1. Have an achievable goal

Advocacy groups have broad overall missions, like “reforming the juvenile justice system” or “reducing gun violence.” In contrast, an advocacy campaign is aimless without a specific goal that is achievable within a period of years. For example, keeping juveniles out of adult jails or mandating background checks for all gun purchases.

An advocacy campaign does not have to achieve its goal by enacting federal or state legislation. It may be more sensible to start by passing city or county ordinances or to seek policy change by regulation, or other administrative actions by a governor, mayor, attorney general, controller, auditor or independent commission.

The problem is, advocacy groups remain mostly on the defensive, failing to develop and pursue specific proactive policies. In a game where you don’t even attempt to score points, you can never win.

And yet, some advocates complain, there are many jurisdictions where the officials are so conservative that progressives cannot expect to enact any important policies. In that case, the goal is to use specific policy proposals to raise the profile of your issue so that it makes a real difference in the public debate.

Below we display an example where advocacy drove a particular issue into the public debate and it was used quite effectively. Even if your organization is a 501(c)(3) charity, strictly forbidden from engaging in partisan election campaigns, you can:

  • Promote ideas that are favored by voters so that candidates will want to endorse them, or will attack their opponents for opposing them, without your group’s involvement.
  • Ask elected officials whether they support your policy or not and publicize their answers.
  • For elected officials who are clearly against your policy, provoke them to say something foolish or extremely unpopular in public, preferably on camera or while a news reporter is present. Publicize their gaffes.
  • Focus on recruiting and empowering activists in specific geographic areas so they can pressure candidates to support your policy, without your group’s involvement.
  • Hold press events in specific geographic areas that will raise the profile of your issue in those places.
  • Set up a separately-funded 501(c)(4) organization to engage the issue more directly.

There is very little point in spending time and money in an effort that lacks a practical goal. The whole idea of an advocacy campaign is to win.