Spitfire Strategies

Three Questions to a Rock Solid Campaign Plan

Whether your organization is aiming for a policy win, wants to get people to change their behavior, or hopes to influence corporate actions, chances are you will need some savvy campaign planning to help you get there.

Every good campaign plan starts with a few tough questions: What does victory look like? Which decision makers have the power to advance the campaign goals? What constituencies can help engage the target audiences?  

Great campaign plans dig a bit deeper and ensure you plan for the unexpected. Here are three questions to help you put an even stronger campaign in place.

What would trigger a decision on your issue?

Understanding both why a decision will be made and how decision makers will approach it is critical to identifying the strategic entry point to influence the process.

Some decisions are going to get made at a particular time and place no matter what you do. For example, many states have to pass annual budgets by a particular deadline – and that process sets in motion dozens of decisions on programs and priorities. If your campaign seeks to ensure a particular program is included in the state budget, you know a decision will get made: your task is to make sure legislators choose wisely.

But not every campaign has that certainty. Often, a campaign has to persuade someone to make a decision that otherwise wouldn’t happen. If you have time, you can create your own tipping point, by gathering small wins that advance your issue. Over the past seven years, the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions has been doing just that. By building relationships with businesses up and down the seafood supply chain, the Alliance helps each company develop and implement sustainable seafood policies. Those incremental wins can add up to big changes. Since it began, the Alliance has helped hundreds of companies make progress on sustainable seafood.

Behavior change campaigns also often face this scenario. When Washington, DC sought ways to reduce the millions of plastic grocery bags that ended up in the nearby rivers, they turned to adding a 5-cent tax on plastic bags to force consumers to think twice before using plastic. By requiring each consumer to answer the question, “Do you need a bag?” with every purchase, a bag tax sets up a decision that never would have happened before. The result? According to a survey by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, DC residents’ use of bags has dropped by 60 percent.

Sometimes, incremental wins still aren’t enough. That’s when you may need to get creative by relating your issue to another decision to build momentum for the change you seek. When the Deepwater Horizon oil spill fouled the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, conservationists saw an opportunity. As things stood, the resulting fines would go to the U.S. Treasury. Conservationists knew that leaders, businesses and other stakeholders in the Gulf states wanted a say in the decision on how those dollars were spent, and they used the opportunity to encourage Congress to change the law so oil spill fines paid would be dedicated to restoring the Gulf.

How do you build and manage a winning coalition?

Every campaigner eventually faces the question, “Can we do this alone?” More often than not, the answer is, “No.” That’s when you need to activate your allies, joining or forming a coalition or alliance. The trick is to understand what reach, reputation, relationships and resources you need to get the job done. Then you can recruit like-minded allies whose superpowers can combine with yours to match the task at hand. 

Alliance and coalition building is a great way to move your issue forward and speak with one voice. It works too. To move the Federal Communications Commission to a decision on net neutrality, organizations such as Free Press, Center for Media Justice, Mozilla and Tumblr came together around the principle that all communications and data should be treated equally. With the usual Internet rights groups already at the table, the coalition also pulled in grassroots organizations that represent communities of color, low-income Internet users, faith organizations and more. Having these groups speaking in one voice put to bed the notion that this was only relevant to elites and showed how net neutrality is a modern civil rights issue. Because of the diverse network of members, each organization was able to influence and engage a variety of audiences across the country. By coming together, these groups won an unprecedented victory.

Who is your opposition – and how will you keep them in check?

It’s rare that a campaign doesn’t have to deal with opposition. After all, any change worth campaigning for likely has someone who is prepared to fight for the status quo. Your campaign needs to be ready to stare down the opposition. Fortunately, the Internet makes it surprisingly easy to research your opponents, identify the kinds of messages they are likely to deploy against you, and spot the places where they might be vulnerable themselves. Knowing as much as you can about who is working against you, and having a plan for dealing with them, can be the difference between winning and losing.

Run through all the possible scenarios. What would your opposition do and say to derail your campaign? What could you say to minimize the damage? And, last but not least, how can you prepare in advance for a potential attack? When the Center for Medical Progress released edited undercover videos of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) executives allegedly discussing the sale of fetal tissue, Planned Parenthood was ready to counter the attack because they had anticipated such a move and had a crisis communication plan already in place. With the launch of #IStandWithPP, the organization held its ground, and used the attacks to change the conversation.

Now What?

These are just a few of the many tough questions savvy advocates ask themselves when developing a campaign. To find more smart questions that will help you spark social change, check out Spitfire’s Planning To Win™ campaign planning tool. In just six stages, you can put together a rock solid campaign plan that’s ready for action.

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