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Connecting with your Community: 4 Advocacy Engagement Tips
As an advocacy leader, you know the importance of spreading your message far and wide. However, your strongest and most valuable support will often come from your local community. Whether you’re looking to find volunteers, raise funds, or spread awareness about your new campaign, your community should be the first place you start.
Of course, building strong connections within your community won’t necessarily happen just because you’re in close proximity to them. Instead, your advocacy group should play an active role in forging these connections and keeping them strong through continuous engagement opportunities.
To help your advocacy group get inspired and learn how to build stronger community inroads, this article will walk through four ways you can connect with your communities members:
- Canvass your community.
- Launch a peer-to-peer fundraiser.
- Host community events.
- Partner with local businesses.
Attaining strong, loyal support will require time and consistent dedication, but these tips aim to give your advocacy group ways to speed up this process by getting in touch with more people faster and in a more meaningful way. Let's get started.
1. Canvass your community.
To learn more about your community and spread awareness of your cause, your advocacy group should consider launching a canvassing campaign.
Traditional door-to-door and street canvassing allows your advocacy group to make face-to-face connections with members of your community. Plus, canvassing tools have advanced to the point where you can also try virtual canvassing to continue meeting with members of your community even from home.
Successful canvassing campaigns require preparation and planning. Grassroots Unwired’s canvassing tips provide some helpful insight into a few best practices you should adopt for your next canvassing campaign:
- Set attainable goals. Before launching your canvassing campaign, ensure you understand why you are doing so and what you hope to accomplish. This goal should be based on data regarding your past campaigns and current resources, ensuring that while it might require a dedicated push to achieve, it is attainable.
- Create branching scripts. Before sending your canvassers out into your community, ensure they receive proper onboarding. This is important for new and seasoned canvassers. Even the most well trained volunteers may forget an important point about your campaign in the midst of what can sometimes be unpredictable conversations. You can assist them in steering conversations back to your campaign with branching scripts designed to touch on all of your most important points.
- Invest in canvassing software. Canvassing software has the potential to speed up many parts of the canvassing process, including data entry, donation collection, supporter follow-up, and communication between your volunteers and their supervisors. Research canvassing software to see if an upgrade makes sense for your campaign.
Additionally, be conscious about your volunteers’ ability to canvass certain neighborhoods. For example, volunteers will find more success canvassing communities they are familiar with and have friends and family in. By contrast, other volunteers may want to participate in your canvassing efforts but lack needed transportation. These volunteers might instead be strong candidates for your virtual canvassing program.
2. Launch a peer-to-peer fundraiser.
You can form more connections in your community by leveraging your supporters’ personal networks through peer-to-peer campaigns. Peer-to-peer fundraisers can attract attention to your advocacy group and earn additional revenue by having your supporters campaign on your behalf and by setting up individual donation pages that present their unique reasons for supporting your cause.
Peer-to-peer campaigns tend to have several moving parts and can become complicated the more volunteers you have participating. You can stay organized and set your volunteers up for success by:
- Onboarding your volunteers. After recruiting your volunteers, be sure to host an onboarding session where you explain the basics of your campaign and how they should discuss your advocacy organization. This will also be an opportunity to answer questions, explain to volunteers who they can approach at your organization if they need help, and provide initial technical help for getting their personal donation pages set up.
- Offering technical assistance. Your volunteers’ friends and family will appreciate being able to donate to a specific volunteer’s donation page. This means your organization will need to help your volunteers set up and maintain these pages throughout your campaign. You can give them a strong start by providing templates for them to add their personal details and ensuring they know who to get in touch with at your organization if they encounter technical issues.
- Providing continued support. You can keep your campaign going strong by routinely touching base with your volunteers to motivate them. This can include thanking volunteers for their work so far, helping them with any obstacles they’ve encountered, and putting them in touch with other volunteers to create a greater sense of community around your campaign.
This can be an especially valuable method for expanding your network as individuals will be more likely to take an interest in your campaign if someone they already trust explains why supporting your advocacy group is worthwhile. After your campaign, be sure to follow up with new donors brought in through your peer-to-peer efforts to solidify their support.
3. Host community events.
Events are fun, social opportunities for your community to come together to engage with your advocacy group. Many advocacy organizations keep a full event calendar throughout the year to continually raise funds and awareness, while also giving themselves a chance to touch base with supporters in person and reinforce their connections with them.
Hosting events can also help attract attention not just to your cause, but to your organization as a whole, especially if your advocacy group is still new in your community. These types of events should aim to draw a large crowd to attract a wide initial audience, some of whom may then become more dedicated supporters, donors, and volunteers.
Here are a few types of events you can consider hosting:
- 5K fundraisers. 5K fundraiser events inspire your community to get active, while also earning your organization revenue and drawing attention to your cause. You can also pair your 5K fundraisers with your peer-to-peer campaign, encouraging volunteers to promote your event, then connect with their friends and family at your 5K to collect donations and further discuss your advocacy group.
- Community days. Often, many communities look for opportunities to get together and enjoy their neighbors’ company. Community days vary in their activities from more sports-based field days to potlucks to live music events. When deciding what event to host, be sure to assess what resources your advocacy group currently has and can make use of at your event. Nonprofit technology can streamline marketing, volunteer recruitment, and event management.
- Rallies. When most people think of advocacy-based events, rallies will likely come to mind near the top of the list. For a rally, hold it in a public location where passersby will see your crowds and become interested in what’s going on, potentially even leading to them joining in. Ensure your rallies are staffed with volunteers who can help direct attendees and provide information about your campaign to curious community members.
For nonprofits running advocacy initiatives, hosting events can also open the door to earning additional revenue through volunteer grants. As Getting Attention’s guide to volunteer grants explains, “Volunteer grants are just one of many types of corporate giving programs. For this one, employers provide monetary grants to organizations where their employees volunteer on a regular basis.”
In other words, volunteer grants are donations made by your volunteers’ employers after they spend a certain amount of hours working for your charitable organization. Be sure to record your volunteers’ hours and help them discover if they are eligible for volunteer grants to claim this extra source of revenue.
4. Partner with local businesses.
You can find new audiences in your community by reaching out to local businesses to host events, promote your cause, and otherwise work together to benefit both your organizations. Research businesses before reaching out to them to ensure your philanthropic interests align and that they make sense as a partner for your campaign.
Businesses can help your advocacy group in a variety of ways, including:
- Sponsorships. During the planning process of your events, you can reach out to businesses for potential sponsorships. These sponsorships will provide your organization with needed funds and in exchange you can promote their businesses and connection to a good cause, giving them a reputation boost.
- Employee engagement programs. Many employees want to work at businesses committed to the public good. Some businesses may then be interested in creating staff engagement opportunities with your advocacy group, where employees volunteer at your organization as a group on designated days.
- Marketing assistance. Business owners know that connecting their business to a good cause can generate positive publicity for their organization. This means that businesses interested in helping might be inclined to also assist in your marketing efforts, as doing so will draw more attention to their connection to your organization.
When entering into an agreement with a business, be sure to talk through and have a formal agreement about what the partnership will look like. This ensures that all expectations will be met, which can in turn lead to potentially long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
About the Author:
Russ Oster, Grassroots Unwired
Russ’ first experience in the world of grassroots organizing came when he was an infant and his mother pushed him in a stroller door to door to collect signatures for the Impeach Nixon movement. Eighteen years later he embarked on his college career in Washington, DC and during that time developed a passion for campaigns and elections that started with an internship on the campaign of the first woman ever elected to Congress from the State of Virginia.
For the next 15 years Russ lived and breathed campaigns, running field operations in a wide range of races and for a number of coordinated campaign efforts. When it became obvious to Russ that the technology existed to make field efforts drastically more efficient and accountable but the solutions did not, he launched Grassroots Unwired and has worked every day since to keep GU on the cutting edge, pushing new features and enhancements to meet the needs of ever evolving grassroots organizing efforts.
Your local community will likely be your first and strongest support base. Strengthen your relationships with this key audience through regular engagement activities from canvassing and peer-to-peer campaigns to business partnerships. Good luck!