Advocacy Effectiveness and ROI


What Makes Online Advocacy Most Effective?

We’ve spent years researching and experimenting to find out the characteristics of successful online advocacy. Here are the 14 factors that we have discovered contribute most to wins:

1. Successful Online Campaigns Have Easy-to-use Forms

“In tests comparing forms with real-time feedback to those without, usability testing firm Etre and I measured a: 22% increase in success rates, and a 31% increase in satisfaction rating.” – Luke Wroblewski, UX expert

Features That Multiply Your Results

It’s obvious and yet so often overlooked. If your supporters are put off by the form they have to fill in, there’s not much hope of success.

Certain features are proven to multiply the number of people who make it to your ‘thank you’ page. Our software has been built to include all of them:

  • Instant error messages – this reduces form abandonment rates.
  • Editable labels for forms
  • Use of “optional” on non-required fields
  • Sensible error checking on form fields (we don’t tell your donor off for putting spaces in a phone number, for example)
  • Ability to style or change the layout of forms in response to usability tests

2. Successful Online Advocacy Involves The Supporter In A Story Where They Are The Hero

Your supporter wants to know that their action makes a difference. Tell a great story, cast them as a star character in the plot, and you have won their lifelong support. Imagine taking them on an adventure where they can speak to royalty, slay dragons and come to the rescue. Doesn’t everybody secretly want to be part of a story like that?

Create A Sense Of Adventure

Combine a sequence of personalized emails with corresponding actions to involve your supporters deeply in your campaign. Especially if you can demonstrate how the target of your advocacy is responding.

Respond Rapidly To The Changing Political Landscape

If you’re familiar with advocacy, you know that events can sometimes take unpredictable turns. The Engaging Networks platform is there for you to set up new petitions, pledges and email-your-representative campaigns in minutes. You can then react quickly to sudden developments.

Make The Process Automatic

For even more impact, add an automatic email sequence using our triggers feature. Or set up emails that are sent in response to your supporter’s actions.

The combination of all these things can make your supporter the star of a lifetime love story with your cause…

3. Successful Online Campaigns Are On A Platform You Own – And Can Customize

Using third-party petition sites can interfere with your messaging and affect your brand in unpredictable ways. Make sure you can use your own designs. Insist that you can freely communicate with your supporters directly in the manner you choose.

Have Your Pages Exactly How You Want Them

Our platform allows you to customize and design your campaign pages exactly how you want them. No competing branding. No rigid forms. No tight structures that you have to work around. You keep and control ALL your data, too. By using our platform, your supporters are safe from being enticed away by other non-profits.

Even without technical knowledge, you can customize:

  • form fields that are included in any page
  • format of the fields
  • labels
  • error messages and error checking (or validation)
  • buttons
  • default content for form fields
  • grouping and placement of form fields
  • changing the form instantly depending on what users select – also known as dependencies (for example, a supporter selects ‘United States’ as their country and the ‘region’ field changes from a list of provinces to a list of states)
  • number of pages in the sequence (for example, a campaign could be on a single page, or split over three pages, with content and fields on any page)
  • page content
  • If you know Cascading Style Sheets and HTML, you can also change the styling of any element that appears in your visitor’s browser (such as forms, fonts, and so on).

4. Successful Online Campaigns Are Built For Sharing

“The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) experienced major list growth success with the Petition for Poultry, an online petition that took advantage of a highly effective list growth technique known as “viral list building.” Viral list building puts recruitment tools into the hands of existing online constituents, enabling them to recruit other subscribers themselves. The Petition for Poultry grew HSUS’s e-mail list virally by over 16,000 new members (7 percent) in just three weeks. Thousands signed the petition, surpassing its original goal of 25,000 signatures to reach more than 57,000 signatures by Thanksgiving, and 146,000 signers to date.” – eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, M+R Strategic Services, Advocacy Institute

Life (And Advocacy) Is Built On Friendships

When you build a campaign using Engaging Networks, it’s ready to share. You can automatically include social sharing links. You can make your campaign page redirect to an ‘email to a friend’ page once a visitor has taken action. You can send a thank you email which is personalized for the user and ripe for forwarding around.

5. Successful Online Campaigns Are Integrated With Other Media

“Data strongly suggests that involving your online subscribers in real, on-the-ground activities will make your subscribers more active in your online program as well.” – eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, M+R Strategic Services, Advocacy Institute

Use Other Channels

Online campaigns that succeed tend to use a number of different channels (whether web, telephone, newspapers, TV or adverts on buses). Co-ordinating these different activities can sometimes be tricky. Our platform offers you a number of different features that help with this:

You can duplicate and edit entire campaigns quickly and easily if your PR team get a sudden win like an interview with a major newspaper.

You can collect all sorts of data from your supporters including phone numbers and locations. This allows you to connect with them across different channels. For example, if you want to use a telephone marketing agency to call supporters and see if they would volunteer for you, you can export a list of phone numbers easily.

We have an API that allows you to draw data in and out of our database. This means you can do things like use SMS to communicate with your supporters and then store their responses.

6. Successful Online Campaigns Are Tied In To Fundraising

People Want To Do More Than Sign Petitions

This may sound obvious, but your supporter is a person who believes in your campaign. They may want to support you in other ways than adding their name to a petition. Offer them the opportunity to give, show the impact of their donation, and you have a solid friend. Do this repeatedly, and you have a lifelong relationship. Plus, a great bonus: more donations!

Giving Money And Taking Action Should Be Offered Together

Our platform is built to integrate online advocacy and fundraising. The two work together seamlessly. At the point when your supporter is feeling the warm glow of satisfaction from signing your petition, you can ask them to put their money behind it as well.

An Integrated System Means Increased Donations

Not only are supporters more likely to give at this point, but pre-filling their data in the donation form also increases your chances of a gift. This is only possible when you have a properly integrated system like the Engaging Networks platform.

7. Successful Online Advocacy Makes Use Of Social Media

In some cases, our clients receive 50% of their email actions from Facebook. They have also found that, depending on the campaign, Facebook supporters are twice as likely to take the action.

Track Your Campaigns From Social Media To Thank You Page And Beyond

Use Engaging Networks’ campaign widgets to enable your supporters to sign your petition directly on Facebook. Keep up with the results using our tracking and reporting tools. Feature social sharing tools on your campaign thank you page.

8. Successful Online Campaigns Are Personalized To Supporters

“Targeting based on geography and issue interest area increased e-mail open rates, click-through rates, page completion rates, and response rates as compared to messages sent to the whole list. Targeting by geography had a particular impact, increasing overall click-through rates by 3 percent, page completion rates by almost 7 percent, and response rates by 4 percent.” – eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, M+R Strategic Services, Advocacy Institute

Your Supporters Should Understand That You Know And Care About Their Circumstances

The more your supporters understand that you know and care about their personal circumstances, the more likely they are to interact with you. Use our segmentation, personalization and profiling tools to send out messages that are tailored to individuals. For example, if your supporter is based in Kentucky, you can grab their attention by talking about local events there.

9. Successful Online Campaigns Get Tested And Improved On An Ongoing Basis

“It’s never over. It’s a process of constant evolution. We keep track of things we’d like to learn how to do or get better at, and we revisit that list a few times per year in order to quickly cycle from sticking point to solution.” – Will Horter, Dogwood Initiative and chair of Conservation Voters of BC

What If Your Email Subject Lines Were Costing You Thousands Of Petition Signatures?


The 2012 Obama campaign discovered through vigorous testing that one subject line received 6 times as much response as another. Look at these two subject lines and guess which was more successful:

Was it: ‘I will be outspent’

Or: ‘The one thing the polls got right’?

Actually, the first one outperformed the second by a factor of six!

Testing Is The Only Reliable Way To Pick A Winner

This is perfect proof that testing is the only sure-fire way to choose a subject line.

“Nonprofit organizations of even modest size can meet the challenges of advocacy… by using innovative and aggressive tactics to spread their word, expand their subscriber base, and market themselves online. What is especially key is being able to measure the successes (and failures) of online initiatives through proper tracking of key metrics, such as e-mail message open and response rates, in order to maximize the benefits of the Internet as a key tool to a nonprofit’s communications success.” – eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, M+R Strategic Services, Advocacy Institute

Testing Is The Only Way To Know What Works

The Engaging Networks platform uses built-in split A/B testing so you can see which email subject line (or sender, or opening paragraph, or link style) results in the greatest response. More importantly, it also tracks results from clicks on links in emails right through to successful form completions. That’s the only way to know which email is most persuasive overall.

10. Successful Online Advocacy Is Agile And Responsive

Supporters love it when you act quickly

Supporters love to be involved in a campaign that is alive and changing as your targets respond. It’s this responsiveness that demonstrates to your supporters that their actions are having an effect. The ability to change and update your pages and thank you emails whenever you want is crucial. Our platform provides this.

11. Successful Online Advocacy Requires Investment Of Time And Resources

“The organizations that invested more resources into their programs were more successful, in both generating advocacy activity and raising significant funds online… , the most successful organizations were those that prioritized investments in online communications” – eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, M + R Strategic Services, Advocacy Institute

Invest For Results

The web makes advocacy seem effortless, but you will need to invest time in your campaign. To reap the biggest returns, invest your time and resources in planning, strategy and tools.

12. Successful Online Campaigns Use Email Strategically

“Along with an organization’s Web site, e-mail messaging is the most important component of many nonprofit organization’s online communications programs.” – eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, M + R Strategic Services, Advocacy Institute

How To Make Email Work For Your Supporters

Great advocacy requires more than just a single email to your supporters at launch. Your supporters want to be thanked. They want to know how the campaign is going. They want to know the target’s response. They want to see the effects of their action. And they do actually want to know if there is anything else they can do…

Make Email Work For You While You Sleep

You need a system that has the capability to send out updates quickly and easily. Using our platform, you can set up emails to be sent to your supporters automatically, depending on their actions. This could be as straight forward as a thank you email. But it could also mean sending them an email if they haven’t been active in a while, to find out why they’re not responding. Or you could send a ‘what happened?’ style email if they took a first action but not a second.

13. Successful Online Campaigns Draw Supporters Into A Deeper Relationship, Action By Action

“When we identify a volunteer or a potential volunteer we always hold a one on one meeting. Then we ask our volunteers to make deeper commitments. Once someone has succeeded at an organizing activity we ask them to try their hand at leading a voter contact activity. Mostly we are interested in how well they train fellow volunteers to make phone calls or knock on doors. If a potential leader is a successful trainer then we meet with them again to ask them to take that next step and become a Team Coordinator or Team Leader.” – Jackie Bray, Field Director, Obama Campaign Ohio

Nurture Your Relationship With Supporters

The phenomenal success of the Obama campaign 2012 was due in large part to the way they nurtured supporters step by step all the way up from one-time donors to team leaders.

To build a real movement, replicate this process online.

Take A Supporter From One Action To The Next

Start with something simple, like a pledge. If your budding activist completes this, see how far you can take them by making a more involved request. You could go from there to a ‘send to a friend’ and after that redirect to a ‘write to your local newspaper’ style action. Our platform allows you to do all these things.

Tailor Messages Depending On Your Supporter’s Level Of Activity

On top of that, it also allows you to group supporters based on their activity level and send them tailored messages based on this. (This is also known as profiling or segmentation.) Thus if somebody got to one stage but hasn’t managed to make it any further yet, you can send them encouragement by email – or perhaps even a phone call.

14. Successful Online Campaigns Work Directly With More Engaged Supporters

“When supporters open emails and click on the links, data about these events flow directly back to the CRM database, so that organizers can quickly identify not only the most effective emails when testing, but also the most engaged activists and what they care about.” – Matt Price and John Stahl, Engagement Organizing

Pinpoint Your Best Supporters

Seek out those people who are most likely to make fantastic volunteers. This requires a database that knows what actions each individual supporter has taken and how they have responded to various messages. Our platform has such a database built right in.

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