Ten Advocacy Calls to Action for Nonprofits

Is a barrage of action alerts and fundraising emails burning out your activists? Are your email open rates and click rates dropping? Breaking up the routine can help. When you ask your supporters to do something new or different, you may be able to mobilize those who’ve simply stopped responding to “the same old thing”. Even your most committed activists will likely appreciate a break from subject lines that start with “Tell Congress…” or “URGENT”. 

One of email’s strengths is its flexibility: you can use it to deliver a wide variety of “asks” and to link to content such as videos, tweets, Facebook posts and photo galleries. Whether standalone or part of a series, email can tell a more complex story than most social media posts – and an email can link to more than one thing. 

The ten CTA ideas below (plus one special bonus option) should get you started down the road to inbox variety. Each organization is different, of course, and not all the options will be a good fit for your group and its mission, so think of this list as a starting point. Perhaps you’ll come up with an entirely new action that the rest of us will rush to copy! 

1. Social media share 

Many organizations have jumpstarted their engagement rates on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram by sending emails asking supporters to share a specific post. Usually, the ask is to amplify something you’ve already posted on your own page or feed, since both Facebook and Twitter emphasize content that’s widely shared. Be sure to make it easy on your supporters by including one-click share links in your emails. 

2. Join a social media rapid response team 

Going beyond one-off share asks, some nonprofits (and political campaigns) ask supporters to sign up to receive more-frequent requests to share content socially, perhaps as part of a larger super-advocate program. This tactic is often particularly effective if your organization is under attack or your issue is in the news. Often, your emails to this committed group will include more than one share option – for instance, a series of tweets for people to choose from. 

3. Create social media content 

Not everyone can expect to create a phenomenon like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but just about any group can ask supporters to take a photo or shoot a cellphone video and post it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You might ask activists to write a hashtag on a piece of paper and hold it in the photo, for example, or film themselves talking about why they care about your issues. To keep supporters motivated, you can feature their work in email updates and share it through your organization’s social channels. 

4. Host a social media fundraiser 

Facebook now allows users to raise money for charities (nonprofits) directly through its platform, and at least judging from my own news feed, the company is featuring “X is raising money for a charitable cause” notifications prominently. When you email people to ask them to host a fundraiser, be sure to include straightforward instructions to help them through the process of setting up a fundraising post. Note that you can email your list en masse, or you might take a more targeted approach. For instance, since many people “donate” their birthdays to fundraise for a cause, you might automatically send someone an email a few days before their birthday  if you have that date on record. 

5. Give their opinion 

Many organizations regularly poll their members about issues large and small. What priorities should they focus on? What issues do people care about the most? Which t-shirt design do they prefer? When your supporters feel that you actually care about what they think, the feeling is likely to go both ways. Tapping their thoughts can be as simple as emailing a link to a SurveyMonkey online questionnaire. 

6. Recruit a friend 

Nonprofits have been asking supporters to recruit friends and family via email since the dawn of the public internet, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try it, too. You might ask people to send friends to a high-value action or petition, or you might encourage them to invite their contacts to follow you on Facebook. Either way, you can ask via email. 

7. Join a conference call 

Cross-channel promotion means more than just digital: email can spark plenty of actions in the real world. Many nonprofits have deepened their connection with supporters by inviting them to join a conference call with other advocates, issue experts or their senior leadership. Bonus points if you recruit a celebrity to take part! 

8. Host a house party 

Conference calls can connect people in person, too, when you use them as the hook for a house party. Political campaigns often use this tactic, typically combining it with a fundraising ask. As usual, try to make the hosting process as easy on your supporters as possible.  Of course, you don’t need a conference call to have a party! Any time your supporters can meet in person, it’s likely to deepen their personal connection to your cause.  

9. Visit a district office 

Now we’re getting ambitious: rather than calling or emailing Congress, you can ask your advocates to meet with staff in the nearest district office. Likewise, you can encourage them to talk with local political officials when appropriate. Obviously, advocates will need to know what they’re talking about when they talk with elected officials and staff, making training an important part of the process. In-depth emails can help, along with online videos, conference calls and webinars. Be sure to emphasize the importance of their own personal stories as they make their case. 

10. Live-stream from an event 

Tools like Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live have turned all of our smartphones into potential broadcast studios, and millions of us have live-streamed from concerts and rallies. During the Women’s March early in 2017, for example, activists across the country used Facebook Live to bring their friends and family to the protests virtually – a powerful amplifier. As usual, be sure to include basic instructions in your email asking supporters to live-stream. 

Special Bonus Action: Vote 

Of course, 2018 is an election year, so you may want to encourage your supporters to vote. Nonprofits are naturally cautious around elections because of the prohibition against 501(c)(3) organizations engaging in “electioneering”, but even politically active organizations can often talk about the importance of voting in the abstract and on the issues (for example, I’ve worked at nonprofits that sent register-to-vote links months before the election, framed around the issues). To make sure you’re on the right side of the IRS, be sure to consult your organization’s legal counsel before planning your strategy.