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Engaging your supporters to make an impact this election year

March 22, 2024
10 min read

As Europe prepares for a significant year for democracy; organisations are faced with the challenges and opportunities that come with engaging their supporters in an election period. In early March, the NationBuilder London team, and certified partners, Giant Digital, brought together leaders across the charity and advocacy sector to discuss strategies and insights for crafting impactful advocacy campaigns.

In this blog post, we’ll share some key lessons learnt from the discussion between NationBuilder customers NUS and Best for Britain as well as Giant Digital and the League Against Cruel Sports on how organisations can best learn how to engage with supporters on the issues closest to their hearts, foster meaningful relationships and leave a lasting impact on the political landscape.

1. Election 2024 is too important for organisations not to engage with

Primarily, elections offer a crucial opportunity for political parties to commit to tangible change, potentially resulting in new legislation that aligns with your organisation's goals. This provides a unique and pivotal opportunity to attract new supporters and deepen relationships with existing ones, especially amid societal crises and heightened political energy. Secondly, with the potential for a shift in government, there's an opportunity to capture public attention, which is where it becomes advantageous to segment and define your audiences so you can send them messages that resonate with their interests in your cause.

“...people all have opinions probably linked to your organisation, so if you can give them something to engage with, don’t miss the moment of change that elections provide. Give people the opportunity to say they stand for something, and that can be as simple as a hand raiser…”

Corrine Heaney, National Union of Students

By recognising the link between governmental decision-making and the missions of most charities and nonprofits, engaging in upcoming elections bridges the gap between political discourse and grassroots activism and community organising.

2. Charities can engage around elections more than many assume

Whilst not all charities or organisations will necessarily feel comfortable with engaging on a political level in fear of alienating their supporter base or falling foul of rules, panellists shared that there is more that charities are allowed to do than many might think; and organisations have a responsibility to engage.

Crucially though, all panellists shared that the UK Electoral Commission is incredibly helpful and accessible in addressing questions on what can and can’t be done by organisations 

And whilst it is totally understandable (and in many cases advised) that organisations don’t ‘pick a side’, the opportunity to engage in their area of expertise is not just a lost opportunity for building relationships with supporters but also possibly a once in a generation opportunity to make a meaningful mark on key issues. 

“...there's really no reason not to campaign in an election year, and not to ask the next government to help you out with your charitable objectives or organisational objectives - it is essentially what they're there for…”

Emma Judd, League Against Cruel Sports 

3. Engaging with candidates & parties helps to build relationships with supporters

There are two sides of the same coin when developing a strategy during an election year; engaging your supporters and engaging with candidates – and this can be a joint process by empowering your supporters to advocate on your behalf. By drawing on your supporters to use their own voice, not only do they feel actively involved, but you increase the chances of getting candidates to respond by linking campaign messages to the concerns of their electorates; and all the while you can bring in new supporters in the process.

“As a campaign and organisation, the general election just gives us a really big opportunity to amplify our work, to reach more people. It's allowed us to create our manifestos, create some really clear asks for people, and it means that we can reach new audiences” 

Corrine Heaney, National Union of Students

An election year can often leave supporters with a sense of campaign fatigue. Building these relationships with both candidates and your supporters in an election year can help to demonstrate the relevance of your organisation’s work across wider policy initiatives. By offering supporters a direct avenue to take action, a tool like ActionButton, designed to facilitate engagement, can increase the likelihood that your audience stays involved with your work. And with a robust process in place you have the chance to close the feedback loop by letting those who take action share their findings. Then your organisation can learn the impact of their message and understand what is left to be done.

 Read more: How To: Success Strategies To Create a Pre-Election Advocacy Campaign

4. Engagement strategies focussed around putting supporters at the centre 

Strategies for engagement can vary, depending on the organisation’s goals. For NUS, their strategy was centred around identifying the key constituencies that young people were in and focussing their engagement accordingly; utilising the NationBuilder auto-districting tools enables them to easily identify which constituencies which supporters are in and communicate with them accordingly. For Best for Britain, the strategy was baked into putting the tools in the hands of their target audience. This involved getting the attention of candidates by asking supporters to write to their MPs or, and in cases of unresponsiveness, strategically targeting local papers for visibility. And for League Against Cruel Sports, their template was all about mixing in the online and digital activity with crucial in person meetings and events.

“...If you find some MPs (especially those in safe seats) don't respond, get people in those areas to write to their local paper. An MPs' team will definitely notice it - sometimes sooner than an inbox full of similar looking emails” 

Cal Roscow, Best for Britain 

 Read more: 5 essential tools to master an engaging communication strategy
 Read more: How Best for Britain Amplified Voter Voices using ActionButton

5. Boost supporter engagement and get to know your supporters with policy discussions

Beyond engaging with politicians and potential future politicians, there were also a number of other examples on show for how organisations were engaging with supporters. 

NUS used their NationBuilder infrastructure to build out a microsite called ‘What Students Think’, to collect sentiments from 10,000 students over a few weeks via surveys, suggestion pages and petitions. This was followed up with in-person events to build up robust policy responses and culminated in the launch of a public manifesto that forms the basis of their election engagement.


6. Fundraising opportunities can be found when tying in with wider initiatives

When it comes to fundraising, this can be an area met with trepidation given the sheer amount of requests for donations in an election year and twinned with challenging economic circumstances. Nevertheless, Emma from League Against Cruel Sports is clear that fundraising has to be a key part for any integrated political campaign plan and can fit in well with updating supporters on tangible information related to their initiatives and utilising that as a hook for donation; helping connect people to specific actions they have going on and in turn building relationships.

Others agreed that having activities that are visible and relatable to the political and media cycle actually opened up a great opportunity for bringing in donations; so long as that was twinned with other ways for people to get involved beyond mere donations. On top of this, contextual messaging to make things relevant to supporters as well as reactive initiatives, like spinning up a rapid donation page relevant to a current issue are great opportunities to bring in donations in this context. As well as following up and thanking donors.

 Read more: 5 ways to customise your fundraising efforts

 Read More: Pivot on a dime with the tools already in place

7. Connecting digitally is a changing landscape that is as relevant as ever

The team at Giant Digital named that there are multiple digital trends that are important to follow given the power that technology has in equipping individuals to influence government policies and foster ongoing dialogue. 

Tools like NationBuilder and ActionButton serve as powerful digital tools for engaging supporters and driving impactful grassroots efforts. NationBuilder provides the digital infrastructure for managing voters, organising action driven campaigns and communicating with supporters. It enables organisations to segment supporters based on various criteria, such as demographics, voting districts or engagement level, allowing for outreach to targeted audiences and dynamic, personalised messaging. And finally, engaging your stakeholders in an election period and beyond, these tools will enable you to maintain your supporter base and ensure they never miss a moment to act when they’re inspired. 

Beyond these key tools there’s are multiple digital trends to keep on top of, many of which might be somewhat different to previous elections; whether it’s monitoring a different experience of social media platforms like X (Twitter) for journalists and policy-makers discussions, engaging on TikTok or SnapChat for young people or harnessing WhatsApp or linked to meet supporters where they’re at… and that’s before we even get into AI (which is a topic for another conversation altogether….)

 Read More: Using Whatsapp With NationBuilder

8. Measuring impact is key to setting goals and staying on track

In the flurry of activity that characterises an election year, it's important to go in with specific goals on what you’re trying to achieve. Measuring the impact of advocacy and engagement efforts can be used to motivate these supporters, strategise for future campaigns, and help to keep focus in a landscape of many distractions. By closely monitoring indicators like digital engagement, surveys/polling or even references to an issue or organisation in key debates; organisations can gauge the effectiveness of their advocacy campaigns in real-time, allowing for timely adjustments and strategies for improvement. This will be a key factor towards maintaining long term supporter engagement and garnering wider public support.

“...It’s important to make sure that we're not conflicting - that we're not sending out too many messages on too many different topics…but by using all of the tools at our disposal -  our website, our supporter communications, our social media, everything like that, to repeat our messages … and normally by the time you're getting sick of hearing it, people are just about starting to pay attention and that really makes a difference

Emma Judd, League Against Cruel Sports 

How exactly this is done, can vary from one organisation to another. For NUS, that’s using a monthly campaign tracker across their actions and social channels which they feed in from NationBuilder Insights, Google Analytics and social media insights. They review that as a management team monthly, feed into quarterly board reports and produce an annual impact report.

By actively asking for feedback from stakeholders, supporters, and the wider public through surveys or social media interactions, you can gain valuable insights into the perceived effectiveness and relevance of advocacy campaigns. This two-way communication fosters transparency, accountability, and trust, empowering supporters to actively contribute to the advocacy process and showcase as an organisation the commitment you have to driving positive change in an election period and beyond.

In summary, there are different levels at which organisations can get involved; whether that’s simply asking your supporters how they feel about a certain issue, encouraging supporters to back a petition on a specific pledge or more sustained advocacy, enhancing voter turnout, or on-the-ground activity. Overall, the common theme across all panellists and guests is that with such a crucial generational election coming up, there’s too much at stake not to take part.

If you want to learn more about how to deploy these strategies using NationBuilder's tools, get in touch with the team today!

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Sarah Gaylard

Sarah Gaylard

Organiser📍London, United Kingdom

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