5 tips to start a nonprofit advocacy campaign
Guest blog by Corey Vaughn of Muster
Nonprofit advocacy campaigns let your organization and your supporters do something good for your mission that can pay off in both the short and long term.
We know advocacy campaigns can seem like an investment, as they often last for months, if not years. But don’t freak out with the right research and tools, your nonprofit can quickly learn about advocacy in your field and start a campaign.
Nonprofit advocacy campaigns usually have one of two goals. They can either focus on a piece of legislation and convince elected officials to vote a certain way, or nonprofits can launch awareness campaigns that provide their communities with educational materials about issues related to their mission. And sometimes your campaign will end up doing both!
To help your nonprofit get familiar the ins and outs of starting an advocacy campaign, we’ll walk through five key tips for staying organized and keeping supporters invested in your campaign:
- Partner with local advocacy groups
- Invest in the right tools
- Set a specific campaign goal
- Engage your supporters
- Stay up to date on current advocacy trends
These tips will help your nonprofit jumpstart your first advocacy campaign. By implementing just a few of these strategies, you’ll start to experience the many positives advocacy campaigns can bring to the table, including greater supporter engagement and real advances for your mission. Let’s get started.
1. Partner with local advocacy groups.
If your nonprofit has a very specific campaign goal, you’ll probably need to launch a brand new campaign around it. However, chances are there are grassroots groups in your community that share similar interests and have advocacy efforts already underway. In these instances, your nonprofit can get a jumpstart on your advocacy campaign by partnering with local advocacy organizations!
Make sure to research other local advocacy groups, community initiatives, and nonprofits thoroughly before starting your campaign. If you find a group whose interests match yours, it might make sense to partner up.
Plus, getting in touch with other groups in your community can create a window into where your community currently stands on key advocacy issues. Then, you can better tailor your outreach messages to fit with what locals are already saying about advocacy opportunities like yours.
Picture this: a nonprofit focused on conservation efforts discovers that there is already a community awareness campaign about proper recycling efforts and reducing waste. However, they notice that there isn’t a campaign revolving around upcoming legislation on supermarkets using plastic bags.
In this example, the nonprofit may be able to work with the community organizers running the awareness campaign to draw attention to the plastic bag legislation, earning them access to an already widespread community network.
2. Invest in the right tools.
Today’s advocacy campaigns aren’t conducted the same way they were even just a few years ago. Advances in technology have made advocacy more efficient and accessible than ever before. With the right tools, your nonprofit can stay organized even while launching a campaign with thousands of supporters!
There are lots of types of advocacy software around, and different campaigns usually need different solutions. For instance, in Muster’s exploration of successful advocacy examples, they talk about several campaigns, each of which used a variety of software solutions, including:
- Geo-targeting tools. If your campaign involves asking your supporters to get in touch with their representatives, make sure you can help them figure out who that is. Congressional districts can be pretty confusing, and the more oddly-drawn districts sometimes even trip up zip-code matching tools. Geo-targeting tools can pinpoint your supporters’ exact location, which means they can match your supporters to their representatives every time.
- Action alerts. Taking action and advocating for causes that matter should be part of your supporters’ lifestyle, but your volunteers also have busy lives when they’re not on the clock. Action alerts are unique messages that tell your supporters to take action immediately after receiving one, and they make it as easy as possible to do so with message templates and directions about who to contact.
- Peer-to-peer software. Your nonprofit probably already knows about peer-to-peer fundraisers. But did you know that peer-to-peer software and outreach tactics also work for advocacy campaigns? The only difference between normal peer-to-peer fundraisers and peer-to-peer advocacy campaigns is that your volunteers simply advocate on behalf of your nonprofit’s advocacy campaign instead of a fundraising campaign.
There’s a wide world of advocacy tools even beyond these platforms, including canvassing software, bill tracking tools, and more. But while they are exciting, try to avoid investing in too many as it’s very easy to accidentally overwhelm your staff with new software.
Take a moment to sit down and determine your campaign’s clearcut objectives and what advocacy activities you’ll want to use. Then, shop around, ask for demos, and do your research to invest in the best platforms for your campaign.
3. Set a specific campaign goal.
Your nonprofit’s mission statement is your organization’s source of truth, and all of your initiatives (including your advocacy campaigns!) should be inspired by it. However, your mission statement is just the starting line, and your nonprofit should have a specific goal in mind for each advocacy campaign.
Take this example: an animal shelter has a broad mission statement: “We work to protect all animals in our care and help them to find their forever homes.” All of their goals fit under this umbrella.
Then, for the animal shelter’s advocacy campaign, they change up their specific goal to: “To educate our community about the availability and importance of no-kill shelters.” And then, internally, they have an even more specific, measurable goal, such as reducing the number of animals in their community sent to shelters without a no-kill policy by 30%.
This approach helps keep your campaign focused, and also attracts new supporters. Strong, specific campaign goals can even be inspirational, and with the right message, interested individuals might just be able to envision both your campaign’s impact and what they would do as a part of it.
Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit storytelling provides even more insight into how to present goals like these to your audience:
- Use stories to support your campaign goal. Often the best way to demonstrate your impact is through examples that showcase the issue and present a solution. Make sure these stories avoid presenting the problem as either hopeless or completely solved. Instead, end on a note that encourages readers to take action, whether that is to educate their friends and family on your core issues or contact their representatives.
- Tailor your message to your audience. Your mission statement was likely workshopped a few times before presenting it to your supporter base. Your campaign messages should undergo a similar process to ensure they will resonate with your supporters.
- Use visuals. Visuals can go a long way towards helping your nonprofit’s campaign get noticed online. Photos, infographics, and videos that convey your campaign’s goals can be both persuasive and shareable, increasing their value as supporters voluntarily spread them around through social media.
Of course, over the course of your campaign, you might discover that you’ll need to change the exact specifics of your campaign in order to reach a more achievable goal. For example, even well-run campaigns targeting specific pieces of legislation don’t always see the results they want. In these cases, these campaigns reach back out to their supporters, reaffirming their organization’s overall goal and motivating them by creating a new plan with a slightly different objective for their next campaign.
4. Engage your supporters.
Your supporters will ultimately determine your campaign’s overall success. Of course, even the most passionate supporters will need direction and engagement opportunities to stay motivated. Additionally, advocacy campaigns are long, making continuous engagement more of a marathon than a sprint. Here a few ways you can keep your supporters invested long-term:
- Hold onboarding events. Volunteer training can include a variety of lessons, including explaining your nonprofit’s software, branding, and volunteer best practices. Onboarding should also be a time for supporters to ask questions and learn who they can go to if they ever need help during your campaign.
- Plan your messaging strategy. Advocacy campaign’s messages tend to be shared in three phases. During the initial recruitment phase, your nonprofit will send lots of messages to convert new supporters. Then, in the lead up to your target election, demonstration, or other advocacy activity, you’ll send action-based messages, instructing supporters what to do and when. Then, between campaigns, you might experience a lull in support and send out messages that show how your nonprofit is still active and getting ready for your next campaign.
- Listen to supporter feedback. Often, the best way to keep supporters engaged is to listen to and implement their ideas. During your campaign, be open to feedback from your supporters, whether it’s given offhand to their supervisors or gathered formally through a survey. Incorporating every idea you receive often isn’t practical, but there may be a few winners and sometimes the act of listening alone can be enough to help your supporters feel heard.
Advocacy campaigns can also be an opportunity for your nonprofit to earn volunteer grants. Volunteer grants are donations made by your volunteers’ employers after your volunteers donate a certain amount of their time. In other words, volunteer grants are essentially free money for your nonprofit. Help your volunteers check their eligibility and fill out any forms to help claim this extra revenue source.
5. Stay up to date on current advocacy trends.
Advocacy is an exciting, constantly evolving field. New trends are regularly developed and leveraged in interesting ways, and some of these trends can be applied to your own campaign. Of course, the only way to know what’s going on in the greater advocacy landscape is to stay up to date on current trends.
Fortunately, your nonprofit doesn’t need to know the latest moves of every advocacy campaign currently running. Instead, you can stay tuned in to both what’s happening in the advocacy world the same way you stay informed about your nonprofit’s industry.
Read reputable publications and blogs, and talk to your social connections at other nonprofits and advocacy organizations to gather their thoughts on current issues and practices.
Advocacy campaigns can help your nonprofit expand its operations in a new and exciting way. To get started, research what is currently happening in advocacy related to your nonprofit’s interests, both locally and on a wider scale. Then, make the right resource investments for your campaign and start reaching out to your supporters, inviting them to get involved in something they care about.
Corey Vaughn is Chief Marketing Officer at Muster, where he has spent the last five years driving growth through lead generation, content creation, and product education. He also works closely with nonprofits to help improve and scale their advocacy efforts through digital campaigns. Connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest in nonprofit advocacy.