How to acquire and engage new advocacy audiences

March 29, 2023 | Bianca Rosen-Spivey and Clara Campbell
How to acquire and engage new advocacy audiences
From our friends at Media Cause

If you are an organization that does advocacy—particularly if you’re wondering how to grow your supporter base and build more people power to achieve your purpose—then this is the blog for you. As a nonprofit marketing agency with a specialty in advocacy and campaigns, we’ve worked with countless folks like you across issue areas who are valiantly working to acquire and engage new advocacy audiences.

While every situation is unique, there are three main components to consider in order to be successful: First, audience insights always come first; second, you need to know how to talk to your target audiences; and finally, while you’re working hard to facilitate and drive impact, your supporters are the real heroes.

These three components are central to any acquisition and engagement effort, but perhaps even more important to the field of advocacy and mobilization. Here is how your organization can put them into practice across the lifecycle of message development and building a marketing funnel for your advocacy program.

Component 1: find your people

Before we dive into messaging specifically for acquisition and engagement, it’s important to take a step back and consider the big picture. At the center of that big picture is your target audience. Start to fill in their portrait:

  • Who are they?
  • Where are they?
  • Why are they the people who can be most impactful in this campaign?
  • How does your purpose intersect with their passion?

Component 2: know your people

Once you’ve identified your target audience, do your research to truly understand what motivates them, what they care about, what their pain points are, and what they value. Once you’ve done this, you can better understand who you need to be to engage with this audience. Position action with your organization as something that helps them be who they want to be.

With that in mind, you can create targeted and segmented messaging using calls to action (CTAs) tailored to their motivations and values.

Component 3: the supporter is the hero

To our last point, while you play an important role in facilitating their advocacy and impact, your supporters are the real heroes in this journey. Before you develop messaging at different stages of the funnel, figure out why your organization really needs your supporters. What makes them the heroes here, and how can you lean into that?

With all of this in our back pocket, let’s dive into the funnel!

How to acquire advocacy audiences

We’re going to break things down even further by looking specifically at messaging, channels, and CTAs to consider for acquiring advocacy audiences. (While keeping in mind our three components, of course!)

In our experience, it’s best not to center your campaign around the myth of the “undecided” audience—that’s the notion that there are constituents just waiting for you to ask them to do something or convince them of your cause’s importance with a list of facts. A more useful approach is to start with the understanding that there are audiences out there who could have a stake in your issue or campaign, and need you to reach, educate, and activate them. Remember that while you can’t be everything to everyone, you’ll see the best results when you spend your efforts and resources wisely, play where you can win and have the most opportunity. Identify the audiences you can speak to and develop messaging with them in mind.

Developing advocacy messaging for acquisition

At the acquisition stage of your funnel, keep your messaging high-level and focused on your shared values with your audience. While we of course want to use urgency, especially in rapid response moments, we also want to avoid overwhelming our audience.

Your messaging should lead with shared values and make it clear not only what you’re against, but what you are for. Once this is established, you can lean into the urgency of why this issue or cause needs to be addressed right now and why you need your audience to do so. (You can learn more about the building blocks of effective advocacy messaging here.)

Using the right mix of channels for acquiring advocates

The channels best suited for advocacy acquisition—although this is by no means exhaustive—are paid media and search. We find that these channels are particularly effective in delivering messaging that resonates with a top-of-funnel audience who is not already aware of your organization but cares deeply about the cause. Don’t forget your website as an acquisition tool, as well! With a strong SEO program and strategic lightbox deployments, you can also reach and capture new audiences, especially during high-profile moments for your issue area.

Use case: It Gets Better

When Media Cause partnered with It Gets Better to acquire and connect a LGBTQ+ youth audience around the globe, we relied on audience insights that showed the power of student-led initiatives and the popularity of channels like TikTok to run a paid media campaign. This campaign ultimately generated 28 million impressions and 140 completed grant applications!

Some tactics we have found particularly successful for acquisition are online petitions, downloadable PDFs with statistics, infographics, action trees, as well as Typeform quizzes that test knowledge on your issue area while at the same time providing information. (Everyone loves a quiz!)

Lastly, you might consider lead generation campaigns that offer some kind of sticker, profile frame, or another identifiable way for people to show their support for the cause while giving you their email in exchange. Ultimately, your acquisition-focused messaging should be a throughline across these various tactics and channels.

How to engage advocacy audiences

Once you’ve acquired new advocacy audiences, it’s time to engage with them!

What’s most important here is giving them something meaningful to do. Something ‘meaningful’ would be an action that you know is valuable to your audience (because you did your audience research and insights!) and actually helps you move your mission forward.

Engaging advocacy audiences with valuable action

Audiences are savvy. They know when they’re being asked to do something that bears very little weight or doesn’t demonstrate clear impact. You can invest in building a strong, long-lasting relationship with them by digging deep and identifying actions they could take to develop their leadership (speaking to that hero journey) and truly move the needle for your organization and your cause at large. Use your messaging to support this hero journey, and focus these efforts on email, organic social, and retargeted paid social campaigns in particular. These channels enable you to continue the conversation with your audience beyond the initial acquisition.

Advocacy asks that move your mission forward

You can continue to ask your acquired advocates to sign petitions as you did in the first stage of the funnel, but consider the most strategic moments to do so. These would be timely rapid response moments in the news with heightened public attention. If it’s not during an ‘on’ moment, consider collecting stories and reiterating the importance of resilience-building, which we define as growing our community’s ability to come together and respond to problems or hardships.

Use case: All In

For All In, Media Cause’s campaign with Tipping Point Community to support proven solutions to homelessness, we used email and web as key places to uplift the stories of people closest to the problem and start positive, people-centered conversations.

After the acquisition phase, your opportunities for engagement are really endless, but nonprofits should always remember to keep your audience and their journey in mind.

Key takeaways

When it comes to creating an acquisition and engagement strategy for your advocacy audiences, there are really no wrong ideas. Feel free to experiment with tactics and channels as long as you keep your three components in mind: play where you can win, audience insights are the bedrock of a successful strategy, and your audience is the main character.

Want even more ways to grow and retain your advocacy audiences? Learn more about common pillars of advocacy from Media Cause, and see how the right technology can support your efforts to engage advocates and power your purpose.