Passionate volunteers power your advocacy campaigns. Between contacting their elected officials, attending your events, and providing donations to your cause, advocacy campaigns succeed because of volunteers. However, while a few volunteers may be able to fully motivate themselves, most will look to your nonprofit’s leadership for inspiration.
Nonprofit advocacy campaigns allow your organization to mobilize your supporters and advance your cause through grassroots action. These campaigns will require your nonprofit to direct volunteers to take several specific actions over multiple months, making strong leadership a necessity for retaining volunteers and giving your advocacy campaign its best chance at success.
Strong leadership will look different based on the individual and the type of advocacy campaign they are running. Fortunately, there are a few proven practices that most nonprofit professionals can use to improve their leadership and motivate their volunteers. Leaders running successful advocacy campaigns should:
- Stay up-to-date with current advocacy trends.
- Launch a compelling message.
- Stay in contact with volunteers.
- Develop your professional skills.
These tips provide actionable advice that nonprofit leaders can use to develop their own organizational skills. And like a good leader, these tips also consider what volunteer advocates need from an organization to stay motivated. Let’s get started.
1. Stay up-to-date with current advocacy trends.
There is a world of organizations, grassroots groups, and activists that extends far beyond your nonprofit’s campaign. Staying aware of the greater advocacy landscape will help improve your overall knowledge of what a successful advocacy campaign looks like and help you learn new strategies you can employ at your nonprofit.
Muster’s guide to nonprofit advocacy describes a few methods nonprofits can use to stay up-to-date on current advocacy trends. These methods include:
- Reading nonprofit reports and blogs. Nonprofit thought leaders in the advocacy space often report on news and developments related to advocacy. Check in on these resources like you would a morning newspaper to always stay up to date.
- Using bill tracking software. Bill tracking software lets you stay updated on where each relevant bill for your campaign is in the legislative process. Staying informed about key bills will allow you to adjust your advocacy strategy as needed and to provide regular updates to your dedicated supporters.
- Networking with other advocacy leaders. While you may see them as competition, other nonprofit advocacy leaders can be a vital part of your information network. Maintaining positive relationships with other leaders can help you discover new technology, consultants, and other resources that could benefit your nonprofit.
Use the information you learn from staying informed about current advocacy trends to direct your campaign and stay in touch with your volunteers. Your volunteers have made an investment in your cause and will likely be interested in relevant updates.
2. Launch a compelling message.
People are attracted to causes that resonate with them. When reaching out to potential volunteers, fine tune your message to invoke an emotional response while also making sure to back it up with facts and statistics. Then, provide volunteers with actions they can take to get involved immediately after seeing your message.
Your advocacy campaign’s message should be related to your nonprofit’s overall mission. However, you’ll also need to consider additional stakeholders in order to craft a comprehensive, inclusive message.
Your leadership should be intimately familiar with the details of your message and your nonprofit’s overall brand. Your advocacy campaign might reframe your nonprofit’s mission or show off a different side of your brand, but it should still remain consistent with your overall image.
3. Stay in contact with volunteers.
Whether your volunteers are working for your campaign in-person at events or furthering your cause while working from home, you should make an effort to stay connected with them. Your volunteers should always have a supervisor they can reach out to while they’re working for your nonprofit. Doing so makes them feel supported and provides a safety net if they run into any issues.
Make sure to stay in contact with your volunteers in between campaigns as well. Nonprofits with robust advocacy initiatives will launch recurring campaigns timed around key elections and legislation. Keeping in contact with volunteers even when you aren’t running a campaign helps to maintain a consistent relationship, which will increase your volunteer retention.
Volunteers who support multiple campaigns will help form a core supporter base. These volunteers can be relied on to fill potential gaps in your schedule or step in if another volunteer isn’t able to show up for their scheduled hours. Additionally, these volunteers can serve as a resource to newcomers by assisting and inspiring them to continue working with your nonprofit.
Plus, long-term volunteers likely qualify for volunteer grants. Double the Donation’s guide to volunteer grants explains that many top companies will donate to nonprofits their employees volunteer at after a certain number of hours worked—and some have as low a required number of hours as one hour.
4. Develop your professional skills.
Leaders of successful advocacy campaigns are constantly learning and adapting. As your sector changes and common advocacy strategies evolve, you will need to develop your skills as well. Fortunately, between professional development classes and online resources, nonprofit leaders have multiple options for advancing their professional skills.
While specific technical skills may change over time, there are several management skills that most nonprofit leaders will find themselves relying on across multiple advocacy campaigns. These skills include:
- Public speaking. While nearly three out of four people have a fear of speaking in public, advocacy leaders will need to present their mission to large groups of volunteers repeatedly over the course of their campaign.
- Communications. Both strong internal and external communication skills are vital for maintaining a consistent message and keeping your team on track.
- Relationship-building. Strategic leaders are always looking for opportunities to expand their network by building and strengthening relationships with diverse groups of individuals.
- Strategic planning. Your advocacy campaign might have a larger goal such as spreading awareness, but it should also have a specific measurable goal. Leaders with strong strategic planning skills are able to set goals for their organization and determine what resources are needed to achieve those goals within a set time frame.
- Delegation. Even the best leaders can’t do everything. Knowing what tasks can be delegated and who is equipped to handle the responsibility is vital for leaders hoping to run multiple advocacy campaigns without suffering burnout.
- Budget allocation. Your nonprofit has more initiatives that need funding than just your advocacy campaign. Your leadership should be able to examine your budget and allocate necessary resources without straining other parts of your organizations.
- Problem solving. Great leadership can often be measured by how well they’re able to overcome challenges. Over the course of your campaign, there will be problems, and your leader should be able to stand strong and guide your volunteers through any chaos that arises.
This may seem like a lofty list of expectations, and there are few leaders who are born able to execute all of these skills to perfection. In reality, dedicated leaders are able to identify skills they excel in and their areas of weakness. Then, they strive to continually develop the professional skills they need to help their campaigns succeed.
Leading an advocacy movement and inspiring volunteers requires continual effort and professional development. You can improve your leadership by keeping up with new developments in your field and taking courses to refine your professional skills. Then, inspire your volunteers with a compelling reason to stay with your campaign as you build long lasting relationships with them.
About the Author:
Corey Vaughn is Chief Marketing Officer at Muster, where he has spent the last five years driving growth through lead generation, content creation, and product education. He also works closely with nonprofits to help improve and scale their advocacy efforts through digital campaigns. Connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest in nonprofit advocacy.