The months leading up to the presidential election in November are a critical period for philanthropic and nonprofit leaders interested in shaping public discourse around a range of issues. It promises to be a period when Americans weigh everything from plans to make health care and college more affordable to new ideas for addressing the opioid crisis, climate change, national security, and economic growth. It's also likely to be a period when philanthropy is called on to highlight important issues, contribute to and inform the national dialogue, and advocate for the public interest.
In the coming weeks, leaders at private and corporate foundations, NGOs, and nonprofits will have an opportunity to leverage the presidential election cycle to raise awareness of — and drive engagement with — their issues. From the debates and primaries still to come to the party conventions and the election itself, the moment is ripe for action.
For social-sector leaders inclined to act, there are five key elements to effective issues advocacy:
- knowing what conversations are happening around the issue you care about most;
- identifying the audiences you want to reach and deciding what you want them to do;
- creating messages and content that attracts attention and achieves desired objectives;
- selecting the best platforms for content delivery and re-targeting opportunities; and
- ensuring that everything you do is authentic and supportive of your mission.
Of course, if you really want to understand what conversations are happening — and how you can engage with them — social media listening is an essential tool. If it isn't already, your organization should be using social analytics to identify key trends across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, and other platforms, unearthing insights that can inform its communications strategy and message development. For better resourced organizations, data science applied to demographic, behavioral, and geographic characteristics can be invaluable in terms of identifying and precisely targeting the audiences that matter most to your mission.
Armed with these data-driven insights, organizations can then create message maps and start developing the kind of content — videos, GIFs, op-eds, social ads — that build on the conversations already taking place. This is where behavioral research, good design, and strategic storytelling can help you connect with your key audiences and nudge them to engage with your content and share it with others.
From a calendar perspective, the upcoming debates and party conventions will provide unique opportunities for nonprofits and foundations to advance their missions. The March 15 debate in Arizona — to be hosted by CNN, Univision, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — is especially relevant to organizations interested in shaping conversations relevant to Hispanic and/or Latinx populations. And the party conventions (DNC in July; RNC in August) will provide opportunities to reach those watching online and in attendance and engage with them both in real time and in the run-up to the general election.
Fortunately, organizations today have ways to run cost-effective and precision-targeted advertising on streaming platforms. One example is over-the-top (OTT) advertising, which can serve unskippable ads to audiences watching the debates and conventions on their smart TVs. This relatively new option allows organizations to narrow-cast content to Americans who care about issues aligned with their mission. OTT targeting is based on a viewer's interest, age, location, or behavior and may be a compelling option for some to consider in this election cycle.
The weeks and months ahead will offer many opportunities for social-sector organizations to advance their missions. Americans are engaged and ready to hear how the sector can help address the most pressing issues of the day. Now is the time. The nation wants to hear your ideas about how public policy can address our collective challenges and create a better future for everyone.
Michael J. Marker is managing director VOX Global, a strategic communications agency based in Washington, D.C.