Advocacy is a powerful tactic for nonprofits to engage their communities, pursue their missions, boost their visibility in the public eye, and even raise some money. Advocacy campaigns have become an incredibly effective way for many organizations to make an impact and deepen relationships with their supporters.
If you’re looking for ways to keep your donors engaged after the busy year-end season, advocacy might be the way to go!
Plus, don’t forget that 2020 is an election year! Referred to as the “election effect,” nonprofits and advocacy organizations regularly see huge bumps in engagement every time a new election cycle picks up. Political, environmental, and social issues are at the front of people’s minds, and they want to support the causes they care about.
Advocacy campaigns come in several different forms, ranging from complex multi-year campaigns to influence legislation to simpler petitions and pledge campaigns. If your mission lends itself well to advocacy, definitely consider your options and stay on top of current events.
You’ll just need the right tools and strategies in your back pocket to fire up at a moment’s notice. That’s where nonprofit tech comes in.
Today’s fundraising and marketing technology has made it easier than ever to build a strong infrastructure and launch an advocacy campaign quickly. Let’s walk through the tech side of advocacy campaigns, what you’ll need to get started, and how to best manage your efforts going forward. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Use integrated advocacy tools.
- Continually learn from your data.
- Develop a multichannel approach.
- Give your advocates digital support.
- Have a data management plan in place.
Following these best practices as you build out your advocacy toolkit can significantly boost your chances for success by better equipping both your team and your community of supporters to advocate on your behalf. Let’s get started.
1. Use integrated advocacy tools.
Using integrated tools is always a smart move. You’ve probably read or heard this before, but what exactly does it mean?
An integration between two software solutions means that they’re able to easily share their data, allowing each to draw from the other’s records and metrics. What are the benefits of integrating your tools, and how can they improve your advocacy efforts?
Think of it this way: When your advocacy software (like a petitions tool), donation page, and central donor database (or CRM) all speak the same language, you can make smarter strategy decisions and automate more of your processes. For example, with an integrated advocacy toolkit, you can:
- Automatically save the contact info of new petition signers to your database of supporters and email recipients
- Populate supporter names in your campaign emails to personalize the message
- Easily analyze all of your campaign data, including petitions, actions, donations, and marketing engagement, in a centralized location
The main idea is that advocacy campaigns tend to be fairly complex, reaching supporters through a variety of channels and providing multiple ways to get involved. You have to ensure that none of your engagement data falls through the cracks. This way, you can develop more effective strategies down the line by shaping your campaigns to what you know your supporters will respond to. Plus, easier data access simply saves your team’s time across the board.
The most efficient way to build an integrated toolkit for most organizations is to use your CRM as the system’s central hub. At Soapbox Engage, we create integrated apps for use within the Salesforce platform, which is completely designed around the idea of building a modular, integrated toolkit that plugs directly into your database.
Check out the Soapbox Engage guide to Salesforce advocacy software to see this best practice in action and to get a sense of the Salesforce platform.
2. Continually learn from your data.
We touched on this best practice above, but it’s worth a deeper dive. As you develop any type of campaign, you should be making data-driven strategy decisions. This is true for event planning, fundraising, marketing, advocacy campaigns, and everything in between.
Use your past performance metrics to guide your next steps in smarter ways. For advocacy campaigns, ask yourself these questions as you develop your strategy:
- How large is our supporter base?
- How many people engaged with our last advocacy push?
- How many supporters volunteered to serve as advocates?
- How many new supporters or contacts did we reach last time?
- Did we reach our goals in our last advocacy campaign?
Advocacy campaigns are built around lofty goals, but that doesn’t mean your organization should be working with just a starting point and an endpoint with no clear picture of how to connect the two! You’ll be much more likely to make a sustained impact when you set out clear steps and goals, and using your data is the best way to get started.
For example, even if your overarching goal is to influence legislation related to your mission, that shouldn’t be your only target; it’s a huge goal that needs to be broken down into pieces. Using data, you can instead set smaller goals like securing a certain number of petition signatures, facilitating a certain number of phone calls or emails to legislators, or more. Your data will tell you realistic ranges for those stepping-stone goals.
Again, this is why working with an integrated advocacy toolkit can be so beneficial. Centralized data reporting for each of your tools makes it much easier to generate strategy insights over time.
Think about how your process could be streamlined if your system automatically attached petition signers to existing contacts in your database (or created profiles for new contacts as needed). This would give you a comprehensive, tidy record of engagement data without any need for manual entry.
3. Develop a multichannel approach.
One of the biggest benefits of advocacy campaigns is that they can significantly expand your mailing lists. Highly visible and highly engaging campaigns built around compelling current events or social issues need to be supported with a strong, multichannel marketing approach.
A multichannel marketing strategy is designed to engage audiences through a variety of channels and direct them all towards a central goal or target action. In the case of your advocacy campaign, that action might be signing a petition, emailing a legislator, making a donation, registering for an event, or signing up to volunteer. For large-scale campaigns, you’ll probably have more than one target action that needs its own marketing strategy.
Which marketing outlets should be in play? These are the most effective for nonprofit advocacy:
- Your organization’s website or the campaign’s microsite
- Your social media profiles on the networks where your target audiences are most likely to engage
- Your email messages to supporters and contacts
- Any mobile tools you might have, like an advocacy app
Let’s consider an example scenario. Say you’re hosting a dinner and silent auction as part of a larger advocacy campaign to raise awareness for your mission. How do you develop a marketing strategy to ensure high turnout for the event?
You’ll want to create a page or dedicated microsite for the event where you can post blog articles, pictures, and (most importantly) your registration form. Then, use your other outlets to create and share engaging messages encouraging readers to visit the page or microsite. The idea is to funnel readers deeper towards your target goal. This basic model can be adapted to support any campaign goal and to target practically any segment of your supporter base.
Check out this guide from DNL OmniMedia for more in-depth examples of what it’s like to create a nonprofit multichannel marketing campaign.
4. Give your advocates digital support.
Don’t just ask your volunteer advocates to share your posts and collect signatures. Get them more involved! With so many digital options and avenues available today, there’s no reason to not maximize the digital support and engagement that you offer supporters.
Consider these options for further empowering your advocates:
Host online training sessions. Whether you offer live-streaming, recorded videos, or online courses, make sure that you’re giving your volunteers everything they’ll need to power your campaign. This is especially important if you’ll be enlisting on-the-ground volunteers who need to all be on the same page with your message, protocols, and goals.
Demonstrate your online tools. If you’re asking advocates to promote your online engagement channels like online petitions, call-a-legislator tools, donation forms, or more, make sure they’re able to answer any and all questions that audiences might have. This is an essential part of effective, modern volunteer management.
Provide plenty of educational materials. If possible, create a directory section of your website for members and volunteers to access educational materials that you’ve digitized and shared. This is one of the simplest and most direct ways to empower your advocates who will be doing the hard work of raising awareness for your cause. Even something as basic as creating a weekly newsletter specifically for your advocates can have a big impact on their ability to promote your campaign.
If you’re looking to raise some financial support for your organization during your advocacy campaign, don’t forget to explore your peer-to-peer fundraising options, too. This fundraising method lends itself well to advocacy-related goals and is perfect for raising your visibility on social media.
5. Have a data management plan in place.
We’ve touched on data throughout the above best practices and for good reason! Data should be guiding all of your organization’s strategies. If you’re investing time, money, and effort into achieving a goal, you have to make sure you put yourself in the best possible position to succeed.
An important part of setting data-informed goals for your advocacy campaign is establishing KPIs, or key performance indicators. These are the metrics that you’ll use to measure your progress towards your goals. Without a clear idea of what you’re looking for, the inflow of data from your advocacy efforts can quickly become jumbled or overwhelming.
Typical KPIs for an advocacy campaign might include:
- Signatures secured on petitions
- Emails or calls to legislators
- Signups for volunteering or newsletter
- Number of new supporters acquired
- Number of previous supporters retained
- Donations raised
These are essentially the target actions discussed in Section 3 above, developing a multichannel marketing strategy. Determining these goals and KPIs before launching your campaign gives you a concrete reference point to periodically check in on. This makes it easier to actively guide your campaign in real-time rather than simply launching it and hoping your team can carry it through.
Remember, working with integrated tools drastically simplifies the logistics of tracking and analyzing this data! Check out our picks for the best nonprofit Salesforce apps for examples of the wide range of easily-integrated tools available.
Advocacy can be an extremely effective way to pursue your mission, reach new audiences, and raise the visibility of your organization. However, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t back up your advocacy efforts with the right digital strategies!
There are more tools and options out there for supercharging your advocacy campaigns, but you’ll need to follow a few best practices to get started. Working with integrated tools, valuing your data, taking a multichannel approach, and empowering your volunteers are all foundational parts of effective digital advocacy. Good luck!
Special thanks to Ryan Ozimek for sharing his expert advice.
As the founder of a software company serving the public sector, Ryan passionate about empowering organizations to “do good”. With a focus on effective and efficient technology solutions, he's constantly looking for ways in which the Internet can better serve the greater good, and more specifically the non-profit sector. He leads up the Soapbox Engage team in our pursuit of affordable and accidental techie-friendly online engagement software, is a Salesforce MVP, and leads the NPSP Days around the world. Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in communications from UCLA, and a masters of public policy from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs. He’s also a fan of burritos, so if you have any tips to finding the best taqueria in the world, let him know.