Advocacy: The Guide to Building Impact and Effecting Change

The Ultimate Advocacy Guide
Mobilize your supporters.
Raise awareness for your cause.
Effect change in your community.

What Is Advocacy?

Simply put, advocacy is the public support of a particular cause, policy, or position. Advocacy can take any number of forms, from raising awareness online to lobbying directly for change within government or other institutions.

No matter what form they take, advocacy campaigns allow nonprofits (and other organizations) to spread the word about their mission. These efforts can be paired with fundraising, marketing and outreach, and community service.

What Is Digital Advocacy?

Digital advocacy encompasses all of the tactics you might take to get the word out about your cause online. Using social media, your website, mobile apps, and email, you can educate the world about your mission and inspire action.

Digital advocacy has become increasingly prevalent (and important) due to the efficiency and wide reach of the internet. You can get your cause in front of thousands of new potential supporters all through a few shares!

How Do Advocacy and Fundraising Work Together?

Advocacy and fundraising can go hand-in-hand when you have a holistic nonprofit strategy. Since you know your advocates are passionate about your cause, they’re naturally great prospects for financial contributions.

However, fundraising is not always the end goal of an advocacy campaign. It’s important to see your advocates as key pieces of your organization, even if they don’t make a monetary gift.

Note

Don’t forget to grab our Free Guide to the Top Fundraising Ideas.

Our Recommended Advocacy Software

Muster

What is Muster?

Muster is a leading advocacy software provider for nonprofits, associations, agencies, and chambers of commerce. Their flexible platform allows organizations to mobilize their supporters and impact public policy at all levels. 

Muster’s advocacy software comes equipped with:

  • Geocoded contacts
  • The ability to create campaigns that target elected officials at all levels of government
  • Segmented list building tools
  • Real-time engagement tracking 
  • Support for multiple communication platforms
  • Social sharing capabilities

Use Muster to reach officials, engage supporters, and grow your advocacy base. 

Why Do We Recommend This Advocacy Software?

Muster powers grassroots advocacy groups of all sizes, meaning no cause is too small or too unwieldy for Muster to tackle. 

Nonprofits aren’t on their own after purchasing Muster’s software, either. Their team takes a hands-on approach to teach organizations how to use their system to start building effective campaigns from the get-go. 

Their dedication to client success, combined with advocacy software that uses some of the most accurate location intelligence technology and up-to-date information databases in the industry, has rightfully earned the respect of many leading organizations. 

Salsa Labs

What is Salsa Labs?

Salsa Labs has created a functional and intuitive donation page that is built with their CRM and advocacy software in mind, so your nonprofit can have one cohesive technology strategy.

Some of their top features include:

  • Easy-to-customize, mobile-friendly donation pages
  • Targeted action to decision-makers
  • Online petition building
  • Social advocacy enablement
  • Click to Call advocacy
  • Grassroots advocacy dashboard

With Salsa Labs, you can organize communities, mobilize activists, and win legislative fights.

Why Do We Recommend This Advocacy Software?

Salsa Labs is trusted by a wide variety of nonprofits, labor unions, advocacy groups, and political campaigns alike—and it’s easy to see why.

This platform helps you stay connected with your existing supporter base and tap into a growing community of passionate individuals looking for ways to get involved.

This network of supporters, paired with essential integrations with popular CRM solutions, has led organizations to see significant increases in event signups, engagement, and donation revenue. Educate, organize, and activate engaged supporters using Salsa Labs’ advocacy software.

Understanding Advocacy

Forms of Advocacy

Peer advocacy involves an individual advocating on behalf of another with shared experiences.


Peer Advocacy

Peer advocacy involves individuals advocating for someone else in a one-on-one setting. Typically, these advocates and beneficiaries have shared experiences, making it easier for advocates to empathize and communicate the needs of the benefiting community.

Cause advocacy encompasses any organization, group, or individual advocating on behalf of a larger cause or issue.


Cause Advocacy

Cause advocacy is the championing of a particular issue or cause that supporters feel strongly about. This type of advocacy can be led by organizations, groups of people, or individuals, with the goal of raising awareness for a problem and finding or promoting a solution.

Systems advocacy takes place when advocacy groups seek change within institutions or society.


Systems Advocacy

Essentially cause advocacy on a larger scale, systems advocacy is a form of advocacy that seeks to effect change within social, economic, or political institutions. Systems advocacy can involve fundraising, awareness campaigns, and lobbying.

Goals of an Advocacy Campaign

While the primary goal of any advocacy campaign is, of course, to make a change in your community (whether local, regional, or global), the ways that advocates go about effecting that change can vary greatly.

Advocacy campaigns can have a myriad of objectives, most of which will fall somewhere along the spectrum in one of the following four categories.

Education

A common goal of an advocacy campaign is to bring a previously unknown issue to light on a large scale. Advocates may create educational materials (such as a film or case study) and use their campaign to promote them to the public.

Fundraising

Many times, what stands between a problem and its solution is a lack of resources. Fundraising can fill that gap by providing an advocacy group with the money they need to supply a community’s needs or power a charitable mission.

Policy Change

One of the most visible results of advocacy is a tangible change in the way our systems operate. Advocates may lobby for legislation or work to elect government officials. Policy change can also take place within other systems, such as an institution or corporation.

Litigation

Litigation is a specific aspect of advocacy that takes place within the court system. Through litigation, advocates can enact changes within the law that can directly impact communities on a small or large scale.

Types of Advocacy Groups

Nonprofits can form advocacy campaigns to spread awareness or raise funds for a cause.


Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofits regularly advocate on behalf of their cause using a variety of advocacy tactics. Primarily, nonprofits will launch awareness or educational campaigns backed by fundraising initiatives. They may also work with other advocacy groups or key individuals (such as politicians or influencers) in order to promote their efforts.

PACs and Super PACs are two forms of political advocacy organizations.


Political Action Committees (PACs) and Super PACs

Though both of these groups advocate for political change, there are key differences in how they can do it. PACs donate a limited amount of funds to a specific candidate. Super PACs have no cap on the amount they can raise to benefit a candidate, but the caveat is that they can’t directly donate to that candidate.

527 Organizations are the umbrella grouping encompassing multiple types of political advocacy groups.


527 Organizations

An umbrella term for PACs, Super Pacs, and other types of political advocacy groups, 527 organizations are tax-exempt and not regulated under campaign finance laws. This term usually refers to any group that advocates for issue-based political change — but not a specific political candidate.

Using Advocacy Software

Advocacy groups can use software to automate outreach through a variety of channels.


Automate Outreach

A major part of advocacy is getting the word out to supporters, and your software can help you do just that in the most effective way possible.

You can use your advocacy software to create and manage email streams (such as the welcome series pictured here), schedule social media posts, and more.

By centralizing your communications in one place, you’ll gain deeper insight into how your supporters are engaging with your organization.

And by adding automation to the mix, you’ll all but guarantee that none of your communication channels get overlooked and no important message gets missed.

Advocacy software should have built-in fundraising tools so nonprofits can manage all types of campaigns.


Manage Fundraising Campaigns

For advocacy groups who rely on fundraising, it’s inefficient and cumbersome to work in two separate platforms to stay on top of both sides of your efforts.

Your advocacy software solution should also enable you to track your fundraising progress. 

Gain insight into your donor data by building custom supporter profiles, and then analyze trends using actionable dashboards and reports.

When you can manage your advocacy plans alongside your fundraising tactics, you can see where the two overlap and develop a more holistic approach to your organization’s strategy.

Advocacy software can enable you to set up distinctive action alerts on your website and more.


Set Action Alerts

Action alerts can help keep supporters up to date with the latest news in your community and inspire them to take action when it counts.

Using your software, program action alerts that integrate with your website so that they display as soon as a visitor lands on your homepage. 

When a user clicks on the alert, they should be instantly taken to the appropriate place, be that an online petition, an email template pre-filled their representative’s information, or a donation form.

If possible, make sure to target your action alerts based on geographic location so each supporter sees the most relevant, accurate information on your website.

You can use your advocacy software to plan different types of events for your grassroots campaigns.


Create Advocacy Events

Whether you’re throwing a fundraising gala or organizing a rally, you’ll need a way to manage event registration, collect guest data, and communicate with attendees.

Advocacy software with integrated event management features can ensure your event data is accurately filed in your supporter database. 

Since there are so many different types of advocacy events you might plan, the most robust software solutions will give you plenty of options.

Create a custom event registration page, set supporters up with a peer-to-peer fundraising page for P2P events, and add surveys to gather all of the data you need before event doors open.

Digital Advocacy

Advocacy and Email Marketing


It’s been shown that people who take action via advocacy emails are seven times more likely to donate. With numbers like that, your advocacy campaign can’t afford to ignore the power of emails as part of your promotion.


Top Tips for Strong Advocacy Emails


  • Write a catchy subject line.

    Think of your subject line as an advertisement for your email content. Inspire donors to click “open” rather than “delete” with a concise, intriguing snippet.

  • Segment your list.

    Make your emails as relevant as possible by creating multiple streams for donors, volunteers, and event attendees. You might also create a special welcome stream tailored to new supporters.

  • Be personal.

    Always start your email with your supporter’s first name. (Don’t worry — your email marketing software will make it easy to input this information using data stored in your supporter list.)

Social Media Advocacy

Use social media to promote your advocacy campaign.

Social media has quickly become a staple for nonprofit outreach. Because of its wide appeal, convenience, and shareability, social media is the perfect avenue for creating and promoting digital advocacy content.


Top Social Media Platforms for Digital Advocacy


  • Facebook

    Not only can you post updates, pictures, and videos, but Facebook ads are effective and they provide metrics and insights. Additionally, posts that are paired with images tend to perform better than others.

  • Instagram

    If you hosted an event, received a certain number of petition signatures, or reached a milestone, post a picture on Instagram! Encourage supporters to post their own photos and tag your account, too.

  • Twitter

    If you need to update your followers on an ongoing project in live time, Twitter is the perfect site for you. Twitter tends to have a high conversion rate and is useful for quick posts and fast updates. Don’t forget to hashtag your tweets!

Online Advocacy Petitions


Sharing petitions has been a tried-and-true strategy among advocacy organizations for decades. However, did you know that you can breathe new life into your nonprofit’s petition strategy by adopting online petition form software?


Keys to a Successful Online Petition


  • Impactful Title

    Your petition title should draw supporters to action. Encourage your supporters to “Demand Justice” or “Save the Planet.” Use second person to speak directly to your supporters.

  • Clear Mission Statement

    Individuals will be hesitant to support a cause they aren’t familiar with or don’t care about. Use the first paragraph of your petition to explain what you’re advocating for and how the petition will help.

  • Widespread Sharing

    People can’t sign your online petition if they don’t know where it is. Include a link in your emails and on your social media accounts. Once your supporters have signed the petition, give them ways to share it with their networks too.

Digital Advocacy and Online Fundraising

Matching Gifts

Matching gift programs are corporate giving initiatives that reward employees’ charitable contributions. Your advocacy campaign can benefit from these programs by marketing matching gifts to your supporters.

While not every supporter will work for a company that will match their gift, you might be able to bring in twice as many donations if supporters know that such programs exist.



Corporate Donations

Asking businesses and corporations for donations is an often overlooked way to raise money for an advocacy campaign, but if the issue affects a local business or company, they will be more likely to contribute to your cause.

Make sure that you’re making your case to businesses and clearly communicate why you need their donations. Vague requests for contributions will likely be turned down.



Mobile Giving

Your advocates are on the go, supporting your cause in their communities and getting the word out wherever they are. It doesn’t make sense to use an online donation form that can only be accessed on their desktops.

Set up an online giving form that’s mobile responsive and consider other forms of mobile giving, like text-to-give or a mobile app. The more options you have, the more gifts your advocacy campaign will get! 



Advocacy Campaign Best Practices

Set realistic goals for your advocacy campaign.

Set Attainable Goals

Use the data stored in your CRM or advocacy software to create realistic (yet ambitious) goals for your advocacy campaign. Make sure you know how you’ll measure each objective; then use your software to track each metric during and after your campaign.

Write a clear, concise mission for your advocacy campaign.

Define the Issue

Communicating clearly and effectively to your supporters and the general public is key when launching an advocacy campaign. You need your mission statement to be concise and powerful so anyone can quickly see why your campaign is so important.

Target the right individuals through your grassroots advocacy campaign.

Determine Your Audience

Not everyone will identify with your cause. You can find the people who do by searching your donor database for those with demonstrated interest in your goals, or by performing prospect research to identify potential new supporters.

Leverage the connections you already have to get the word out about your advocacy efforts.

Build Networks

Capitalize on the connections you have and encourage your supporters to reach out to their friends and family members. The invitation to join your campaign will mean more coming from someone they know rather than an organization they may not have heard of.

Keep supporters in the loop during your advocacy campaign by sending timely updates.

Provide Updates

Whether you’re posting on Facebook or sending a weekly newsletter, it’s your responsibility to keep your supporters updated on  your advocacy campaign. That way, they’ll know where their efforts have gone and what they need to do to get your campaign to the finish line.

Always show your supporters that you're grateful for their help with your advocacy campaign.

Thank Your Supporters

Use your advocacy campaign to deepen your supporter connections by acknowledging your advocates’ hard work frequently and genuinely. A thank-you note or email is a fine start, but don’t be afraid to pick up the phone every now and then too!

Additional Advocacy Resources

Top Digital Advocacy Strategies


Check out these strategies for improving your digital advocacy campaigns.

Now that you know why digital advocacy is so important, learn how to make the most of it at your organization!

Check out DNL OmniMedia’s top digital advocacy strategies to see how you can push your campaign to the next level in no time.


Planning an Advocacy Campaign


Plan your advocacy campaign by checking out this resource.

Advocacy campaigns can take a lot of time and effort to plan correctly, but that doesn’t mean you’re not capable of pulling them off!

Check out this article from Salsa to learn the steps you need to take to plan and execute your next advocacy campaign.


Mobile Fundraising and Advocacy


Learn why mobile fundraising and advocacy work well together.

You already know how effective mobile fundraising can be, especially when paired with your advocacy campaign.

Now, learn how to maximize your fundraising and engagement efforts with mobile giving software by reading this article from Salsa!