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How to Launch an Advocacy Campaign

1. Determine your goal.

Unlike many fundraising ideas, advocacy campaigns shouldn’t be run just because your nonprofit needs to earn a little extra revenue. These campaigns revolve not just around specific fundraising goals, but tangible outcomes such as spreading awareness or influencing legislation. 

Before launching an advocacy campaign, determine what your goal is or even if your nonprofit has a goal that can be met through an advocacy campaign. 

This goal should align with your nonprofit’s overall mission, but will also need to be highly specific. For example, an animal shelter might have a mission focused on protecting animals and helping them find their forever homes. This animal shelter might then launch an advocacy campaign focused on influencing non-partisan legislation related to animal rights, such as increasing breeding regulations for the purposes of eliminating puppy mills. 

2. Craft your message.

Once you know what you want to accomplish, start thinking about how you can relay that message to your supporters. Advocacy messages share a lot in common with typical fundraising messages, such as the importance of storytelling and providing immediate next steps. 

When drafting your advocacy campaign messages, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is my audience? Make sure your advocacy messages address all of your relevant stakeholders. These will likely include your current supporters, potential supporters you hope to gain through advocacy, and potentially even local government officials if you’re attempting to influence legislation. 
  • What emotions am I invoking? Emotions can stir your supporters to action, but only if you’re invoking the right ones. Storytelling can be an effective way to get supporters to emphasize with your beneficiaries, but make sure the stories you tell are meant to invoke emotions that will lead to action, such as empathy, frustration, and excitement. By contrast, telling a story that makes it seem like everything is already taken care of or one that makes the situation seem hopeless will likely result in low-energy emotions like contentment or despair, both of which are unlikely to result in action. 
  • What action do I want readers to take? You aren’t writing your advocacy messages just to share a good story or be entertaining! Make sure every message has a purpose and is crafted to drive supporters towards taking a specific action. This could be donating, volunteering, signing up for your newsletter, or even just following your nonprofit on social media. Whatever action you want supporters to take, make sure to provide immediate ways to do it at the end of your message. 

You will need to create many messages throughout your campaign that appeal to many different audiences. Just like with your fundraising campaigns, consider what platforms your target audience likely uses, as well as how you can personalize direct communication once you add a supporter to your emailing list. 

3. Build a team.

Even small fundraisers need a planning team, and a more complex fundraiser like an advocacy team can definitely benefit from strong leadership and organization. When planning your advocacy campaign, start thinking about your organization’s staff and who you can recruit to fill the following roles:

  • Lead organizer. Your lead organizer oversees your entire campaign and makes sure everyone is on track and working together towards your goal. 
  • Communication specialist. Advocacy campaigns require a lot of outreach and your communication and marketing team will be responsible for designing these messages, posting or sending them, and keeping in touch with supporters once they do join your campaign. 
  • Volunteer manager. Like with many other fundraisers, having a team of dedicated volunteers is essential. Choose a volunteer manager who will assist with training volunteers, answer their questions, and organize and supervise them during your campaign’s major activities. 
  • Tech assistance. Advocacy campaigns are increasingly going digital, relying on social media and modern advocacy tools to spread their message. If you’re running a campaign that is at least partially digital, make sure you have a few members of your staff who can help out if you run into any technical issues. 

Of course, the biggest part of your advocacy campaign team won’t be members of your staff, but the numerous volunteers and supporters you’ve recruited. 

4. Reach out to supporters.

Advocacy campaigns succeed when they have a large group of active supporters ready to get the word out and continue campaigning until they’ve achieved their goals. Of course, advocacy campaigns are also long, and maintaining constant communication with supporters can be tricky.

In fact, your communication with supporters will likely occur in three primary stages that will repeat with each campaign: 

  • Initial outreach. When your first launch your campaign, you’ll want to attract as many supporters as possible. These initial messages will aim to establish as many touchpoints with potential supporters as possible. This will likely include a multi-channel marketing strategy, as well as using eye-catching visuals and shareable stories to help your posts circulate on social media platforms.
  • Training. Once a supporter has made a donation or signed up for an email list, you can begin sharing more about your cause to help keep them interested and ready to take action when the time is right. To interest these new supporters, you’ll provide them with a variety of educational resources about your issue, compelling stories from those affected by your issue, and ways they can get further involved to help your cause. Then, when you’re ready for them to attend an event, contact their elected officials, or take any other action, let them know with plenty of time in advance while still making your message urgent. 
  • Continued connection. In between campaigns, it’s common to lose supporters. However, radio silence will almost always ensure that you bleed support you could have potentially retained between campaigns. After one campaign winds down, continue messaging supporters to show that your organization is active and preparing for your next campaign. 

Additionally, when your advocacy campaign winds down, you can get new supporters who came on board during your campaign to explore other opportunities your nonprofit offers. 

5. Plan campaign activities.

What do you plan to do to advance your campaign? Advocacy campaign activities can vary widely from protests and marches to canvassing and petitions. Determine what activities will best get your point across to stakeholders and decision-makers in your community. 

To promote these activities, get the word out to your supporters far in advance so supporters can clear their schedules. Then, before the event have your volunteer manager meet with volunteers ahead of time to assign them roles and review their responsibilities throughout the event. This might include how to handle specific situations or reviewing major talking points of your campaign. 

Nonprofit Advocacy Campaigns FAQ

Can a nonprofit run an advocacy campaign without risking its 501(c)(3) status?

While it is true that nonprofits can not devote a majority of their funding to political causes or endorse specific candidates for political offices, in most cases, nonprofits can run advocacy campaigns without fear of risking their tax-exempt status. 

To make sure that your advocacy campaign is okay to run, ask yourself two questions:

  • Is my campaign nonpartisan?
  • Are the majority of my nonprofit’s funds still going to charitable projects and initiatives? 

If the answer to both of these is yes, then chances are that your campaign will not endanger your 501(c)(3) status in any way. 

How long do advocacy campaigns last?

Advocacy campaigns often last for several months and some campaigns can take multiple years. When launching an advocacy campaign determine if you want your campaign to be a one-time event or a new branch of your organization that continually runs campaigns. 

How can digital advocacy help your campaign?

While your local community is likely to be your nonprofit’s strongest base, digital advocacy can help you get the word out to a far wide audience than you could through direct mail and fliers, alone. Maintain an active presence on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram by hosting at least three times a week to keep your followers updated. 

Top Advocacy Tools You'll Need

Advocacy campaigns often leverage a wide variety of tools, and not every campaign will need every available software solution. To help your nonprofit determine what tools, you’ll need, here’s a breakdown of a few popular advocacy solutions:

  • Advocacy software. Advocacy software comes with a variety of features, including messaging tools that allow organizations to create email lists for supporters for each of their campaigns. Advocacy software should also allow you to identify and target relevant elected officials based on your region and create templated messages that supporters can send to those elected officials.
  • Canvassing software. To gather support in your local community, try a canvassing campaign. Door-to-door and street canvassing can help you spread awareness in your community and collect donations at the same time. Try sending volunteer canvassers to neighborhoods and areas they are already familiar with. If a supporter has many pre-existing connections in a community, they’ll have an easier time gaining support through canvassing. 
  • Bill-tracking software. If your campaign is focused on a specific piece of legislation, you may benefit from investing in bill-tracking software. Follow where a specific bill is in the legislative process and time your campaign activity around what step it is currently on. 

Research your options and see if your CRM already comes equipped with any advocacy tools you’ll need for your upcoming campaign!