How to Plan a Campaign: A Step-By-Step Guide

Find out how to write an effective campaign plan and get your campaign launch-ready fast.

Campaigns with a plan are always more effective than campaigns with no plan.

And just any old plan will not do.

To be of real value campaign plans must be based on evidence and facts. Hope is a crucial attribute for campaigners, but basing a campaign plan on hope will most likely prove, well, hopeless.

So, how do you go from, We really want to stop (environment issue) to, We know exactly what we are going do to stop (environment issue)?

This step-by-step guide shows you how to write a campaign plan to protect natural areas, wildlife, local communities and local businesses from any environment issue.

As with all of Silent Reef’s campaign training and tools, this guide is written for environment campaigns. However, you can use these steps no matter what you are campaigning to achieve, from racial equality and gender equality to poverty reduction and animal rights.

For a handy bullet list version of this guide for easy reference while writing your plan download the 9 Step Campaign Planning Quick Guide (Non-Student Version) from our Campaign Library (free membership).

Students enrolled in our Write Effective Campaign Plans online course should access the more detailed student version of this guide found in the Campaign Planning Made Easy module of your course.

What is campaign planning?

A campaign plan is a detailed description of what a campaign wants to achieve and how it will achieve it.

The key elements of a campaign plan are a goal, strategy, targets, audiences, objectives and tactics.

A goal is the ultimate outcome a campaign works to achieve, such as stop the development or reduce public littering.

A strategy describes how to achieve a goal. Broadly speaking, environment campaigns use two strategies:

  • Advocacy – Activities to influence business and government decisions
  • Behaviour change – Activities to change people’s behaviours that damage the environment

For convenience Silent Reef often speaks about advocacy and behaviour change strategies as two different types of campaign, however, you can use elements of both strategies to achieve your goal.

More on this subject

Learn about advocacy and behaviour change strategies in the Getting Started (Open Access) module of Silent Reef’s online courses. Either claim your free course preview or gain campaign-planning superpowers by enrolling in our Write Effective Campaign Plans online course.

Targets (advocacy campaigns) are the people and organisations a campaign pressures to decide in favour of the campaign. Audiences are the people, groups and organisations a campaign communicates with to achieve the campaign goal.

Objectives create the conditions needed to achieve a goal, such as removing political support for the issue (advocacy campaigns) or making the new behaviour possible and easy (behaviour change campaigns).

And tactics are the actions and events used to achieve objectives, such as raising awareness, running petitions, organising marches, delivering training workshops, providing resources, meeting community leaders, building partnerships and much, much more.

The advantage of using these elements is that they make your campaign plan flexible. And the advantage of a flexible plan is that it is easy to update in response to changing circumstances and new information.

So your aim at this stage is not to complete a finished plan that is fixed for the duration of your campaign. Your aim is to complete the best possible plan given what you know (learnt through research – See Step 5) and then update your plan as your campaign progresses.

But a word of caution – some plan elements are easier to change than others. So it is crucial that you take care with your major planning decisions.

Why is campaign planning important?

Campaign planning is important because a carefully researched and thoughtfully developed plan provides a clear path to achieving your campaign goal.

With no plan you are just throwing random campaign activities against a wall and hoping something sticks.

With a plan everything that you do has an identified role in achieving your campaign goal. Mastering this careful use of effort is a crucial skill for overworked and underfunded campaigners (and you will never meet a campaigner with time and money to spare).

But that’s not all. A campaign plan also helps you decide whether to take advantage of new opportunities or pursue new activities. Yes, if they contribute to achieving your goal. No, if they do not.

How to plan a campaign in 9 steps

The 9 steps are a broad outline of the campaign planning process rather than a set procedure that must be followed. Customise these steps to suit your situation.

Step 1. Gain executive approval

Start the planning process by gaining any necessary approvals to run your campaign.

If you work for a nonprofit organisation gain approval from your chief executive officer (CEO), board of directors or other as designated by your organisation. Follow any additional requirements set by your organisation.

If you are running your campaign independent of an organisation gain the approval of your partner and family. Running a campaign takes a lot of time and comes with some risk, so make sure you have their support.

Warning – We recommend that you gain professional advice on managing the risks of running an environment campaign, including legal and insurance advice.

Step 2. Choose a campaign leader

The next step is to choose someone to lead your campaign.

The campaign leader is responsible for motivating and organising campaign team members (staff and volunteers) to achieve the campaign goal.

During planning the campaign leader’s role is to:

  • Recruit and join a planning team and keep the team inspired and active (next step)
  • Move the planning process forward to completion
  • Encourage discussion and ideas
  • Make decisions when consensus is lacking
  • Liaise with the campaign organisation’s executive

Some campaigns prefer to have a leadership team rather than one person as leader. If you take this approach keep your team small (say 3 people) and establish a policy for making decisions, such as majority agreement.

Step 3. Form a planning team

Next, form a planning team to develop your plan.

The advantages of a team over working alone are that teams contain more knowledge and experience and that you will be more creative and confident when working with others.

A core planning team of 4-6 members is most effective as larger teams can find it difficult to reach agreement.

Invite influential people whose help you need to achieve your goal to join your planning team.

Step 4. Identify and assign tasks (1st meeting)

Your first planning meeting sets the scene for the entire planning process. To get the most from your planning team, create a friendly atmosphere, encourage participation and make the meeting fun.

Our guide to running effective campaign meetings shows you how to get real results from your meetings.

After introductions, speak briefly about what you want your campaign to achieve and why it is needed. Then outline the planning process using the steps in this guide as a prompt.

Next, working with your planning team, identify the tasks needed to write your campaign plan, including research for planning (next step). Then decide who will complete each task and agree a deadline for plan completion.

Finally, arrange a date for your second planning meeting (Step 6). Be sure to allow sufficient time to complete the identified tasks.

Step 5. Conduct research for planning

Effective campaign plans are based on evidence and facts. They are not based on emotion and intuition. To make your plan effective conduct the following research for planning:

  • Issue research
  • Environment research
  • Stakeholder research
  • Solution research
  • Target research (advocacy campaigns)
  • Audience research

Once complete, provide your planning team with your research findings. Take care not to introduce bias by emphasising information you like and downplaying or omitting information you dislike.

Give team members time to review the research prior to the next planning meeting.

See 5 Powerful Benefits Research Brings to Your Campaign (with links to research tips) for more on conducting research for planning.

Step 6. Set your goal and strategy (2nd meeting)

There’s a lot to get through in this meeting so be sure to allocate sufficient time.

Start by working with your planning team to make a campaign assessment – an evaluation of everything you have learnt about the issue and your campaign through your research (Step 5).

A SWOT analysis is a useful exercise for assessing your campaign. Through a SWOT analysis you identify your campaign’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

You can download an example environment campaign SWOT analysis from our Campaign Library (free membership).

Next, your team uses your SWOT analysis to make recommendations to guide the writing of your campaign plan.

You are now ready for perhaps the most important decisions of your campaign – setting your goal (what you want to achieve) and strategy (how you will achieve it). Take care with these decisions as they determine every other element of your plan and are difficult to change mid-campaign.

Close this meeting by identifying and assigning tasks and agreeing a date for your third planning meeting (Step 8).

Step 7. Develop your objectives and tactics

With your goal and strategy in place you are ready to develop your objectives and tactics.

Objectives create the conditions needed to achieve your goal. For example, if a target believes most people support the issue your objective is to show most people support your campaign goal, or if people need litter bins to stop littering your objective is to install litter bins.

Next, develop your tactics – the actions and events you will use to achieve your objectives.

It is through your tactics that your campaign plan moves from words on paper to real world activities – raising awareness, running petitions, organising marches, delivering training workshops, meeting community leaders, building partnerships and much, much more.

Tip – Organise an additional planning meeting if your planning team wants to participate in developing objectives and tactics.

With your objectives and tactics decided you have completed a draft version of your campaign plan.

Email your draft plan to your planning team and arrange your final planning meeting.

Step 8. Gain draft plan feedback (3rd meeting)

The purpose of this meeting is for your planning team to provide their thoughts and suggestions on your draft plan.

Be prepared to make changes, especially if you developed the objectives and tactics without input from your planning team. Simple suggestions may be easily integrated into your plan, but bigger changes may require further discussion.

Finish this meeting with agreement for a final version of your plan.

Step 9. Finalise your plan

Update your draft plan with feedback from the previous meeting to create a final version of your plan.

Then email this plan to your planning team for their approval. Do not ask for further comments.

If you do receive suggestions for minor changes (which is likely) include them if they are useful and will not cause problems with other team members.

Having been through the previous steps you should not receive suggestions for major changes at this stage.

When you have planning team approval forward your plan to your campaign organisation’s executive for their approval.

When you receive final executive approval you are ready to launch your campaign.

Students enrolled in our Write Effective Campaign Plans online course have access to example campaign plans for both an advocacy campaign and a behaviour change campaign.

Launch your campaign!

Congratulations! The days of wondering how to get your campaign going are over. From this point every campaign activity you organise is prescribed by your plan with the sole purpose of achieving your goal.

Well-written plans contain deadlines for when certain plan elements should be complete, so let these deadlines guide your first moves.

If you are working with a team of campaigners your first step will be to assign tasks. Then all campaign team members should complete their own action plans showing how they will deliver the tactics for which they are responsible.

Let the campaign begin!

Ultimate Guide to Campaign Planning

You started this journey asking, How to write a campaign plan? You now know our 9 steps to writing effective campaign plans.

But environment issues are tough to remedy, like out of control weeds that smother more beautiful and more useful plants.

So as your plan is the key to remedying the issue, shouldn’t you write the best plan that you possibly can?

After all, you’re going to spend a lot of time, money and effort running your campaign. A small investment now could result in large savings later.

Our Write Effective Campaign Plans online course explains the planning process in much more detail than this quick guide, including how to:

  • Conduct research for planning (with extensive research prompts to ensure you ask the right questions)
  • Investigate the issue and identify your stakeholders
  • Check your solutions will be effective
  • Use a SWOT analysis to make a campaign assessment and plan recommendations
  • Set your goal and a strategy to achieve it
  • Choose the right targets and audiences
  • Develop your objectives and tactics
  • Write action plans and measure progress

Whether starting a new campaign or rebooting an existing campaign, Write Effective Campaign Plans helps you plan your path to campaign success.

From our plain language promise to our extensive course resources and real campaign examples, this course is perfect for new and experienced campaigners.

How to plan a campaign conclusion

Campaigns with a plan are always more effective than campaigns with no plan.

A campaign plan is a detailed description of what a campaign wants to achieve and how it will achieve it.

With your plan as your roadmap you know that every activity you organise contributes to achieving your campaign goal.

Nature is teetering on the edge so you have no time to waste. Working to a well-written campaign plan means no wasted time.

For a handy bullet list version of this guide for easy reference while writing your plan download the 9 Step Campaign Planning Quick Guide (Non-Student Version) from our Campaign Library (free membership).

About the Author

David Roe

Dave is Silent Reef founder and author of Silent Reef's training courses for environment activists. He is convinced that people power - wielded through advocacy and protest - is the best hope for our planet and all the critters that call it home.