Advocacy is any plan that attempts to influence policymakers and stakeholders through activities designed to increase public attention. Advocacy includes many different types of activities, sometimes it means researching new solutions and even creating coalitions of like-minded people. The aim of advocacy is to educate, engage, and ultimately, create change through grassroots organizing. Below we will be looking at how to run an advocacy campaign, utilizing a network structure, social media, fundraising tools and advocacy software.
How to run an advocacy campaign
Advocacy is defined as the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.
Advocacy groups typically carry out similar activities to many other community or political groups who want to enact change. They will still invest in email campaigning such as newsletter updates, fundraising events, grassroots initiatives, and supporter engagement operations. In recent years, advocacy campaigns have taken various forms. One such important campaign was the Occupy Wall Street movement. The “Occupy Movement” is an international protest movement driven by people’s discontent with social and economic inequality. The first of the Occupy Movements in the US began on September 17th, 2011, just 9 months after the first uprising of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and 8 months after tens of thousands of protestors of the Egyptian Revolutionary famously gathered together in Tahrir Square in Cairo to make their stand against their government, which is said to have inspired the US movement. This was a classic example of a grassroots-led advocacy movement at the time.
While the Occupy movement garnered much attention, many people argue whether they were successful in achieving any of their outcomes. While many factions of the group broke off into splinter cells, an advocacy campaign as popular as this was lacking one piece of infrastructure to help measure and track their success. What they really needed was to channel all the good work they were doing into one digital infrastructure. This would have been a great place to onboard all the contact information of the volunteers involved in the national movement and also conduct an analysis of what they achieved. This is where an advocacy network is important. Having one single depository helps streamline many activities.
Visualizing advocacy: engaging networks
Advocacy networks are made up primarily of nongovernmental organizations but may also include individuals or groups from the public or private sector, foundations, academia, and the media. Nationally, regionally, and internationally, advocacy networks focus on the mobilization, interpretation, and strategic dissemination of information to change the behavior of governments, private firms, or international organizations. Advocacy networks share many of the characteristics of social movements, but the latter are generally less institutionalized and more likely to use disruptive tactics. Therefore to succeed in advocacy, it is encouraged to build out your network and utilize digital infrastructure.
Unlike governments and corporates, advocacy networks generally have limited access to traditional sources of power. Instead, advocacy networks rely on the strength of information, membership numbers, organizational structure, leadership, symbolic power and more recently social media. Advocacy networks are usually managed by volunteers so a large part of their success actually comes from increased flexibility and willingness to succeed. Incorporating the advent of social media, has significantly increased the speed and effectiveness of many organizations. Yet it is important to remember that advocacy networks remain more likely to emerge where personal and working relationships among key individuals and leaders already exist.
Setting up a smart advocacy network to help you see results is simple:
1. Use a logic model to map out your plan
2. Focus on mobilizing your resources
3. Always think strategically when it comes to advocacy actions
4. Monitor your actions, track results in a coherent way, and evaluate.
Social media & advocacy
Social media is an increasingly used tool to get desired public policy results. We know that brands and politicians already use social media, almost exclusively Twitter and Facebook, to advance their agendas. It is now easier than ever for Members of Congress to hear the views and opinions of real folks back home on how legislation or regulation impacts their lives. Social media as an advocacy tool has exponentially increased in the past several years with non-profits, trade associations, labor unions and civic groups leveraging their strength to move their interests forward.
Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford became a local hero in the UK after persuading the government to reverse their decision on free school meal vouchers through the power of social media. During the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK the government has been providing meal vouchers to families whose children qualify for free meals to spend in supermarkets, but had previously said this would not continue outside of term time. Rashford penned an open letter to MP's urging them to reconsider the decision and talked about his own experiences of relying on free school meals as a child. He used his online presence and celebrity status to advocate for these families. Since lockdown began, Rashford has worked with charity FareShare UK to raise about £20m to supply three million meals to vulnerable families around the U.K. And now, his work to lobby the UK government has ensured that 1.3 million children across the U.K will be able to claim school meals this summer.
Fundraising strategy for advocacy
In today’s difficult economic climate, nonprofit organizations need fundraising strategies that yield solid results. It is critical to implement best practices to ensure the highest possible response rate to your advocacy appeal. The coronavirus pandemic has put on hold many key moments in the fundraising calendar for such groups, including marathons and other sporting events. But this hasn’t stopped some people raising massive amounts for charities and advocacy groups, while still observing self-isolation rules.
Many of the movements who were set up online and had built-out digital infrastructure were able to capitalize on their membership and use relational organizing to reach out and ask for support. We saw a growing number of organizations turn to GoFundMe. The crowdfunding platform allows individuals to pass a digital tip jar and collect money from strangers and supporters in times of need. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, GoFundMe fees are low and do not include a portion of the money raised.
One advocacy group who used the fundraising platform to great effect in the past was Veterans Stand for Standing Rock. In November 2016, 2,000 U.S. military veterans traveled to North Dakota to form a human shield around protestors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The group behind the shield, funded their efforts via GoFundMe, raising $1,155,660. While protestors lost the battle over the North Dakota Access Pipeline, GoFundMe helped many people raise money for protestors.
Whether you are planning on raising money to build out your organization or require funds to hold events, crowdfunding is an excellent way to increase your resources and also to onboard new supporters. Combining good messaging with a solid social media campaign is what helps many advocacy groups stick around longer. If you have any questions on how to run a campaign, be it advocacy or political, we are running a weekly webinar on campaign best practices that you can check out here.