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How to attract and empower passionate nonprofit advocates

May 11, 2023
A passionate nonprofit advocate stands at a crosswalk, smiling and holding up a sign that says "I have a voice."

Whether your nonprofit organization is aiming to convince a governing body to sign a bill into law or educate decision-makers on your issue area, the key to achieving your advocacy goals lies in building a base of informed and engaged advocates to raise their voices with you.

It’s no secret that there’s strength in numbers, but how can you attract these passionate advocates to take action in support of your cause? We’ve reached out to a couple of our experienced partners to learn some of their tips and best practices. Here are their insights:

The Campaign Workshop

Joe Fuld is the president of The Campaign Workshop, an award-winning political consulting firm that specializes in targeted communications, from digital to mail to video, for advocacy and political campaigns. He offered these quick tips for optimizing your advocacy outreach:

  • Start by developing a plan. Think through your strategy and consider your resources before diving into specific tactics. This ensures that you can clearly explain to supporters the reasoning behind the actions you’re asking them to take.
  • Look across silos. Board members, donors, and coalition partners can all be promising volunteer advocates for your nonprofit.
  • Keep your messaging clear and to the point. Use simple phrasing and remove jargon to make sure all of your supporters can easily understand your call-to-action.
  • Be persistent in your asks. You’ll need to ask a lot to get a lot. Do not take a non-answer as an answer—aim to get a clear yes or no. As long as you remain respectful, a little persistence will help you bring on more committed support.
  • Use a template for your ask and keep refining it. For example, if you’re building support for a bill, you might use a variation of this ask to gather petition signatures: “We have been fighting to stop [X] for 20 years. The hearing is next Tuesday at [time]. We are short 100 signatures to reach our goal—act now!”

Be clear and upfront with your advocates to align them with your goals and reasoning. The more they understand your overarching strategy, the more driven they’ll be to take the action you’d like them to take.

Cornershop Creative

Lesley Molecke is the founder of Cornershop Creative, a web strategy agency dedicated to helping nonprofits make the most of their web presence. Here are her thoughts on attracting and inspiring advocates:

Be upfront about exactly what you need, be it a petition signature, volunteer hours, committee membership, or peer-to-peer fundraising. Tell folks exactly what you need so that they can determine immediately whether or not they’re up for the commitment.

For instance, if you’re in need of advocacy committee members, specify:

  • The term length.
  • How often your committee meets.
  • How long meetings typically run.
  • How much time they can expect to spend on their committee membership outside of meetings.

Similarly, for those interested in volunteering, be sure to provide details such as the time commitment, the work involved, and the benefits you offer in exchange for their participation.

Media Cause

Clara Campbell is the Senior Director of Advocacy & Campaigns at Media Cause, a full-service marketing and creative agency with diverse experiences, skillsets, passions, and perspectives dedicated to helping nonprofits accelerate their impact. When it comes to engaging advocates for your organization’s cause, she recommends prioritizing quality over quantity:

Find the people closest to the problem you’re trying to solve and focus your attention on those communities. These are the people who are naturally more invested in the outcome of your advocacy efforts. They’re also the ones who understand the situation and context best, have the ideas for effective solutions, and have the relationships you need to grow leadership within the movement.

Ashley Barrow

Ashley Barrow is a seasoned development professional who has dedicated her career to nonprofit fundraising, with a particular passion for mobilizing grassroots donors. She has spent the last seven years focused on fundraising for pressing health and advocacy issues on the state and national levels. She shared three key ways to mobilize your nonprofit’s advocates:

1. Provide training opportunities.

There are plenty of people out there who care about your cause and want to make a difference, but may simply not know where to start. Offering advocacy training is a great way to equip new advocates with the information and tools they need to get involved and move the needle on your issue. Focus on providing digestible information about the legislative process or other relevant processes to empower your advocates to take action.

Make sure your training is accessible and inclusive to all. For instance, consider offering:

  • Virtual or in-person training sessions after working hours.
  • Childcare for in-person training.
  • Closed captioning, translation services, and training materials in multiple languages.

By training your nonprofit’s advocates, you’re investing in their long-term support, preparing them to take action on behalf of your organization for years to come.

2. Create a range of opportunities for action.

To get your advocates excited and involved, you have to meet them where they are. Some of them will have the capacity to spend a full day volunteering at the Capitol, some might have time to call their local elected official or another decision-maker, and some may only be able to sign a petition. Each action can make a significant difference, regardless of how much time it takes. 

Spreading compelling stories from constituents and community members can also be an impactful way to further your cause, so provide opportunities for your advocates to share their experiences with the people who are making decisions about and voting on their livelihoods.

3. Share urgent calls-to-action across channels.

Use your segmented lists to call your advocates to action in a timely manner. Cast a wide net with texts, emails, phone calls, and social posts. Be sure to give your advocates a clear ask and a deadline—for example: “The vote on our bill is happening at 7 p.m. Tell your legislator to vote ‘yes’ on this important piece of legislation!” Taking these steps will allow your organization to activate even more supporters around your cause.

Recognizing the impact of your nonprofit’s advocates

As with any of your organization’s supporters, remember to follow up with your advocates after their contributions to explain the impact you’ve achieved with their help. This ensures that they feel appreciated for their efforts and motivated to continue supporting your nonprofit in your future advocacy goals.

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    Supporter Engagement
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing