If you’ve ever led an advocacy campaign, you know that it has an incredible number of moving pieces. As you quickly grow and engage your audience, it can be easy to lose track of your campaign plan.

That’s why planning is the most important stage in your advocacy campaign. It’s what determines your chances of success or failure. By following these suggestions during your planning process, you’ll be better prepared to drive awareness and make meaningful change at a local, national, or global level:

  1. Set clear campaign goals and identify a timeline.
  2. Rely on established relationships.
  3. Use the Internet to spread your message.
  4. Leverage storytelling to build a base.

Throughout the planning and action stages of your advocacy campaign, you’ll collect a ton of data. As a best practice, use a constituent relationship manager (CRM) such as those included in EveryAction’s guide to picking a nonprofit CRM to help organize and monitor your campaign’s success.

If you’re ready to craft a solid advocacy campaign plan, let’s get down to business!

1. Set clear campaign goals and identify a timeline.

Because of their size and form, advocacy campaigns can often feel amorphous and ambiguous. Clear goals and a detailed timeline will give the necessary direction and structure to your advocacy campaign. Let’s take a look at how both of those play into your advocacy campaign plan.

Goals

Before you begin reaching out to supporters, your campaign needs a clear target. This is important both for making a clear plan and for engaging the public. People crave a clearly articulated goal to connect with and promote. It’s much more difficult to advocate for a cause that takes several hours—or even several minutes—to explain.

As you determine your goals, consider the feasibility of accomplishing them. If you’re a new organization without many resources or contacts, you may have more luck working first at the local level. As you develop community relationships, you can leverage your network to run a larger campaign down the line. If you’re an established organization, consider past campaign goals. Which goals helped you stay on track in past campaigns? What can you learn from campaigns of the past?

Overall, consider the intended outcome of your advocacy efforts and all the steps needed to achieve that outcome. For example, advocating for a law change may require the work of multiple governmental bodies, sign off by various elected officials, and also changing public perception — each of which could be an advocacy campaign in its own right. On the other hand, advocating for a corporation to stop a certain business practice might simply require the sign-off of just one person at the company. Whatever the goal, make sure to visualize the intermediate steps and plan accordingly.

Timeline

Once you have your goals, you can work backward to design an appropriate and feasible timeline. Plan for when you’ll begin to contact volunteers, when you’ll reach out to the broader public, and when you want to accomplish your goal. If your advocacy campaign is tied to the results of specific legislation, you’ll likely use the voting day to set your campaign’s timeline.

Remember, your goals and timeline are closely related. As you tailor each one, you’ll need to consider how any changes will impact the other. Likely, these will also shift throughout the campaign cycle as you gain a clearer picture of available resources. If you recruited more volunteers than anticipated, you may choose to leverage that support to make a greater impact throughout the duration of your campaign.

2. Rely on established relationships.

It can sometimes be difficult to find trusted individuals to fill a campaign’s leadership roles. Instead of trying to recruit people who are brand new to your mission, it’s often more efficient and successful to rely on existing relationships when mapping your advocacy campaign.

For any advocacy campaign, you’ll want to first look at your current team members and contacts stored in your database. Use your organization’s software to:

  • Create segments based on participation in past campaigns, locality, and donation history, and visualize the distribution of your projected campaign stakeholders.
  • Send the right opportunities to the right people. Based on collected data, identify and suggest assignments that align with individual interests and abilities. As you shift into advocate recruitment, you can use these tools to strategically cultivate your constituent relationships.
  • Personalize your messages to every contact. Even if you’re reaching out to hundreds of people in your network, you can automatically include their name and title.
  • Use a volunteer management tool and event platform to make sure your supporters are all pointed in the right direction and making progress.

Because they already know your organization, they’ll require less onboarding time and already have an investment in your mission. You’ll want to look for:

  • A lead organizer who will manage the entire campaign and act as the public face of the initiative.
  • Communication specialists who will help your campaign attract new supporters through email campaigns, social media, phone calls and direct mail, and events.
  • Volunteer supervisors who will manage advocacy volunteers and create dynamic virtual and in-person trainings.
  • Tech experts who will make sure your advocacy software and digital other tools are working effectively and properly.

Once you’ve filled these roles, you can use their contacts to continue to expand your network and begin the process of securing volunteers. Every successful advocacy campaign needs passionate advocates. However, finding, organizing, and managing advocacy volunteers—especially at a large scale—is no easy task. As you search for volunteers, put yourself in the best, most convincing position, and use your CRM and associated tools for recruiting and onboarding your volunteers.

3. Use the Internet to spread your message.

Today, the Internet is one of the most—if not the most—powerful tools for spreading your message. With proper planning, a digital advocacy campaign will help you:

  • Spread your message faster to more people.
  • Increase supporter accessibility.
  • Offer more ways to get involved.

But not every platform will be effective for your advocacy campaign. Instead of jumping into the fray, develop an online marketing plan ahead of time. Be clear on:

  1. Your target audience. Who are you trying to reach and why? What are their interests and demographics?
  2. The platforms you plan to target. Where does your target audience spend their time online?
  3. How you’ll use each platform. Of course, this will depend on the platforms you choose. If your supporters are active Facebook users, for instance, you might engage them with a Facebook Challenge. Twitter is great for quick updates; Instagram is great for sharing photos.

While some of these opportunities, such as Targeted Ads on Facebook, will cost your campaign money, many online advertising options are free to nonprofits. For example, according to Crowd101’s guide to Google’s Ad Grant program, the search engine behemoth donates up to $10,000 in monthly Google AdWords spending to qualifying nonprofit organizations. That means you can promote your campaign landing pages among other important advocacy-related information without taking a hit to your budget.

By being smart with how you allocate your marketing budget, you can ultimately amplify your campaign and inspire more people to get involved.

4. Leverage storytelling to build a base.

No matter the platform, your best bet for moving supporters to take action is to tell a compelling story. But as with any great storyteller, you’ll first need to know your audience. In your planning stages, ask:

  • Who are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • How old are they?
  • Who are their friends?
  • What do they believe in?
  • What is their worldview?
  • What policies have they supported?
  • What policies have they opposed?

Then, prepare the narrative that you plan to pitch to your supporters once the campaign goes live. In general, use this structure for best results:

  1. Map out a story arc. Your story should have a beginning, middle, and end.
  2. Introduce your characters. By focusing on a volunteer, staff member, beneficiary, or other constituent, you prioritize the human elements of your campaign.
  3. Present a conflict. This will be the challenge your main character faces and eventually overcomes.
  4. Offer a solution to the conflict. Your solution should be related to specific actions your nonprofit is taking.
  5. Invite supporters to join in the solution. This is your call to action. Tell people how they can get involved.

While facts and figures reach the logical side of our brains, stories appeal to the emotional side. Follow this method of storytelling to draw on these emotions and keep supporters invested in helping accomplish your goal. Since not everyone uses the same methods of communication, plan to grow your story across various platforms to reach as many supporters as possible.


To ensure you’re on the right track, continue to keep a close eye on your supporter data from the beginning of an advocacy campaign through the end. Use your CRM to organize and analyze supporter data, help identify new opportunities, and make adjustments in the moment. In the end, your campaign plan will come to fruition and you’ll positively impact the community you serve.

About the Author

Erin Mulligan Nelson

Erin Mulligan Nelson is the CEO of Bonterra.

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