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Nonprofit advocacy: 5 strategies for successful campaigns

March 08, 2021
Members of a nonprofit advocating for their cause at a protest.

Nonprofit advocacy consists of all of the campaigns, outreach, and other efforts nonprofit organizations take to advance their purpose by spreading awareness of an issue or seeking policy changes. These advocacy campaigns involve digital marketing, hosting events, encouraging supporters to take targeted actions, and other activities related to your cause. 

For nonprofits like yours to create significant change, the key is effectively planning, launching, and maintaining each of your advocacy campaigns. In this guide, we’ll answer some common questions about nonprofit advocacy and walk through five successful strategies to help you get started with your own campaign.

Nonprofit advocacy: frequently asked questions

Before launching an advocacy campaign, it’s important to understand its various moving parts. Let’s examine three common questions about nonprofit advocacy.

Why is nonprofit advocacy important?

Advocacy campaigns can help nonprofits further their purpose, gather new supporters, and spread awareness about key issues related to their work. 

When planned strategically, advocacy campaigns allow nonprofits to create lasting change in their communities. For example, an environmental organization focused on cleaning up beaches might run an advocacy campaign to ask their local government to limit plastic bag usage in grocery stores. The nonprofit would continue its regular initiatives to keep plastic out of the ocean while working to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up on the beach in the first place.

Are there guidelines for nonprofit advocacy?

In most situations, nonprofits are free to run advocacy campaigns as long as they focus on nonpartisan issues. Advocacy campaigns frequently involve supporting or opposing legislation that isn’t specific to a particular political party, which any organization can do. However, nonprofits may risk their tax-exempt status by advocating for partisan issues, such as endorsing candidates for elected office.

What is the difference between advocacy and lobbying?

Restrictions on nonprofit lobbying are often unclear. According to the IRS, “A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.”

While all lobbying counts as advocacy, not all advocacy is lobbying. Here is a breakdown of these concepts:

  • Advocacy refers to any activity your nonprofit takes to support and represent a specific group of people or cause. Advocacy can include spreading awareness about issues, encouraging volunteers to take specific actions on your behalf, and educating policymakers about your cause. 
  • Lobbying is more specific than advocacy—it’s the act of communicating with policymakers about legislation in an attempt to influence their vote. 

To ensure your advocacy campaigns involve only a reasonable amount of lobbying, be thoughtful about who your nonprofit’s messages will target, what you’re communicating about, and what action you ask readers to take. 

5 nonprofit advocacy strategies

If you’re looking to improve your nonprofit’s advocacy efforts, consider implementing some tested strategies. Let’s examine five ideas in more detail.

1. Click-to-call advocacy

Click-to-call is an advocacy tool that directly connects your nonprofit’s supporters to their representative. With one click, they can call policymakers and read a designated script that emphasizes the importance of your cause and asks that leader to take action.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You design a click-to-call landing page with your budget cap amount, a fallback message, and a script or talking points for supporters to follow.
  2. Supporters enter their phone number on the landing page. Their phone will ring, automatically connecting them to a representative.
  3. They use your talking points or a flexible script to guide them through the call as they communicate your message to a community leader.

Once you get your landing page set up, run a few tests on it to ensure supporters are fully prepared to contact policymakers and inspired to take action. It’s also helpful to add a searchable database of representatives so supporters can learn a bit about the person they’re contacting before they call. Flexible online advocacy software will help you optimize click-to-call in these ways.

2. Online petitions

A petition is a request for representatives or legislators to take an action in support of your organization’s purpose. Your nonprofit collects signatures from your supporters to strengthen the request. 

Signing a petition allows community members to easily and quickly show their support for your cause. Petitions also add variety to the types of engagement you request from supporters, which helps reduce donor fatigue

Creating these petitions online expands your reach and makes signing even more convenient. Plus, when you connect this online petition to your donor database, you can automatically input new supporters’ information and keep them involved with your campaign.

To strengthen your online petitions, try these strategies:

  • Include key campaign information on the petition page. Explain your campaign’s purpose and what your petition will accomplish once you reach your signature goal. Doing so helps convince supporters to take immediate action in just a few sentences. 
  • Make signing easy. Hosting your petition on your organization’s website, rather than through a third-party provider, typically reduces the number of steps required to sign. This convenience often increases the number of supporters who follow through with signing.
  • Add social sharing buttons. Once supporters sign, encourage them to put your petition in front of their friends and family on social media, spreading further awareness about your campaign. 

A comprehensive advocacy software solution will allow you to customize every aspect of your petition and keep your momentum going after you reach your signature goal. 

3. Digital advocacy

Digital advocacy advances your campaigns by tapping into supporters’ social networks. To start using social media for your advocacy campaigns, try these tips:

  • Post targeted action alerts. When you create a new action page, such as an online petition or click-to-call campaign, post an alert to encourage your social media followers to participate.
  • Tag representatives. Policymakers often make accounts on social media platforms to communicate with their audiences. Especially in local advocacy, you can show legislators how many community members support your cause by encouraging them to tag their representatives in posts about your campaign. 
  • Encourage supporters to share their involvement. Spread even more awareness by encouraging supporters to get their friends and family involved. Add social media sharing buttons to relevant action pages on your website for donating, registering to volunteer, or attending an event. 

Segment your audience to better understand who you’re addressing with different aspects of your digital advocacy campaign. For instance, you might create videos focused on engagement and sharing for platforms with younger audiences such as TikTok and Instagram. Then, for older audiences who have a greater capacity to donate, you could post Facebook messages that emphasize giving as the best way to take action.

4. Advocacy events

Nonprofit advocacy events bring community members together to raise awareness for your cause. When they hear the term “advocacy event,” many people think of rallies that directly call for policy change. However, appreciation events for your campaign volunteers and peer-to-peer fundraising events that bring in revenue for your cause while spreading the word can also fall into this category.

Planning an advocacy event can help your organization bring in new supporters and draw media attention that sends a stronger message to policymakers. As you prepare for your event, consider these questions:

  • What is the main goal of your event (awareness, fundraising, supporter acquisition, etc.)?
  • How does this event fit into your overall advocacy campaign?
  • Which supporter segments will your event appeal to most?
  • Would your event be most effective if it were hosted in-person, virtually, or in a hybrid format?

Make sure your organization’s advocacy software integrates with your event management solution and CRM or is part of an all-in-one solution to streamline data entry after each of your advocacy events.

5. Campaign reporting

Campaign reporting helps your organization better understand your advocacy campaign’s strengths and find opportunities for future improvement. Collect data before, during, and after your campaign so you can regularly evaluate your nonprofit’s success.

Some metrics you can analyze in the campaign reporting stage include the:

  • Number of participants in each aspect of your campaign, such as petition signers, event attendees, and volunteers.
  • Budgeted amount for click-to-call campaigns and whether your campaign was over or under budget.
  • Conversion rates for digital communications, including likes and shares on social media, email open and click-through rates, and advocacy-related website traffic.
  • Supporter-specific data like their geographical location, the number of new supporters you acquired, and your retention rate throughout the campaign.

Early in your campaign, determine which metrics will be most helpful for your organization to focus on by considering your advocacy goals and your nonprofit’s overall strategic plan. Then, configure the dashboard on your advocacy platform and customize your reports accordingly.

Start advocating for causes that matter to your nonprofit

When planned and launched strategically, advocacy campaigns can strengthen support for your nonprofit and advance your purpose. Examine the strategies other organizations have implemented for inspiration, then adapt them to ensure your unique campaign’s success.

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