Top Things to Know: Nonprofit Advocacy at the American Heart Association: Creating a Visionary Way Forward at Our 40th Anniversary

Published: April 12, 2021

  1. In 2021, the American Heart Association celebrates its 40th anniversary in advocacy.
  2. This policy statement details the arc of the organization’s nonpartisan, evidence-based, equity-focused approach to advocating for public policy change, highlighting key milestones and describing the core components of the association’s capacity and activity at all levels of government.
  3. The paper presents a vision and strategic imperative for future American Heart Association advocacy efforts to inform and influence policy changes that advance equitable, impactful societal solutions that transform and improve cardiovascular health for everyone.
  4. The core functions of advocacy are policy research and development, government relations/lobbying, media advocacy, consulting/technical assistance, grassroots, and legal advocacy.
  5. Some of the major milestones over the years include doubling NIH Funding, increasing the sales age for tobacco to 21, improving nutrition standards in schools, promoting and helping to release the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, achieving robust FDA regulation for all tobacco products, CPR training and AED availability in public spaces, furthering access to stroke telemedicine, and supporting access to quality, affordable health care.
  6. Advocacy capacity and infrastructure at the AHA have evolved over 40 years from one federal advocacy office in Washington, DC to infrastructure investment in all 50 states, establishment of our You’re the Cure network, global advocacy, expanded policy research and strategic planning and prioritization, the creation of our Voices for Healthy Kids initiative with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and most recently a reorganization of our entire advocacy enterprise with dedicated community advocacy director positions.
  7. The association helped to pass or defend 123 priority policies at the state and community levels in 2019-20 and is on track to pass or defend 140 policies in the current fiscal year.
  8. The American Heart Association maintains accountability by measuring and evaluating the totality of this work and its impact on equitable health outcomes.
  9. The American Heart Association will apply these lessons to constantly refine its own strategic policy focus and advocacy efforts.
  10. The association will also serve as a resource and catalyst to other organizations working to engage and educate policy makers, partners, the media, and funders about the important role and contribution of public policy change to achieve shared goals.


Churchwell K, Antman E, Birnbaum J, JD; Desai NR, Harrington RA, Holubowich EJ, Ivy KN, Schoeberl M, Warner JJ, White CJ, Whitsel LP, Yancy C; on behalf of the American Heart Association Advocacy Coordinating Committee. Nonprofit advocacy at the American Heart Association: creating a visionary way forward at our 40th anniversary: an American Heart Association policy statement [published online ahead of print April 12, 2021. Circulation. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000972