Advocacy Plan: Where do I begin?

People meeting around a table piled with papers

Having an advocacy plan is critical to success, but where should you begin? Here are some topic areas you should be including in your plan.

In the ever-busy world of nonprofits, taking the time to develop an advocacy plan is often either quickly jotted down without real intentionality or not done at all. Organizations who put energy into writing a clear and comprehensive plan will tell you they are critical to success and long-term organizational growth. Now whether you’re a pro at advocacy plans or are writing your first one, this guide will help focus your planning skills. Below are topics to help guide you through developing your own clear and comprehensive advocacy plan. Note that there is no magic formula but rather starting places that allow you to collect clear information in order to articulate achievable goals and lay out an effective plan to implement.

Start with an Organizational Vision.

To ensure your organization is not reactionary but taking important steps toward a better world, you must have a clearly articulated vision. The best advocacy leaders can articulate a vision and use successes and failures to grow their organizations. What does the world, as it relates to your core issue(s) need to look like in order for your work to no longer be needed? Having a real vision gives your team a north star to guide them through their daily work and decision making. It allows them to check and see if the energy being spent is moving the organization in the right direction. It also keeps them on track when making critical decisions regarding organizational resources. Visioning exercises are a great way to lay out what your future looks like. These exercises can be done verbally, through journaling, or even drawing a picture of what you want your organization to look like.

Always Define Clear Goals.

Having clear, articulated, and achievable goals with metrics for your organization’s growth is key to being successful. Everyone in your organization should know what goals the organization is trying to achieve at any given point. There will be long-term and short-term goals attached to each project. Some goals will be internal and others external, but all will need some type of metric to track progress toward the goals and ultimately show when it’s been achieved.

Do Not Silo Your Advocacy Work.

Whether your organization is strictly advocacy or advocacy is just one arm of the work your organization does, you should be thinking about your work holistically. When planning your advocacy, remember that there are other legislative, electoral, and community-building efforts happening as well. Keep those in mind whether they are internal or external efforts. One mistake organizations make is having all their department plans developed separately versus working to complement each other. For advocacy efforts to be successful, they need to happen as part of the larger picture. Understanding each piece helps grow the others.

Budgeting & Fundraising for Advocacy.

Fundraising is often a moving target, so starting with a budget is key to determine a goal to reach for. A budget allows you to explain to donors exactly where their support will be going and how it directly translates into reaching your organizational goals. Understanding what your advocacy efforts need will help increase your fundraising by allowing you to be transparent with donors.

Know your Advocacy Audience.

Your advocacy plans should always be audience-focused. Determining who your audience is will help you decide on the best message and tactics to implement. There may be multiple audiences or just one, and it may change over time.

Plan your Organizing Efforts.

Building relationships with your communities is organizing 101. It’s the more effective way to get your message to the public while also building trust. Advocacy organizing can help build a following for your organization and even grow membership.

Plan your Legislative Efforts.

If policy and legislative efforts are part of your advocacy plan, understand that these efforts take time and intentional relationship building. The legislative goals may evolve over time, but understanding what they are and communicating them with your team will help keep everyone focused on the same goals.

Understand your Legislative Targets.

Your landscape analysis with power mapping will help you determine your best legislative targets. Understanding these legislative targets may change based on issue or policy, but knowing the handful of ongoing targets is key to long-term progress.

Build an Engaged Coalition.

Working in coalition can greatly increase your impact and reach, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Having a clear direction and vision for your coalition efforts is key to building power together and staying on course.

Creating a Message for Advocacy.

You need to have a clear and compelling message that lays out a contrast between your vision and your opposition. Utilizing a message box exercise, performing focus groups, or conducting polling can help you hone in an effective message and theme for you target audiences.

Make your Work Time Bound.

Instituting a timeline for benchmarks and deadlines will help keep your organization, as well as your coalition, on track. If there are no benchmarks or deadlines there is no way of tracking progress or holding your team(s) accountable. Consider breaking everything into tasks and compiling them in a spreadsheet where someone is responsible for tracking them.

Planning is Needed for Successful Advocacy Work.

Advocacy is not just one short-term effort. Real advocacy takes intentionality, time, focus and follow through. By taking the time to build a comprehensive advocacy plan, your organization will set clear goals and define metrics to help you achieve your vision.

Now put your advocacy plan in action! Learn a little bit more about the difference between advocacy strategy and advocacy tactics.

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