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Key Takeaways from Our Expert Advocacy Panel

In early June 2024, the NationBuilder London team hosted a breakfast event bringing together leaders from various sectors—corporate, financial, charitable, and union—to discuss advocacy campaigning and share insights, strategies and success stories.

June 25, 2024
9 min read

The event garnered extra interest due to its timing amidst significant electoral events: the UK General Election campaign, the recent European elections, the announcement of the snap French General Election, and the upcoming US Elections. This context underscored the growing importance of advocacy campaigns as organisations across industries brace for potential changes in the political and policy landscape.

In this article, we'll review some key takeaways from the event.


NationBuilders EMEA Director, Harriet O’Halloran was joined by a range of advocacy experts representing an array of industries, these included: 

  • Becky Wright, Executive Director, Unions 21: Unions 21, connects unions by sharing insights, data, and best practices. As Executive Director, Becky oversees this work and brings a wealth of experience from various roles across the trade union movement.
  • Joshua Contreas, Global Community & Digital Campaigns Manager, Wise: Wise’s long standing commitment to their mission, community and grassroots campaigning has made them long term NationBuilder super users, as they advocate for transparent pricing in overseas transactions. Josh manages their global community and digital campaigns, focusing on grassroots campaigning and advocacy. More on their use of NationBuilder here. 
  • Chris Loy, Managing Consultant, Stonehaven Global: On behalf of Stonehaven, a communications and strategy agency, Chris harnesses NationBuilder across a number of different end clients both grassroots and corporate in order to build communities, organise grassroots campaigning, raise public awareness, manage crisis communications, disseminate research and effect real change.

Key Themes and Highlights

Despite heralding from a diverse range of industries, there were a number of key shared themes that stood out:

1. Building Advocate Audiences

Although 'advocacy' varied among the panellists in terms of audiences and objectives, a common theme emerged: the importance of identifying and building a specific audience for your advocacy work, rather than relying solely on traditional supporters, members or customers.

Panellists emphasised the importance of expanding beyond traditional audiences. Becky stated, "Unions have historically focused on our members, but to influence broader policies, we need to engage new, diverse audiences." Whilst in a corporate sense Josh shared that this meant not just focussing on customers, but those specific customers who feel passionately about the deeper mission. Chris emphasised the importance of listening to what supporters care about to build a compelling value proposition that resonates, adds value, and builds trust. He warned, “It’s easy to stray into a broadcast mode and lose this connection.”

Chris explained that the internal challenge businesses often face is in convincing stakeholders to view and manage these audiences differently. He emphasised the importance of using specialised software for such campaigns, like NationBuilder's integrated tool, instead of relying on traditional sales CRMs.

“Many businesses use a commercial CRM and can be very closely guarded with how they use it - and rightly so. Often the objectives are much different when it comes to advocacy campaigns so recognising the audience differences, and using a platform that allows you to move quickly is key. NationBuilder is great for this. All in one place, building on a lot of templates/items already produced, and no need to muck around with integrating overpriced CRM products or CMS systems - it does what it says on the tin.” - Chris Loy, Stonehaven

2. Reach, Engage and Activate

The panel emphasised the "Reach, Engage, Activate" model combined with storytelling. They recommended starting by generating as many sign ups as possible in target audiences, whether that’s through new audiences, campaign specific mini sites, utilising organic acquisition tools like NationBuilder recruiter features or via targeted social media advertising. 

Then, focus on engagement: choosing the right medium (with the panel agreeing that “email is still king”), targeting effectively, and using data to craft messages that resonate with different audiences, thereby attracting more supporters through social media advertising and other channels.

Often, the message involves educating the audience on the reality of a situation they care about and sharing stories of lived experiences.

Finally, activation. This might involve using online tools like Action Button’s sentiment polls, advocacy tools, or NationBuilder action pages and gamification features. It could also include more offline events, in Becky’s case, she described unions picking up the phones to their members. For Stonehaven, it was conducting town halls, where one can harness data collected through digital tools to identify which areas make sense to target and partner with local councillors and MPs, whilst collecting sign up and attendee data through NationBuilder event features. 

"ActionButton has been a complete game changer for us because we've been able to embed the buttons directly into our Wise landing pages and reach more people… It's important for government agencies to hear directly from people (consumers) and not always businesses because they're the ones being affected the most. We make it easy and educate people on how to engage with different government agencies so their voices can be heard." Josh Contreas, Wise

 Read more: 5 essential tools to master an engaging communication strategy

3. Importance of Storytelling

When considering engagement with supporters, members, potential advocates, policymakers, and stakeholders, the panel reiterated the importance of storytelling. In the case of Wise, this meant using both NationBuilder action pages to collect stories from people who cared. Then working closely with government relations and PR Teams to amplify these stories to both bring in new advocates as well as sharing them with policy makers, where possible mapping them directly to constituents. In doing so, they use grassroots organising and data gathering techniques to guide their grasstops advocacy efforts and complement these further with grassroots initiatives through 'Contact your Legislator' Action Button tools. The collection of the stories from grassroots supporters and then allowing these stories to drive their grasstops advocacy efforts has been successful for Wise and complemented the targeted work done with the ‘Contact your Legislator’ Action Button tool.

We collect personal stories online and amplify these voice through the media and targeted to policy makers. We have a one-pager that we leave behind at the end of meetings that includes the problem we're trying to solve, stats, and stories from people." - Josh Contreas, Wise

Similarly, Chris from Stonehaven echoed these remarks. His experience was using both data collected online via NationBuilder tools like surveys, Action Buttons, quizzes and petitions as well as in focus groups and using this data to map with MRP modelling via their inhouse ‘Compass’ tool in order to finesse messaging and precisely target relevant stories to audiences that would resonate via SEO, social media targeting and otherwise. 

"The data available in NationBuilder allows us to build on this once we've got them into our system. We look at how we can segment these groups further to target them with communications that matter." Chris Loy, Stonehaven

 Read more: Wise builds a movement of 13,000 to advocate for price transparency in international payments


4. Being Agile is Key - as is having tech that enables it

Speed and agility were highlighted by all panellists as one of the most important aspects of a successful advocacy campaign or infrastructure.  

For Becky, this was specifically around having trust in the reliability and cleanliness of data, especially in the context of snap elections being called and never knowing when you might need it. Or in the case of Unions, to be ready in the event of taking industrial action at any given time. 

For Josh and Wise, the importance of agility showed up in the use of utilising mini ‘action hub’ campaign sites which are a spin off from their main brand and very specific to the campaigning work they are doing. (In this case via their Nothing to Hide brand via NationBuilder rapid deploy websites). 

Similarly Becky shared the  example of the  National Education Union utilising ‘action-hub’  campaign sites for ‘School Cuts’  which was able to appeal to audiences beyond their traditional membership base in a way that the unions main brand would have struggled. 

“These entities are key but it’s crucial to remember to include a call to action to avoid losing engagement.” Becky Wright, Unions 21

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

5. In Targeted Advocacy - 'quality trumps quantity'

Josh shared his insights that in a crowded marketplace for advocacy, such as in the US, where lawmakers are regularly receiving thousands of communications, there is huge value in considering the quality of the target. Specifically, by targeting not just lawmakers but actually consultations or specific government agencies, they were able to get cut through that made more of an impact., even if the quantity of actions was less. And by utilising this approach they were able to make a meaningful breakthrough in ensuring that hidden fees are being exposed via warnings to consumers. 

The importance of coalitions is crucial, especially during government changes when advocacy organisations compete for attention. Forming alliances or 'knowing your friends,' as Becky puts it, is essential not only for sharing tactics and best practices but also for presenting a united advocacy approach. This approach is more likely to gain relevant attention compared to disparate efforts that might cancel each other out. Even if it means partnering with groups you don’t fully agree with on all issues, or groups who may have a shared interest but are less willing to put their name behind something,

“For a lot of businesses and organisations they've still not yet recognised the need for smart advocacy campaigning to create coalitions of support around policy asks or business objectives… They’ve got to recognise the need to create the best possible public environment that enables success but also holds businesses to account.” Chris Loy, Stonehaven

 Read more: How Best for Britain Amplified Voter Voices using ActionButton

6. Preparing for Post Election

Finally, when it comes to preparing for a post election landscape with new administrations coming in across the board, there was lots to discuss from panellists and audience alike. With new stakeholders in place, new relationships to make and new reactions to anticipate, the new landscape can be overwhelming especially for small and medium sized organisations or advocacy teams. 

Chris shared that at Stonehaven they are cognisant of the fact that for the majority of the public, the change in government does not clearly point to what that means for the specific issue that people care about and as such there’s a really important role to play in disseminating relevant information about what the impact will be on specific issues that people care about. 

This education point is just as key for the public as it is for new MPs, Ministers or Special Advisers. Many of whom may be totally new to a given specific policy area. Becky emphasised the crucial role organisations play as educators in filling skills and knowledge gaps. This effort not only helps develop relationships but also builds influence for the future.

"If you've got useful skills and knowledge, there will be  loads of special advisors who are desperate for the knowledge of that, as well as brand new MPs that didn't even think they were going to be an MP so soon." Becky Wright, Unions 21

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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Oliver Wells

Oliver Wells

Bridging the world of tech & campaigns @Nationbuilder. Previously charity & politics @S4SNextGen, @StrongerIN. Sports 🏏⛵🚴‍♂️, Dogs 🐕 & Frogs 🐸

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