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6 Steps to Starting a Nursing Advocacy Campaign

In this section, you'll learn:

  • Questions to consider before starting a campaign

  • The components of a successful campaign

  • Considerations regarding the scope and resources available

  • A repeatable process for building a grassroots advocacy campaign


The basis for any successful advocacy campaign is having the right mix of credibility, influence, and timing. Having a process and a plan is critical to help you achieve this quickly.

Without credibility, a campaign will have no legs to stand on; without influence, a campaign won't get the momentum it needs to achieve its goals; and without proper timing, one may miss out on opportunities to reach the right people needed to create change.

That's why ANA\California created a six-step process for creating an advocacy campaign.

This section of the Advocacy Institute Guide will highlight the advocacy process ANA\California uses frequently to illustrate how we coordinate the credibility, influence, and timing behind our advocacy.

Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Starting a Nursing Advocacy Campaign

Before starting a campaign, you should first consider some initial questions:

  • What is your goal?

  • Who falls within the scope of your issue?

  • How many people will your campaign need to create change?

  • What resources will be required?

Questions like these will help you address key details that will impact your campaign, such as how long it will take to create change, what political will may be necessary, and what solutions may work for all parties involved.

When thinking about the scope of your issue, ask yourself questions like:

  • Does your issue encompass or affect all nurses?

  • Is it restricted to a specific region or specialty?

  • How will patients and communities be impacted?

  • What will other healthcare professionals and health systems think about your issue?

Understanding that there will be multiple parties affected by the change will help you plan your outreach. You may not be able to think of all of them now and that's okay. Many times the conversations your advocacy brings will highlight them along the way.

If the scope of the issue directly impacts a fellow colleague or the nursing profession, will your advocacy be positively or negatively viewed by others? What if a colleague leads a coalition on another issue within the same year - how will they view your advocacy efforts in total? How will this affect your political will in the short and long term?

Note: Keep reading the Advocacy Institute Guide to learn more about 'political will' and influencing stakeholders.

When thinking about the people or resources needed to create change, ask yourself questions like:

  • Do you need to coordinate a team?

  • Can they all be from my institution or will you need outside help?

  • Who's expertise or perspective would be beneficial to gaining credibility and influence?

Depending on the scope of your issue, you may be able to answer these questions quickly. If you seek to make a policy change within your own institution, you may need less support or resources than, say, eradicating racism in nursing and healthcare, for example.

Finally, a quick point of honesty before we jump into our advocacy process.

The reality about nursing advocacy is that there are far more opportunities to advance nursing than there are people to do the work to create the change.

With the invention of the internet, the 24-hour news cycle, and by the nature of the nursing profession, there are a lot of issues to notice during your career. Your own personal experiences, something you witnessed, articles you read in the news, or even something you learned in formal education may spark a desire to advocate.

The opportunities to advance nursing and the care we provide to our patients are all around us. Pick one now or write them down because…

This is our advocacy process.

ANA\California's Nursing Advocacy Process

As one of the only non-union, nursing associations lobbying in California, we are accustomed to supporting or opposing legislation, regulations, and policies statewide.

But advocacy comes in all shapes and sizes.

That's why we designed our advocacy process to apply to any situation, no matter how big or small your chosen issue may be. While it is best to follow this process in the order listed below, advocacy often has unforeseen changes, and adapting to them is key to your success.

You may find that as you advocate and learn more about your issue, you'll learn to gather more of a certain type of evidence or support over another depending on who you're trying to influence and when.

6 Steps to Start an Advocacy Campaign

1. Validate The Problem With Data

Starting an advocacy campaign by gathering existing data and statistics is a great way to quickly validate your issue, as well as understand the depth in which the topic has been studied.

Remember, Senators are representatives for districts with just under 1 million Californians. Assemblymembers represent districts of less than 450,000. Regulators, public health officials, and executive leadership of healthcare institutions also make decisions that affect large populations.

Data helps speak to the breadth of the problem without laboring over the length of a personal story or the complexity of an expert testimonial. Nothing quite summarizes the impact an issue has than a glaring '80% of nurses are experiencing…" or 'Only 12% of patients have…"

Data also serves as a great foundation to begin future conversations. Understanding the macro view through data will give you opportunities to make parallels and connections between the research and the personal stories of individual nurses.

Trouble finding data to support your issue? There is hope!

When gathering testimonies from experts in the following steps, you can ask them to direct you toward information not always publicized online (i.e. conference sheets or presentations, health system toolkits and guides, research, and/or other experts).

Other data points that don't speak specifically to your goal but help supplement the 'why' behind your campaign's importance should also be considered.

2. Create Emotion with Personal Stories

Behind every campaign and movement is a story.

  • A woman refusing to sit at the back of the bus.

  • A group of people blocking the construction of a pipeline.

  • A half million women marching on Washington.

"Storytelling is how we learn to exercise agency to deal with new challenges, mindful of the past, yet conscious of alternative futures," wrote Marshall Ganz, a Rita T. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society at the Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University) in his paper The Power of Story in Social Movements.

Personal stories add emotion to the data and percentages you collected previously. Because decision-makers won't necessarily be nurses, including a personal story can help others empathize with your issue.

You may notice many news sources will use personal stories for two reasons:

  1. to hook readers at the beginning of the article, and

  2. simultaneously help them relate to the issue.

Both legislators and media rely on stories to keep a pulse on their communities, understand larger contexts and trends, and ultimately advocate for change themselves.

3. Add Credibility With Expert Testimonials

Now that you've validated a good portion of your issue with data, and captured the emotion of the issue through personal stories, it is time to complete the triangle by reaching out to experts.

Simply, expert testimonies provide context to the quantitative view of data but offer a qualitative perspective like a personal story.

Testimonies are usually concise in length (1-3 sentences) and help describe the overarching problems and potential solutions expressed in the data and personal stories. This makes expert testimonies perfect for quotes, public statements, and other forms of written support necessary in your advocacy campaign messaging.

When thinking about where to start looking for experts, it is important to remember that these experts should have a clear record of their experience relating to your issue as well as be representative of the population your advocacy campaign hopes to address or serve. Expert testimonies also serve as key indicators for gaining and broadcasting your political will.

Where can you find these nursing experts?

Remember the data you gathered earlier? This could be a great short list of experts available to discuss the topic further. But restricting yourself to only utilizing nurses as expert sources for your campaign can limit you and your influence.

Other healthcare professionals, business executives, and city officials may all be helpful to the credibility and influence of your cause.

We've also found LinkedIn is one of the best opportunities to connect with experts and leaders in a variety of specialties, roles, businesses, and more.

4. Call Others To Action With Messaging

An advocacy message isn't complete without calling others to action. After conveying your message and highlighting the issue, it's time to ask your audience to act.

The action you want your audience to take will depend on the specific issue you're advocating for. It could be as simple as signing a letter or contacting their legislators.

It's also essential to emphasize the impact of inaction and how it can harm individuals, communities, and society as a whole.

Whatever it is, be clear and specific in your call to action.

5. Create Your Messaging and Marketing Materials

Okay, let's recap real quick.

You've asked yourself the initial questions so you understand your goal, scope, and potential resources needed. You then validated the problem with data, created emotion with personal stories, and added credibility with expert testimonies.

Now, it is time to tell everyone about your campaign by using what you've gathered so far.

To use a metaphor, the best way to describe messaging is to think of it as a present or gift. A gift has several components that make the overall package appealing. By creating several types of messages, you can adjust your language to be appealing to the right audience.

Social media, email, public statements, advocacy tools, advertising, etc. are all examples of communication channels, while nurse practitioners, legislators, media, and the public are examples of audiences you may be writing messaging for.

This is your opportunity to be creative. You can create simple text messages, images, or videos to help others to engage with your advocacy campaign, and the data, personal stories, and expert testimonies you collected previously are a great place to start.

Once you've written some initial messages around the data, stories, and testimonies you collected, you can then use different keywords and phrases to add variation to your campaign messaging.

While writing your messaging, remember to place a higher priority on clarity than cleverness - especially for complex or long-term campaigns.

At the end of the day, the point of an advocacy campaign is to call others to action to create change. With all the work you put in, you don't want other advocates to mistake what your campaign is about.

6. Contact Decision Makers and Influencers

The moment of truth. It's time to hit the send button.

You've successfully created an advocacy campaign but the hard work is still ahead.

While you may continue to collect more data, personal stories, and expert testimonies throughout the life of your campaign to keep messaging fresh, contacting decision-makers and influencers - and empowering others to do so, too - should now be your main focus.

Reaching out to legislators and their staff, pitching journalists and media outlets, and contacting close colleagues are common actions for any advocacy campaign.

If you pre-planned with the initial questions, you may have already compiled a list of decision-makers and influencers important to your campaign. And if you were thinking a few steps ahead, you may have already prepared them to receive your campaign communications.

Summary and Up Next

Creating a successful nursing advocacy campaign relies on facilitating and communicating a sense of credibility, gaining the influence of the right people, and proper timing. Without all three, your campaign will struggle to gain momentum.

ANA\California's advocacy process helps you identify key considerations to guide your nursing advocacy campaign as well as explain the necessary components of a campaign. These components can then be packaged with different variations to target specific audiences and channels in hopes of reaching decision-makers and influencers.

But, is following this advocacy process all that is needed to create change? Unfortunately, no.

Sometimes the success of your campaign has less to do with your messaging or supporting evidence and more to do with 'political will.' And this is exactly what we will discuss in the next section.


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