups

Search newspaper databases for articles on your issue that might refer to advocacy groups

Search World Wide Web portals to nonprofit organizations (some of which offer free searchable lists of nonprofits) such as:

Institute for Nonprofit Management

Nonprofit Online News

Nonprofit Nuts & Bolts

Internet Nonprofit Center

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Find a Nonprofit

Independent Sector

Nonprofit Pathfinder

For details including tax exempt status and financial information on specific nonprofits, try these subscription services:

Associations Unlimited

The Foundation Directory Online


Why restrict your knowledge of the players to nonprofit organizations? If, for example, you are a health care organization and are advocating for the right to use a controversial drug, you may want to enlist the support of the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug. While the company has a vested interest, it also might have facts and figures that might bolster or undercut your arguments.

Task 3: Write a policy proposal

Absolutely key: in petitioning and in proposing, provide accurate information only. Anything else will destroy your or your organization’s credibility.

Planning and Preparing

Use the General Method to prepare, plan, and produce a written proposal. The document’s contents should answer the questions listed in the Strategy.

Writing the Proposal

There is no typical format for policy proposals. The document type might be a letter, memo, full page ad in a national newspaper, a public declaration dramatically delivered in historical costume or another form chosen for its effectiveness in the situation. See, for example, the websites of national nonprofit groups who sometimes express their advocacy in funny as well as serious ways and in attention-grabbing modes.

If you are writing for an organization that prescribes a template for policy proposals, use that template. Ordinarily, the conventions of professional communication will apply. Use a header that provides identifying information, an overview that summarizes the proposal, and sub-headed sub-sections that provide information.

Review and Revise

Compare the finished product to the standard (Communication Checklists).


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Task Outline


Task Outline