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The Ultimate Guide to Advocacy Campaigns (+ Best Practices)
Effective advocacy campaigns have the power to effect real change. Learn how to start your grassroots campaign off right with these tips and best practices.
Everyone can create positive change by taking action, and coordinated advocacy campaigns help like-minded individuals gather together to make a bigger difference than they could have done alone. Advocacy campaigns have evolved in recent years. New grassroots advocacy groups need to educate themselves on the core principles of advocacy work to find a voice in the public arena.
Advocacy occurs at many different levels, is conducted by many different groups, and can support change in many different ways. Advocacy campaigns can seem complicated at first, and it’s essential to know where your organization stands before launching your campaign.
For grassroots groups, nonprofits, and associations interested in starting an advocacy campaign, this guide aims to answer core questions new activists have and provide guidance for how to get started planning your campaign. In the rest of this article, we’ll explore:
- What Are Advocacy Campaigns?
- How to Plan Your Advocacy Campaign
- Advocacy Campaign Examples and Success Stories
- Power Your Campaign with Advocacy Software
Knowing how to take your cause online can determine your campaign’s overall reach and impact. Many foundational tenets of effective advocacy have remained the same, and passionate organizations can empower their members to have a voice in public policy with the right tools and support. Let’s get started.
What Are Advocacy Campaigns?
Advocacy campaigns are organized movements focused on influencing political change and driving awareness around issues at the local, state, or national level. Most advocacy campaigns are made up of a few leaders who organize a larger body of supporters. These leadership teams are responsible for everything from contacting elected officials and holding rallies to informing the public about the policies they seek to change.
Advocacy campaigns look different based on who is running them. For instance, there are common misconceptions over the difference between grassroots activists and lobbyists:
- Lobbyists are a relatively small group of individuals that represent larger organizations or businesses. In contrast to grassroots advocacy, direct lobbying occurs when a few members of an organization ask an elected official to vote a specific way on a piece of legislation.
- Grassroots activists run movements made up of citizens to indirectly lobby elected officials. Grassroots advocacy groups tend to emerge from groups of citizens that have concerns over certain policies. Grassroots movements are rarely paid or backed by large corporations in the same way lobbyists are. Some grassroots groups do receive support from corporate sponsors, but this is usually with the intention of advancing a specific cause rather than the corporation’s interests.
Influencing change is difficult, but advocacy campaigns can succeed in changing how elected officials vote by rallying large groups of their constituents to express how specific pieces of policy impact their lives. Successful advocacy campaigns have the potential to positively impact the lives of real people and encourage politicians to listen to the people they represent.
How to Plan Your Advocacy Campaigns
Grassroots advocacy campaigns require dedicated organizational practices to stay focused and find success. This means advocacy groups that intend to run multiple advocacy campaigns will need to keep careful track of their fundraising and resource allocation throughout the entirety of their campaign.
Remember that even the most tightly run advocacy campaigns may not always accomplish all of their goals. However, these advocacy groups do set themselves up for the best chance at future success if they invest in their supporters, their technology, and tracking their campaigns’ data.
Advocacy campaigns have several stages and moving parts. This section will explore a few fundamentals of how to plan an effective advocacy campaign, providing advice on how your advocacy group can get your campaign started off on the right foot.
Craft Your Message
Your message needs to be communicated to two audiences: your supporters and the elected officials you plan to reach out to. Before joining up with your campaign, supporters will want to know what your advocacy campaign represents. The mission statement you present to them will also serve as a launching-off point for the message you send to elected officials.
While you already have a cause in mind, putting your exact mission into words that will attract and engage supporters throughout your campaign can be a challenge. Before writing your message, ask yourself the following questions:
Is your message speaking to all of your stakeholders and advocates?
Your answer to this question will determine who your advocates are. Your messages will need to be specific to allow your audience to understand your goal and what success will look like for your advocacy campaign.
However, hyper-specific messages can alienate supporters or cause confusion. Further messages for advocates who have already signed on can elaborate on the details of your cause, but your initial messages should aim for a broader audience.
What story is your advocacy campaign telling?
People rarely make decisions solely based on facts and statistics. Effective storytelling has the potential to intrigue supporters and keeps them emotionally invested in your advocacy campaign, even through slow periods.
You can share stories with supporters through your website or in outreach materials. Additionally, getting your advocates used to telling stories about their relationship with your cause will benefit your campaign in the long run when they reach out to elected officials.
How do your mission and business goals align?
Many advocacy campaigns are conducted by organizations and associations that intend to continue operating after their campaign’s end. Crafting goals that encourage long-term support have the potential to engage supporters for longer and help with re-recruitment for your next advocacy campaign.
Centering your overall business goals will also help you reach a needed level of specificity for smaller goals. Your mission will likely be a broader statement about the positive change your organization seeks to create, while your business goals may relate to organizational objectives such as increasing supporter engagement and retention.
Build a Support Base
Before you can start advocating, you’ll need to assemble a leadership team and attract supporters to your cause. Advocacy campaigns require expansive outreach and can last for months or even years, making forming a core support base essential for the survival and success of any advocacy group.
Your Leadership Team
Your leadership team will consist of a few key individuals who will help coordinate your larger base of activists. How many people you have in each position will depend on the size of your organization and your campaign’s overall scale. Most advocacy organizations will assemble a team with the following roles:
- Lead organizer. Your lead organizer will be responsible for overseeing the entire campaign, ensuring that your support base (no matter how widespread) remains cohesive and participates in strategically influencing policy.
- Communication specialist. Your communication and outreach specialists will help your campaign attract new supporters through email campaigns, social media, and traditional means. These team members will also answer support questions and help keep your current members engaged. Some advocacy groups designate a special role for media and press outreach, but smaller groups may assign that responsibility to their communications team.
- Volunteer supervisors. You’ll need someone to help manage, train, and supervisor your members for both in-person and online outreach activities. At in-person meetings, your supervisors will help orient supporters on proper conduct for your advocacy event and direct them about how and when to take action. For online campaigns, your volunteer supervisors will help monitor your supporters’ outreach and help answer any questions about how to get in touch with their representatives.
- Tech experts. Your advocacy software will help your lead organizer stay updated on every part of your campaign, assist your communications team in expanding your online network, and provide your volunteer supervisors with tools to organize and community with supporters on a large scale. Your tech experts support all other roles on your team by ensuring your advocacy software stays in top working order.
Finding experienced individuals to fill each of these roles can be a challenge. For new organizations, consider reaching out to activists who have participated in leadership roles in other campaigns to join your team or gain advice on how to overcome common challenges.
Your Supporter Base
No matter the level your campaign is operating on, the larger your supporter base, the better. In massive numbers, constituents contacting their representatives can’t be ignored, increasing your campaign’s likelihood of seeing the change you want.
Of course, forming, training, and retaining a large supporter base is easier said than done. Fortunately, advocacy software can help your campaign team stay organized as you funnel supporters into action both on and offline:
- Online outreach. Many of your potential supporters, especially younger individuals, tend to get most of their news online through email and social media. Use your advocacy software to launch comprehensive social media and email campaigns that use your mission statement to explain why your cause matters and how they can get involved. Remember that your website is also a tool that can help you attract supporters, especially if you include an action form on your homepage!
- Orientation. How do you want your supporter base to interact with elected officials? What do you want them to do once they’re recruited? Orienting and training supporters on how to be professional, organized activists helps provide them with direction and will present your campaign as more unified and educated towards legislators.
- Continued engagement. Support can wane between campaigns, which causes organizations to spend time and resources re-recruiting for their next campaign that could be dedicated to advancing their cause. Give your supporters a way to advocate for your cause online and during off periods. You can motivate them to stay committed by providing resources such as webinars, regular blog articles, and community message boards.
It’s exciting to see your supporter base grow, but it can also become overwhelming without proper organizational measures. Your team can maintain consistent communication with supporters by using your advocacy software to create segmented lists and specific messages for each campaign.Create an Action Plan
Advocacy campaigns are often a marathon rather than a sprint, which means your organization will need to make careful choices about when and how you put your activists to work. Creating an action plan doesn’t happen overnight, and the specifics will depend on your organization’s resources and goals, as well as any deadlines you might have to contend with.
While your organization will have to iron out the details based on your current needs and operating capacity, here are a few best practices that will apply to most advocacy groups outlining their campaign:
- Establish a specific goal. You should already have a clear idea of your campaign’s goal when reaching out to supporters. However, in some cases, you’ll only know what scale your campaign can operate at after recruiting supporters. In these instances, quickly determine what goals your campaign can conceivably accomplish with your current resources. Don’t let going small discourage your organization, either. Some of the most effective change happens at the local level.
- Create a timeline. Many advocacy campaigns are dependent on when specific legislation comes to a vote. Consider when to mobilize your supporters based on the policies you seek to change as you’ll want to build momentum and give your supporters plenty of time to conduct their outreach without causing burnout early on.
- Plan activities that fit your goal and operating scale. Not every advocacy tactic works for every campaign. For many organizations, a compelling mix of in-person gatherings and digital advocacy can help create a comprehensive campaign that reaches various audiences. Before planning any activity, set a measurable objective for it that connects to your overall goal.
- Use advocacy software to track your progress. You’ll generate a lot of data throughout your advocacy campaign. Your advocacy software can store key data points and help your organization analyze each activity after its completion. Doing so can help your organization identify new opportunities or course correct if things aren’t going quite as intended.
As you plan your campaign, keep in mind the preparation that will need to take place before major activities and outreach efforts. For example, if you decide to hold a rally, make sure to schedule in the time to contact supporters about when and where your rally will take place so they can pencil it into their calendars ahead of time.
Bonus: Before powering your campaign with advocacy software, make sure you're investing in the right solution. Explore Muster's eBook, 10 Factors to Consider Before Purchasing Advocacy Software, to learn more.
Advocacy Campaign Examples and Success Stories
Advocacy software plays a key role both off and online in advocacy campaigns. An advocacy groups’ digital strategy can encompass everything from social media to email marketing, web design, writing, and more. Advancements in advocacy technology have fundamentally transformed how advocacy groups engage their supporters and participate in the legislative process.To demonstrate how effective use of advocacy software can transform a campaign, here are three organizations who found success after investing in the right advocacy software platform for them:
The James River Association
As a growing, statewide advocacy organization, The James River Association (JRA) needed widespread support before approaching state legislators about the importance of keeping the James River clean.
Starting with an advocacy network of just 100 supporters, the JRA would rapidly expand by leveraging advocacy software’s power to create customized calls to action and engaging social media outreach campaigns. The JRA would ultimately increase its support base to over 1,700 members, empowering them to launch targeted advocacy campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels.
The Richmond region chamber of commerce, ChamberRVA, started with no organized online advocacy system, relying on traditional methods and sending individual emails to their members, encouraging them to get in touch with elected officials. The lack of automation left ChamberRVA in the dark about whether or not their supporters followed through on contacting legislators, let alone which legislators they were reaching out to.
After investing in advocacy software, ChamberRVA sent more coordinated messages to their support base than ever before. These timely appeals were able to elevate the voice of ChamberRVA’s members, empowering them to continue taking action.
Virginia College of Emergency Physicians
Before investing in advocacy software, the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians (VACEP) had little time to devote to the policy changes they believed in and had spent years trying to overturn harmful legislation.
VACEP saw its engagement rate skyrocket to almost 90% of its membership base by implementing advocacy software’s landing pages and calls to action. This outpouring of support led to the legislation VACEP had opposed for so long finally being overturned. Today, VACEP’s advocacy software has empowered them to run multiple advocacy campaigns at once to support policies that protect patients and physicians.
Power Your Campaign with Advocacy Software
Advocacy campaigns of 2021 look quite different from those of 2010. Today, advocacy campaigns are expected to use a comprehensive digital strategy to support their cause, making advocacy software necessary for campaigns to reach their true online potential.
As mentioned, advocacy software helps your team coordinate supporters across multiple campaigns, reach a wider audience than is possible through traditional means, and maintain a detailed overview of your campaign from start to finish.
Nonprofit advocacy groups stand to gain even more by incorporating advocacy software into their tech stack. Advocacy software that integrates with your nonprofit’s fundraising platform can help maximize contributions from donors and allow nonprofits to grow their networks through their advocacy support base.
Purchasing and teaching your team how to use your advocacy software is an investment of time and money. While the benefits are well worth upfront costs, your organization should research all of your options to make sure you make the right choice the first time. To help your organization start its advocacy software search, here are a few must-have features and a review of the top provider, Muster.
Find the Features Your Advocacy Campaign Needs
Different advocacy software providers focus on various aspects of advocacy software. This means that while you can trust most options will come with basic features, each solution will focus on those features to varying degrees.
As you evaluate software candidates, here is a checklist of features to look out for:
- Messaging tools. From reaching out to supporters to getting in contact with elected officials, advocacy campaigns run on automated messaging tools. Look for advocacy software that not only provides your team with convenient messaging capabilities but also allows your supporters to send their messages as quickly as possible.
- Supporter segmentation. Data-driven grassroots campaigns rely on supporter segmentation to visualize their stakeholder distribution. Additionally, dividing your supporters based on key characteristics such as location can provide insight into which legislators represent the bulk of your support base (and thus you have the highest chance to persuade them to vote your way).
- Branding capabilities. It’s important to present a united front to elected officials, and you’ll need to craft a cohesive organizational identity to present to your supporters. Ensure your advocacy software comes with customizable features that allow your organization to brand all external-facing documents.
- Message tracking. After you direct your supporters to contact their representatives, you’ll want to know who took action, if their representative received their message, and what their message said. Message tracking tools provide your organization with these key metrics that can help you determine whether or not your campaign met its outreach goals.
- Precision Advocacy. Getting your supporters in touch with the correct representative for their district can be a challenge as you get down to the local level. Find an advocacy software solution that comes equipped with a comprehensive database of elected officials to put your supporters in contact with the right people.
As you review advocacy software, note these features and other key considerations such as cost and scalability. Some software solutions may fit your organization’s current needs but fail to adapt as your movement grows in size.
Muster’s suite of advocacy software tools enables grassroots organizations to grow their supporter networks, keep their campaigns organized, and put their outreach campaigns into action. In addition to offering scalable advocacy tools that apply to organizations operating at every level, Muster prioritizes ease-of-use, allowing even new advocacy groups to attract and mobilize their supporter base quickly.
Here are just a few of Muster’s extensive advocacy features that can help your organization launch your next advocacy campaign:
- Action Alerts. Mobilize your supporters with coordinated Action Alerts, messages from Muster that inform supporters who to contact, how to get in contact with them, and why it matters. Effective Action Alerts reduce the time it takes your activists to craft and send their messages, boosting your overall engagement.
- Custom campaigns. Muster’s curated database of elected officials lets organizations create highly targeted campaigns. With accurate information down to the local level, organizations can put their supporters in contact with the exact individuals they need to reach out to.
- Network expansion. Muster empowers organizations, especially nonprofit advocacy groups, to reach out on social media and expand their supporter network. These engagement campaigns help spread awareness for your cause while continually earning new support.
These features combined with Muster’s reporting capabilities allow grassroots organizations to monitor every part of their campaign’s outreach. Use Muster to contact your supporters, track their engagement, and see your campaign succeed.
Advocacy campaigns have the potential to make a positive impact at every level, whether your organization operates across the country or is a local, growing grassroots movement. Cultivate supporters, invest in necessary resources, and build an action plan to set your grassroots organization up for success with each campaign you launch.
Advocacy is a constantly evolving field, so stay on top of recent developments by continually reading and researching best practices for campaigns like yours. Here are a few resources that provide insight into how to improve your next campaign:
- What is Digital Advocacy? Get an in-depth understanding of how digital advocacy tools have transformed how campaigns are run and how your organization can make the best use of its tech stack.
- Grassroots Advocacy 101. New to grassroots advocacy? Learn the who, what, when, where, why, and how behind campaigns that start from the ground up to make real change.
- What is Corporate Social Responsibility and Why is it Important? Advocacy groups can open new donors by finding a corporate partner to sponsor their campaign. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of corporate philanthropy and how it can apply to your campaign.