Advocacy groups (also pressure groups, lobby groups and some interest groups and special interest groups) use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion and/or policy; they have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems. Groups vary considerably in size, influence and motive; some have wide ranging long term social purposes, others are focused and are a response to an immediate issue or concern.
Motives for action may be based on a shared political, faith, moral or commercial position. Groups use varied methods to try to achieve their aims including lobbying, media campaigns, publicity stunts, polls, research and policy briefings. Some groups are supported by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process, others have few such resources.
Some have developed into important social, political institutions or social movements. Some powerful Lobby groups have been accused of manipulating the democratic system for narrow commercial gain and in some instances have been found guilty of corruption, fraud, bribery and other serious crimes; lobbying has become increasingly regulated as a result. Some groups, generally ones with less financial resources may use direct action and civil disobedience and in some cases are accused of being a threat to the social order or 'domestic extremists'.
A single-issue groups may form in response to a particular issue area sometimes in response to a single event or threat. In some cases initiatives initially championed by advocacy groups later become institutionalized as important elements of civic life (for example universal education or regulation of doctors — see below for details). Groups representing broad interests of a group may be formed with the purpose of benefiting the group over an expended period of time and in many ways, for example as Consumer organizations, Professional associations, Trade associations and Trade unions.
Lobby groups lobby for a change to the law or the maintenance of a particular law and big business funds very considerable lobbying influence on legislators, for example in the in the USA and in the UK where lobbying first developed. Some Lobby groups have considerable financial resources at their disposal. Lobbying is regulated to stop the worst abuses which can develop into corruption. In the United States the Internal Revenue Service makes a clear distinction between lobbying and advocacy.
There are many significant advocacy groups through history, some of which could be considered to operate with different dynamics and could better be described as social movements. Here are some notable groups operating in different parts of the world:-
In some instances Advocacy groups are convicted of illegal activity. Major examples include:
On some controversial issues there are a number of competing advocacy groups, sometimes with very different resources available to them:
The general theory is that individuals must be enticed with some type of benefit to join an interest group. Known as the Free Rider Problem, it refers to the difficulty of obtaining members of a particular interest group when the benefits are already reaped without membership. For instance, an interest group dedicated to improving farming standards will fight for the general goal of improving farming for every farmer, even those who are not members of that particular interest group. So there is no real incentive to join an interest group and pay dues if they will receive that benefit anyway. Interest groups must receive dues and contributions from its members in order to accomplish its agenda. While every individual in the world would benefit from a cleaner environment, that Environmental protection interest group does not, in turn, receive monetary help from every individual in the world.
Selective material benefits are benefits that are usually given in monetary benefits. For instance, if an interest group gives a material benefit to their member, they could give them travel discounts, free meals at certain restaurants, or free subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, or journals. Many trade and professional interest groups tend to give these types of benefits to their members. A selective solidary benefit is another type of benefit offered to members or prospective members of an interest group. These incentives involve benefits like "socializing congeniality, the sense of group membership and identification, the status resulting from membership, fun and conviviality, the maintenance of social distinctions, and so on. A solidary incentive is when the rewards for participation are socially derived and created out of the act of association.
An expressive incentive is another basic type of incentive or benefit offered to being a member of an interest group. People who join an interest group because of expressive benefits likely joined to express an ideological or moral value that they believe in. Some include free speech, civil rights, economic justice, or political equality. To obtain these types of benefits, members would simply pay dues, donate their time or money to get a feeling of satisfaction from expressing a political value. Also, it would not matter if the interest group achieved their goal, but these members would be able to say they helped out in the process of trying to obtain these goals, which is the expressive incentive that they got in the first place. The types of interest groups that rely on expressive benefits or incentives would be environmental groups and groups who claim to be lobbying for the public interest.
Some public policy interests are not recognized or addressed by a group at all, and these interests are labeled latent interests.