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Take Your Campaign Online: 5 Tips for Virtual Advocacy

Posted Jun 09, 2021 05:36 PM
Russ Oster, the CEO and Co-founder of Grassroots Unwired, dives into best practices for increasing meaningful engagement for your cause online. He writes about why it's important to leverage your digital outlets with intention, using his experience organizing grassroots campaign.

With the Internet, you can reach more supporters online than you can face-to-face. However, if advocacy is a major part of your organization's mission, this doesn’t mean the transition to online communication is going to be easy. Many advocacy campaigns hesitate out of the fear of wasting resources, investing in ineffectual technology, or making other tech and data-related mistakes.

Despite these fears, moving your approach online is more than worth the risks. Advocacy software has come a long way, empowering grassroots organizations to reach supporters through new and innovative methods that make connections that are just as strong as in-person communication.

Whether you've decided to start taking your campaign online or refine your approach, it’s necessary to research your options so that you can make the most of your virtual advocacy opportunities. This article explores five tips for planning and executing a successful virtual advocacy campaign:

  1. Research available technology
  2. Design an engaging website
  3. Make the most of online tools
  4. Use video and text to make personal connections
  5. Stay in touch with your volunteers

Before investing in an advocacy software solution, take inventory of your campaign. Advocacy software caters to campaigns of all sizes and needs, which means trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution will likely end in disappointment. Once you know what your campaign requires, start your research and take the time to figure out how each piece of advice applies to your specific situation.

1. Research available technology

Advocacy software has evolved, and there are software solutions that your nonprofit likely isn’t familiar with but can fit your needs. Before making any decisions, figure out what you need and what’s out there. Then you can match your must-have features against potential options to find a solution that aligns with your goals.

Researching software can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it to ensure you receive a return on your investment. As you begin your research, take the following aspects into account:

  • Price. Finding a solution that not only fulfills your needs but is also affordable can be a challenge. Look into your budget and your industry standards for pricing so you can set a price range that gives you options but won’t bankrupt your campaign.
  • Features. While there are standard features you’ll find in most software, all advocacy software specializes in different aspects of running a campaign. For example, if you’re trying to find canvassing tools, one solution might focus on data collection and have robust reporting features, while another emphasizes communication by including video chat capabilities. Make a list of your must-have features, so you can evaluate each option on how closely it meets your current needs.
  • Support. Setting up software takes time, and it’s normal to experience a slowdown in productivity as your team learns your new software. Thankfully, advocacy software that comes with onboarding support can help speed up the process. Before making a purchase, ask each provider how hands-on they are during setup and what training resources are available.

As you narrow down candidates, be sure to write down why each solution does or does not work for your campaign. By doing so, you’ll be able to remind yourself why certain decisions were made, saving time by preventing backtracking and reviewing old information.

2. Design an engaging website

Your online presence will shape the way supporters interact with your campaign, and your website will be your central hub of activity. Make sure supporters who want to volunteer, donate, or follow your campaign have easy access to your website by spreading its URL on outreach materials to drive traffic.

Once your supporters reach your website, you’ll need to have content that will convince them to engage with you. Cornershop Creative’s guide to political website design explains a few fundamental principles for building grassroots campaign websites, including:

  • High-impact images. Putting a face to your campaign can help visitors connect with your cause. Pictures of volunteers in action, your constituents, or supporters at rallies can all help new visitors to your website understand why your cause matters. Just make sure to ask the people in your pictures for permission ahead of time!
  • Consistent branding. Your website is the face of your campaign, which means it’s also the key place to communicate your brand. Display your logo on every page of your website, and ensure you follow a consistent color scheme so visitors will come to associate those images with your campaign.
  • Educational materials. You want to inform supporters about your cause fully, but walls of text can cause website visitors to leave. You can inform visitors without overwhelming them by adding white space between page elements, keeping line lengths short, and creating breaks in your text with pictures and videos.

Also, be sure to make your website accessible to reach your entire audience. Organized layouts, straightforward navigation, and alternative text for images and videos help users find the content they’re looking for and engage with your campaign without any unnecessary obstacles.

3. Make the most of online tools

While some benefits of in-person advocacy campaigning are lost online, virtual campaigns have access to digital resources that can offer new opportunities. After all, even if you prioritize face-to-face connections, you’ll still have a website and an email newsletter to help keep in touch.

For example, consider your advocacy group’s donation page. You can more easily share the link during your online outreach, letting supporters donate any time they want. You can also optimize your donation page to ensure you’re maximizing the potential of each generous contribution.

Guides like this one explain essential online tools you can add to your donation page. Take corporate matching gifts, additional dollar-per-dollar donations made by corporations when their employees give to nonprofits. You can add matching gift search tools to your donation page, allowing visitors to discover if they qualify for a matching gift.

In person, this same exchange might feel more time-consuming and awkward to do with another person present; but online, donors have the freedom to explore their options and contribute when they’re ready.

4. Use video and text to make personal connections

It’s easier to make personal connections when communicating face-to-face than through email. Thankfully, virtual advocacy lets organizations build relationships with multiple outreach methods such as video, phone calls, and text messages.

Prioritize communication and outreach tools to find software that meets these needs. For example, advocacy tools like Grassroots Unwired’s canvassing software come with video chat and text messaging features, allowing volunteers to reach out to supporters just as they would in door-to-door interactions. You can find software that offers similar support for volunteer management, petitions, and elected official outreach.

Expanding your communication channels also allows you to create more touch points with each supporter. Every platform comes with its own benefits, such as:

  • Phone calls. A quick, personal phone call can help supporters feel like individuals. Following up interactions with a call can help secure support or make supporters feel acknowledged.
  • Video chat. Face-to-face meetings hold a lot of power, and you can continue hosting them with video conferencing software. Chatting with individual supporters can build one-on-one relationships, and hosting online events with many will help them feel like part of a community.
  • Text. Texting is on the rise amongst advocacy groups. Text messages have high open rates, meaning it’s more likely your supporters will see your message.
  • Email. Email is popular because of its versatility. Stay in touch with your supporters and let them know about other ways to connect with weekly emails.
  • Social media. With a low investment cost and a broad audience, social media lets you reach and organize your supporters fast.
  • Direct mail. While it might be slower, traditional mail feels personal, and well-designed letters can convince supporters to hold onto physical reminders of your organization.

Even with in-person contact, making connections is still one of the most difficult parts of advocacy work. Maintain your supporters by regularly letting them know you appreciate their work and communicating how they make a difference for your cause.

5. Stay in touch with your volunteers

Managing volunteers remotely is a common stumbling block for advocacy campaigns. Without regular contact, volunteers may feel directionless or disconnected from your cause, which is why it’s necessary to make a concerted effort to stay in touch with them.

When you organize your volunteer program, make sure your supervisors schedule regular check-ins, so they can answer questions, troubleshoot problems, and otherwise show they care about your volunteers’ success. Some advocacy software programs come with real-time reporting tools, allowing volunteer managers to spot issues and contact the volunteer experiencing the problem quickly.

Volunteers give up their time to help organizations they believe in, which means they want to know they are making a difference. While less exciting work is available, make sure no volunteer gets saddled with organizing files or other busy work for too long to ensure they stay engaged.

Even when you’re able to return to in-person advocacy work, don’t stop your virtual campaigning. Online outreach can help you expand to new audiences while also staying connected to the people you meet face-to-face. The benefits of online interaction can improve your supporters’ and your team’s advocacy work, as long as you make suitable startup investments.