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Running Online Advocacy Campaigns: 4 Tips for Your Nonprofit

We’re living in difficult times. COVID-19 has affected every industry, whether directly or indirectly. Nonprofits are no exception. Right now, your organization may be experiencing difficulties fundraising and finding ways to engage your supporters. You may have even incorporated a crisis plan to combat the effects of the pandemic. 

Many nonprofit organizations are relying on advocacy campaigns to energize supporters and secure funding from those who are able to give. An online advocacy campaign is the perfect social distancing activity that allows your supporters to feel connected to your cause without further straining their wallets. You can solicit real help from people who are motivated to make a difference in the world without ever asking for a cent. 

The best thing about advocacy campaigns is that you don’t have to be an advocacy-focused organization to make them work.  Our tips for running an effective online advocacy campaign include: 

  1. Design branded online petitions. 
  2. Encourage supporters to call representatives or take other actions.
  3. Use online platforms as a contact tool. 
  4. Send descriptive action alerts to supporters. 

If your organization is considering running an online advocacy campaign, the first thing you should do is look at ideas and examples from other organizations that have successfully hosted one before. We recommend perusing Salsa’s article featuring successful advocacy examples.

Exploring examples can help your organization get a feel for what aspects of an advocacy campaign are effective. You can start thinking about what others have done that would also inspire your supporters. 

Let’s dive deeper into the top tips for running an effective advocacy campaign. 

1. Design branded online petitions. 

The backbone of an effective advocacy campaign is an online petition. Petitions require very little from your organization’s supporters and can speak volumes if you have enough support behind one of them.

Online petitions engage your supporters because they appeal emotionally and don’t require a financial donation. Plus, you make it quick and easy to sign the online petition and give your supporters a way to feel good about doing good! It’s a quick and impactful way for them to support your cause. 

When you consider launching an online petition, you’ll need to design it well in order for it to yield results. We recommend incorporating the following design tips: 

  • Brand your online petition page. It should be immediately apparent who is asking the supporter to sign the petition. While they may recognize the cause you represent, adding your logo to the petition itself provides the immediate visual recognition that this petition is legitimate. They trust you and won’t mind giving you their signatures. 
  • Ask for signees’ emails. In addition to their signatures, you should also attain the email addresses of those who sign your petitions. This is because petitions are a great way to engage new supporters. It’s a valuable acquisition strategy for the same reasons that your current supporters love it: it’s cheap, impactful, and fast. And it gives you a way to thank them for supporting your cause!
  • Include a clear call to action. Your call to action is the last thing your supporters need to do to submit their signatures. Generally, it’s a button that says, “Sign Now” or something similar. This button should immediately lead supporters to a confirmation page so there’s no doubt that their signature was accepted. 

While your petition itself should be clear and quick to complete, your marketing strategies don’t need to be. When you reach out to supporters over email, social media, or other platforms, use storytelling techniques to encourage them to go to the petition in the first place.

2. Encourage supporters to call representatives or take other actions. 

Calling representatives is another type of online advocacy that your organization can employ in order to make a difference for your mission. Leverage your technology to set up an action page that immediately connects your supporters to their representatives so that they can make calls on your behalf. 

Representatives will be much more likely to take note of your cause if they receive multiple calls from you and your team. In turn, there’s a higher chance they’ll enact legislation that will make a difference in support of your cause. 

Be sure to reach out to the segment of your volunteers in your CRM system. Volunteers have a specific drive to donate their time to your mission. Calling representatives requires just that. If you have other segments of supporters that would benefit from a personal invitation to participate in this advocacy campaign, be sure to reach out to them too. 

Then, after the campaign ends, be sure to save this engagement data in your CRM database. This guide walks you through how to choose a CRM tool that will help you keep up with this type of donor engagement. 

When you invite supporters to contact their representatives, be sure to: 

  • Make the calling process as easy as possible. Supporters should be able to simply type in their phone numbers and connect the call immediately. 
  • Provide the correct legislator information. If you’re targeting multiple legislators, ask supporters to provide their address, and automatically connect them to the proper representative. 
  • Engage with local leaders. For example, you might find that reaching out to a community CEO who can impact your organization’s mission with decisions their company makes. This can be a specific target for your click-to-call advocacy campaign.

To set your team up for success, provide your supporters with a script so that they know exactly what to say when they connect to their representatives. This can be a word-for-word script or a general outline for your supporters to follow in these conversations.

Also – think outside the box with this one!  Advocacy campaigns can be used to encourage action outside of the legislative sphere.  You may want your supporters to contact the CEO’s of large energy companies, the HR executives at big box stores, or trustees at universities.

3. Use online platforms as a contact tool. 

Don’t forget that there are more platforms that your organization can use to reach representatives nowadays. As we rely more and more heavily on our online connective resources, the value of these types of contact tools continues to grow. 

For example, your organization may connect your supporters to their representatives through: 

  • Email. Just as we use email more and more frequently nowadays, so do your representatives. They’re bound to notice when they have hundreds or thousands of emails in their inbox regarding the same cause. 
  • Facebook. Connect your supporters to their representatives through Facebook. This is a great way to engage your Gen X audience because this age group tends to favor the use of Facebook for their personal engagement too.
  • Twitter. Former President Obama paved the way for Twitter’s use in politics. Encourage your supporters to use this social media platform to publicly appeal to their representatives.

When your supporters reach out online, be sure to ask them to include a personal touch on their message to their supporters. This adds additional value and credibility to the appeal that they’re making. This personal touch may be their connection to your organization or what your mission means to that individual supporter.

This doesn’t mean that your supporters should craft the entire message themselves. Rather, you should provide the core message that supporters should email/message/Tweet their representatives. Then, there should be an optional opportunity for additional customization if your supporters would like to share their personal connections. 

Make sure that whatever advocacy software solution you choose to invest in allows for this type of customization for your advocacy outreach.

4. Send descriptive action alerts to supporters.

Maybe all of the above ideas are intriguing to your organization. Or, maybe you prefer to only implement one or two of them. No matter what, you’ll need an effective way to tell your supporters about the advocacy opportunities that are available to them. For instance, you might consider sending action alerts.

Action alerts are used to tell your supporters about the opportunity to participate in your advocacy campaign and allow you to link directly to the campaign page so that they can participate. 

However, you may also reach out in more personal ways to spread the word about the opportunities you’re providing. For example, during your prospect research process (Double the Donation provides a helpful guide to this process) you may find groups or individual supporters who would react more positively to a more personalized approach. 

You may decide to send a specific email requesting the support of individuals or segments of supporters. You may choose to do this when reaching out to your major donors, board members, or other decision-makers, who may feel that a more personalized message is more appropriate. 

However, even these specific audiences should be led to the same action alert page. This page should include: 

  • Your branding. Everything from your logo to the colors to the font of the text should match the rest of your organization’s website and other marketing materials.
  • An easy-to-follow process. Too many pages, form questions, or complicated features will drive supporters away from the page. Simplify and streamline your action alert pages as much as possible
  • Clear calls to action. Tell donors exactly what they’re participating in, whether it’s a petition, click-to-call campaign, or social media outreach. Then, include a large, eye-catching “Submit” button that clearly indicates what their final step should be in completing the page. 

After the campaign is over, don’t forget to thank your supporters for their participation. Thank them just as you would donors who give to your nonprofit. While advocacy participants may not be giving their hard-earned money, they are contributing their time, which can be just as valuable. Show them that you care and value this generous contribution.

Advocacy campaigns are incredibly helpful when it comes to engaging your existing supporters and reaching out to new supporters for your mission. Take full advantage of the opportunities presented with this type of campaign, and you’ll be much more likely to secure support for your cause. 

With the right advocacy software and these 4 helpful tips, your nonprofit should be well on its way to running an effective advocacy campaign.

Gerard Tonti is the Senior Creative Developer at Salsa Labs, the premier fundraising software company for growth-focused nonprofits. Gerard’s marketing focus on content creation, conversion optimization and modern marketing technology helps him coach nonprofit development teams on digital fundraising best practices.