Advocacy Plan: Where Do I Start?

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

Advocacy strategy is first

In the busy world of nonprofits, creating an advocacy plan with a clear strategy in mind is often overlooked. Organizations that have the energy to write a clear and comprehensive 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.

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

Below are tips to help guide you through creating your own clear and comprehensive advocacy plan. Remember that there are no magic formulas but rather starting points that allow you to develop a clear strategic vision, strategies for achieving your goals, and a timeline to measure success.

Start with an organizational perspective

To ensure your organization is not reactive, but taking significant steps toward a better world, you must have a clear vision. The best advocacy leaders can articulate a vision and use successes and failures to grow their organizations. In relation to your core problem(s), what would you need to show the world to no longer need your work? Having a real vision gives your team a north star to guide them through their daily tasks and decision making. This allows them to check and see if the energy expended is moving the organization in the right direction. It keeps them on track while making critical decisions regarding organizational resources. Visualization exercises are a great way to visualize what your future will look like. These exercises can be done verbally, through journaling or even drawing a picture of what you want your organization to look like.

Always set clear goals:

Clear, specific and achievable goals with metrics for your organization’s growth are key to success. Everyone in your organization should know what goals the organization is trying to achieve at any given time. Each project will have long-term and short-term goals attached to it. Some goals will be internal and others external, but all will require some type of metric to track progress toward the goals and show when it has finally been achieved.

Don’t silo your advocacy work

Whether your organization is strictly advocacy or advocacy is just one arm of your organization’s work, you should think about your work holistically. When planning your advocacy, remember that other legislative, electoral, and community-building efforts are also taking place. Note whether they are internal or external efforts. A mistake organizations make is to plan for all their departments separately versus working to complement each other. For advocacy efforts to be successful, they must occur as part of a larger picture. Understanding each piece helps raise the others. This includes fundraising – remember donors can be great advocates and advocates can be great donors

Budgeting and fundraising for advocacy

Fundraising is often a moving target, so starting with a budget is critical to setting a goal. A budget allows you to explain to donors where their support will go and how it directly translates to reaching your organizational goals. Understanding what your advocacy efforts need will help you increase your fundraising by allowing you to be transparent with donors. Remember to make fundraising a part of your secondary goals for advocacy. The best advocacy strategies for growing your organization include a mix of fundraising, whether low dollar or high dollar, or donations. Often you can create a new group of donors and advocates at the same time.

Know your advocacy audience

Your advocacy plan should always be audience-centric. Determining who your audience is will help you decide on the best message and implementation strategies. You can start with just one audience and expand over time. Goals will likely change over time.

Do your research

Learn what worked and what didn’t. Make sure the problems you’re working on fit your organizational goals and your audience. Yes, you can use some professional research tools like focus groups, but I’d start with some DYI tools like a message box and the Midwest Academy strategy chart.

Know your organizational limits

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

Plan your organizational efforts

Building relationships with your community is a key part of organizing. It is a more effective way to get your message across to the public while building trust. Advocacy organizing can help build a following for your organization and even increase membership.

Plan your legal efforts

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

Understand your legal goals
Analyzing your landscape with power mapping will help you determine your best legal targets. Understanding these legislative goals may vary based on the issue or policy, but knowing a handful of moving goals is key to long-term progress.

Build an engaged coalition

Working in alliances can greatly increase your influence and reach, but it also comes with its own challenges. A clear direction and vision for your coalition efforts is key to building capacity together and staying on track.

Creating a message for advocacy

You must have a clear and compelling message that contrasts your point of view with that of your opposition. Using a message box exercise, conducting focus groups, or conducting polls can help you come up with an effective message and theme for your target audience.

Time your work
Establishing a timeline for benchmarks and deadlines will help keep your organization as well as your alliance on track. If there are no benchmarks or deadlines, there is no way to track progress or hold your team(s) accountable. Consider breaking everything down into tasks and compiling them into a spreadsheet where someone is responsible for tracking them

Be inclusive
Just don’t employ the same people your organization always has. Make sure you plan for growth by looking at who is missing from the alliance. Plan for Alliances You don’t need alliances.

Successful advocacy work requires planning

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

Finish with strategy

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

Plan to evaluate

Plans get better over time, but they only improve if you see what worked and what didn’t.

Put your advocacy plan into action now! Learn a little more about advocacy strategies and the difference between advocacy techniques.

Read more: Advocacy planning is a big topic and there’s no way we could fit everything into one post, so here are our favorite posts on advocacy messages, strategies, tactics, coalition building, fundraising, and program evaluation for you to read.

If you still have questions or are looking for help with a plan review or construction, drop us a note and we’re happy to chat about what we do and how we can help.