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5 Steps to Planning an Advocacy Campaign

Online Advocacy

A professional chef plans out her five course meal. A teacher lines up his lesson plan. A paperboy maps out his route. And...a digital campaigner plans out an advocacy campaign. 

If you want to be successful in your advocacy work, you need to be strategic in how you go about running an advocacy campaign. That strategizing relies heavily on your ability to not only plan but to establish the best possible plan.

Advocacy Strategy

There’s not a one-size-fits-all blueprint for every advocacy campaign. There are too many variables for that, between:

  • Cause
  • Goals
  • Advocates
  • And more

What you can do, however, is follow a series of steps that have the kind of flexibility you’ll need to customize your campaign plan to your specific aims.

The five steps to developing an advocacy campaign are: 

  1. Set a Goal.
  2. Define Your Message.
  3. Build a Team.
  4. Map Out a Timeline.
  5. Develop Your Communications and Activities.

We’ll walk through each of these steps one at a time to investigate how they will apply to your advocacy campaign and how you can personalize them for a more effective process. 

1. Set a Goal

Trying to plan an advocacy campaign without setting a goal is like trying to hit a piñata with a blindfold. You might succeed, but you might also exert a lot of unnecessary energy.

Like with any kind of goal setting, you’ll be aiming for a goal that is realistic but will take proper effort to accomplish.

With an advocacy campaign setting a strict goal can be kind of intimidating. Advocacy is about enacting change, oftentimes on a grand scale. While fixing the wrongs in the world is an incredibly worthwhile way to spend your life, it’s not the kind of goal you can rally the masses around. You need specificity.

To help decide on your goal, think about your theory of change.

A theory of change is a model that analyzes your process of change from start to finish.

When struggling with planning, reverse your theory of change so that you can map out your path to your goal.

Your overarching goal is going to be the desired end point of your efforts. Think SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Bound 

From that list you can see how “fixing the wrongs in the world,” though noble, isn’t a SMART goal. Instead you’ll want something far more manageable, like stopping a bill from passing or changing a specific policy. 

A final note to add about goals — you want your goal to be winnable.

Does it need to be easily won? Certainly not, and it probably won’t be. But don’t try to accomplish everything in your wildest dreams during your first go around. If you have aims that are above what you think is reachable given the current circumstances, reassess.

Try for a more manageable goal the first time. Then, alter your aims during your next campaign. Slowly build up until you’re at a place where that once unreachable goal is in your sights.

Advocacy and a commitment to real, actionable, long-lasting change require advocates willing to stick with it until the job is done.

2. Define Your Message

Once you have your SMART goal, get ready to define your message. Your message is what unifies your organization and attracts people to your campaign.

To revisit the piñata example from the goal-setting section, an advocacy campaign without a clearly defined message would be like attending a party with a piñata, St. Patrick’s day decorations, a birthday cake, and mistletoe hanging in the door frames.

If your message isn’t clearly defined, supporters will have as good a chance of figuring out your goal as someone would ascertaining the theme of that very confusing party.

Potential supporters need to know what your advocacy campaign is about.

That messaging cohesion starts from the top, from the organizers at the early stages of planning. Let your messaging reflect your goal.

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3. Build a Team

Advocacy often relies on swaying public opinion, so your campaign shouldn’t be generated in a vacuum. It has to be appealing to a sizable segment of the public that is capable of disrupting the issue at hand and effecting change.

You want your advocacy campaign to spread. In order to do so, you should begin with a dedicated team and build out from there.

Chances are, if you already have a goal and your message, you likely have some team members on board.

Build the best team possible to share your campaign with the public and fulfill your goal. Make sure your early supporters are educated about your specific messaging, so that as your advocacy campaign grows, it stays on point and on target.

Consider the role of a team, for example, in a campaign designed to get advocates to send emails to members of Congress, urging those members of Congress to support a bill.

Once your team works to draft a sample letter and a call-to-action that’s sure to get your supporters fired up and ready to email, you’ll want to send it out to your mailing list. You can strategically send out the letter from various influential members of your team who would have a higher likelihood of sparking action than an email sent from just your organization.

You not only need those influencers on your team, but you also need the people to draft the email in the first place. You might even try to get the support of key members of Congress whose aims align with your campaign’s goals.

As you map out your theory of change and what it will take to get from point A to point B, consider those actions and build your team according to the skills your campaign will require.

4. Map Out a Timeline

As you work through your theory of change and set your goal, you’ll need a timeline for all of this to occur within. 

Get as specific with your timeline as possible, without restricting your campaign to a point where it can’t excel. You have to be ready with structure but open to the campaign’s natural evolution.

Decide on benchmarks and map out when you’ll want to reach certain checkpoints along the way to fulfilling your goal.

Mapping out a timeline will help make measuring progress far simpler. If you reach a point when you haven’t hit your benchmark mini-goal, take a step back and evaluate. You might have fallen behind, or your campaign’s trajectory might have shifted. You also might have just made the wrong predictions as far as benchmarking goes.

Whatever answer your evaluation yields, address it and move forward with a better understanding of your campaign’s path.

5. Develop Your Communications and Activities

Step five is necessary to carry out the good work you’ve done in steps one through four. You need a means of channeling all of your planning into effective action.

The means in question? Communications and activities.

You’ll have been coming up with various actions throughout the planning process, but it is important to take the time to put metaphorical pen to paper and actually turn some of your ideas into reality. 

The great news is that you have plenty of opportunities to send out communications and host activities; you just need to decide what’s best given your cause, your organization, and your resources. 

You could send out an online petition, have volunteers call members of the community, or host a town-hall-style meeting to discuss the issue. You could even coordinate all three or some combination thereof.

As you select your actions, ask:

  • What is my end goal?
  • Who/What needs to be reached in order to make this goal come true?
  • How can my team best accomplish that?

Remember that supporters and the people you’ll be working with to accomplish your goal are far more likely to help if you meet them on their terms and engage them. 

Keep these five steps in mind as you begin your next advocacy campaign. Remember, planning should always be a part of the equation.

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Topics: Advocacy