The 5 Building Blocks of Successful Advocacy
Sure, you have supporters and you may even be getting positive results, but are you missing out on opportunities to grow and leverage your people power through effective advocacy?
Advocacy can be an essential piece of a nonprofit organization's ability to meet its mission. It's about embracing and promoting a particular point of view. And while it may seem like some of the most successful nonprofits excel at championing a single issue or cause, in reality, the long-term work of building change is made up of a series of smaller gains (and losses) done behind the scenes over a long period of time. You’ve probably heard the saying—change doesn’t happen overnight. It involves a cycle of advocacy, policy efforts and building support from the inside out.
Ask yourself—is your organization prepared to make such a commitment? Here are five elements you’ll need to shape a successful advocacy strategy:
1. Commit to the long term. Timeframes of five, 10 or even 20 years are common among groups engaged in advocacy at the federal, state and local levels. To be successful, you must identify a specific long-term outcome and then work backwards to develop your nonprofit's strategy. Create specific tactics, moments of high-profile visibility and resources based on what it will take to achieve your goal. Be proactive—gather necessary intel, brainstorm new ideas and propose policy solutions in addition to identifying any political shortcomings. The approach cannot be rushed. Keep on course and you will gain steady momentum over time.
2. Prioritize growth. Advocates who are successful over time know the difference between general campaign activities and momentum-building activities. General campaigning is about maintaining your base, while momentum-building focuses on the growth and energy behind your movement. Both are essential, but it is often easier to get lost in the work of maintaining existing relationships rather than building new ones. Remember that you must grow your base in order to maintain your relevance.
Reach out through parallel causes to new supporters who are likely to get your cause and easily convert to support it. Also build key alliances with potential allies—community members, leaders and organizations that complement your work and ideally have strong ties to your targeted public officials. Prioritizing your momentum-building activities will ensure that your organization's relationships and reputation will increase over time, and when the opportunity presents itself, you and your army will be ready to act.
3. Understand the motivation and priorities of public officials. Know what influence they may have in assisting or hindering an advocacy effort. Adapt your strategy to your target. Whether your advocacy is focused on Congress, state legislatures, regulators or business leaders, the basics of strategic targeting are the same:
- Get the backstory: Conduct a "power analysis" and know in detail the process for decision-making and who is most powerful at various stages of the process. Also, learn what you can about backgrounds, family histories, connections, upcoming public events or other information to help round out your knowledge.
- Learn priorities and preferences: What makes this official tick? How do they operate? Are they very vocal or do they get most of their work done behind the scenes? Even knowing something as simple as a target’s preferred method of communication—email, hand-written letters, or perhaps Twitter or another social media site—can be a tremendous asset.
- Plan accordingly: Findings to the previous points will drive the timing and development of your tactics.
4. Instill values of strong leadership. Individuals responsible for steering successful advocacy organizations are great at building high-valued, long-term relationships. Regardless of their title, they inspire action within the organization, motivating staff to perform at their very best. They have the ability to articulate a compelling vision and mobilize people around it—good leaders can be trusted among unlikely allies or manage long-standing opponents. It is important for all parties involved to believe and trust that they are working to achieve the agreed upon goals.
5. Embrace technology. The tools you’re using to mobilize action should not be an afterthought. Incorporate them early on in your phases for planning and organizing. With technology to track and listen to what is being said about important policies, understand who the influencers are, and both segment and target your supporter lists, you can organize your advocacy strategy more efficiently than ever before. The result—long lasting, high-quality supporter relationships that translate into increased engagement for your organization's cause.
There is no magic potion for successful advocacy. These five tips will get you started on the right path; however, it's the time and consistency with which they are applied that will drive success with your advocacy campaign. It is important to note that each effort must be customized based on the issue for that particular moment in time, and it will require creative decision-making to determine which path will be most successful.
Need to review the ground rules for nonprofit lobbying and advocacy? Refer to Salsa's May blog which addressed exactly who can lobby.
Salsa Labs (Salsa) helps nonprofits and political campaigns ignite action and fuel change around the world by growing and engaging a base of support online. For more information, visit Salsalabs.com.