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What's Working: Advocacy on the 'Net
Strategic Communications ... ... in the digital age 

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What to Watch

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Benton Foundation 2001

What's Working: Advocacy on the 'Net

As part of our exploration into "best practices" of nonprofit use of the Internet, we compile here a list of nonprofit advocacy organizations that make particularly good use of the Internet in their activities. These sites: educate the reader about the issue; invite the reader to act; make appropriate and innovative use of technology to help them do so; While not all of the following do, we also seek sites that include a clear privacy policy and keep activists updated on the issue. If you'd like to nominate an organization for inclusion on this list, please fill out our best practices questionnaire.

The following are grouped by particular trends or approaches that are emerging in the use of the Internet for advocacy: Customizable Action Networks The Power of Online Databases Building Community Banding Together to Make a Difference Campaign-Specific URLs Keeping it Simple (but Effective) Activism Clearinghouses

Customized Action Networks:
These organizations use current Web technology to allow visitors to customize their experience of and participation in the online campaign. Such customization has the added effect of allowing the organization to collect information about which issues are most popular, and other data that will help organizations evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts.

Conservation Action Network
This site from the World Wildlife Fund exemplifies those organizations that are creating customized areas that address just the issues of interest to you.  Through their online signup form, you select which issues you want to follow, and those are the issues about which they email you action alerts.   In addition, you have your own personal action network web page to visit, that contains information only of interest to you. You may change your profile or remove yourself from the action network at any time.  This site also does what many sites are not yet doing: provides updates on the results of action taken. 

Human Rights Campaign
This site is a well-rounded mix content and services, of which advocacy is a central key. The main page is regularly updated, providing both local and state news concerning gay rights. The Action Center is customizable. New features include WorkNet and FamilyNet, efforts to support gays and lesbians in the workplace and in their families.

Environmental Defense
In addition to the usual alerts and news, EDF encourages you to join their Activist Network, through which you commit to taking 3 or more EDF actions in a 12-month period. Actions will be emailed to you. The site also has several online (and searchable!) forums on such topics as endangered species, global warming, and energy efficiency. I also particularly enjoy their list of "practical actions," including how to buy "green electricity," their "action guide to greener paper," and "what you should know about lead in china dishes." This site is a good, balanced mix of action opportunities (via web and email), "green" news, and practical how-to information.  Their privacy policy is not as strong as others listed here; they do share information you provide with third parties unless you opt out. (Other sites more vigorously protect your privacy.)

Women's Voting Guide
An example of how to use the web for organizing and advocacy, and in this case, voter education. The site first asks you to identify what issues you feel most strongly about, and then what legislation you would support or oppose. Then, based on your answers, it tells you how your elected representative agrees or disagrees with you based on their voting record. This is one of the more powerful voting record tools I've yet seen. 

The Power of Online Databases:
These sites use online databases to connect activists with information specific to their region.

Chemical Scorecard
Created by Environmental Defense, allows you to insert your zip code to find out what chemicals infest your community. With a click of the button, learn who is polluting, the names of the pollutants, about the pollutants and the chemical effects of the pollutants, and then send faxes directly and for free to major polluters. A personalized scorecard lets you: stay current on issues of concern to you; customize how the Scorecard Web page appears to you; and includes a community home page connected to your zip code. The New York Times also wrote an article about the site:

League of Conservation Voters
Perhaps best known for their environmental scorecard, LCV's electronic version allows activists to find their elected representative through a clickable map of the U.S., find out how their elected representative voted, get background on the legislation, and link to congressional emails for immediate response. During campaign season they make it very clear who the pro-environment candidates are. They now offer email updates.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America
In addition to education resources, action opportunities, statistics, tips for parents, and advice for teens, visitors to the site can also (after a few too many clicks) sign up to receive action alerts via email, enter a zip code to access more local information, take a survey to find out where they stand on abortion and sex education, and download a "pro-choice debate handbook" that prepares the reader to argue their side of the issue. Despite a "Copyright and Policy" link, the subsequent text includes no information about what they will or will not do with the information you provide.

Banding Together to Make a Difference:
These sites demonstrate how multiple nonprofits working on related issue can come together to be more effective in pushing a campaign.

Corporate Watch
Beautifully designed, this site collects action alerts created by other groups, offers a unique campaign (called the Greenwash Awards) that exposes environmentally unsound practices of corporations hiding behind "green" PR, lets you receive announcements and alerts via email, and provides information on how to research companies yourself. While not using the most cutting edge technologies for doing advoaccy online, Corporate Watch is a good model for collaborating with like-minded organizations to promote a cause.

Extinction Sucks
Advances the causes of 79 environmental, community and religious species protection groups across British Columbia.

Campaign-Specific URLs:
Examples of creative domain names and the power of the URL.
Even their URL is "in your face" and getting an issue across, although the organization may be relying too heavily on the domain name to convey who they are-- there is nothing immediately present that tells you what "Kickbutt.Org" is about. You are invited to act before they convey what it is that concerns them. Even so, they list current legislation and both government and media contacts. The site can email your messages to Congress and the media for you, and also includes extensive information to inform activists about the health issues related to smoking, and has a good smoking-related headlines service.

Our Forests
This site, developed by the Technology Project for the Heritage Forests Campaign, so encourages immediate action that you need to send a postcard (through an electronic form) before getting to the rest of the Web site. The site also includes some fun and short animations. Other similar online campaigns produced by the Technology Project include and

Building Community:
This site recognizes the value of building an online community to enhance its advocacy efforts.

Wisconsin Stewardships Network
This site includes an online events calendar that anyone can add to, interactive action alerts that people can contribute to; a chat page and discussion boards, sample letters to editor, and a listserv. Also includes direct links to local papers for submitting letters to the editor. A good model for what groups focused on local issues might do.

Keep it Simple (but Effective):
These sites may not use the most current in online technology, but their message is tight and focused either in content or audience or both. Good examples of doing a lot with a little.

Co-Op America's Boycott Action News
A very simple, straightforward list and chart of current boycotts being conducted by other nonprofit organizations.

Mothers & Others
Environmentalism from a mother's perspective, this site offers consumer resources and advice involving health and the environment, including: an article about the toxic nature of Barbie dolls; a "green" recipe for keeping ants out of your kitchen; action alerts concerning hormones in dairy products; and the opportunity to take part in a "green cleaning" project that tests environmentally friendly cleaning products. While not using the most current online technology to encourage visitors to act, I include this site because it so excellent tailors its issue for a specific audience (in this case, mothers).

Activism Clearinghouses:
These sites link activists to opportunities to take action, and aggregate information about advocacy organizations and events. Advocacy organizations should consider them as additional opportunities for promoting their work.

A clearinghouse of protests happening anywhere in the world. Protest.Net will also provide a syndicated version for other organizations working in particular issue or geographical areas. Last updated: 09 October 2001 mff