Learning Center

Advocacy Tactics

For an overview of what you need to do to become an effective advocate, check out this Step-by-Step Guide, produced by the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

Step #1: Assess Your Organization and Network of Supporters

It is important to do a self-assessment prior to or while you are defining the issue. The more people who help with a campaign, the more success you will have. Identify your prospective partners and discuss who you are and what your interests are. Allow your group to realize its commonalities and differences. Your role will shape the focus of the walking project. For example, I am:

  • A parent…and want my child to be able to safely walk to school.
  • A religious leader…and want to improve the health of my congregation.
  • A human resources manager…and want to make employees more alert and healthy, increasing productivity and reducing medical costs.
  • A main-street business association…and want to increase customer foot traffic.
  • A health coalition…and want to promote walking as an entry point to a healthy lifestyle.
  • A walking-advocacy organization…and want to improve walking and accessibility.

Now that you have established your role, you can better define the issue you care about.

Step# 2: Define the Issue

Clearly defining the issue in context with your perspective(s) will lead toward setting effective goals. Most community change begins with planning a campaign, or a project that has tangible, measurable goals and objectives. A group’s mission may be broad (e.g., creating a successful business environment on Main Street), but the defined issue of a campaign should focus on a specific topic (e.g., Main Street is unpleasant to walk along and dangerous to cross).

Create an issue statement by building on the self-assessment from Step 1:

  • Identify the problem that exists. As an example, a parent might say: “My child can’t safely walk to school because there are no sidewalks and cars travel too fast.”
  • Identify the solution. Following our example, the parent would say: “We need to install sidewalks and reduce the speed limit to 15 mph in the area.”
  • Identify how to implement the solution. Continuing our example, the parent would say: “The city council needs to pass legislation that lowers the speed limit and funds sidewalk installation.”
  • Put it together into a succinct statement. Completing our example, the issue statement would be: “My child can’t safely walk to school because there are no sidewalks and cars travel too fast. We need to install sidewalks and reduce the speed limit to 15 mph in the area. The city council needs to pass legislation that lowers the speed limit and funds sidewalk installation.”

Formulating an issue statement will build the foundation for your campaign and help you focus on achieving the overall goal of your campaign.

Step #3: Set (Campaign) Goals

The next step is creating campaign goals, or changes that you hope to achieve through your campaign. An ideal goal is a “SMART” goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. You can also divide goals into three types: short term, medium term, and long term. People or organizations with limited resources may focus on short-term goals but build in a long- term goal to increase capacity or to have another organization continue the effort.

For the purposes of planning your campaign, your long-term goal should be achievable with this campaign. Your short- and medium-term goals are incremental steps toward realizing your long-term goal. It’s okay for the short- and medium-term goals to be small. Those victories keep people energized to win the long-term goal! Be sure to include a target-completion date with each goal.

Following the example for the need to get the city council to fund sidewalks and lower the speed, your goals might be:

Short-Term Goals:

  • In one month, to triple our supporters by engaging more people from the community
  • In two months, to build relationships with community leaders to build local support
  • In two months, to identify what is needed to win the support of city council members • In three months, to secure 70% of needed donations to fund our campaign

Medium-Term Goals:

  • In four months, to reach out to businesses near the school to support the resolution
  • In five months, to build a coalition and draw 200 people to the council meeting in support

Long-Term Goal:

  • In six months, after the council passes the resolution to lower the speed limit and install the sidewalks, to celebrate your win
Step #4: Assess Your Resources and Opportunities

It’s now time to align your goals with your current resources, strengths, and opportunities. It’s also important to identify any shortcomings that may need to be addressed to make your campaign stronger and more successful. Work with your organization’s leadership to analyze your campaign.

First identify the internal strengths and weaknesses that you, your group, or your organization may have. Then identify external opportunities and threats to your campaign. This will help you uncover what can influence your success, especially when looking at specific allies and opponents of your campaign. This assessment is a natural bridge between your goals and identifying whom you need to target in order to achieve that change. The chart below will help you in this section:

Step #5: Target Decision-Makers and Create a Champion

Weknow that community leaders have a lot competing for their attention. It can take a long time to develop champions for your cause, so it is critical to lay the foundation for this type of support. With the backing of influential champions, the results of your campaign can improve exponentially.

The critical question to answer when it comes to winning your campaign is, Who has the power to make the change you need to achieve your goals?

Be as specific as possible when identifying your targeted audience. You may have to do some research by talking to people, or reviewing websites in order to identify these names. You may start out listing the “town council” as a target, but you’ll likely need to identify two or three city council members who are the swing votes. These are the people to target in winning support for your efforts. To exert influence on your target, you may need to win the support of people who have direct or indirect influence over him or her, such as other community members or council members.

Develop a map to reach each target by asking the following questions:

  • Who is the person who has the power to make the change to win the campaign?
  • What people or organizations have direct influence on your targets—the people whose support your need?
  • Whom do you know who knows your target and has influence to sway them in your direction?
  • What people have indirect influence over your target?
  • What audiences do your target listen to when considering decisions?
Step #6: Communicate

Change depends on communication—talking to people, posting fliers, emailing constituents, earning press and editorials, using social media, etc.—to build support for your campaign. Effective communication depends on the message as well as the medium. You will be most successful if you can provide a comprehensive range of objective reasons that support your walking campaign. These can focus on benefits for economic development, transportation, health, recreation, etc.

  • First, brainstorm your message and determine how to most effectively reach your audiences.
  • Test your message with select target audiences and refine it before expanding its reach. Not everyone is going to agree that your proposal is worth the time and money.
  • Make sure your communication emphasizes tangible benefits as well as “feel good” arguments. It is always more persuasive to make an appeal from the standpoint of fulfilling a need rather than a want.

Develop an “elevator speech” that you can use whenever you have 30 seconds with someone to get them interested in your campaign. Using the previous example of safer routes to school, a good elevator speech would restructure the issue statement in Step 2 to the following speech:


Use this model to modify the message to persuade the target audiences you identified in Step 4.

Step #7:  Set Tactics and Timelines

Now create your to-do list of actions, or tactics to achieve your campaign goals, and specify a timeline for their completion. Tactics are what you must do immediately (or soon!) to accomplish a long-term strategic goal.

Consider the following questions when coming up with tactics for your campaign:

  • What needs to be done?
  • Who will contact whom?
  • What will be your group’s first coordinated effort?
  • How will you communicate your message?
  • How will you develop community or political support? Will it be:
    • An informational public meeting?
    • A series of one-on-one meetings?
    • A letter-to-the-editor campaign?
    • An effort to persuade your town government to pursue a policy change?

After your group has identified tactics to win your campaign and accomplish your long-term goal, you can use the following tool to track your tactics.



This chart helps you track your progress on your action plan. Your group can even upload it to a file-sharing system, such as Google Docs, for real-time updating.

As previously mentioned, the process is not always linear. As you proceed, unanticipated opportunities may present themselves, so tactics may change and evolve. Sometimes you’ll need to revisit a step or start a new sequence of tactics based on circumstances. In any change campaign, participants should be willing to reconsider tactics, add new audiences, and refine messaging.

Step #8: Manage Resources

Staff and Volunteers

For most small-scale efforts, managing resources may have more to do with people than with dollars. People, whether they are staff or volunteers, are needed to lead groups, write letters, attend meetings, and help with communication.

A key step is asking for help to complete tasks. Make sure your volunteers feel valued and included in the overall effort. Small tokens of appreciation, whether gift certificates, T-shirts, or shout-outs, can let volunteers know you value their efforts. Consider this a circular process (pictured below) of asking (for help or funds), informing people about progress and needs, involving people in the advocacy effort, and thanking people for their time or money, which then leads back to asking.



Many campaigns require financial resources to meet more substantial goals. These funds can be used to pay for staff, materials, communication tools, etc. There are many helpful resources that can guide your efforts to raise money. A critical component of fundraising is ensuring that your financial requests pay for clearly articulated plans. Consider giving funders or organizational leaders budget authority in your planning processes to build their interest and investment.

With fundraising, follow the same cycle of Asking → Informing → Involving → Thanking → Asking.


Our step-by-step model to plan a winning campaign gives you a framework to create a solid action plan to persuade people to help with your issue. Now that you have a framework for your campaign, we invite you to read through this tool kit for sample projects and tactics that you can employ to improve walking in your community. America Walks is committed to supporting your local advocacy efforts with a variety of activities that include phone calls, webinars, informational trainings, and campaign-development workshops. Contact us at campaigns@americawalks.org to learn more about our services.

This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.