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.
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.