Advocacy Plan: Where do I begin?

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

People meeting around a table piled with papers

Having an advocacy plan is critical to success, but where should you begin? 

Advocacy Strategy First

Developing an advocacy plan with clear goals strategy and tactics is often overlooked - especially in the busy world of non-profits. Organizations that put energy into writing a clear and comprehensive advocacy plan will tell you a thoughtful strategy and a strong plan are critical to campaign success, as well as short-term and long-term organizational growth. Please note this is different than a strategic plan for your organization. An advocacy plan is more situational and though strategic plans are also important an advocacy plan is more focused on a specific goal.  

Whether you’re a pro at advocacy plans or are writing your first one, this guide will help focus your planning around a clear strategy and measurable outcomes.  

Below are tips 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 create a clear strategic vision, tactics to achieve your goals, and a timeline to measure success.  

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 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 by 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. This includes fundraising – remember donors can be great advocates and advocates make great donors.  

Budgeting & Fundraising for Advocacy 

Fundraising is often a moving target, so starting with a budget is key to determining a goal. 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. Remember to build fundraising as a part of your secondary goals for advocacy. The best advocacy strategies to grow your organization include a mix of fundraising, whether it is low-dollar or high-dollar, or grants. Often you can build a new group of donors and advocates at the same time.   

Know your Advocacy Audience 

Your advocacy plans should always be audience focused. Determining who your audiences are will help you decide on the best messages and tactics to implement. You may start with just one audience and expand over time. Targets will likely change over time. 

Do your Research 

Learn what has worked and what has not. Make sure the issues you are working on fit your organizational goals and your audience. Yes, you can use some professional research tools like focus groups, but I would start with some DIY tools like a message box and the Midwest Academy Strategy Chart.   

Know your Organizational Limits 

All organizations have limits, make sure you know what they are and work to decide if they are a pattern to overcome or bylaws you need to work within.  

Plan your Organizing Efforts 

Building relationships with your communities is a core part of organizing. 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 issues or policy but knowing the handful of ongoing targets is key to long-term progress. 

Build an Engaged Coalition 

Working in a 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 home in on an effective message and theme for your target audiences. 

Make your Work Time-Bound 
Instituting a timeline for benchmarks and deadlines will help keep your organization, as well as your coalition, to stay 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. 

Be Inclusive 
Don’t just engage the same folks your organization always has. Make sure you are planning for growth by looking at who is missing from the coalition. Plan for the coalition you need not the coalition you have.   

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. 

End with Tactics 

Once you have a clear strategy, think about the tactics that will achieve your goals.   

Plan to Evaluate 

Plans get better with time, but they only improve if you look at what worked and what did not.  

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

More to read: Advocacy planning is a big topic and there is no way we can put everything in one post, so here are more of our favorite posts on advocacy messages, strategy, tactics, coalition building, fundraising, and program evaluation for you to read. 

If you still have questions or are looking for help reviewing or building a plan, reach out and we are happy to chat about what we do and how we can help.