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6 tips for crafting a successful housing campaign

by Andrea Nesby and Amy Clark, 
National Housing Conference

The new year offers us an opportunity for a fresh start in our work, and this can mean starting a campaign. Campaigns can be a great away to connect with the community, promote our organizations, strengthen current relationships or create new ones. Most importantly, campaigns can help us achieve goals that benefit those who need our services and the community at large.
When it comes to housing campaigns, we believe every campaign needs these six key components to be successful.
Well-defined purpose and audience. Simply put, you won’t know if your campaign has been successful if you haven’t defined what, exactly, you want it to accomplish. And “raising awareness,” while a seemingly laudable goal, is often short on payoff. Once people are aware of the need for affordable housing, what do you want them to do? The to-do part is the true purpose of your campaign. Make it your focus.
Once you know the purpose, you’ll be just steps from defining your audience. Target your campaign at the people or entities who have the power to make the changes you want to see—or can influence those with the power. For example, if you want your city to adopt an affordability overlay as part of its zoning, your audience may include city elected officials, as well as the constituencies they pay attention to.
Clear, action-focused messaging. We recommend developing three to five key messages that can be repurposed and reinforced in all campaign outreach. Make sure these key messages have relevancy and a human, emotional angle. If you’re looking to garner media attention, this is what news organization will gravitate toward. Furthermore, when crafting these messages, you should always ask yourself why the community should care about your campaign. The answer should guide your messaging.
The campaign’s goals should be clear in all outreach materials, including online. You can make your campaign materials and online presence look as snazzy as you want, but it will all be for nothing if people are unsure or don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve.  Be sure to clearly state what the problem your campaign is aiming to resolve then provide a concise list of what is the campaign’s goal(s). Having a projected date to achieving the goal(s) will give your campaign a sense of urgency.
Clear calls to action that give your audience something to do. When you have the community’s attention, you will need to inform them how they can help. We suggest having no more than three calls to action. If you want community members to sign a letter, donate, volunteer or help spread the word, then these calls to action should all be clearly stated in all your communications.  You’ll also want to make it easy and accessible for people to support. Easy online giving, simple volunteer forms and one-click email sign up are all essential, especially for engaging Millennials.
Stories and eye-catching visuals. Stories are an effective way of humanizing your campaign goals and communicating facts in a way people will remember. Visuals—photos as well as graphics that communicate and reinforce data points—make a statement the way words alone cannot. And short videos are especially effective, particularly on social media! Do take care to tell stories about the broader impacts of housing on the community and economy, not just on those individuals in need of an affordable home. This will help your target audiences see benefit for themselves in the campaign’s goals, making them more likely to support it.
It’s also important to be mindful that representatives of your organization are often not the most effective campaign spokespeople. Instead, use a mix of people who will be positively impacted by the campaign’s goals, and campaign supporters who represent the groups or interests your audience pays attention to.
Politician and influencer participation. Getting elected officials and other influential members of your community on board with your campaign can help give it legitimacy, connect your campaign with different segments of your community and draw media attention. And if your campaign goals involve legislation, elected officials can be particularly useful in “advocating up” to their lawmaking colleagues. Use quotes from elected officials and influential community members in campaign literature, social media and as testimonials, and invite them to speak at campaign events.
Unified coalition of supporters. A long list of respected community organizations and individuals supporting your campaign demonstrates a broad base of support for your idea. It also provides your campaign with the “boots on the ground” to do the work of the campaign, be it attending community meetings, raising money or getting out the vote.
While a broad and deep supporter base is invaluable, the point we made earlier about key messages will increase in importance the larger your coalition becomes. Educate new partners about the campaign plan and get them on board with using the messages in a way that will be effective, while leaving some room for partners to tailor the messages to the needs and interests of their target audiences.
We hope these tips are helpful.
What strategies have you used to create successful campaigns?
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