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Organise a campaign

Advocacy campaign planning for nonprofits
9 min read
Last update: Nov 19, 2023
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In this guide, we explain how to organise a campaign. Learn how to advocate your cause with the right campaign planning. Go beyond raising awareness and make change happen.

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Not to be confused with: This guide is about activist campaigns that create social change, not marketing campaigns to sell more products.

Marketing, for example making use of an advertising campaign or a social media campaign, is part of activism though. Check out our communications chapter for more information about that.

Related guides: if you are looking to develop a campaign plan, also make sure to check out our strategy chapter.

Introduction

If you're an activist who wants to make a difference, you need to know how to organise a campaign. A well-organised campaign can be the key to success, and this guide will show you how to do it.

From setting goals and targetting your audience, to choosing the right tactics and organising your team, we'll cover everything you need to know to make your campaign a success!

What is a campaign?

A campaign a strategic plan devised to reach specific objectives within a specific time frame. It usually takes several months. You might need several campaigns to achieve your goals, especially when you are fighting for a big or complex issue.

Difference with a protest actions

A campaign is different from a single protest action: A protest action is a one-off event. A campaign consists of a series of actions over a longer period of time.

Often, inexperienced activists will start by organising a single protest, after which they discover that it has not led to the desired result. Then, they continue to organise more protests, without strategically thinking about how all their actions are connected.

This causes participants to be disappointed by the impact they are making with the first few protests, because they do not see how these are contributing towards the bigger picture. Effective campaigns strategically build up towards a goal.

Difference with a movement

A campaign also differs from a social movement. A campaign usually consists of a series of actions over the span of a few months to a year, and focusses on a single issue. A movement exists for a longer period of time, and targets multiple issues within a bigger story.

Often, the injustices we are fighting are complex. A campaign focusses on changing a single issue within that complex system. In many cases, when activists win their campaign, their group falls apart because the thing that bound them together is no longer there.

This does not mean, however, that all injustices are gone. It would be a shame to let the change-making capacity you have built up with your group fall apart. This is where movements come into play. A movement communicates a message that helps people understand how various issues are connected. In addition, a movement invests more resources into building structures that allow people to work together for longer periods of time. For example, movements may put more time into community building, fundraising, coalition building and internal training programmes.

Steps to organise a campaign

1. Get people together

Start by getting together two or three likeminded people. Having a few different perspectives will help you come up with a better strategy (the next step!). And you will soon find out that lots needs to happen, so having a few people to help you comes in handy.

Protestors walking over a bridge

By Joppe | Generated using Dall-e

Grassroots organizing is an essential and powerful tool in any successful campaign. It is a type of direct action that relies on the mobilization of ordinary people to take action in their local community. Grassroots organizing is often used to build a base of support, spread awareness, and recruit volunteers and activists.

Check out our organising chapter to learn more about how to mobilise more people, keep people involved, work together with other organisations, and more:

Grassroots organising

2. Start strategising

Often, people who are new with activism will just start a petition or organise a protest march, without thinking too much about whether that helps them to achieve their goals. This is a mistake.

Instead, make a strategy first. Think about the following:

  • What you would like to achieve?

  • Who are the stakeholders?

  • How do we pressure decision makers to act?

An activist standing in front of a maze strategizing

By Joppe | Generated using Dall-e

Strategizing is a critical part of organizing a successful campaign, as it allows activists to be more informed and organized in achieving their goals. It is important to take the time to think through the steps that need to be taken to reach a desired outcome, as well as to identify the resources, tactics, and strategies that will be most effective.

Learn how to write your own campaign strategy:

Write a campaign strategy

3. Choose your action tactics

Once you have figured out your strategy, you know what type of action tactics you need to choose from to make impact. Now is the time to use your creativity and start organising an action.

In our tactics chapter, we help you answer questions like:

  • How do we prepare this action?

  • How do we make our action visually appealing?

  • How many people do we need for this action?

  • What materials do we need?

People sitting at a table having a meeting

By Joppe | Generated using Dall-e

Once you have a clear idea of the action you want to take, you can start planning and gathering the materials and resources necessary for success. You need to carefully consider what type of action is most likely to be successful and how to best use your resources. Good planning is essential for a successful action. You need to think about all the details, such as timing, location, publicity and media coverage, support from other organisations, resources, logistics, and safety. You also need to think about how you will evaluate the success of your action.

For inspiration, check out our list with action tactics used by activists around the globe:

Pick your action tactics

4. Communicate your message

You want the right people to know about your campaign. So you need to develop a communication strategy:

  • Who do we talk with?

  • What do we say?

  • What platforms do we use to share our message?

  • How do we create content to share?

Someone sitting behind their laptop taking minutes

By Joppe | Generated using Dall-e

First, you should identify your target audience. Who do you want to reach with your message? Are you targeting other activists, the media, political leaders, or the general public? Understanding who your target audience is will help you determine the best way to communicate your message.

Once you know the audience you want to reach, you need to decide what to say. What is the main message of your campaign? How will you explain the issue you are advocating for? Your message should be concise and compelling.

Next, you should determine which platforms to use to share your message. Do you plan to use social media, traditional media outlets, or email? Each platform has advantages and disadvantages. You should consider which platform is best for your campaign and the audience you plan to reach.

Finally, you need to create content to share. This could include written articles, videos, or press releases. Think about what type of content will be most effective for your campaign and the audience you are trying to reach. You should also consider how often you will be creating content and how often you will be sharing it.

Have a look at our communication chapter to learn more:

Communicate your message

5. Take care

Remember: you are in this for the long run. Do not work yourself and your fellow activists into a burnout. In our wellbeing chapter, we explain how to do activism in a healthy way.

A monkey doing calming yoga

By Joppe | Generated using Dall-e

Check out our wellbeing chapter to learn more about:

  • Self-care: Activism can be a stressful and emotionally draining experience. It is important to take care of your mental health while engaging in activism. This means taking measures to protect your mental wellbeing, such as taking breaks, setting healthy boundaries, and reaching out for help when needed. Additionally, it is important to be aware of the potential mental risks associated with activism, such as experiencing burnout or trauma. You should be prepared to deal with these issues if they arise.

  • Group care: Group care is the practice of taking care of each other within a group of activists. This includes providing emotional and physical support, setting healthy boundaries, and encouraging self-care. It is important to create a safe and nourishing environment for everyone in the group to ensure that everyone

  • Physical health: It is important to take care of your physical health while engaging in activism. This means taking measures to protect your physical well-being, such as eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Additionally, it is important to be aware of the potential physical risks associated with activism, such as exposure to tear gas, pepper spray, and other crowd control weapons. You should be prepared to give basic first aid at protests to protect yourself and others if necessary.

Learn all about group-, action- and self-care.

Wellbeing in activism

6. Pick your digital toolset

If you are not using the right digital tools, you will soon find yourself overwhelmed with boring administrative tasks. With a good digital toolset, you will be able to do more in less time.

A frog on a phone

By Joppe | Generated using Dall-e

Check out our tools chapter to learn all about:

  • Project management: Use tools to keep track of to-do's and stay on track with your team.

  • Creating a website: Allow people to sign up for events, add forms for registering as member, share guides for your volunteers, and write content so you can be found via search engines

  • Automate administrative tasks: Use tools like Zapier or n8n to make all of your digital tools work together seamlessly.

  • Digital security: You should protect yourself and fellow change-makers from hackers. As activist, you are in a high risk group.

  • And much more! For example: learn how to livesteam actions, find free stock images or record podcasts.

Check out our tools chapter, to find campaigning tools that are easy to use and affordable for nonprofits:

Pick a digital toolset

7. Know your rights

Once you start making impact, you will find that your opponents start using the law to try and stop you. Don't let them. In many countries, the law provides certain protections to activists.

Speaking truth to power

By Joppe | Generated using Dall-e

In many countries, activists have the right to peacefully protest and express their views. This is protected by the freedom of speech and assembly clauses in many constitutions. This means that you can gather together and express your opinion without fear of punishment or censorship. You may not be able to block traffic or cause harm to others in the process, but you should be able to peacefully gather and express your views without fear of being arrested.

In addition, the law also often protects activists from being surveilled or spied on without a warrant. This is important because it means that the government cannot put you under surveillance without a valid reason. This protects your privacy and allows you to be able to organize and plan for your cause without fear of the government eavesdropping on your conversations or activities.

Legal info for activists

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