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Your Guide to an Effective Nonprofit Advocacy Campaign

Working with a nonprofit, you can probably list at least one problem that you're working to solve.

At least.

More likely, you can list numerous interconnected problems that too often feel so overwhelming, and it's a challenge to envision any kind of success much less a legislature that will actually, you know, work.

Take a deep breath and a few steps back. Now, follow these tips to develop a clear and effective plan for your next nonprofit advocacy campaign.

Assess Your Resources

How much time, money, and people do you have? How can you make a difference? Are you passionate about this cause?

You want your campaign goal to be attainable, and you want to make sure you and your team are passionate about it so that you can sustain your energy.

Make sure you know when your campaign ends: What does success look like? There should be a beginning, middle, and end to your campaign arc.

Articulate Your Mission

Here are the three P's.


Make sure you can articulate your problem in a clear way that will help people connect immediately to your cause.

Example problem statement: Income inequality results in low wages and poverty for working people. 


Your platform is your vision for how the world should be. What do you stand for? The most effective platforms are statements phrased in a positive way.

If people are nodding their heads right away in response, you’ve got a powerful platform statement.

Platform example: If you work, you should be able to support yourself and your family.


Here’s the technical part of your campaign planning: What solutions do you support? What will fix your problem?

Example program: We advocate for a $15 minimum wage and union rights.

Identify Your Audience

When it comes to your audience, you’ll want to think about not just your targets but also your potential supporters, allies, and opponents.

Consider details that influence legislators, such as populations with a higher concentration of swing voters, or a legislator’s association with certain boards. You need to use what you know about your target and who’s influencing them to strategically plan how you’re going to focus your efforts.

Can you form coalitions with any other organizations? Can you organize some real-life actions at a meeting or in a public space? Do you need to write talking points for phone actions?

Considering your audience from many angles will help you make the most of your resources.

Develop Your Materials and Timeline

Use what you’ve defined for your campaign’s purpose to develop the substance of your campaign.

Will you need any new templates or logos for your campaign? Will you have offline petitions as well as online actions? Take some time to develop the framing and packaging of your message, since good marketing will help you spread your message.

In the same vein, make sure that you’re creating landing pages that are unique to your campaign. When someone signs an online petition, they should land on a thank you page that gives them more ways they can further your campaign.

Similarly, thank you messages and fundraising appeals used in relation to your campaign should also specifically reference your campaign.

Remember, your campaign should have a beginning, middle, and end, so make sure you're planning and developing materials that will help you kick off your campaign as well as provide closure and next steps when it has ended.

Monitor Your Results

Keeping track of your number of new supporters, the number of messages sent, and the effectiveness of your real-life actions will help you not only assess the success of your campaign but will also help you improve your tactics and messaging for future campaigns.

Make sure you make time for follow-up, too. Thank targets who supported your campaign, and thank your supporters to let them know their voices made a difference.

There. Isn't that a less daunting approach to changing the world?

(Hat tip to Lucy Sedgwick, Training Center Associate Director of The Public Interest Network, for her Netroots Nation training on this very subject.)

Topics: Advocacy