Issue Advocacy Campaign Guide

Apr 02, 2020 by Joe Fuld

Overhead view of crowd marching in street

Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Issue Advocacy Campaign

Issue advocacy campaigns start with the best intentions. We begin with a coalition that cares about our issue and wants to make a real difference. But without a bit of strategic planning and issue campaign know-how, you will fall off track. 

What is issue advocacy? 
For starters, issue advocacy is when a group or organization advocates for a specific issue or policy.  This is different than electoral advocacy which will have the magic words “vote for” and “vote against”. 

Why is it important? 
Advocacy falls under different laws for compliance, and the kinds of funds you are allowed to use are different from those political campaigns can use. Issue advocacy offers a way to let folks know they can stay involved in an issue they care about in a tangible way. 

Have a goal.
Make sure you know what your advocacy campaign’s goal is. Whether you're working with multiple coalitions or a single group, it's not always clear what the goal is. You might think you know what it is, but make sure you get buy-in and agreement from your coalition, so everyone is on the same page. 

Build an organization.
Having a clearly defined organization is something you need to agree on from the start. Who is in charge? What is the process for making decisions? Putting ground rules down in writing will prevent a lot of problems for your issue advocacy campaign.

Coalitions are amplifiers. 
An assembly of people with similar concerns and goals does not make a coalition. Make sure you define people’s roles and what the shared goals are. Draft a written agreement that spells out what resources each group will put into the coalition.  A written agreement will ensure all coalition partners are on the same page and committed to the cause.

Build a movement.
Hopefully you are using advocacy as a long-term strategy and are trying to improve your community for the long run. If you are embarking on an advocacy campaign, you should be working to effect change over a long period of time not just a few days. 

Go for depth. 
You might think you’re an expert on the issue, but that isn't always the case. Before you get started on an advocacy campaign, make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of what has already been accomplished on the issue to create effective goals.

Use all of your advocacy resources.
We have worked with a lot of groups who get into the thick of a campaign before they realize that they have untapped resources and connections. National or local partners can have a big impact on an advocacy campaign; make sure the beginning of the campaign includes a thorough search into available resources.

Leverage other resources. 
National, state and local groups all have resources when it comes to advocacy. Consider how you can leverage the resources of different coalition members or future members to grow your advocacy campaign.

Start early and keep going. 
Just like in a political campaign, time is a critical resource in issue advocacy campaigns. Make sure you start building your advocacy plan as early as possible. Starting right before a session begins is usually not soon enough.

Secondary goals can be as important as primary goals. 
What are the other things you're trying to accomplish besides winning? Getting a piece of legislation passed can take years, but there may be secondary objectives (widespread awareness, local decisions, increased funding, etc.) that you can accomplish along the way that are almost as important, and can be just as helpful in building your coalition, as winning the issue.

Not all conflict is bad. 
If you are doing issue advocacy right, you're going to step on some toes.  Just make sure you are stepping on the correct toes. Know who you can afford to upset and who you want to persuade.

Plan your budget.
Contrary to what many want to believe, issue advocacy campaigns cost money. Even deeply rooted grassroots advocacy campaigns still need a budget. Make sure you figure up exactly what it will cost to run the campaign you need, develop a budget for what you will need to win, and then make a plan to raise the money.

Have a call-to-action. 
Calls-to-action are critical for advocacy for a few reasons. They tell your advocates what you want them to do, and they can trigger specific kinds of funding. 

Have a real plan.
Don't wing it. The most successful issue advocacy campaigns have strategic plans and timelines. Work with your coalition to write out the different components of your advocacy plan. From organic conversations to paid communication, make sure you know the different tactics you want to employ. 

Harness technology. 
Issue advocacy allows you to build and engage an audience over time. Whether using relational organizing tactics, texting, messenger, or an activist slack channel. Technology can help communications and engagement in an issue advocacy effort. 

Harness the power of video. 
Video content that is professionally produced or footage created by activists can help build a following for your advocacy campaign. Create goals and a timeline for video production and dissemination.

List build.
Issue work can help you bring new advocates and potential members to your cause. These folks can become activist or donors, but you will need to engage with them. 

Hire an attorney. 
The laws around issue advocacy can be hard to understand. It will pay off in the long run to hire a lawyer who specializes in the work. 

Do research.  
Different messages may engage some groups but not others. If you have the resources, focus groups or polling can help you test messages for your issue advocacy. Make sure you hire you communications team that has experience message testing for issue advocacy campaigns. 

Understand what success looks like. 
How does an issue advocacy program fit into your organizational goals? What are the primary goals for your campaign? Secondary goals? Knowing the answers to these questions will be helpful when creating your advocacy campaign’s strategic plan as well as making decisions for your campaign down the road.

We hope this post helps with your advocacy campaign planning. You can find more about other issue advocacy tactics here.

Have questions about planning an issue advocacy campaign or how to get started? Leave us a comment or sign up for our advocacy training here!

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