Plan an Advocacy Campaign in Six Steps
By Blake Groves

Blake Groves
Blake Groves
Executing a successful advocacy campaign can be a challenge for nonprofits, but when done well, they motivate people to take action to effect change that will help the organization meet its mission.

Simply put, advocacy is the active support of a principle or cause by addressing the factors that are causing the problem.

The following six steps shape most advocacy campaigns.

Step 1: Set a Goal
Start by conducting preliminary research so you know how supporters are talking about your cause and what people in opposition are saying (to understand what conflicts you might run into during the campaign and how to counter them).

One of the best places to start your research is by looking at how influencers have been talking about your cause; their language and ideas can be incredibly insightful.

Once you understand the greater cause inside and out, figure out how you can narrow it to your organization’s specific focus and resources.

Step 2: Assess Your Resources
Your advocacy campaign will likely be more drawn-out than your typical fundraising campaigns, so it’s important to ensure from the beginning that your organization will have all the resources needed to see it through to the end.

To assess your resources, your organization should ask itself the following questions:
  • Do we have enough advocates to help us reach our goal?
  • Are there other organizations or groups we can team up with to help us reach our goals?
  • What’s our budget?
  • What other campaigns are we running currently?
  • Do we have enough staff time available to realistically take on another effort?
  • Do we have the necessary communications tools available to us to help us raise awareness of our cause and campaign?
If it turns out your organization doesn’t have all the required resources to achieve your goals, don’t worry. Working with limited resources doesn’t mean you have to give up your dreams of advocacy altogether. All it means is that you’ll have to adjust your goals until you can work toward something bigger.

Step 3: Identify Influential People
Before you start executing, identify all people who might have an impact on your campaign, as follows:
  • Allies are those that have an affinity for your cause and might be willing to take action to further it. They can be individuals, organizations, groups, corporations, or any other entity that’s capable of making a difference.

  • Opponents are those who take a stance against your cause. Their objections might create conflicts within the campaign or, in the worst cases, even act as barriers to your organization reaching its goals.

  • Influences help you present your cause by enabling you to craft your campaign message in the most compelling way to potential advocates.

  • Agents of change are the people in power who can help you further your cause. They’re really the key players in any advocacy campaign, because they’re the ones who are going to be able to enact the change that your organization is rallying for.
Step 4: Define Your Message and Build Awareness
At this stage, your organization will want to standardize its message, so that all of your advocates understand exactly what you’re working toward. This is especially important when it comes to an advocacy campaign, because your advocates will be communicating your message to other allies and agents of change.

You want to make sure that everyone presents a unified front to there’s no confusion about how to help your cause and that you’ll never undermine the authority of your campaign by sending mixed messages.

Since advocacy revolves entirely around the cause, you’ll want to start building awareness as soon as possible.

Step 5: Set Your Strategies and Start Implementing Them
Now you're ready to think about what actions you want advocates to take to further them. Some common advocacy actions include:
  • Meeting in a public space to discuss the cause.
  • Signing online petitions.
  • Writing legislators or posting at them on social media.
  • Holding a rally.
Once you have a set of strategies planned out, it’s time to start implementing them. Most advocacy campaigns start by requesting smaller actions that are easier to complete, then ease advocates into those that are more involved.

Step 6: Track Your Goals
It’s likely that your advocacy campaign will be a longstanding effort that extends for many months (or even years!). Throughout the campaign, it’s important to track your progress to ensure that you’re reaching your goals.

Since advocacy campaigns are cause-based, and thus not as quantifiable as fundraising campaigns, the form this will take will vary from organization to organization. However, there are a few easy ways that you can tell if your campaign strategies are successful or not.

Primarily, you should look at the number of advocates that your campaign has managed to mobilize. If you can tell that many people are inspired by your message, so much so that they’re taking action to make a difference, then that’s a pretty good indicator of success.

If you find that your message and goal aren’t inspiring people to the extent your organization would have liked, it’s either time to tweak your strategies, your aim, or your message.

On the other hand, if your strategies were successful, make note of which worked best, so you can take similar approaches in your future advocacy campaigns.

Blake Groves is vice president of strategy and business development at Salsa, a provider of marketing and fundraising services to nonprofits. Email to This article has been adapted from a fuller article published on Business 2 Community.
October 2016