Digital advocacy is an essential tool for charities that want to drive change and make an impact on the causes they support. In the internet age, more and more people are using digital platforms to express their opinions, share information, and take action on social and political issues.
According to the World Economic Forum, between 2016 and 2021, over 159 million people have signed online petitions supporting nature, with protests growing in strength and frequency.
Charities not using digital advocacy techniques risk falling behind and missing out on opportunities to connect with supporters and amplify their message.
One of the main advantages of digital advocacy for charities is its ability to reach a wider audience than traditional advocacy methods. Through social media, email campaigns, and other online channels, charities can reach supporters and potential supporters around the world, making it easier to build a community and mobilise action. Additionally, digital advocacy can be much more cost effective than traditional advocacy methods, allowing charities with limited budgets to reach a wider audience and make a greater impact.
Another important advantage of digital advocacy is its ability to help charities build and maintain relationships with supporters. Through online engagement, charities can provide regular updates, share stories, and build trust with their followers. This can help to foster a sense of community and motivate supporters to take action in support of the charity’s cause.
Overall, digital advocacy is essential for charities that want to build a community of engaged supporters, reach a wider audience, and ensure they have impact. By using a range of digital advocacy techniques, charities can expand their reach, raise awareness, and drive meaningful change beyond traditional fundraising efforts.
What is Digital Advocacy?
Digital advocacy is the use of digital technologies and online communication channels to advocate for a particular cause or issue. It involves leveraging a range of digital tools and strategies, including social media, email campaigns, online petitions, and other digital channels, to raise awareness, mobilise support, and drive action on the issues that matter. Digital advocacy enables individuals and organisations to reach a wider audience and connect with supporters in new ways. It can be a powerful tool for driving change on a range of social, political, and environmental issues.
Ways in which digital advocacy can drive change beyond fundraising
Digital advocacy can drive change beyond fundraising in several ways:
By leveraging social media, email campaigns, and other digital channels, charities can raise awareness about the issues they care about and build a community of engaged supporters. This helps educate the public, change perceptions, and drive action on the issues that matter.
Digital advocacy can help charities mobilise support for their causes, including building grassroots support, organising demonstrations, and pressuring decision-makers to take action. Through online petitions and social media campaigns, charities can demonstrate public support and put pressure on policymakers and other stakeholders to take action.
Digital advocacy can help charities build and maintain relationships with supporters by providing regular updates, sharing stories, and fostering a sense of community. By building a strong online presence, charities can engage with supporters and build trust, which can lead to increased support and action over time.
Creating a Platform for Change
Digital advocacy can create a platform for change beyond traditional fundraising efforts. By using digital tools to engage with supporters, charities can create a network of engaged individuals who are passionate about their cause and motivated to take action. This can drive change on a larger scale and make a lasting impact.
With the right digital advocacy strategies, charities can engage decision-makers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to drive positive change.
Influencing public opinion
By leveraging social media and other digital channels, charities can help shape public opinion and build momentum for important issues.
Encouraging behaviour change
Through digital advocacy, charities can encourage behaviour change and help people adopt more sustainable or socially responsible behaviours.
Generating media coverage
Successful digital advocacy campaigns can generate media coverage and help bring important issues to the attention of a wider audience.
Empowering marginalised communities
Digital advocacy can be a powerful tool for empowering marginalised communities and giving them a voice in the public discourse.
Charities can use digital advocacy to build alliances with other organisations, influencers, and communities to drive positive change.
Through digital advocacy, charities can promote greater transparency and accountability in government and corporate decision-making.
Driving systemic change
By addressing the root causes of social and environmental problems, digital advocacy can help drive systemic change that delivers lasting impact beyond individual campaigns.
Overall, digital advocacy can be a powerful tool for charities to drive change beyond fundraising and can help to create a platform for lasting impact and change. By leveraging a range of digital advocacy strategies and best practices, charities can mobilise support, raise awareness, and build a community of engaged supporters that can make a real difference.
Examples of digital advocacy in practice
There have been many examples of successful digital advocacy campaigns that have delivered significant change. Here are a few notable examples:
In recent years, young activists like Greta Thunberg have used digital advocacy to organise large-scale climate strikes and raise awareness about the urgent need to address climate change. These strikes have mobilised millions of people around the world and have put pressure on policymakers and businesses to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the planet.
In 2014, the kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls by the Boko Haram extremist group in Nigeria sparked a global outcry. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which originated on Twitter, used digital advocacy to raise awareness about the girls’ plight and put pressure on the Nigerian government to take action. The campaign generated significant media coverage and led to the release of some of the girls.
Save the Children’s “Most Shocking Second a Day” Campaign
This video campaign, created by the charity Save the Children, used a powerful video to raise awareness about the plight of Syrian children affected by the war. The video, which went viral on social media, helped to generate significant support for the charity’s work in the region.
Digital advocacy has proven to be a powerful tool for driving change on a range of social, political, and environmental issues. By leveraging digital tools and strategies, individuals and organisations can reach a wider audience, mobilise support, and build momentum for change in ways that were not possible in the past.
Digital advocacy vs Traditional advocacy
Advocacy has long been a crucial tool for charities to effect change on social and environmental issues. With the rise of digital technologies, the landscape of advocacy has shifted dramatically. Digital advocacy techniques like social media campaigns, online petitions, and email advocacy have emerged as powerful tools for mobilising supporters, raising awareness, and influencing public opinion.
While traditional advocacy techniques like lobbying, direct action, and community organising still have their place, digital advocacy offers a range of unique advantages and challenges.
Digital Advocacy Techniques:
Digital advocacy techniques include social media campaigns, email campaigns, online petitions, and other digital tools to mobilise supporters and promote a cause. The benefits of using digital advocacy techniques include the following:
Digital advocacy allows organisations to reach a wider audience than traditional advocacy methods, as it can be shared and amplified through social media, email, and other online platforms.
Digital advocacy provides opportunities for two-way communication, allowing organisations to build relationships with supporters and respond to feedback in real-time.
Digital advocacy is often a cost-effective way to mobilise support and raise awareness. It requires a different level of resources than traditional advocacy methods like direct mail or phone banks.
Digital advocacy provides organisations with valuable data on the effectiveness of their campaigns and outreach efforts, allowing them to make data-driven decisions about future advocacy work.
Digital advocacy allows organisations to adapt their campaigns and messaging in real time based on changing circumstances and emerging trends.
Traditional Advocacy Techniques:
Traditional advocacy techniques include door-to-door canvassing, phone banks, direct mail campaigns, and other in-person or paper-based methods to mobilise supporters and promote a cause. The benefits of using traditional advocacy techniques include:
Traditional advocacy methods can provide a personal touch that can be harder to replicate online, as they involve face-to-face interactions or tangible materials like brochures and posters.
Traditional advocacy methods have a long history of success and can be trusted and reliable methods for outreach and mobilisation.
Access to Underserved Populations
Traditional advocacy methods can reach populations that may be excluded from digital advocacy due to the digital divide.
Traditional advocacy methods often involve tangible materials, such as brochures and posters, which can provide a lasting reminder of the campaign.
Traditional advocacy methods can be perceived as more trustworthy and credible than digital advocacy, which can be viewed as less personal or less authentic.
Both digital advocacy techniques and traditional advocacy techniques have their respective strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to organisations to determine which methods best suit their goals and target audiences.
Many organisations use a combination of both digital and traditional advocacy techniques to maximise their impact and reach as many supporters as possible.
The Role of Storytelling and Branding in Digital Advocacy
In addition to using specific digital advocacy techniques, storytelling and branding can also play a critical role in driving change through digital advocacy. By telling compelling stories and developing a strong brand, charities can help to build trust and motivate supporters to take action. This can include using social media platforms to share stories and photos that illustrate the impact of the charity’s work or developing a strong visual identity that helps to differentiate the charity from others in the sector.
Learn more about using storytelling in digital advocacy campaigns in my article here.
The Importance of Building Online Communities
Building and nurturing online communities is another important component of successful digital advocacy efforts. By creating spaces where supporters can connect with each other and the charity, charities can build a sense of community and create a platform for ongoing engagement. This can include online forums, social media groups, and other channels where supporters can share stories, ask questions, and engage with the charity on an ongoing basis.
Challenges that charities may face when engaging in digital advocacy efforts.
While digital advocacy can be an incredibly powerful tool for charities to drive change, it can also present a number of challenges. Here are some of the common challenges that charities may face when engaging in digital advocacy efforts:
Many charities operate with limited resources, making it difficult to invest in the technology and staff needed to build a robust digital advocacy program. This can limit their ability to engage with supporters and achieve their goals effectively.
In a world where people are constantly bombarded with messages, it can be difficult for charities to break through the noise and capture people’s attention. This can make it challenging to get supporters to take action.
Knowing how to cut through the noise, how to use digital technology such as social ads and search engines to reach your desired audiences, and knowing how to plan your information architecture to take people on a journey and not bombard them is vital to reduce information overload, and make digital advocacy campaigns more inclusive.
Platform algorithm changes
Social media platforms and other digital tools are constantly evolving, making it difficult for charities to stay up to date with the latest best practices and algorithms. Changes to platform algorithms can also impact the visibility of charities’ content, making it harder to reach supporters.
Lack of trust
In some cases, the public may be wary of digital advocacy efforts, especially if they feel that charities are not transparent about their motivations or how they use supporter data. Building trust with supporters can be a key challenge for charities looking to engage in digital advocacy.
Charities must ensure that their digital advocacy efforts comply with various laws and regulations. For example, in some countries, charities may be required to register with government agencies or obtain permits before engaging in certain types of advocacy. Charities are also subject to data protection and privacy laws that govern how they collect, store, and use supporter data.
Limited impact measurement
It can be challenging for charities to measure the impact of their digital advocacy efforts, making it difficult to determine whether their actions are effective or need to change their strategy.
Measuring impact can be particularly challenging when it comes to long-term goals, such as changing public attitudes or influencing government policy. Charities must find ways to track and measure impact over time to refine their digital advocacy strategies and maximise their impact.
Addressing these challenges will require a thoughtful approach to technology and communications and a commitment to building strong relationships with supporters.
Ethical responsibilities that charities have when engaging in digital advocacy
Charities have ethical responsibilities when engaging in digital advocacy, which include:
Charities should be transparent about their digital advocacy efforts and disclose any financial relationships or partnerships that may exist. This includes identifying the sources of funding for their advocacy campaigns and ensuring that their messaging is truthful and accurate.
Charities should be careful to protect the privacy of their supporters and ensure that any data collected is used ethically and securely. This includes obtaining consent from supporters before collecting their personal information and ensuring that their data is not shared with third parties without their consent.
Fairness and inclusion
Charities should ensure that their digital advocacy campaigns are fair and do not discriminate against individuals or groups. This includes avoiding the use of stereotypes or offensive language and ensuring that their campaigns do not perpetuate systemic biases.
I would go as far as saying that it’s a charity’s responsibility to ensure its digital advocacy campaigns are inclusive and accessible. This includes making sure that their communication takes into account people with disabilities.
Charities should be accountable for the impact of their digital advocacy efforts and be willing to engage in dialogue with supporters and other stakeholders about their goals, strategies, and impact. This includes being willing to listen to feedback and criticism and taking action to address any concerns that may arise.
Charities should respect the autonomy of their supporters and ensure that they are not exploited or coerced into supporting their advocacy efforts. This includes ensuring that supporters can opt out of communications and advocacy efforts and are not subjected to undue pressure or influence.
It’s also important to be clear about what people’s data will be used for. For example, when someone signs a petition, it may not be clear that the charity plans to sign them up to all their email and postal communication channels asking for funds and support with subjects the website visitor isn’t interested in.
How can charities measure the success of their digital advocacy campaigns?
One of the key challenges charities face with digital advocacy campaigns is measuring the success of campaigns. Success can look like many things, and it is important to set out what success looks like at the beginning of a campaign. Some ideas of how charities can measure the success of their digital advocacy campaigns by tracking key metrics are as follows:
ReachCharities can track the number of people exposed to their messaging through various channels, such as social media, email, press coverage or website traffic. This can provide insights into how many people are being reached and how effective their outreach efforts are.
Charities can track the level of engagement their campaigns generate, such as the number of likes, shares, comments, or clicks on their content. This can provide insights into how interested and invested their supporters are in the cause.
Charities can track the number of people who take a specific action, such as signing a petition, making a donation, or contacting their elected representatives. This can provide insights into how effective their messaging is at driving action and creating change.
Charities can track the impact of their campaigns on the issues they are advocating for, such as changes in public opinion or policy decisions. This can provide insights into the effectiveness of their campaigns in driving tangible results. Polls and surveys are helpful for tracking this data.
Charities can track the cost of their digital advocacy campaigns, such as the cost per click, impression, or conversion. This provides insights into the cost-effectiveness of their campaigns and helps them to optimise their spending and plan budgets for future campaigns,
By tracking these metrics, charities can measure the success of their digital advocacy campaigns and make data-driven decisions to optimise their efforts and achieve their goals.
Best Practices for Successful Digital Advocacy Campaigns
There are several best practices for successful digital advocacy campaigns that charities can follow to increase their chances of success. These include:
Set clear goals
Charities should set clear and measurable goals for their digital advocacy campaigns, such as increasing awareness of an issue, changing public attitudes, or influencing policy decisions. This will help them to focus their efforts and track their progress.
Know your audience
Charities should clearly understand their target audience and tailor their messaging and tactics accordingly. This includes understanding their supporters’ demographics, interests, and preferences and crafting messaging that resonates with them.
Build a strong online presence
Charities should establish a strong online presence, including a website and social media accounts, that clearly communicate their mission, goals, and impact. They should also use search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques to make it easier for supporters to find their content online.
Charities should use storytelling techniques to engage supporters and make messaging more compelling. This includes sharing personal stories, where possible, of those affected by the issue and showing how their advocacy efforts can make a difference.
Leverage online communities
Charities should build and nurture online communities, including social media groups and email lists, to engage supporters and build momentum for their campaigns. They should also encourage supporters to share their messaging with their own networks to increase reach.
Monitor and adjust
Charities should closely monitor their digital advocacy campaigns and track their progress towards their goals. They should also be willing to adjust their tactics and messaging as needed to increase their impact.
Follow ethical guidelines
Charities should follow ethical guidelines for digital advocacy, including being transparent, respecting privacy, and avoiding discrimination. This will help to build trust with supporters and increase the effectiveness of their campaigns.
By following these best practices, charities can increase the impact of their digital advocacy campaigns and drive positive change on the issues that matter most to them.
In today’s digital age, fundraising is no longer the only way for charities to make a difference. Digital advocacy offers a powerful tool for charities to raise awareness, mobilise support, and drive meaningful change. By leveraging a range of digital advocacy strategies, telling compelling stories, and building strong online communities, charities can build a powerful platform for change that extends beyond traditional fundraising efforts. By following best practices and staying on top of emerging trends, charities can ensure that their digital advocacy efforts are effective, impactful, and aligned with their mission and values.
As a charity, you have the power to drive change beyond fundraising. Digital advocacy can be a powerful tool to engage your supporters, raise awareness, and drive tangible results.
If you’re looking to explore the world of digital advocacy, don’t hesitate to reach out for support and consultancy. As an experienced digital advocacy professional, I can provide guidance and support to help you achieve your goals.
Whether you need help setting up and running digital advocacy campaigns, developing storytelling and content strategies, or measuring the success of your efforts, I am here to help.
Let’s work together to create a better world through digital advocacy. Contact me today to learn more about how we can work together to achieve your mission and drive change.