Conducting a Nonprofit Advocacy Campaign

If your nonprofit organization is passionate about a particular idea or cause, and eager to share it publicly, it may be time to launch an advocacy campaign. For most, “campaign” evokes images of a politician running for office. But advocacy campaigns are different. They are a set of activities designed to bring about a specific result—in this case, to garner support for and advance the cause your organization is passionate about.  

Passion, however, only goes so far. Lots of other organizations are advocating for their own causes, so your campaign, if you want it to achieve a specific goal, really has to stand out. That requires establishing clear objectives from the get-go, as well as a strategic plan. Below are instructions, with examples included, to help your organization conduct a successful campaign.

The Goals of an Advocacy Campaign

First, let’s be clear about the difference between advocacy and services. If you help build houses for impoverished people, that’s a service. But if you promote setting aside affordable housing whenever new residential units are being built in your community, that’s advocacy.

It follows that advocacy campaigns are designed to target specific issues, whether at the local, regional, state, or national level. More often than not, they are led by a core group of leaders backed by a larger group of supporters. The activities associated with advocacy campaigns include, but are not limited to, circulating petitions, fundraising, holding rallies, contacting public officials, and lobbying. Whatever the activity, the overarching goals are to raise awareness about an issue, change behaviors and attitudes about that issue, and, if possible, influence legislation.

A successful campaign not only alters attitudes and policies, it improves lives. For example, some campaigns have organized supporters to contact state lawmakers to encourage them to pass laws allowing for universal pre-K for all residents. Others have used effective storytelling techniques to engage with community members and legislatures about issues affecting their livelihoods.

The Traits of a Successful Advocacy Campaign

Once you’ve identified an issue and set your goals for achieving change, it’s time to put together a network of supporters who can ramp up your advocacy campaign. But how do you build and maintain a strong support system?

A successful advocacy campaign’s key components include the following:

  • Effective messaging. If you want to draw supporters, make sure the campaign is relevant to their lives. Explain to each individual or group how your cause will positively impact them. This could include lawmakers on both sides of an issue. If they’re already aligned with you on, say, creating more affordable housing, encourage your fellow supporters to thank them and provide context as to why the issue is so important. If lawmakers oppose your goal, you and your supporters should still send messages, emphasizing why the policy is so important and encouraging them to vote accordingly.
  • Easy mobilization. Not only is it advisable to get your message out to people efficiently and effectively, but you should also make it easy for supporters to take the next step and mobilize. The easier it is for potential supporters to learn about your cause and take action, the more likely they will do so. Consider employing multiple techniques and creating spaces for supporters to connect and stay up to date on the status of an issue. 
  • Use advocacy software to track progress. In this age of AI, it’s obvious that technology is a great accelerator. When it comes to advocacy, the right software helps you engage and re-engage supporters, send personalized messages and cultivate grassroots supporters. Being able to quickly generate reports and perform analyses also helps to piggyback on successes and improve results down the road. 

Creating an Advocacy Campaign

Once you have gathered supporters, and are ready to get started, there are a few crucial steps that will help you create a successful advocacy campaign.

First, know exactly what you’re aiming for. Many advocates get off on the wrong foot by not clearly establishing their cause and/or goal. Their hearts may be in the fight, but they’re lacking a well-defined statement for their cause. And if you’re going to continue to draw supporters, and let your potential opponents know exactly what it is you’re fighting for, you need to share a specific, measurable goal. That’s the best way to readily identify appropriate actions and measure progress.

Second, choose the right people. Identify the individuals and organizations best suited to not only support your campaign but to help reach a broader audience. As alluded to above, they should be folks who have a good reason to get involved or, at the very least, something to gain. To achieve this, you may have to clarify exactly what their benefits will be. The point is always to be ready to shift gears, without compromising your integrity, in ways that further the cause.

Third, reach out to policymakers. Backed by a solid team of advocates, use your resources to enlist the aid of legislators. This could involve developing a letter-writing or email campaign, with your fellow advocates messaging key players en masse. Or working directly with lobbyists or other organizations with high levels of influence. Whatever the strategy, the goal is to enlist the support of those who could be instrumental in driving the change you desire.

Inspiring Example 

As with any endeavor, it’s advisable to study how others achieved the goal they set for themselves. What follows are two inspiring examples of successful advocacy campaigns and their tactics.  

Because we all carry smartphones, a digital advocacy campaign is a great way to spread the word. Recently, the National Restaurant Association did exactly that, using text messaging, email, and social media to empower its members to contact legislators about the threat COVID posed to their businesses. The association mobilized 200,000 advocates to send half a million messages to the U.S. Congress, ensuring their voices and concerns were heard.

Increasing voter turnout in elections is yet another way to drive change. With this in mind, Providence, a not-for-profit healthcare system, devised an advocacy campaign called “Vote for Health.” It enables people to register to vote and find information on health-related ballot measures. The campaign’s goal is to empower people to play an active role in improving their communities, which it’s been able to do by providing patients, employees, and caregivers with easy access to voter registration and resources in their respective states.


Suppose your organization is passionate about a specific cause or issue. In that case, an advocacy campaign can be an effective method for driving a significant change in attitudes and policy at the local, regional, and national levels. First, you must clearly state exactly what the issue and your intended goals are. Next, you gather a team of dedicated advocates to help you carry out a series of activities intended to achieve those goals. Once the campaign is well underway, and if the circumstances are appropriate, you can reach out to lobbyists and/or policymakers, who can leverage their positions to amplify your cause and possibly affect legislation.

An AI-Powered Content Boom Is Coming to Advocacy

Advocacy tech is getting its own AI race with the newly launched CiviClick aiming to challenge established companies like Quorum and Speak4.

The platform, launched by Chazz Clevinger, wants to appeal to advocacy clients, partly, because of its ability to offer clients content variation, created from “a proprietary blend of different AI technology platforms.”

How Does It work?

The way CiviClick works is the client prompts the platform with a default message or a default document the AI uses to determine the most appropriate messaging strategy based on who the targets of the campaign are.

“If a public affairs professional is running an issue advocacy campaign and wants to generate content specific to an individual lawmaker or group of lawmakers based on their voting history or their personalities, they can generate content that is more conservative leaning, more progressive leaning, that is more logical in its tone or happy or angry,” Clevinger told C&E. “It can take into account things like regional dialect — speaking like someone from South Boston would speak. There’s a lot of different variations and layers to the way that we have designed the technology.”

Ultimately, this content curation is what Clevinger believes will help set his platform apart from the advocacy tech competition: “AI is helping to achieve a much greater degree of content variation for the clients that we’re working with,” he said.

The Value of Grassroots Movements

Depending on where you look, the definition varies slightly. But Merriam-Webster, as good a source as any, defines “grassroots” as “basic, fundamental.” Reportedly, the term started popping up in a political context in the early 1900s. Albert J. Beveridge, a U.S. Senator from Indiana, for example, used it to describe the then-popular Progressive Party: “This party has come from the grassroots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities.”

Whatever its origin, what is recognized today as a “grassroots movement” is a social or political movement fueled by ordinary citizens, people directly affected by its outcomes, rather than prominent politicians or other people of influence. Operating from the bottom up, grassroots movements typically focus on specific causes—social justice, human rights, and climate change, to name just a few.

They also go back hundreds of years and span the globe. In the United States, what would later be known as the civil rights movement began at the grassroots level, with an Alabama bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white person. More than 100 years earlier, in 1848, a relatively small group of activists kicked off the push for women’s suffrage, which resulted in the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting their right to vote, in 1920.

Notable grassroots movements abroad include the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in the second half of the 20th century and, more recently, the Arab Spring, which was amplified by the internet and social media, making it easier for people to organize and mobilize around a cause.

So, why might companies and organizations choose to participate in grassroots movements? Some movements focus on issues closely related to business outcomes. Others have no tie whatsoever to business but involve social or political issues a company and its employees are passionate about. Some movements combine the two.

Whatever the reasons, certain basic steps are necessary when planning to either participate in or support a grassroots movement.

Building a Successful Grassroots Strategy

Before you launch a movement, you need to know exactly what it is you and your fellow activists want. You’re starting at point A and want to get to point B, which means you need a roadmap. The Alabama bus boycotters had one thing in mind: Make every inch of public buses accessible to all, no matter what their skin color or ethnicity. The suffragettes wanted the same political freedoms as men. These are great examples because driving change within your local community, for example, is much different than doing so on a national scale.

And no person, especially when it comes to politics, is an island. The first step to launching a grassroots movement is enlisting support, which means recruiting advocates and raising funds. A core tenet of grassroots movements is that collective action is more powerful than individual action. An army can get more done than one soldier.

Here are a few tips on both recruiting for and launching a grassroots movement:

  • Hand out flyers, posters, and other informational materials to spread awareness.
  • Create a petition and gather signatures, either in person or online.
  • Use social media to share information and mobilize supporters.
  • Engage with community members by canvassing door-to-door.
  • Organize marches and/or rallies to show support and visibility.
  • Create a website that serves as a hub of information and resources.

Once the movement’s up and running, and supported by a dedicated corps of advocates, grassroots organizers activate those advocates, by providing them with tools, resources, and strategies. They include:

  • Setting up digital systems enabling advocates to make phone calls, text or email elected officials.
  • Drafting talking points and elevator speeches clearly communicating the goals of the campaign.
  • Making use of advocacy software, a tool that helps build strong relationships with constituents and more effectively mobilize supporters. 
  • Identifying policymakers and other stakeholders relevant to the campaign’s goals and building relationships or partnerships with them.

Adding Grasstop Strategies

What’s the opposite of “grassroots”? That would have to be “grasstops.” And in this context, it refers to individuals who are established leaders, politicians, or celebrities—or a combination of all three. Successful grassroots movements, especially those beginning to achieve national-level renown, often use both grassroots and grasstops strategies.

It helps to distinguish between the two and to know the appeal of each for target audiences. Grassroots strategies focus on engaging and mobilizing “ordinary” people, usually at the local level—town, municipality, county, maybe even state. Whereas grasstops strategies focus on engaging and mobilizing already established community leaders or, if needed, the folks mentioned above. One of the reasons for involving grasstops advocates is, they can help to build relationships with high-level policy- and decision-makers, who, in turn, can facilitate access to resources and support.

Of course, the strategies used in grassroots and grasstops campaigns vary. Grassroots strategies, for example, rely on “boots on the ground” tactics, such as door-to-door outreach, rallies, and social media campaigns. Grasstops strategies often involve more traditional lobbying efforts, such as building relationships with legislators and participating in policy discussions.

Don’t Lose Sight of What a Grassroots Movement Is

While some of the most well-known examples of grassroots movements—the suffrage and civil rights movements, the Arab Spring—eventually achieved a level of world renown, it’s good to remember that, usually, grassroots movements don’t make the national news. Whether they’re pitching for safe city playgrounds, protesting the building of a nuclear power plant, or advocating for the construction of a memorial in the town square, many grassroots efforts fly under the news-cycle radar. But many also have the potential to influence policy and laws at the state, federal, and even international levels.


By raising awareness and driving change, grassroots movements have the potential to benefit businesses, organizations, and the general public. One big advantage of grassroots movements is, they can be initiated and driven by one person or a small group, meaning they don’t require massive amounts of funding or resources. So grassroots groups have the potential to be highly democratic and inclusive, allowing ordinary folks to have a voice and make a difference.

Large-scale grassroots movements are driven by nonprofits, advocacy groups, and, in some cases, corporations. While they may have an elaborate infrastructure and many more resources, they can also employ the same bottom-up approach of traditional grassroots efforts, with similar results.

Speaking of, if you have the resources, it behooves the drivers of a grassroots movement to measure the success of a campaign. Did it achieve its goals? And in what ways? How effective were your digital efforts? How many people attended your rallies or other events? Knowing and analyzing the answers to these and other questions can help those taking on other issues to use grassroots campaigns as powerful tools for advocacy and change.

Legislative Advocacy

Legislative Advocacy is becoming more talked about and more important for business owners. Advocacy is the term used to describe activities that are done to influence a decision-maker. This can be anything from forming networks to lobbying to litigation. It’s a way for us as individuals, groups, organizations, or businesses to be heard in hopes of changing the decision-maker’s mind in a particular direction. The goal of advocacy is to have an impact on the outcome. Since businesses have become the most trusted institutions today, CEO’s are encouraged to discuss public policies in accordance with the annual reports. It has been proven that consumers are more likely to care about a business that shows a standing in their beliefs. 

Companies and Advocacy

A few corporate companies have taken advocacy into their company morals. For example, NAMI advocates on behalf of individuals with mental illness and their families. They advocated the Affordable Care Act in 2017 by using the grassroots technique. The Texas Realtors took advocacy day to a virtual action month. IHRSA generated over 60,000 emails to Congress to raise awareness for their campaign. Although these companies sound like their approaches were different, they are all examples of effective means of legislative advocacy. But the question remains: why is public advocacy important to business owners?

Legislative Advocacy

Legislative advocacy is essential for a few different reasons as a business owner. Because advocacy bridges the gap between our decision-makers and the people who vote, it’s our way of having a say, even if it feels like it was not heard. State legislators, members of Congress, and city council members are our everyday decision-makers. Since these people are public figures, their supporters and nonsupporters are noticed. Therefore, advocacy has a better chance of being heard. As a business owner, becoming actively involved can potentially help raise enough awareness to protect what you believe in. The policies that are or are not enforced can sometimes make or break a business. Different types of public advocacy exist today, so a business owner may want to be aware of the different approaches to advocate effectively.

Types Of Legislative Advocacy

The various types of legislative advocacy range from grassroots to media campaigns to activism. Let’s briefly put these in perspective by starting with lobbying. Lobbying occurs when someone communicates directly to members of Congress or a government official in hopes of influencing their decision. Usual lobbying tactics involve in-person meetings, written communication, or something as simple as a phone call. A bigger part of lobbying occurs in advising. Advising is educating the decision maker on your specific topic in hopes of persuading them into what you believe is correct. Advising also occurs in social media campaigns. Social media campaigns occur when a media outlet is used to raise awareness on a specific issue or topic in hopes of raising urgency to the public. If successful, other like-minded businesses can have the opportunity to band together to make their opinion heard louder. Two more common media outlets are usually a newspaper or website ad. However, because social media allows users, groups, or businesses to connect with people, share information, and organize events, this has become an increasingly popular choice for campaigning beliefs. Grassroots advocacy is the opposite and requires a more hands-on approach. This approach requires citizens to come together to take action. Now this may occur by a simple method such as writing to Congress, passing a petition, or participating in a protest. As previously mentioned, NAMI used the grassroots approach when the Affordable Care Act came about in 2017. They emailed their advocates and directed their recipients to visit their online action center. As a result, they motivated 1,066 advocates to participate in a Hill Day. IHRSA used an email campaign for key policy issues and generated over 60,000 emails to Congress. Then you have activism. Activism also plays a part in grassroots advocacy. Because grassroots advocacy includes protests, activism gets attached. Activism occurs when awareness is raised in one of two methods, protests or demonstrations. Demonstrations are usually the lesser of the two, as they usually involve people holding signs on the sidewalk. However, it can shift to a higher approach, like someone handcuffing themselves to a tree or permanent object. We have previously seen corporate companies like Uber, Chick-fil-A, and Hobby Lobby advocate using activism. Although advocating may seem like a simple process, it requires some dedicated time and attention.

Advocating may seem like a simple process to some, but it does require specific steps to advocate effectively. The first step is to complete your research, so you can then decide which approach will be best to get your message across effectively. Identify the issue and know your facts. Missing this step can hinder the campaign rather quickly. It’s important to listen to people around you, especially those you are trying to support. Engaging in the community is a great way to help with this and should be part of your advocating strategy. Make sure to build relationships with all people. And lastly, don’t give up. Remember, an effective advocate has to stay strong for what they believe in but in a professional, caring matter. Be assertive but not aggressive.  


As a recap, legislative advocacy is important for both individuals all the way to business owners. Legislative advocacy is often used to show support or criticize a particular class’s policies like education, healthcare, or environmental regulations. Advocacy is the act of trying to influence the person or group that makes the decisions whether to pass or not to pass a new law or regulation. The policy part of legislative advocacy refers to the rules or principles that guide the decision-making process and its actions. One can advocate using the grassroots approach, lobbying, media campaigns, advising, or activism. However, if you advocate, remember to follow the steps needed and keep your tactic assertive but not aggressive. Allow your business to be heard, but not in a negative way!