How to Be an Effective Advocate

Information for staff provided by Vanderbilt University’s Division of Government and Community Relations

At Vanderbilt University, freedom of expression is core to our mission, values and beliefs. Through the sharing of ideas, you can contribute to our institution’s mission of growth and discovery.




exterior view of Kirkland Hall

As part of our commitment to free expression, we recognize the importance of sharing your opinions and seeking to shape public policies by influencing others, including policymakers at the local, state and federal levels. To that end, we offer this guide on how you might engage with policymakers on the policy issues you care most about. You can and should feel empowered to advocate for your interests.

Before You Engage

Given state and federal compliance requirements, staff should never position themselves as speaking on behalf of Vanderbilt University as an institution unless officially asked to do so by Vanderbilt’s Government and Community Relations team. Learn more about lobbying regulations and disclosures.

However, there are a number of ways to advocate as an individual, and we are here for you as a resource whether in support of your personal interests or in collaboration with us.

Note: Contacting the Government Relations team is not required if you are advocating on personal time and on behalf of yourself or a group not officially affiliated with the university.

Ways to Advocate and Be an Engaged Citizen

  • Vote - The first level of being an engaged citizen is to vote. Vanderbilt, Let’s Vote, powered by TurboVote, was created to encourage every member of the university community to participate in the democratic process and exercise their right to register and vote in federal, state and local elections held in their districts of residence.
  • Speak to elected officials. Request a private meeting as a constituent or as part of a group or organization you belong to.
  • Connect with your representative at the appropriate level of government by email or phone call, or participate in a town hall meeting.
  • Submit public comments related to federal regulations at
  • Exercise your right to free assembly. Demonstrate outside government buildings or other fitting locations.

Support for Staff

The Government and Community Relations team works with all staff who have been asked to engage on a policy matter on behalf of the university.

Support includes:

  • Collaboration on developing effective engagement strategies, including feedback on your message and approach based on your audience and how to maximize your allotted time.
  • Logistics support ranging from parking to security and access.

Tips for Persuading Others

Here are tips for expressing yourself clearly and persuasively to reach people, change minds and perhaps even shape public policy. 

  • Consider your audience first. Who are you talking to?
  • Track the news, and jump at opportunities. Timing is critical.
  • Clearly define your point of view. Can you express it in one or two sentences?
  • Make a single point, and do it well. You cannot solve all of the world’s problems.
  • Tell your audience why they should care. How can your work answer, “Who cares?”
  • Showing is better than discussing. Use colorful details to bring your argument to life.
  • Think carefully about your voice. Consider your tone and style.
  • Embrace your personal experience. Your best examples come from your own experience.
  • Use short sentences and cut long paragraphs into two or more shorter ones.
  • Avoid jargon. If a technical detail is not essential to your argument, don’t use it.
  • Use the active voice. Passive voice can sound too wordy and indirect.
  • Acknowledge the other side. Your opinion will come across as more credible and balanced.
  • Avoid tedious rebuttals. Mention the opposing opinion once, then argue your case.
  • Offer graphics. Share an illustration, photo, video, etc. to accompany your opinion.

About GCR

The Government and Community Relations team is responsible for the university’s advocacy work with all branches of government and for fostering and supporting community engagement between campus and community partners. The GCR team sets institutional priorities in consultation with campus leaders, communicates Vanderbilt’s position to elected and appointed officials, and keeps campus informed of legislative or policy actions.

  • J. Nathan Green

    J. Nathan Green

    Vice Chancellor for Government and Community Relations

  • Christina West

    Christina West

    Associate Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations

  • Daniel Culbreath

    Daniel Culbreath

    Assistant Vice Chancellor for State Government Relations

  • Eben Cathey

    Eben Cathey

    Senior Director of Local Government Relations