Nonprofit advocacy includes all of the campaigns, outreach, and other efforts nonprofits take to advance their cause by spreading awareness or seeking policy changes. These advocacy campaigns consist of a wide variety of activities, including digital marketing, hosting events, and encouraging supporters to take targeted actions related to your campaign’s issue.
Many nonprofit organizations use advocacy campaigns to effectively draw attention to their purpose and cause real change. Whether you are targeting legislators at any level of government, CEOs, or other decision-makers, advocacy campaigns can be an effective engagement activity that helps get your supporters more involved with your cause.
However, there are some common issues that nonprofits tend to run into when it comes to effectively planning, launching, and maintaining their advocacy campaigns.
We’re going to walk through some of these advocacy pain-points, discuss the solution to these common issues, and cite nonprofit advocacy campaign examples that effectively illustrate these solutions.
- What is Nonprofit Advocacy?
- Nonprofit Advocacy Click-to-Call Campaigns
- Nonprofit Digital Advocacy Campaigns
- Nonprofit Advocacy Petitions
- Nonprofit Advocacy Events
- Nonprofit Advocacy Campaign Reporting
Sometimes, the best way to learn and improve your nonprofit’s strategy is by examining effective example strategies. Let’s get started!
What Is Nonprofit Advocacy?
Nonprofit advocacy campaigns have several moving parts and can often become quite complex. Before launching an advocacy campaign, make sure you have all of your questions about these initiatives answered. In this guide, we’ll dive into three frequently asked questions:
Why is advocacy important?
Advocacy campaigns can be an important part of a nonprofit’s strategy for furthering their purpose, gathering new supporters, and spreading awareness about key issues related to their purpose.
Advocacy campaigns allow nonprofits with complex, multi-faceted missions to influence important legislative changes. For example, an environmental group focused on cleaning up beaches might run an advocacy campaign to urge their local government to limit use of plastic bags in grocery stores. In this instance, the nonprofit will continue its regular initiatives to keep oceans clean while also minimizing the total amount of debris they might need to pick.
Are there limitations to nonprofit advocacy?
Some nonprofits hesitate to launch an advocacy campaign due to fears over losing their 501(c)(3) status. Fortunately, in most situations nonprofits will not need to worry about this as long as they follow a few simple guidelines. Specifically, nonprofits should only run advocacy campaigns about nonpartisan issues.
To help your nonprofit determine whether an issue may be too politically charged to run an advocacy campaign on, here is brief breakdown of partisan and nonpartisan campaigns:
- Partisan issues are heavily associated with a specific political party and should be avoided by nonprofits. For example, nonprofits should not run advocacy campaigns that endorse a specific candidate running for office.
- Nonpartisan advocacy includes campaigns focused on specific pieces of legislation without strong political affiliations.
Additionally, ensure that the majority of your nonprofit’s funding continues to support your regular initiatives throughout your campaign. While running an advocacy campaign can require a considerable amount of resources, your nonprofit’s primary objective will still be continuing your organization’s usual programs.
What is the difference between advocacy and lobbying?
Nonprofits often worry about whether they can run advocacy campaigns due to unclear restrictions over lobbying. Specifically, the IRS stipulates that “A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.”
So what is lobbying and how can a nonprofit ensure they are not doing “too much” of it during an advocacy campaign? Here’s a comparison of these two concepts:
- Advocacy refers to any activity your nonprofit takes to support and represent a specific group of people or cause. Advocacy can include spreading awareness about key issues, encouraging volunteers to take specific actions on your behalf, and educating policymakers about your cause.
- Lobbying is much more specific than advocacy and can narrowly be defined as the act of communicating with policymakers about legislation in an attempt to influence their vote.
Remember that while all lobbying does count as advocacy, not all advocacy is lobbying, which gives your nonprofit freedom to run your campaigns. To avoid going overboard on lobbying, be thoughtful about who your nonprofit’s messages are targeting, what they’re about, and what action they urge readers to take.
1. Nonprofit Advocacy Click-to-Call Campaigns
What is click-to-call advocacy?
Click-to-call is an advocacy tool that connects supporters of your purpose to their representative via phone call. With the click of a button, they can call legislators and read a designated script emphasizing the importance of your purpose and calling that leader to action.
Here’s how it works:
- First, you design a click-to-call targeted action page with the budget cap amount, a fallback message, and a script or talking points for supporters to follow.
- Next, supporters enter their phone number on the landing page. Their phone will ring and they’re automatically connected to a representative.
- Finally, with your talking points or script to guide them through the call, you’ll communicate your message to the leaders of your community.
Of course, just setting up your basic click-to-call tools will only get your nonprofit so far. To run an effective click-to-call campaign, try following these best practices:
- Test your landing page’s design. It’s easy to just say “design a landing page,” but creating an effective action page that actually makes supporters click on your click-to-call number requires a bit of research and thorough page testing. On your action page, add any relevant details about your campaign supporters need to know and that will drive them to take action. This can include an overview of your mission, as well as compelling images relevant to your campaign. Once you create a page, monitor how supporters interact with it to understand what can be improved on to increase the number of visitors who go onto use your click-to-call tools.
- Add a “find my representative” search tool. Chances are that some of your supporters may be unaware who exactly they should get in touch with for your campaign. To ensure your supporters are put in touch with the correct representatives, try adding a searchable database of representatives. This allows supporters to type in their home address and quickly identify which elected official represents their district.
- Provide places for supporters to share their own stories in your scripts. Scripts allow your nonprofit to present a united front and can be incredibly useful for supporters who aren’t quite sure what to say when reaching out to their representatives. However, these can end up sacrificing the individuality of each of your supporters’ personal stories that often make the most effective appeals. To have the best of both options, create optional places in your script for supporters to talk about their own experiences. Those who want to can share their stories, while those who prefer to stick to your nonprofit’s script can do so as well.
A common issue that nonprofits run into when it comes to click-to-call advocacy campaigns is marketing. In order to make the biggest impact possible, your nonprofit must first get the word out about the campaign to your hardworking supporters.
The solution to this problem? Choose an advocacy software solution with effective marketing strategies built into the software.
For instance, Salsa Engage provides the opportunity to share your click-to-call targeted action with your supporters on social media or by email.
2. Nonprofit Digital Advocacy
What is digital advocacy?
Digital advocacy requires organizations to employ social sharing and networking sites to advance your advocacy campaigns. You can use social media to reach out to advocates and alert them of your activities as well as to reach out directly to your representatives about your purpose.
There are three primary ways that your nonprofit can use social media for your advocacy campaigns:
- Post targeted action alerts. When you create a new targeted action page, such as an online petition or click-to-call advocacy campaign, post an alert about the new opportunity to encourage your social media followers to take action and share your posts with their own followers.
- Tag representatives. Some of the policymakers relevant to your campaign may have accounts on one of the social media platforms you’re using. For campaigns at the local scale, this can be an opportunity to show the sheer number of supporters behind your cause by urging them to tag their representatives in posts about your campaign.
- Encourage supporters to share their involvement. Advocacy is a social activity, and you can spread your campaign even further by encouraging supporters to get their friends and family involved. Add social media sharing buttons to relevant action pages on your website, such as donating, signing up to volunteer, signing a petition, or getting in touch with elected officials.
The primary issue that nonprofits tend to face when it comes to digital advocacy is targeting the correct audience with your content.
The solution to this issue? Segment your audience to better understand who you are addressing in your digital advocacy campaign.
When your advocacy software integrates seamlessly with your CRM software, it’s easy to analyze your audience segments and decide what message will encourage the best response. For instance, you may create messages focused on engagement and sharing for platforms with younger audiences, such as TikTok and Instagram. Then, for older audiences who have a greater capacity to donate, you might build out a new stream of messages that emphasize making a contribution as the best way to take action.
3. Nonprofit Advocacy Petitions
What is a petition?
A petition is a request for representatives or legislators to do something in support of your organization’s mission. With a petition, your nonprofit collects signatures from your supporters to strengthen the voice of the request.
There are a few specific advantages to asking your supporters to sign a petition for your organization's cause:
- Signing is fast. Signing a petition is a time-effective way that nonprofits can get involved in your organization. They can simply and quickly sign to show their support, then go back to their day-to-day lives.
- Your voice is unified and strengthened. The more voices you get behind your petition, the stronger your voice becomes. It provides more pressure on your representative when you show that the entire community cares deeply about your purpose.
- It’s easy to engage your supporters. Many nonprofits ask their supporters for funding over and over again. Petitions provide some variation in the type of engagement opportunities you’re requesting from supporters. This can be more enticing than donating over and over again.
The problem facing nonprofits when it comes to petitions is that they think only about going door-to-door with a pen and paper to collect signatures from neighbors.
The solution? Nonprofits should conduct research to see how to bring petitions to the next level by moving online.
When you move your petition online, you no longer need to go door-to-door or stand in a commonly visited part of town in order to collect signatures. Instead, you can distribute the petition far and wide past your central geographically close community.
Plus, when this online petition is connected to your donor database, you can easily capture supporters’ emails and general information and save it to the CRM without the need for manual input.
To gather attention for your petition online, try these best practices:
- Include all of your campaign’s core information right on the petition page. Supporters will only add their name to your petition if they know what it’s for. At the top of your petition, be sure to explain what your petition will accomplish once you receive enough signatures. Think of this brief description as your campaign’s elevator pitch: what do supporters need to know and how can you convince them it’s important to take action right now in just a few sentences.
- Making signing easy. Petitions that require supporters to create an account on the website, answer excessive questions, or subscribe to an email list can lose your cause signatures. Instead, making signing your petition as easy as possible by hosting it on your website, rather than a third-party site that complicates the signing process.
- Add social media share buttons. Many of your supporters will feel proud when they add their name to your petition, and you can help them share their accomplishments by adding social media sharing buttons to your petition. Your supporters can then put your petition in front of their friends, family, and followers, spreading further awareness about your campaign.
To create an effective online petition, check out different advocacy software applications and tools. The right solution will allow you to customize every aspect of your petition to create a version that can flourish online.
4. Nonprofit Advocacy Events
What are advocacy events?
Advocacy events are a gathering of your organization’s core mission representatives to raise awareness for your cause. They may reach out to surrounding community members or to legislators and other leaders to call them to action.
The key advantages of your organization hosting an advocacy event for your cause include:
- Supporter acquisition. When your core group of supporters gets together in support of a common cause, you can encourage them to spread the word of the event to their family, friends, and other connections. This is a perfect opportunity to grow your support base.
- Legislative pressure. Of course, one of the reasons for gathering everyone together is to apply pressure on the community leaders for change. The more people you have gathered for discussion, the bigger impact you make on the leaders.
- Fundraising. While advocacy events are not focused on fundraising, it is a happy side-effect of gathering everyone together. You can raise money from the event registrations, an auction, or other enjoyable activities that you host.
Whether it’s a small appreciation event or a major gathering of your supporters, there is a lot to consider when planning an advocacy event. Here are just a few aspects of your event management to keep in mind during your advocacy campaign:
- What is the event’s goal? As mentioned, there are a variety of reasons to host an event. Before planning an event, take the time to consider where it fits into your nonprofit’s overall advocacy strategy. This will help shape your plans for the rest of the event, including how you promote it, what activities you feature, and even who you invite.
- Who is invited? Not all of your supporters need to attend every event. Some of your events such as rallies and community gatherings perform best when as many people attend as possible, but there are other events where it can be beneficial to focus on a select group of supporters. For example, if you’re hosting a fundraising gala that charges $250 per plate, it will likely be better to invite just your prospective and current major donors.
- Virtual or in-person? Virtual and hybrid gatherings are here to stay, and your nonprofit has the opportunity to include more supporters than just your local community by hosting virtual events. While some advocacy events such as rallies work best when they’re held in person, others like fundraising events can often be hosted online or through hybrid means.
One major issue nonprofit advocates tend to have when it comes to advocacy events is coordination. It can be difficult to keep all of the details straight, from guest lists to activities to venue setup.
The solution? Choose advocacy software with event management functionality already built in.
Too many organizations overlook this idea when purchasing their software toolkit. Then, they need to purchase an additional, disconnected solution to organize their event and manually transfer information between solutions.
With a solution like Salsa Engage, it’s easy to create registration pages, sell tickets, and manage guest lists in the same solution as your petitions, click-to-call, and Tweet-a-Rep solutions. This means you can plan advocacy activities and register guests with the same solution.
5. Nonprofit Advocacy Campaign Reporting
What is campaign reporting?
Campaign reporting is used to better understand the successes of your advocacy campaign as well as the opportunities for future improvement. It’s important to collect metrics before, throughout, and after your campaign to get a big picture of your success.
A few important metrics you should work to collect throughout your campaign include:
There are also broader metrics that your nonprofit should be tracking to monitor your outreach’s overall effectiveness. These include:
- Supporter retention. Advocacy campaigns tend to be long-running initiatives, and keeping supporters engaged from the beginning to the end can be a challenge. Additionally, if your nonprofit intends to run a series of advocacy campaigns, track which of your supporters you retain from campaign to campaign. High supporter retention rates can enable your next campaign to hit the ground running as you will already have a significant base to help spread your messages, rather than starting from scratch again.
- Open and click through rate. When you send out an email asking supporters to take action, sign up for an event, or just learn more on your website, how many of them actually open the email and then click through the links inside it? Taking note of your email open and clickthrough rates can help you determine your marketing appeals’ overall effectiveness and make targeted adjustments to either your subject line, email copy, or both, depending on your data.
- Conversion rate. Advocacy campaigns require action, but how many of your supporters actually follow through when your nonprofit sends out a call to action? For instance, after sending out a call for supporters to get in touch with their representatives, keep careful track of how many supporters then proceed to use your click-to-call tools. A low conversion rate might be a sign of a poorly worded or confusing call to action, and revising it to better reach supporters should be a top priority for your campaign.
It can be difficult for nonprofits to know exactly which metrics will be most helpful for them to track for their individual campaign and for future campaigns.
Solution? Conduct research, find the metrics you care most about, create a report template, and customize your advocacy dashboard to reflect that important data.
Your advocacy dashboard is where you track information in the midst of the campaign. Your nonprofit will run reports to compare one campaign to the next or to get a more comprehensive view of your data.
Advocacy campaigns may seem tricky. Strategies behind them, however, when properly applied, can create a stronger support base. Plus, it can lead to major advancements toward your nonprofit’s purpose.
The key to establishing a top-notch campaign is analyzing the nonprofit advocacy examples all around you. Look at the strategies other organizations are doing well or the strategies they could improve upon. After you’ve developed your own strategy, take that same mindset and apply it to your nonprofit. Where can you improve?
Advocacy is all about making the biggest splash possible in the pool of your mission. Get ready to jump in! Here are a few resources that might just help you figure out where to get started with your nonprofit advocacy campaign:
- Mapping Your Advocacy Campaign. Planning an advocacy campaign can be a time consuming process. Check out this advocacy campaign mapping guide to keep your campaign on track.
- Amazing Advocacy Guide. Have more questions about nonprofit advocacy? Explore our complete guide to have all of your questions answered.
- Volunteer Recruitment: The Complete Guide to Power Your Work. Advocacy campaigns require the hard work of your volunteers to find success. Learn more about how you can effectively recruit and retain volunteers for your advocacy campaigns.