• May 2, 2022

How to Build a Nonprofit Advocacy Campaign: Tips & Examples

Ensuring an advocacy campaign stands out and is able to achieve its goals requires clear objectives and a strategic plan that starts with identifying a problem that needs to be solved.

It can be challenging to make your advocacy campaign stand out amongst the millions of other competing causes in a digital age. Because of this, it is crucial to have clear objectives and a plan when creating a successful advocacy campaign. In this post, we offer a step-by-step guide, including examples, to help you achieve this goal.

What Is an Advocacy Campaign?

The word “advocacy” describes the process of supporting a cause or idea. The term “campaign” may evoke images of politicians running for office, but it technically refers to a set of activities designed to bring about a certain change or result. Hence, an advocacy campaign is a set of activities designed to garner support for a cause or idea.

The activities associated with an advocacy campaign may include holding rallies, contacting public officials, circulating petitions, fundraising, marketing, lobbying, outreach and more. The goal of these activities may be to raise awareness about an issue, raise funds for a group in need, change behaviors and attitudes about certain subjects or influence legislation. In sum, advocacy campaigns are designed to target specific issues, whether they be local or affect an entire region, state or nation. The campaigns are often spearheaded by a small group of leaders who organize a larger group of supporters.

A successful campaign has the ability to not only change laws but also change lives and improve the human condition. One example of an advocacy campaign is organizing the community to contact state lawmakers to encourage them to pass a law centered on universal pre-K for all residents. Another example could entail leveraging effective storytelling techniques to talk to community members and legislatures about issues that affect their livelihoods.

What Makes a Successful Advocacy Campaign?

The basic process of an advocacy campaign involves identifying a problem and developing a solution before reaching out and building an extensive network of supporters who can turn up the heat on an issue and advocate for their solution. But how does a campaign build and maintain a strong support system?

Key components of a successful advocacy campaign include the following:

    • Personalized messaging: If you want to connect with supporters, you need to make the campaign relevant to them. Target your messaging to each individual or group you wish to bring on board by connecting your cause to something that impacts them, similar to what Expedia implements through its email campaigns. By segmenting its list of advocates based on their previous actions, the company sends timely, targeted local content that resonates with these individual groups.Similarly, it’s a good idea to personalize messages to lawmakers based on their support or opposition to the desired policy. When lawmakers are already aligned to your desired outcome, encourage supporters to thank them and provide context as to why the issue is important to them. When they oppose your outcome, supporters’ messages should emphasize why the policy is important to them as a constituent and encourage the lawmaker to vote accordingly.


    • Easy distribution of messaging/mobilization of supporters: Not only do you need a way to get your message in front of people efficiently and effectively, but you also need to make it easy for supporters to take the next step and mobilize. The easier it is for potential supporters to learn about your cause and take action, the more likely they will do so. With this in mind, consider employing multiple techniques and creating spaces for supporters to connect and stay up to date with issue progress.


    • Use of advocacy software to track progress: Technology is the great accelerator. When it comes to advocacy, the right software helps you engage and re-engage supporters, send personalized messages and cultivate grassroots supporters. The ability to generate reports and perform analysis also help you consistently improve your results.

How to Create an Advocacy Campaign

If you are ready to get started, the following steps will help guide you in creating a successful advocacy campaign:

  1. Define Your Outcome: This one might seem obvious at first, but you’d be surprised how many people get off on the wrong foot by not clarifying their cause or goal. They may feel that something needs to be fixed or changed, or want to prevent something from changing, but do not have a well-defined statement for their cause. By defining a specific and measurable goal, you can more readily identify appropriate actions and determine how close you are to achieving the goal.
  2. Grow Your Advocate Database: Identify the individuals and organizations in the community best suited to both support your campaign and help you reach a wider audience. These should be people or groups who have a reason to get involved or have something to gain by offering support. This may require targeting your outreach in a way that clarifies to them what the benefits are to joining and supporting your efforts. They should also be ready to act as necessary in specific ways to further the cause, including taking on roles such as volunteer coordinator or campaign marketer.
  3. Carry Out a Plan to Gain Support: Once you have a team of advocates willing to fight for your cause, it is time to use these resources to gain support from policymakers. This could involve developing a letter-writing or email campaign in which your advocates send messages en masse to key legislators. It could also involve working directly with lobbyists or other organizations with a high level of influence. Whatever the plan is, the goal will be to gain the support from policymakers that is required to drive the change you desire.
  4. Track Progress with Legislative Advocacy Software: Not only can advocacy software engage and mobilize more advocates, but it also allows you to track progress and measure KPIs that let you know if your strategy is working or needs modification. Software, like that offered by Capitol Canary, even allows you to track what is happening on the legislative side so that you can see, in real-time, which laws are up for a vote and what the outcomes are.

Driving a Successful Advocacy Campaign: Tactics & Examples

To help with inspiration, here are three different examples of successful advocacy campaigns, the tactics they used and what the results were.

1. Contact Lawmakers: National Restaurant Association

With a large portion of the population carrying smartphones around in their pockets, a digital advocacy campaign has the potential to reach a broad audience–and fast. For this reason, the National Restaurant Association used text messaging, email and social media to empower members to contact legislators and explain the existential threat that COVID-19 posed to their businesses. In doing so, the association mobilized 200,000 advocates to take action, sending half a million messages to Congress and ensuring their voices and concerns were heard.

2. Get Out the Vote (GOTV): Providence

Taking steps to increase voter turnout in elections is yet another way for you to drive the change you seek. Providence developed an advocacy campaign with this in mind. Through its Vote for Health campaign, which was facilitated by a Capitol Canary Election Center, voters were able to register, find ballot measure information and learn how to vote safely. The ultimate goal of this campaign was to empower individuals to play an active role in shaping the future of their communities, which was achieved by providing providers, employees, patients and caregivers with easy access to voter registration and resources in their respective states.

3. Events: Susan G. Komen

Events can play a crucial role in helping meet advocacy goals, as demonstrated by Susan G. Komen. Each year, the organization conducts a Washington lobby day, which traditionally involved hundreds of advocates traveling to the Capitol. And while the pandemic forced this to become a digital affair, the organization’s virtual fly-in event was a success nonetheless. Komen was able to offer training to nearly 600 people and create 40 teams of 3 to 5 people who oversaw more than 150 virtual congressional meetings in just one day. This event supported the organization’s year-round advocacy work to increase federal funding for critical healthcare programs, empowering more than 84,000 Komen supporters to take action and play a role in driving change.