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Campaigns 101

Submitted by Jerimee on May 7, 2012 - 3:47pm

Campaigns require a systematic approach that balances the emotion of an activist and the planning of a strategist. The following steps will help an organization begin to focus their energy into an actionable process that will enable winning campaigns. Answering the following questions will provide the organizer a path to implementing a successful campaign.

What are we fighting for?

The chosen campaign must be sufficiently broad as to appeal to as many people as possible. Here, listening is critical. Members of your organization will establish their expectations. The leaders of organizations are responsible for distilling those down to identify issues where there is a unique junction of energy and potential for organizational action through a campaign. The organizer must be realistic and have a good sense for the organization's best interests.

In order to frame the issue and make it actionable several processes should be applied at an organizational level: First, perception of identified specific problems must be translated into clear, universal objectives. Second, frame the issue in unassailable statements that will both motivate the organization's membership and appeal to those who will ultimately make the decisions, for example, “Keep our parks safe.” Finally, polarize the interests involved in order to make plain the obstacles that must be overcome, for example, the 99% versus the 1%.

How will we accomplish it?

The issue must be winnable through clear and concise goals, and have the potential to deliver wins incrementally as the campaign drags on. When a campaign begins a goal is established, for example, convincing city councils to opt out of laws allowing guns in parks. With that goal the ultimate win of the campaign is established. However, successful campaigns have multiple opportunities for wins that show progress and involvement, such as convincing several large cities to opt out of gun rights laws in parks. This process should keep in mind the organization's long-term plan such that the campaign is a part of the organization's growth.

The tools used to implement a campaign can be broad or simple depending on the organization's objectives. The time-frame for a campaign should not exceed more than about two months, or the campaign should be broken down into like-sized increments to show progress. But the length can be as little as a week, as long as the organizer is able to coalesce actions toward the campaign's objectives.

How will we organize it?

Understand the issue's community context, and work within it. Know how the decisions are made about the issue and who will ultimately create the opportunities for success and failure. Know who your organizational allies are to prevent duplication of efforts, and be open to finding allies in unlikely places. Have specific opportunities for cross-involvement that allows the organization to retain leadership while maximizing action. Know the limits of your organization and the types of actions that will generate the most support.

Target people and symbolic institutions who can either make the decisions or provide the opportunity to demonstrate the issue involved. The media too can be a valuable asset once specific goals are established. Building a relationship with the traditional media outlets through editorial boards and locally connected new media entities will better enable the campaign to build support outside of its organizational structure.

How will we make it happen?

Your organization sets the rules for how a campaign will be conducted and how it will be considered successful. Planning specific actions beforehand will give the organizer a rubric to help the campaign stay on target. Once the campaign begins to reach projected milestones, leadership can work maximize winning scenarios. Before the campaign, planning reactions to outcomes will help at this stage to ensure a positive spin is generated, if warranted.

What happens when the game is over?

A commitment to diligence in monitoring and recording through the entire duration of a campaign will ease the transition into the post-campaign. Organizational dynamics necessitate a record of the campaign to enable the next organizer to conduct subsequent effective, winning campaigns.

Campaigns seem simple, but targeting big wins can lead to big losses. Confidence in how an organization will respond to the call to action is key to understanding what risks are appropriate. Often, the most important part of winning a campaign is the growth in legitimacy and corresponding value it provides. Understanding how to manage expectations and wins will help the organizer effectively utilize their campaigns to strengthen their organization.