Digital Advocacy: Develop an Advocacy Advertising Strategy

by Sophie Thurber (She/Her)

Digital Advocacy

Digital Advocacy Advertising Strategy: Where Do I Start?

Want to start a digital advocacy campaign but having trouble setting priorities and figuring out where to start?  Creating an advocacy strategy and setting a clear goal for your campaign is  an important first step in the success of your program. As we discuss in our ebook, Guide to Digital Advocacy, here are few helpful tips to get you started. 

Primary and Secondary Goals

Frequently, we find that organizations leave their strategic goals implied for their digital advocacy campaigns. Yes, your broad goal is probably to win, but leaving the details up for interpretation will likely mean missing out on opportunities to make long-term advocacy advances. Before you formulate your digital plan, take a 30,000-foot view and flesh out your primary and secondary goals and have a real conversation about your advocacy strategy. To get clarity on your campaign strategy, answer these two questions:

  • Primary Goal: What is the primary objective of your digital advocacy advertising campaign?
  • Secondary Goals: Even if you don’t win your advocacy campaign, what are the relationships and tangible assets you’d like to come away with (e.g. list growth, increased fundraising capacity, improved relationship with a decision maker, etc.)?

Cost Per Acquisition

Cost per action or cost per acquisition (CPA) campaigns- are the most efficient way to grow your list. Cost per action campaigns are also a great way to apply pressure to key decision makers. In order to set goals for a  CPA campaign, you need a good sense of your:

  • Budget
  • Geography
  • Timeframe

Typically, the smaller the geographic target, the longer the acquisition campaign will need to be. A good rule of thumb is that for most campaigns, you should allow for a minimum of 8 weeks. You should also think about the total number of names you will need in order to have an impact. If you simply want to grow your list, how many new names do you want to add? If you’re trying to get the attention of an elected official, the number of names you need will be different.  If, for instance, you’re targeting a state representative in Montana 1,000 names is a lot  versus a U.S. Senator from New York where it is a drop in the bucket. In short, figure out how your budget, geography, and timeline fit together to advance your campaign's goals.

Email Strategy

If you’re running a cost per action/CPA campaign, you should also be running a regular email program. Keep new (and existing) supporters engaged is a core component of a cost per acquisition campaign. This will also help you to make sure that CPA is a long-term investment rather than a short-term fix. When sending email to new CPA supporters and to existing supporters, you need to make sure that you’re sending it with a purpose. Long, over-detailed emails with no ask or multiple, disparate actions aren’t going to help you in the long run.

As you’re designing your email program, it's important to think about what you want to achieve, when you want to achieve it, and with whom.

What are your asks – are you fundraising? Asking people to contact a legislator? Forward to a friend? Obviously, there may be some changes to your advocacy program as time progresses, but having a basic drumbeat established so that you understand the overall progression of your campaign will help keep you on track. That advance planning will also ensure that you can respond more nimbly when the unexpected happens.

The with whom and when means that your goals should reflect the makeup of your list. This means you should know how and when people came onto your email list, and what actions they’ve taken. This information should inform your all of your email planning and goals. For instance, you may want to send all new opt-ins a fundraising ask (as that first sign-up is likely the most excited a new supporter will be about your organization) and set a basic goal of $5 donations from a certain percentage of those new supporters. But, there may be other groups within your list for whom a fundraising email won’t be effective or even appropriate.


And lastly, any digital advocacy program should have some sort of testing component. Determining what works and what doesn’t needs to be backed up by more than anecdotal evidence. Ask anyone who handles an email program and they’ll tell you that the most successful emails are often not the ones they would have predicted. Similarly, you can’t always predict which digital ad will yield the most clicks, and that may not correlate to the highest number of completed actions. Testing will help you to identify patterns and high-yield tactics you might otherwise miss.

It’s difficult to put new procedures in place while you’re in the thick of a campaign. Planning ahead will be helpful in terms of integrating testing into your day-to-day email activities.

but wait there is more... 

Want to learn more about digital advocacy?  Check out our latest ebook, Guide to Digital Advocacy, and stay tuned for part 2 Digital Advocacy: Developing an Advocacy Advertising Strategy Part II. This post will take a closer look at social media, paid digital advertising, and site traffic/analytics for advocacy. You can also check out our recorded webinar Goal Setting for Digital Advertising that was part of our Digital Advocacy Webinar Series.