Executing a successful advocacy campaign can definitely be a challenge for nonprofits.
Unlike with fundraising campaigns, the goals of advocacy campaigns are generally less quantifiable goals and also usually take a larger base of supporters and a longer amount of time to pull off.
To top it all off, it can be difficult to define exactly what advocacy is in the first place!
Let’s start with a quick refresher.
Advocacy is the active support of a principle or cause. During their campaigns, organizations not only must raise awareness of this cause, but also take action to effect change.
Advocacy is not simply providing one service that would address your cause on a small scale. Instead, it attempts to break down the greater factors that are causing that problem in the first place.
Think of it this way: If you were trying to alleviate the problem of homelessness, a service would be volunteering at a soup kitchen. Advocacy, on the other hand, would be petitioning for the construction of more low-income housing complexes in the community.
So, how exactly do organizations practice advocacy?
Here we have the 6 steps for planning an advocacy campaign:
- Step 1: Set a goal.
- Step 2: Assess your resources.
- Step 3: Identify the crucial people.
- Step 4: Define your message and build awareness.
- Step 5: Set and implement the strategies.
- Step 6: Track your goals.
By the time we’re done, hopefully your organization will be on the right track to executing your very own advocacy campaign!
Step 1: Set a goal.
As with any of your campaigns, your organization first needs to know what it’s working toward!
Unfortunately, since advocacy campaigns are cause-based and not funds-based, determining your goal will be a little trickier.
To start, your organization should do some preliminary research, so you have a thorough understanding of the cause.
This not only includes looking into how supporters are talking about your cause, but also at what the people in opposition are saying.
Understanding the opposing stance will give your organization a good idea of what conflicts you might run into during the campaign and how to counter them.
Furthermore, it can help you see if your goal is realistic in the first place!
One of the best places to start your research is by looking at how influencers have been talking about your cause.
As you can probably guess, influencers are those that have influence over how people understand or respond to a cause.
Because they have the most power over how the cause is perceived, looking at their language and ideas can be incredibly insightful.
During this stage, it’s also helpful to collect hard data that backs up your mission. Down the line it can be useful for both convincing supporters to participate in your campaign and defending your claims against any possible opposition.
Once you understand the greater cause inside and out, figure out how you can narrow it to your organization’s specific focus and resources.
That will be your goal!
The Takeaway: Advocacy campaign goals require a little more thought than those for fundraising campaigns. Do some preliminary research first to help you zero in on your goal!
Step 2: Assess your resources.
How do you tell if your goal is achievable?
Make sure you have the necessary resources.
Your advocacy campaign will likely be more drawn-out than your typical fundraising campaigns, so it’s important to ensure from the beginning that your organization will have all the resources needed to see it through to the end.
To assess your resources, your organization should ask itself the following questions:
- Do we have enough advocates to help us reach our goal?
- Are there other organizations or groups we can team up with to help us reach our goals?
- What’s our budget?
- What other campaigns are we running currently?
- Do we have enough staff time available to realistically take on another effort?
- Do we have the necessary communications tools available to us to help us raise awareness of our cause and campaign?
Additionally, most organizations will benefit from the help of an advocacy software (for more on that, check out Salsa’s Ultimate Guide!).
This type of platform makes it easier for organizations to mobilize their advocates and put them in touch with the right leaders and legislators.
If it turns out your organization doesn’t have all the required resources to achieve your goals, don’t worry. Working with limited resources doesn’t mean you have to give up your dreams of advocacy altogether.
All it means is that you’ll have to adjust your goals until you can work toward something bigger!
The Takeaway: Make sure your organization has all of the necessary resources from the beginning, so you’ll know if your advocacy goals are realistic.
Step 3: Identify influential people.
Before you start executing, your organization should identify all of the people who might have an impact on your campaign, whether it be positive or negative.
Advocacy campaigns can be influenced by many different types of constituents, including:
- Agents of change
Here we’ll delve into each group briefly and discuss how their positions can be of consequence to your campaign.
Allies are those that have an affinity for your cause and might be willing to take action to further it.
They can be individuals, organizations, groups, corporations, or any other entity that’s capable of making a difference.
Obviously, your allies are the ones you’ll want to encourage to participate in your campaign.
Think of all the ways you can team up and utilize everyone’s strengths to make a difference for your cause.
Opponents are those who take a stance against your cause.
Their objections might create conflicts within the campaign or, in the worst cases, even act as barriers to your organization reaching its goals.
It’s important to consider all possible objections from the beginning, so your organization can plan your campaign accordingly and counter any conflicts that might arise.
As we touched on earlier, influencers are those that have power over how the general public perceives your cause.
It’s helpful to look at how influencers are presenting your cause. This will help you craft your campaign message in the most compelling way to potential advocates.
Additionally, if you show influencers that you’re supporting their ideas, you might be able to recruit them as allies.
Need a little help identifying influencers? Check out Attentive.ly’s article: http://attentive.ly/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Identify-Engage-Influencers-low-res1.pdf
Agents of Change
Agents of change are the people in power who can help you further your cause.
They’re really the key players in any advocacy campaign, because they’re the ones who are going to be able to enact the change that your organization is rallying for.
Agents of change are commonly legislators and other political figures, but they can be anyone in power.
Your campaign should target the agents of change that are warmest toward your cause for the greatest chance of success.
The Takeaway: Advocacy campaigns are influenced by many important figures. Choose your team and targets wisely!
Step 4: Define your message and build awareness.
Now that you have a goal and a team, it’s time to get everyone on the same page.
At this stage, your organization will want to standardize its message, so that all of your advocates understand exactly what you’re working toward.
This is especially important when it comes to an advocacy campaign, because your advocates will be communicating your message to other allies and agents of change.
You want to make sure that everyone presents a unified front.
A unified front will ensure that there’s no confusion about how to help your cause and that you’ll never undermine the authority of your campaign by sending mixed messages.
Once you’ve settled on a message, start sharing it!
Since advocacy revolves entirely around the cause, you’ll want to start building awareness as soon as possible.
If people see how worthwhile your mission is, they’ll be much more likely to join your campaign and take action.
The Takeaway: Defining your message establishes authority and ensures that everyone involved in your campaign knows exactly what they’re working toward. Start sharing your message and building awareness as soon as possible to get people fired up about your campaign!
Step 5: Set your strategies and start implementing them.
The cause and mission are the heart of your advocacy campaign, while your campaign strategies are the body that will be carrying them forward.
Now that you’re clear on your goals, think about what actions you want advocates to take to further them.
Some common advocacy actions include:
- Meeting in a public space to discuss the cause.
- Signing online petitions.
- Writing legislators or posting at them on social media.
- Holding a rally.
- And more!
Once you have a set of strategies planned out, it’s time to start implementing them!
Most advocacy campaigns will start by requesting smaller actions that are easier to complete, then ease advocates into those that are more involved.
Remember that your advocates are going out of their way to help you. Your organization should make it a point to make advocacy actions as convenient as possible for supporters.
Additionally, you should be very clear with what you’re requesting and let advocates know exactly what steps they need to take to participate in your campaign.
If advocates are confused about how to help your cause, it will be much harder to mobilize them.
The Takeaway: All advocacy requires action. Think about which strategies you’ll implement to further your cause and clearly articulate them to your advocates.
Step 6: Track your goals.
It’s likely that your advocacy campaign will be a longstanding effort that extends for many months (or even years!).
Throughout the campaign, it’s important to track your progress to ensure that you’re reaching your goals.
Since advocacy campaigns are cause-based, and thus not as quantifiable as fundraising campaigns, the form this will take will vary from organization to organization.
However, there are a few easy ways that you can tell if your campaign strategies are successful or not.
Primarily, you should look at the number of advocates that your campaign has managed to mobilize.
If you can tell that many people are inspired by your message, so much so that they’re taking action to make a difference, then that’s a pretty good indicator of success.
Of course, there are also more concrete ways of tracking your goals.
Ideally, your campaign will result in changing policies around your cause, or at least sparking meaningful conversations around them.
If you find that your message and goal aren’t inspiring people to the extent your organization would have liked, it’s either time to tweak your strategies, your aim, or your message.
On the other hand, if your strategies were successful, make note of which worked best, so you can take similar approaches in your future advocacy campaigns.
The Takeaway: Stay on top of tracking your goals to make sure your campaign is furthering your cause and bringing results.
Want to learn more about advocacy? Check out Salsa’s Amazing Advocacy Guide!
Has your organization executed an advocacy campaign in the past? If so, what strategies worked for you? Let me know in the comments!
With more than 20 years in technology solutions and consulting, Blake comes equipped with hands-on knowledge of sales, consulting, product management and marketing. For the last 10 years, he has narrowed his focus to how Internet technologies can help nonprofit organizations, and prior to joining Salsa, he held positions at Convio and Charity Dynamics.