By: Brandon Arrieta | Executive Director | Lambs For Life

Advocacy is defined as the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal and establishes the foundation or mission for nonprofit organizations. Among some of the best-known and widely supported 501(c)(3) organizations advocating for a cause or change are the March of Dimes (healthy infants), the Red Cross (disaster relief), and Habitat for Humanity (homes for people in need). As important a role advocacy plays in a nonprofit’s existence though, it is often overlooked or undervalued as a driver of fundraising. Approaching advocacy with a strategic plan that specifically addresses fundraising not only solidifies the message and earns the organization distinction, it also supports short- and long-term fundraising efforts.

Elements of Effective Advocacy

Successful organizations understand that advocacy and fundraising are intertwined, thus they approach both with a strategy that allows one to reinforce the other. The pitfalls of fundraising are well known — it can be challenging and time consuming for a small nonprofit staff, there is a lot of competition for a finite pool, and the lead-time is often long for individual and corporate donations. Focusing on advocacy rather than fundraising itself gives nonprofit leadership the power to transform the organization without consuming most of its resources in fundraising efforts.

So what does effective advocacy look like? Simply put, effective advocacy includes activities that amplify and extend your message to supporters, volunteers and donors. Depending on the organization and their mission, advocacy tactics may include any combination of government affairs, media relations, public relations, and marketing. With this in mind, some nonprofits take the approach of “friendraising” which allows them to identify their target audience and inspire them to get involved. New friends of the organization create strategic partnerships, corporate sponsors, private donors and teams of volunteers. Nonprofits that focus on friendraising report that fundraising comes more naturally, requires less effort and creates lasting relationships.

Advocacy Tactics that Support Fundraising

Of the activities that comprise nonprofit advocacy, three tactics have the largest potential impact on your fundraising efforts and should be part of any strategic plan.

  • Public relations includes the strategic use of your website, social media campaigns, advertising/marketing, thought leadership, branding and community engagement.
  • Media relations quickly spreads a message to a wide audience through press releases, interviews, events and publications.

Both public relations and media relations allow an organization to reach a broader audience and to solicit a motivated response not directly linked to fundraising.

  • Government affairs activities promote legislation or policy reform and provide your organization with ongoing opportunities to make news and report results to friends of the nonprofit.

When done correctly, these activities complement and reinforce each other, carry a consistent message and make use of a strong emotional appeal.

Strategic Advocacy Promotes Sustainable Fundraising Results

Committing to a strong advocacy strategy is the first step to meaningful change for your organization, both in addressing your core mission and creating a sustainable impact on fundraising results. For established nonprofits, the process often begins with an evaluation of the organization’s current advocacy framework. This approach helps the organization refine its message, clarify the intended audience, identify appropriate tactics to carry the message, and explore partnerships and alliances to extend the organization’s reach. With these areas addressed as part of a comprehensive strategy, fundraising becomes a natural byproduct of a strong advocacy approach.

If your organization is ready to tackle advocacy with a comprehensive strategy and address its fundraising challenges, discuss your goals with a nonprofit advocacy professional. For more information, contact Jackie Cardello at 301-951-9090 or jcardello@grfcpa.com.

About the Author

Brandon Arrieta is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Lambs for Life, a nonprofit based in Hilton Head, SC focused on childhood cancer. His proficiency in the area of nonprofit advocacy has allowed the organization to record several achievements in the goal to create and fund a pediatric division of the National Cancer Institute.