- Digital communications & marketing
- Donor Engagement
If your organization is running an advocacy campaign, you’re clearly dedicated to the purpose behind your campaign’s goals. Logically, you want to do everything in your power to employ impactful advocacy strategies and make the most of your work.
Your exact campaign plans will be unique to your nonprofit organization or advocacy group, dependent on your organization’s size, the cause you support, and other relevant factors. However, there are several overarching strategies for running your advocacy campaign, which we’ll explore in this guide.
How do you develop an advocacy strategy?
To develop a plan for your organization’s advocacy campaign, ask yourself these six guiding questions:
- What quality or perspective makes your campaign stand out from others in the advocacy space?
- What is your overarching goal, and what objectives or benchmarks will you use to reach that goal?
- What actions need to be taken to reach those benchmarks and ultimately accomplish your goal?
- What resources will you need to complete these actions?
- How will you engage supporters in your campaign?
- How will you measure the campaign’s success?
Your answers to these questions will vary based on your cause, audience, and available opportunities. However, they’re a solid starting point to get your advocacy campaign underway and help you determine next steps.
10 advocacy strategies for your organization’s campaigns
1. Start with your campaign’s end goal, and ensure it’s guided by your theory of change
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Begin with the end in mind.” The concept works well as an advocacy strategy because your campaign will be most successful when you know what you hope to accomplish before you start.
Think through your campaign’s purpose and decide on the end result you want in order to set a goal.Then, work backward to figure out how you’ll achieve that goal.
Also, make sure your campaign objective is backed up by your organization’s theory of change, or your logic model that explains how you'll achieve the larger social outcomes your whole organization is seeking. Be explicit about how you hope your campaign will help you create lasting change.
2. Develop SMART objectives
Once your advocacy campaign has an overarching goal, set smaller objectives to drive your progress toward that goal. A clear, helpful objective will follow the SMART model, meaning that it is:
For example, SMART objectives might aim “to get supporters to send 200 emails about our cause to local policymakers over 3 months” or “to pre-register 100 attendees for our event in May.” Each of these has a specific purpose that is relevant to the advocacy campaign’s goal, a measurable component, and a defined time frame. To determine whether your objective is attainable, consider your organization’s capabilities and review data from past advocacy campaigns.
3. Prioritize transparency
To build trust with supporters, be transparent about the exact impact you’re working to make. If someone is debating whether to get involved in your advocacy campaign, they’ll want to know exactly what your organization is doing and why it should matter to them.
When you first ask supporters to engage with your organization, provide background information about the cause you’re advocating for and emphasize how they can create positive change by joining your campaign. Also, send periodic updates to your supporters letting them know which objectives you’ve met and thanking them for making those achievements possible.
4. Provide straightforward action steps
Once you’ve gotten supporters interested in your advocacy work, provide them with an immediate way to get involved. Your action step should be easy to find, clear, and aligned with your objectives, such as:
- Joining an email or click-to-call campaign to contact policymakers
- Registering for an upcoming event or meeting
- Signing an online petition
Also, make sure your action steps are shareable. That way, passionate supporters can help spread awareness about your advocacy campaign by asking their families and friends to get involved as well.
5. Understand your audiences
As you consider what actions you’ll ask people to take to further your advocacy campaign, you’ll also need to think about who those individuals are. Your advocacy strategies will rely on:
- Engaging your current supporters
- Growing your network of advocates
- Targeting the right people to help you in your efforts
When reaching out to current supporters, your CRM software will be useful in identifying what demographic groups your organization appeals to, and what interests and behaviors your supporters demonstrate that would make them likely to get involved. You can then target new supporters who have similar interests or act similarly.
For individuals who can effect change, make sure you’re reaching out to the right targets and handling your interactions appropriately. The right target is someone who has power and is open to what you’re advocating for, like a city councilor, state legislator, or member of Congress.
6. Tailor your communication channels
Based on your understanding of your audience, you can tailor your messages to their needs and use their preferred methods of communication when getting in touch.
There are many channels you can use for advocacy outreach, including:
- Your organization’s website
- Email marketing
- Social media
- Phone calls
- Text messages
- Digital advertising
- Direct mail
Use the communication data from past advocacy campaigns you’ve run, along with your audience knowledge, to choose which channels to focus on. You’ll want to get the word out about your campaign early and often to engage as many supporters as possible.
7. Incorporate storytelling
Stories motivate supporters and make information more memorable, so use them to your advantage as you develop your advocacy strategy. You can incorporate storytelling into any of the communication channels you use.
A good story will put a face and name to the cause you’re advocating for and inspire action. To get started, think about stories told in movies, TV shows, or novels. These stories generally have a main character and a conflict that gets resolved, and your stories should also include these elements. Then, you can add images and videos to help supporters visualize the story and tie it to your real-life advocacy campaign with concrete data.
8. Focus on growing your supporter list
Supporters are the lifeblood of any organization, and they’re especially important to effective advocacy strategies. In order to grow your supporter list, make sure to:
- Acknowledge the ways they contribute to your campaign.
- Ensure your asks are credible and reasonable.
- Maintain open communication.
- Make your asks align with your visual branding.
- Capture supporters’ information early on, and make it clear how you plan to use their data.
- Invite new supporters to follow your organization on social media.
- Cross-promote your campaign with allied organizations or coalitions.
- Show gratitude for every action your supporters take.
Your offline advocacy efforts and your online ones—like easily shareable online petition forms and other action steps—should work together to help you maximize your organization’s ability to acquire new supporters.
9. Collect and analyze data throughout the campaign
For each of your events, outreach methods, and action steps, collect engagement data. Then, after your campaign, conduct in-depth data analysis so you can figure out exactly how you can make each campaign more effective than the last.
You’ll also want to analyze data collected during the campaign and adjust your outreach methods as needed for the best results.
10. Be prepared to pivot
When you run an advocacy campaign, you’ll need to be prepared for unexpected changes. Shifting your outreach strategy based on data is just one way you may need to pivot. As advocacy efforts are tied to current events and shifts in legislation, pay close attention to news cycles and make sure you can adapt quickly in order to continue creating change in the best way possible. Creating a rapid response plan early in your campaign can help you make sure you’re ready to respond to new and evolving situations.
Getting started with advocacy
Advocacy is rooted in a desire to effect positive change. Make your organization’s efforts more strategic by implementing the tips above and regularly evaluating your campaign’s progress so you can create that change more effectively and efficiently.