Issues briefings and action alerts

Essentially an action alert is an urgent call to arms - it might be a call to get people down to a rally, or it might be to ask them to sign a petition. An issue briefing is a short, sharp overview of the issue that you're being called to arms about.

The two generally go hand in hand. You can have an issue briefing without an action alert, but you generally shouldn't have an action alert without an issue briefing.

Below we outline some points to take into consideration when writing and running issue briefings and action alerts.

What to include in an issue brief

An issue brief needs to be self-contained and easy to understand. You need to answer the 'who, what, when, where and why'.

It's important to use plain English and provide examples where appropriate. Stick to the facts, but use them to explain how you arrived at your position. Avoid polemics and overly emotive language. It should be no more than a page long.

What to include in an action alert

An action alert needs to be even more succinct than an issue brief. You need to be very clear about what people are being asked to sign up to, and why, as well as providing clear instructions as to what is required of each person. It should never be hard to take part in an action alert.

Action alerts should start a movement, not a panic. Choose your words carefully.

Establish authenticity

Establishing authenticity is essential. People are more and more sceptical every day. You need to be upfront about who you are and why you're doing what you're doing. If you can get other organisations to endorse the action, it's even better - especially if they're more well-known than yours.

Not only do you have to establish your authenticity, but you have to establish the authenticity of the users. If you are getting people to sign a petition it's no good just getting a name and a suburb from signatories - you'll also need at least an email address, preferably a postal address. Never use the chain letter style email where you add your name to the bottom and pass it on.

Date them and have a clear time line

Action alerts are renowned for lingering well past their useby dates. Emails continue to circulate, web pages are not pulled down, petitions stay in shops. To avoid confusion that wastes people's time and makes you look bad, date your action alerts and clearly mark when the action will end - time, day, month, year.

Consider your audience

More often than not you want as many people to participate in your action alert as possible. On occasion, however, you'll only want a select few (if the action alert may concern a sensitive issue that you don't want the wider public to know about, to take just one example). The important point is that you should actually ask yourself this question and seriously consider if your action alert would be more effective if undertaken by a smaller, more select, group.

Don't preach to the converted

Generally speaking, your action alerts and issues briefings should be as accessible as possible. Your audience, therefore, is the general public - people who aren't involved with your campaign. This means you need to avoid jargon and any language that will alienate people who aren't heavily engaged with your cause.

Don't mistake them for organising

Action alerts are instantaneous. They are never a substitute for on-the-ground movement-building. You still need to be campaigning in the appropriate communities - building support, engaging in debate, and changing people's opinion. An action alert has never convinced anyone; the people that join them are already on your side. However, action alerts are a good opportunity for you to expand your email database.

Remember to evaluate

At the end of your action alert it's vital that you evaluate its effectiveness. Did you achieve what you wanted to? Could you have achieved more? Could you have achieved a wider reach? If you don't start answering a few of these questions you'll simply repeat the same mistakes again.

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