How many times have you had to make a strategic decision designed to generate (or replace) critical support for your organization or cause? Maybe you lost the support of a key funder, or something happened in your issue area that required a decisive response.
Let's face it: even when things are calm, your organization is competing with dozens of other organizations and causes for public mindshare. Which is why I'm sure you've tried all sorts of traditional and digital methods designed to amplify your organization's message so that it stands out from all the "noise."
Of course, generating any kind of action in our over-saturated media environment requires the efforts of two of your most critical teams: marketing and advocacy. It’s the job of marketing to acquire and recruit people to your cause, while advocacy works at the other end of the spectrum to activate those who are most likely to support — or are already involved at high levels with — your cause.
How do organizations achieve that happy state?
Successful cause leaders have discovered that the secret is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between your marketing and advocacy teams.
Finding the Sweet Spot
Often, when I sit down with cause leaders and ask about an upcoming event or campaign, I'm told (in so many words) that the organization is trying to expend as little of its limited resources as possible — and doing so in a siloed way. Sometimes, the marketing team will say, "Oh, it’s the advocacy team’s job to create passionate supporters and fight the good fight on the policy front," while the advocacy team members will say, "It's not our job to fill the room or make sure our message is getting to the right people. That’s marketing's job."
As anyone responsible for building a movement or a brand tied to a cause or issue knows, however, the sweet spot for any organization — the place where all its resources are used so as to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts — requires everyone, on every team, to work together.
Where am I going with this?
The challenge for a mission-driven organization — getting as many supporters as possible to amplify your cause or issue in the most effective and efficient way possible — underscores the need for two things:
- advocacy teams must establish clear, measurable milestones and metrics that define "success" for any campaign or initiative; and
- marketing teams must be given the resources and tools — including (and not least) digital tools — needed to achieve those milestones and goals.
Note: I did not number the above bullet points "1" and "2". Why, because it's not always obvious which comes first. Yes, you need supporters to help you achieve your milestones, and you need milestones that supporters can work toward, but is one more important than the other? In my opinion, the absence of clear, aspirational goals and milestones for both supporters and your marketing team invariably serves to dampen enthusiasm and depress growth. It's an approach, in my experience, that leads to modest turnouts and response rates unlikely to keep you ahead of normal attrition rates.
Let’s look at the challenge in more detail.
Success for Marketing
I've seen many marketing campaigns that exceeded expectation in terms of bringing in new supporters. The most successful ones connected the public to a specific and achievable milestone. Working in conjunction with the advocacy and fundraising teams, marketing was given clear goals and the resources it needed to rally and connect target audiences to the cause. Those teams then applied their creative talents to designing campaigns that spoke compellingly to the importance of the issue and how individuals could become involved.
In many cases, resources also were made available for marketing teams to target supporters and potential supporters through paid media ads. More customized efforts often involved influencers in enlisting their followers to help the organization achieve its goals. To be clear, I'm not talking about a "we're going to eliminate [issue] in America by 2030” appeal; instead, the language used was specific to what supporters needed to feel and see as a clear victory in the moment — this month or this year.
Success for Advocacy
In my experience, advocacy teams tend to focus on a common benchmark of success: large numbers of supporters who can be leveraged to pressure/persuade stakeholders (legislators, policy makers, donors) to take action. Which means advocacy teams need their marketing colleagues to bring in as many supporters and potential supporters as they can.
Note, too, that while advocacy teams tend to value the most engaged supporters, successful organizations and causes do not neglect supporters who can get their family and friends to act, even when they’re not especially passionate about the cause. As advocacy teams design these "friends-and-family" appeals, marketing can plug calls to action into the appropriate messaging and collateral. And as advocacy teams make progress toward their goals, marketing can share the gains with supporters as evidence of the cause's popularity — and added incentive for further engagement.
Symbiosis Is the Key
A symbiotic relationship between marketing and advocacy is essential for movement building. Yes, it’s difficult; aligning and deploying resources from different departments or budgets requires consensus and cooperation. Frankly, the ability to identify and define meaningful metrics and milestones — those small victories related to an issue or cause that an organization can "own" — is daunting, especially where fear of a misstep exists.
But when It comes together, it's a beautiful thing to behold. Let me give you an example.
412 Food Rescue
412 Food Rescue collects perfectly good food from retailers, restaurants, caterers, and others and redistributes it to the food insecure. For that part, the organization's outreach/advocacy team recruits nonprofit partners such as housing authorities, daycare centers, churches, and community centers.
Working together, the outreach/advocacy and marketing teams have created an organization that runs almost exclusively on volunteer labor and enthusiasm. Volunteers download an app that tells them where and when surplus food is available, enabling them to respond immediately as to their availability to rescue and deliver the food directly to families in need. It’s a rewarding high-touch experience for everyone involved that lets marketing put volunteers, donors, and beneficiaries at the forefront of the organization's messaging.
When making strategic decisions about how to attract more supporters to your cause, be sure to look at the challenge holistically and with the longer term in mind. And remember, when marketing and advocacy are encouraged and enabled by leadership to work together, even small wins tend to morph into bigger ones.
Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.