Identifying and using support networks

No matter how hard you try, you'll never get there on your own. Just about every successful advocacy campaign got there because of support from other organisations and members of the community. It's important to identify possible support networks and use them as best you can.

Identifying Support Networks

Advocacy can produce some strange bedfellows. It can lead to feminists teaming up with Christian fundamentalists (as it did in a recent debate over pornography) or radical environmentalists joining forces with traditionally conservative anti-development groups.

When starting out, think about all the issues that fall under your campaign umbrella. Are there any residual effects that might excite another group? You might be campaigning against the environmental problems associated with certain developments, but your desired outcome might also mean that a group of concerned residents don't have their river views obscured - so there's room for networking.

When starting out on a campaign it's worthwhile putting feelers out to see what other organisations are out there and what they are doing. At very least you should be doing a Google search (and hopefully you'll be digging a little deeper than that).

Think outside the square a little on this one. If you're an environmental organisations concerned about toxins in the air you may have common ground with a health organisation, and vice versa.

It's also important to identify the demographic that's going to be interested in your campaign. This is particularly important for highly localised campaigns. If you're campaigning to have traffic lights installed at a dangerous intersection, a letter drop in the surrounding neighbourhood blocks informing people of a public meeting could drum up significant support for the issue.

Using Support Networks

Once you've identified a few organisations working in the same area, or even on the same campaign, get in contact and establish what's already being done. Is there is a chance for collaboration, or even just getting a bit of a hand in some areas - using their member lists, sharing your resources, swapping contacts, endorsing a campaign, or actually forming an alliance?

There are many ways this can take place, all depending on the circumstances. Occasionally it does happen that you find yourselves running exactly the same campaign as another organisation. There are three ways of dealing with this. First, you can abandon your own campaign and simply join up with the others who are running the campaign - this tends to happen if you're a loose organisation formed for one specific purpose. The second scenario is that you form a coalition and fight with a united front. The third option is for both of you to run your campaigns simultaneously. One choice is not automatically better than the other, and the one you choose will depend on your circumstances.

If you choose the third option and run simultaneous campaigns, it's in everyone's best interest to maintain a high level of communication. Often this means having someone sit in on the meetings of the other organisation. It often also means that you should arrange for your tactics and approaches to differ, in order to fight the campaign from different angles.

Assuming, however, that you're the only organisation running with this particular campaign and that you've made contact with like-minded organisations, there are several ways that they could help you.

Chance for collaboration

You could collaborate with them. In other words, you could encourage them to take on your issue as well, and fight alongside you. Clearly, the more people involved the better. However, collaborations must be dealt with carefully - see our helpsheet and the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration for more details.

Utilising their member lists

One of the most useful ways your networks can help with your campaign is to spread the word for you. Every organisation that's supporting your campaign will have a list of members that it regularly communicates with. They may let you mail or email to the list, they may take your letters and mail them, or they may just mention your campaign in their newsletter. Whatever the case may be, they're an excellent source of publicity. Moreover, the people on these lists are more likely to be sympathetic and to support your campaign.

Sharing resources

People or groups in your network will have resources that are unique to their own work, and you may need these resources if you're to be more efficient or more effective. Resources can be as simple as a bit of office space, a computer, or some software, or they could be services like access to a phone or the secondment of an employee with particular skills. Things like PA systems (and coffee machines) are also handy things to share around.

Endorsing a campaign

Sometimes an endorsement can be just the thing to kickstart a campaign. If your organisation is relatively unknown and only just starting to create a stir, then people can get suspicious. If a larger and better known organisation can endorse your campaign, it gives you both legitimacy and publicity - both of which are highly desirable.

Related campaign

Another thing that you might like to consider is a related campaign. You may be aware of an organisation running a campaign that is, while not identical, related to your campaign, and it could be a good opportunity to bounce off each other and strengthen both campaigns.

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