Identifying the Key Elements of Your Nonprofit’s Activist Toolkit
No two nonprofits’ activist toolkits will look exactly alike. You can and should customize yours according to your organization’s unique objectives and most pressing needs. As a result, the following list of key elements is meant to be more of a springboard than a prescription. Consider how you might leverage your supporters’ involvement to achieve your goals. Then, decide which of the tools and tactics will be most effective in empowering your supporters to do just that.
As previously stated, the biggest risk in pursuing a distributed or grassroots model is that you might lose control of your brand and messaging. As a result, the tools in your activist toolkit should do more than just empower your supporters to spread your message. They should also provide much-needed guardrails so your supporters avoid unintentionally misrepresenting your brand or mission.
Brand Style Guide
If you plan to give your supporters the freedom to design their own branded assets, a visual style guide is a must. Your style guide should lay out the basics of how to visually express your brand, from colors and typefaces to any other major requirements. Don’t get too detailed. Keep in mind that many of the supporters who will create assets aren’t professional designers.
Make sure your supporters are on the same page about what you are trying to achieve. Provide clear documentation of your goals. Make sure to detail your big-picture mission as well as your current list of high-priority objectives.
Theory of Change
Your theory of change is your nonprofit’s unique blueprint. It delineates your unique approach to catalyzing change. In order for your theory of change to be meaningful to your supporters, you must work to simplify it until it is reduced down to its essence.
Code of Ethics
Another way to ensure that your brand is represented appropriately is through a code of ethics. Depending on your mission or cause, this may be more or less important to include in your toolkit. The main thing is to spell out any dos and don’ts related to how your supporters should conduct themselves when representing your brand, either online or at in-person events. For instance, if your organization sponsors protests, you might include a code of ethics related to peaceful protesting. Ask your supporters to pledge to comply with your code of ethics.
In his 2020 democratic primary campaign, Pete Buttigieg released his “Rules for the Road.” Buttigieg's code of ethics called on his supporters to be respectful, truthful, and responsible, among other characteristics.
By coming up with a similar code of conduct, you can rally people around your cause and ensure that they don’t misuse or even abuse your brand.
Top-Line Messaging and Talking Points
Top-line messaging and talking points enable your supporters to spread your message without muddying your focus or misrepresenting your values. Make sure to update your top-line messaging and talking points as the situation (and your priorities) change.
Tools for Creating Print or Digital Collateral
These might include templates, photo and video assets, graphics, social post starters, instructions for creating DIY videos, and more. If you are concerned about off-brand content, structure these tools in a way that allows your supporters to craft collateral using a collection of prepared assets. For inspiration, check out the design playground on the Donors Choose website, which allows teachers to create their own branded, custom graphics.
Advocacy-related training materials
You can’t just plop a complex activist toolkit on your website and call it a day. If you want your supporters to take action, you must provide the right level of instruction and training. To that end, advocacy groups like Sunrise Movement are increasingly spinning up training materials that teach their supporters how to effectively make change. This can include written materials, videos, webinars, and in-person training sessions.
Keep in mind that if you are encouraging your supporters to participate in protests or other actions, you need to remember to describe the risks and acknowledge the role of privilege. Whenever possible, prioritize the well-being of at-risk and racialized people as your organization works for systems change.