The primary goal of advocacy is to drive positive change in support of an organization’s mission. This may involve impacting legislation, securing funding or affecting corporate policy. Grassroots advocacy involves influencing large groups of people to agree with an opinion or objective and getting them to help influence policy makers.
The Internet – specifically the advent of online advocacy and constituent relationship management tools – has had a profound impact on grassroots advocacy. In 2001, 42 million Americans used the Internet to research public policy issues[i]; 23 million sent comments to public officials about policy choices; and 13 million participated in an online lobbying campaign. Key developments include:
1. Easy, low cost mobilization through email
Email has enabled advocacy groups to mobilize constituents quickly and cost-effectively. Organizations -- such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) -- that used to send letters to advocates have moved to an email-based approach. Newer groups have online-only advocacy programs.
2. Easy response mechanisms and personalization Web site response forms recognize returning advocates, pre-fill personal information and map legislative targets geographically. Today’s tools allow a constituent to personalize the message and automate message delivery. Targeting messages by geography generates higher response rates. Mothers Against Drunk Driving ran a test sending a generic email appeal to one group of constituents and a personalized appeal based on state geography to another. The personalized message achieved a 155 percent higher response rate.
Fig 1. Personalization of advocacy appeal by recipient’s state
3. Increased message delivery rate
With advanced tools such as Convio, an organization can send messages via email, fax, mail or Web form on a legislator’s Web site. Multi-channel message delivery options increase the message delivery rate. Increasingly, legislative offices are requiring submission of information through Web forms.
4. Integrated approach to managing relationships
Integrated tools like Convio enable a congruent approach to managing relationships with new subscribers, volunteers, clients, donors, advocates and the media. An organization can reach out to a constituent whose profile, or database record, indicates he is a donor, but not yet an activist, and “invite” him to join its advocacy network.
Fig. 2 – Example of profile-based relationship management by the ASPCA
The Importance of Online Advocacy
Advocacy can play a strong role in supporting key nonprofit functions such as fundraising. A grassroots advocacy program can:
1. Develop strong prospects
A grassroots advocacy program can provide prospects for fundraising, volunteering, event participation and more. Advocates are more receptive to additional requests for support (e.g., fundraising appeals) than “cold prospects.”
In a recent campaign, the Million Mom March United with the Brady Campaign found that e-advocates responded to two consecutive email fundraising solicitations at a rate of approximately three percent[ii]. A reasonable response rate for a direct mail donor acquisition campaign using rented lists is one percent. At this response rate, it costs $1.15-1.50 to raise a dollar. However, using a grassroots advocacy campaign to develop a prospect list and then convert that list through mail drives down the cost per dollar raised to $0.38-0.50.
Advocacy campaigns are “viral” by nature -- advocates generally forward messages to friends. The Million Mom March/Brady Campaign asked people to sign a petition and then forward a message to 10 others (see fig. 3). In two months, the group nearly tripled its email list from 39,000 to 117,000 constituents. (see fig. 4).
Fig. 3 – Million Mom March/Brady Campaign petition initiative
Fig. 4 – Growth in email list during petition campaign
Fundraising and advocacy functions historically have been hesitant to share lists, fearing that advocates would be turned off by being asked for money and donors would be turned off by being asked to advocate. Convio’s work with advocacy groups suggests this is not true. Case-in-point: when a national women’s advocacy group made an email-based fundraising appeal to activists and non-activists, the activists responded at a 15 percent higher rate than non-activists, and very few activists unsubscribed[iii]. Furthermore, many nonprofit groups seek to reach younger donors who, over time, can become prospects for development, volunteering and more.
2. Grow donor/member loyalty
Nonprofits struggle with retention. Donors/members have many groups to choose among and contribute to those with whom they have the strongest affinity. Any tactic that builds involvement or affinity also supports retention. Most donors can and will only give one to two times a year, but they can advocate for an organization multiple times.
3. Reinforce the brand
Branding is an important factor in driving donor preference[iv]. Older constituents, in particular, are influenced by brand[v]. An organization can build its brand through grassroots campaigns that reach many people, including prospective and current donors and the media. Such contact helps increase awareness and reinforce the organization’s message.
Summary The Internet has already transformed online advocacy for many nonprofit organizations, and advancements in online technology are pushing the potential further. Nonprofit professionals in functions other than advocacy should not only support the advocacy role, but also determine how to effectively integrate efforts for maximizing the synergy between functions. Organizations should take advantage of new online tools that make it possible to measure and manage constituent relationships in an integrated fashion.
About the author:
Vinay Bhagat, ePMT
Founder, Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer, Convio, Inc., Vinay Bhagat founded and heads strategy for Convio, Inc., the leading provider of software and services to help nonprofit and individual-supported organizations use the Internet to become more effective at fundraising, mobilizing support and managing constituent relationships.
Convio client data analysis – Brady Campaign/Million Mom March
Convio client data analysis
Non-Profit Brands: Friend or Foe? - Michael Birkin, 02/07/03, OnPhilanthropy.com newsletter
Sarah Durst, Target Analysis Group – Benchmarking Trends in Nonprofit Giving, Target Analysis Year 2000 Cross-Industry Study
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