Building your advocacy strategy

My previous post introduced readers to the concept of advocacy. Now, in a series of posts, I will look at how social enterprises and non-profits can harness its significant power.

The first step is by developing an advocacy strategy. But why is this important? According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a leader in sharing advocacy best practice for non-profits, “strategic advocacy is the backbone of effective advocacy,” helping to generate fundamental decisions and actions that guide an organization in its advocacy efforts.

As UNICEF notes in its advocacy toolkit, strategic planning is indispensable because it helps put resources to their most effective use, minimize risks and maximize opportunities, navigate complex environments and align advocacy with larger organizational goals.

“A good strategy can be applied to a quick initiative or a long-term programme,” UNICEF states, “but it always creates opportunities to advance efforts and protect gains.”

UN Women and UNiTE 2014 campaign to end violence against women. Photo: UN Women/Jennifer S. Altman

UN Women and UNiTE 2014 campaign to end violence against women. Photo: UN Women/Jennifer S. Altman


Foundation areas for effective advocacy

In its toolkit, UNICEF also lists foundation areas that need to be strong if an organization wishes to achieve effective advocacy. Though these areas are catered to internal UNICEF stakeholders, most of them are still very relevant for all social enterprises and non-profits. The foundation areas of note are:

  1. Credibility: It is crucial that all of your stakeholders trust your organization and value what you have to say. As UNICEF notes, the cornerstones of organizational credibility are expertise and relationships, complemented by strong research and analysis.
  2. Skills: Advocacy itself is a skill, which combines knowledge, good judgment, creativity and problem solving.
  3. Intra-office coordination and leadership: Effective advocacy is driven by strong collaboration between team members as well as strong leadership.
  4. Capacity to generate and communicate relevant evidence: This is closely linked to the ‘credibility’ foundation area. With strong evidence, you will be able to convince decision makers to support your issue. But as UNICEF notes, the evidence must be interpreted and communicated “at the correct time, to the relevant audiences and in the appropriate manner.” Moreover, the evidence should not only highlight the issue, but the causes of and solutions to it.
  5. Ability to assess risks: There are a range of risks that need to be considered, including risks associated with whether or not an  organization undertakes advocacy.
  6. Long-term partnerships that can form a broad base for advocacy: Building relationships is crucial. As UNICEF notes, “Good relationships allow organizations to reach target audiences, or overcome gaps by connecting with influential ‘secondary’ audiences, as well as generating critical mass behind the causes and issues.”
  7. Sufficient resources: As UNICEF notes, advocacy is resource intensive, requiring investments in funds, staff and materials over time. It is therefore essential to determine what resources will be available for advocacy work from the onset.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will focus on the broad aspects to consider when developing your advocacy strategy.

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