Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time.

These were the words President Barack Obama used in his speech to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in the fall of 2012. His speech would be the first speech entirely dedicated to the issue of slavery given by a major world leader since Abraham Lincoln. Wow.

Not only was President Obama’s speech a major milestone for the 36 million people in slavery today, the human rights community, and countless others, but it was also a win in the digital advocacy front. Earlier that same year, we at International Justice Mission, a leading human rights organization fighting violent oppression of the poor including modern-day slavery, launched our biggest digital letter writing campaign asking President Obama to take a stand to fight modern-day slavery. We wanted a big goal so we set out to get 27,000 signatures (Each signature represented 1,000 of the 27 million people in slavery estimated in 2012). Within weeks, we hit our goal prompting the student movement, Passion, to challenge us to invert the number and try to get 72,000 signatures. After a few short months, we hit over 73,000 signatures.  A gigantic stack of paper was delivered to the White House, which helped spark President Oama’s address to the CGI.

Not only did we hit our initial goal (and our stretch goal), but the person we addressed in the campaign actually did something about it (Thanks, President Obama). Since this was the first time my team and I worked on a digital campaign like this, we spent some time reflecting on what made it a success.

Here are 3 major components to our campaign’s success:

Social activation:

We worked hard to make sure social media was integrated throughout the entire campaign. We added social sharing buttons for people once they signed the letter with auto-messaging (Shortened link and key hash tags). We did the same in our e-mails. Every time people heard about this campaign, we wanted it to be easy to share on social. We literally saw hundreds of people use the sharing buttons every day.


Not only did we reach out to our existing influencers asking them to sign and share on social media, but we got in the weeds and researched which IJM followers on Twitter had significant followings of their own. We then tweeted at them and got their e-mail address. Literally, hundreds of new influencers shared about the campaign. And they did it all for free.

Full marketing support:

As much as it pains me to say it, a successful campaign can’t rely on social media entirely. Social is a great way to enhance and market the campaign, but it can’t be the entire campaign. Don’t get me wrong. We saw thousands of signatures come in because of Facebook and Twitter (We tracked every single link we used), but we saw a flood of signatures come in thanks to our e-mail marketing and field teams helping us to activate.

The most interesting part to all of this is that we spent zero dollars on marketing and promotion. Zero dollars! If you work for a nonprofit that has a small to no social and digital budget, there is hope. You can still run a successful advocacy campaign. You can build a movement!

If you happen to be at Blackbaud’s Conference for the Philanthropic Community this year (#bbcon), swing by the Social Media Lounge on Tuesday @ 1:30 to learn more about using social media to build movements.


Austin Graff is the Social Media Manager at Honest Tea. As social media manager at America’s leading organic bottled iced tea company, Austin Graff leads social media and influencer marketing. Honest Tea’s most recent social media campaign was named one of the top three social media campaigns in 2015 by Forbes.com. Prior to Honest Tea, Austin managed digital and social media marketing for International Justice Mission (IJM) where he built and led IJM’s social media presence of more than 500,000 fans across 7 platforms.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!