Reading time: 20 minutes

15 Proven Advocacy Strategies For Your Next Big Campaign

Published: May 15, 2024

Look at the biggest movements with advocacy strategies from the recent past.

The Women’s March, #MeToo, March For Our Lives, the movement to protect Dreamers, the progressive wave sweeping the US, and others.

On the surface, we see a group of passionate supporters raising their voices against injustice on the streets, on social media, and on every imaginable platform.

But dig deeper, and we find the smaller core group of organizers who work day and night to bring an issue to the collective attention of millions. The people who plan, strategize, and mobilize around an issue they believe in.

And that’s how it starts…

…with a cause; feeling strongly about an issue and going out into the community to effect change around it.

Your nonprofit advocacy strategy may aim to enable policy change, force a vote through a ballot initiative, or raise awareness. But the journey from a decision to act to an advocate and seeing the cause through to the final goal requires careful planning and strategy.

This article covers fifteen advocacy strategies that will help you achieve your goal in the smartest way possible:

1. Create a plan (and keep revising it)
2. Take supporters through an engagement funnel
3. Tell stories not statements
4. Go digital
5. Run a distributed organizing campaign
6. Leverage established relationships
7. Target your outreach
8. Persuade through open-ended conversations
9. Keep it personal (even at scale)
10. Drive meaningful actions
11. Connect voters to lawmakers
12. Partner up
13. Stay on top of the latest updates
14. Follow multi-channel engagement
15. Gamify supporter actions

1. Create a plan for your advocacy strategies (and keep revising it)

We like to think of plans as though they’re set in stone. Once they’re laid out, they’re not up for debate. However, studies have proved that humans are terrible at estimating long-term plans. So, have an overarching goal that you want to reach. Then, break down your journey into smaller tasks that can be achieved week over week. Rather than thinking of time as a linear path to your goal, consider every week or a period of two weeks as a cyclical journey where you learn from your mistakes and modify your plan to reflect any new learnings.

Maybe you thought voter lists from the state election office were the best way to identify supporters. But then you tried calling those numbers and realized that most of the list is outdated or only has landline numbers, while your audience is mainly mobile users. The plan has to change to accommodate this learning by incorporating a better way to collect mobile numbers or looking at data vendors who can get you the right information.

Takeaway from these advocacy strategies: Your plan shouldn’t be set in stone. Change with any new learnings.

You May Also Like: The All-In-One Political Advocacy Guide To Begin Your Activism

2. Take supporters through an engagement funnel

Most supporters who provide email addresses on your website aren’t totally sold on your cause. They may become donors and volunteers down the line, but as of now, curiosity drives them rather than passion. Nurture that curiosity by guiding people through a series of tasks that increase the level of commitment required.

Start people with low-barrier asks like sharing on social media or completing a simple survey. With every completed action, pave the way for a higher-barrier ask. The next step can be an ask for a petition signature followed by a request to donate, event invites, or an ask to contact their rep. By subtly nudging people along the engagement funnel, you avoid the risk of putting people off by asking for too much too early.

Takeaway from these advocacy strategies: Take supporters along an engagement funnel with a series of tasks that increase the level of commitment required.

Read Next: Digital Organizing 101 – Tactics, Tools, and the Ladder of Engagement.

3. Tell stories, not statements

Humans empathize with narratives; stories that take us through the highs and lows of the protagonist and immerse us in their conflict. Your content should attempt to tell the stories behind your cause. If you want people to care about cleaning up the local lake, don’t () tell them that the water has elevated levels of lead; tell them stories about the kids whose futures were destroyed because of mental impediments caused by lead poisoning.

Takeaway: Advertise your advocacy through stories people can relate to and empathize with.

Try out our communication platform designed for advocacy organizations.

4. Go digital with your advocacy strategies

Digital communities are as much a part of people’s lives as real relationships. They inform and mold opinions and can get people worldwide rooting for your cause.

A decade ago, nonprofit advocacy organizations used rallies and meetups to inform the public and gather petition signatures. Today, an effective social campaign can be enough to garner the signatures you need and force a vote through a ballot initiative. Organizing, voter outreach, fundraising, crowdfunding, and event management all fall into the digital realm, with analytics to provide insights on every aspect of your campaign.

You can download the whitepaper on the influence of digital and the tools that will help your digital strategy here.

Takeaway: You should leverage digital tools in every aspect of your nonprofit advocacy campaign.

5. Run a distributed organizing campaign

We saw this bottom-up approach to campaigning put to work in the Bernie Sanders primary campaign and the 2012 Obama presidential campaign. With distributed organizing, volunteer leaders are assigned autonomy in local campaigning efforts.

Identify volunteers from each locality who are passionate about your cause and willing to take up organizational efforts independently. The central campaign office then advice on strategy while local chapter leaders take care of the best way to implement it to reach the overarching goal. This approach admittedly takes some control from the central campaign office, but it makes up for it by affording campaigns scalability, grassroots support, and empowered volunteers who take up the job of paid staffers.

We wrote a detailed strategy guide on Distributed Organizing. Check it out here.

Takeaway: Distributed campaigning can help you make the most of existing resources and scale up outreach efforts.

Read Next: Distributed Organizing with CallHub’s Mobile App: A Complete Guide.

6. Leverage established relationships in your advocacy strategies

‘Relational Organizing’ works on the principle that asking people you already know is far more effective than asking a stranger to donate, volunteer, or get out to vote. Tools like VoterCircle let you automatically match contact lists to voter files to identify your target audience and reach out to them with personalized messages. It’s also easier to get volunteers to work from the comfort of their homes than getting them to wake up on the weekend and go knocking on doors.

Takeaway from these advocacy strategies: Ask people within your social circle to take action.

7. Target your outreach

As much as you’d like to strike an emotional chord with everyone on your list, a small number will follow through on their commitment to support the campaign. It’s critical that you communicate effectively with those who are willing to support you and get them to be active participants during your campaign.

With every phone banking, text messaging, or general outreach effort you run, make sure to collect data on supporter interests and issues and tailor follow-ups based on those responses. Your supporters shouldn’t receive the same communication as people on the fence about the issue, and donation requests shouldn’t go out to opponents before persuasion campaigns.

Takeaway: Use the data from your outreach to create targeted lists, each of which should receive tailored communications.

8. Persuade through open-ended conversations

You can tell people that the factory emissions are polluting the atmosphere, that marriage equality is a human right, or that local libraries shouldn’t be shut down.

You can corroborate your stand with facts.

But you cannot convince people to change their minds.

That’s why research by the Leadership Lab of the Los Angeles LGBT Center is pivotal to understanding how humans perceive ideas that oppose previously held beliefs. The study suggests that long, open-ended conversations can potentially change people’s minds. Next time your volunteer talks to a swing voter about a sensitive issue, encourage them to get people to discuss the issue rather than treating the conversation as an obvious attempt at persuasion.

You can read more about the ‘Deep Canvassing’ method here.

Takeaway: Open-ended conversations, rather than messaging tailored around persuasion, have a higher chance of convincing someone who is unsure about an issue.

9. Keep it personal (even at scale)

As your campaign grows, the pressure of keeping your communication personal grows. Scalable options like email, broadcast texts, and social media look more appealing than personal channels like door-to-door canvassing and phone calls. But instead of dropping the ball on these channels, look to digital tools that help you leverage their advantages at scale.

Use auto dialer software to contact landline numbers. They let you make 5x the number of calls compared to manual dialing.

Use peer-to-peer texting to contact mobile numbers. In an hour, a single volunteer can engage in one-to-one conversations with more than 1500 contacts.

Blueprints for Change has an extensive guide on phonebanking with inputs from CallHub. Check it out here.

To read more about using peer-to-peer texting, check out our Starter Guide.

Takeaway: Make the most of the channels that facilitate individual back-and-forth conversations.

10. Drive meaningful actions with your advocacy strategies

It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of online activity without getting closer to your final goal. That’s why many petition signatures and online lists don’t amount to real-world value towards the end. Every action you drive through supporters should take you closer to your goal.

Bernie supporters were handing out flyers by the road before they were placed into the campaign structure. After that, any communication they had with voters was logged into a central database, measurably bringing the campaign closer to its goal of engaging every prospective supporter.

Takeaway: Make sure every action you drive through supporters leads you closer to the final goal.

11. Connect voters to lawmakers

Voters by themselves mostly don’t take the trouble of exercising their right to contact their rep about an issue. It falls on the organization advocating for an issue to open up effective communication channels between voters and their reps. The various ways you can do this include – email, direct mail, social media, phone calls, in-person meetings, and messaging apps like Countable and online petitions. But each form of communication is not synonymous with the other, with some being disregarded altogether while others carry weight with lawmakers. Mediums like in-person meetings and phone calls, with their capacity for real conversations, have been consistently stated as one of the best ways to get lawmakers to hear voters.

We’ve written in detail about the best ways to connect voters to their rep here.

Takeaway: Identify and open up effective channels to connect voters with decision-makers.

Try out our communication platform designed for advocacy organizations.

12. Partner up

If you know organizations working towards a similar goal, it makes sense to pool your resources. You may be a national organization looking to drive a local policy change. You can partner with local groups with a better relationship with voters and mobilize volunteers better on the ground.

A good example is how Organizing for Change, a coalition of British Columbia environmental organizations, worked together with partner organizations like Dogwood, Sierra Club, and STAND to mobilize voters for the B.C. provincial elections. Volunteers across partner organizations worked with OFC organizers to call 60,000 B.C. voters and get them out to vote, increasing voter turnout by 7%.

Takeaway: Look for partner organizations with similar ideologies with which you can pool resources to achieve your goals.

13. Stay on top of the latest updates: advocacy strategies

Rapid response should form a core part of your campaign structure. For any events that unfold, be it over the news, or on social media, stay on top of the latest updates, make your stand clear and address any queries that might come up. If a sensitive issue crops up on your radar, you must put your planned outreach on hold and react immediately to the situation. Social media monitoring tools like Mention lets you stay on top of social media activity, and text broadcasting tools from CallHub and email service providers like MailChimp let you reach out to your supporters with minimum delay.

Takeaway: Stay on top of any updates affecting your campaign and modify your planned outreach accordingly.

14. Your advocacy strategies must follow multi-channel engagement

Don’t expect to reach all your supporters through a single channel like the need for targeted engagement. While millennials may be more attuned to text messages, Gen X-ers would rather you call them on the phone. Your outreach strategy should experiment with multiple communication channels before deciding on the handful that will get you the most engagement and value for money.

Takeaway: Do not stick to one primary channel of engagement and risk isolating potential supporters from your campaign.

15. Gamify supporter actions in your advocacy strategies

Gamification applies all the fun and addictive elements in games to real-world scenarios and productive activities. Campaigns can give out points or, in some cases, stars to get volunteers to share content on social media, sign a petition, attend a rally, or do many other tasks that require collective action. Even gamification in its most rudimentary form, such as phone banking or text banking leaderboards, is a significant motivator to activate supporters into action.

Takeaway: Use gamification to encourage healthy competition and boost participation.

You may be building your advocacy campaign from the ground up or are simply looking for ways to optimize established processes when exploring these advocacy strategies. Either way, the above strategies can be a solid foundation to guide you forward. Remember that the tips mainly act as a guide, not as the final word on what you should do. In some situations, you’ll have to make affordances and tailor a strategy that aligns with your specific campaign goals. If you’re willing to change as you progress, as new learnings come your way, your advocacy campaign should do just fine.

If you are looking for a personal and affordable communication tool for your nonprofit advocacy campaign, check out Collective Texting. We built it to allow campaigns to engage in personalized conversations at scale with their supporters. Check out our guides or test it out yourself by creating a free account.


Who should win the 2024 elections – Trump or Biden?

"I'm rooting for Trump. Biden's last term showed how he can send America..."

Join the discussion