Modern Advocacy Requires Modern Tools

October 10, 2019 Jeb Ory

Given the rapid growth in grassroots advocacy initiatives at organizations large and small, we’ve been talking a lot in our office about the opportunities nonprofits have to drive new types of engagement through advocacy and what makes an organization effective.

When people ask me, I always think of the National Parks Conservation Association.

NPCA is the only organization that advocates exclusively on behalf of America’s National Park system. The organization is more than 100 years old, operates on a nonpartisan basis, and boasts more than 1 million members and supporters. Their team proudly carries out its mission to “protect and preserve our national parks for present and future generations.”

How it does that presents quite a few lessons. Despite a long history filled with decades of analog advocacy, NPCA embraced one very important maxim: modern advocacy requires the right tools in order to be successful.

In the 2019 State of Advocacy report earlier this year, Phone2Action found that organizations that employed a full range of tools—text messaging, SMS shortcodes, social media lead ads and more—and kept at it were successful.

The number of connections between advocacy organizations and decision makers grew by 36 percent in 2017 over the previous year. In 2018, it grew again by 38 percent.

Faced with an administration bent on reshaping the use of public lands, NPCA led the fight to protect America’s parks. Last year, the association decided to up its technology game.

NPCA operates robust digital fundraising, email marketing and advocacy programs. Since 2013, NPCA has experienced…

  • 124% growth in sustainer donors
  • 86% growth in housefile
  • More than doubled online revenue

In July of 2018, NPCA decided to take their advocacy efforts to the next level and added new advocacy capabilities such as text messaging, patch-through calling and an integration with the public comment functions offered by regulatory agencies.

Since then, the National Parks Conservation Association has run more than 30 campaigns and the results have been surprising.

  • The 45,000 advocates contacted generated more than 100,000 connections with policymakers in Congress and regulatory agencies. In the past year, they averaged 7,000 advocate activities a month.
  • NPCA developed a list of more than 5,000 text subscribers and began regular, targeted messages to promote their action alerts. Their four largest text campaigns in 2019 averaged a 24-percent click rate and almost 15 percent conversion.

Major NPCA campaigns often connect with thousands of decision makers. For example:

  • A campaign contacting the Bureau of Land Management to preserve Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument reached roughly 9,000 advocates and generated more than 10,000 actions.
  • During the government shutdown, almost 12,000 advocates made more than 33,400 connections to Congress on behalf of national parks.
  • On a National Park Service rule proposal, more than 10,100 advocates were able to submit comments via the NPS regulatory portal.
  • On an EPA water protection rule, more than 14,200 advocates were able to submit comments via

NPCA fundamentally understands that, in a noisy digital world, technology is a major key to amplifying your voice. Passion, dedication and smart strategy are important. But the technology that drives your message through is vital.

Of course, many nonprofits are constrained by resources. Staffs are stretched thin. Budgets are sometimes even thinner. But I would argue that technology is not the place to cut back, especially the systems used for mission-critical work like fundraising, marketing and advocacy.

Organizations like NPCA that invest in technology are not just buying robust systems. They are ensuring that they can communicate effectively with all of their audiences; that their staff can save time by working efficiently using modern tools; that they have professional support when questions arise; and that they are conducting advocacy with the latest weapons available—often winning those fights. The value of the 45,000 NPCA advocates who made connections is more than $220,000 at an average of $5 per new advocate, a common benchmark for advocates who take action.

Perhaps most important, they will never be forced to pay the high cost of falling behind. In a world that prizes rapid response, channelized communication and ever-increasing amounts of technology savvy, that cost is paid in relevance.

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