Advocacy Email Guide

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Sunflower field Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto from Pixabay

This guide describes the role of email in TNC advocacy campaigns, and how best to take advantage of this tool. The document includes why you should (or should not) use email for advocacy, how submit to the Centralized Email Program, how to ensure you are in legal compliance, as well as how to prepare the text copy to be most effective. The purpose of this guide is to help you better prepare your email request to avoid extended legal review and back-and-forth with the Centralized Email Program team.

Table of Contents

  • Benefits of Email: Why you should use email as part of your advocacy campaign – and when you should not
  • 2 Week Lead Time: When to submit your email and action center form request to CEP
  • How to submit: The Marketing Request form and what your email will ultimately look like (plus link to action center job aid)
  • Covering your Legal Bases
  • Messaging and Copy Best Practices for Emails & Actions

Benefits of Email: Why you should use email as part of your advocacy campaign -and when you should not

Graphic showing the various channels of a policy marketing campaign
"Surround Sound" Campaign Graphic showing the various channels of a policy marketing campaign © TNC

"Surround Sound" Campaign includes: Earned Media, Research Projects, Constituency Contacts, Events, Social media, Owned media, Paid media

Advocacy email to TNC’s membership & other constituents can be a great tool – depending on what your objective is:

Engagement Tool with Members

If your objective is to use advocacy emails as an engagement tool for your state membership – to get them excited about policy and legislation the chapter is taking leadership on for example – then advocacy emails are a great tool.

Support for a Ballot Measure

If your objective is increase awareness of and to encourage members to vote for a conservation-related ballot measure, advocacy emails can be a great tool. However, always be sure to consult and comply with the compliance memo Legal helps develop with your BU at the beginning of any ballot campaign.

Influencing Legislators

If your objective is to influence a specific legislator, advocacy emails alone are less effective -- but they can be effective if done in coordination with other influence tactics. Research and interviews with legislators and their staffers confirm that the most effective tools for voters to influence their Representatives are (in order of effectiveness):

  1.  In-person visits to a legislator’s office
  2.  Phone calls to the legislator’s office
  3. Hand-written letters
  4. Personalized emails

Form-letter emails alone are considered the least effective tactic for influencing a legislator. But communications that are customized and personalized – telling compelling stories about how the issue impacts that individual at the local level –can be far more effective.  Note that only form emails are available in our Engaging Networks templates because our emphasis in this tool is to make it as easy as possible to take action, which is true of form emails that can be sent with a single click.  Also, always be sure to combine your emails with other tactics, such as patch-through phone calls, digital ads, social media, earned media and more [Figure 1].

Contact the Global Conservation Campaigns Team who can give you professional advice on advocacy best practices – and sometimes financial resources – for your advocacy effort. 

2 Week Lead Time: When to submit your email and action center form request to CEP

There are several factors that can help you plan in advance and maximize the 2-week lead time required for CEP emails. 

  •  You can submit your request for your action and your email at the same time—they just need to be done as 2 separate requests.  This means that you don’t need to wait for the action to be approved to submit the email or vice versa.  In fact, review is much smoother when both pieces are available at the same time. 
  • Reserve your spot for your email & online action as soon as you know one of your policy priorities will be active.  Even if you need to estimate your requested send date, it is better to plan in advance and need to change the send date than to put the whole request in last minute. 
  • For legislative priorities, also don’t wait until you know a vote is planned to request your email.  You can start an early, steady drumbeat ahead of an immediate vote and then your action will be ready to promote again closer to any when actual vote dates get solidified. 
  • Your email and action need to focus on the core issue/challenge, not every detail.  Think about how much you already know and can write and get approved and leave placeholders for final details to be added if needed.  

How to submit: The Marketing Request form and what your email will ultimately look like (plus a link to action center job aid

As part of your advocacy campaign, you may be requesting an advocacy email, an action center page, or often both. In this section we take a look at how to request an advocacy email using the Marketing Request Portal. Details on requesting an action center form can be found in this job aid.

Advocacy Email requests are submitted through the Marketing Requests Portal and managed by the Centralized Email Program (CEP). From the Marketing Requests Portal landing page, select the Email Requests category > Send an email: letter and event invitation format.

The CEP has about a dozen email templates to choose from, but an advocacy email is likely to make the most sense in one of the 5 letter templates:

  • Letter
  • Letter with simple CTA
  • Letter with image CTA
  • Letter with 2 column CTA
  • Letter with 2 CTAs

Each template has a slightly different layout and different fields, as you can see by referencing the complete guide to CEP layouts or the CEP resource page on

Although each template differs, there are commonalities. Each email layout will need:

  • Subject Line – should be 50 characters max, 35 characters for mobile.
  • Preview Text – preview or summary text that displays in a recipient’s inbox, recommended at 160 characters max.
  • Header – text to display at the top of the email above the hero image.
  • Subheader- text to display below the header, above the hero. 
  • Primary Photo   with a caption and alt text – every photo will also need a caption and alt text. You may only have a Primary photo for your email, or you may include a second photo with your CTA. Image files should be uploaded in the attachments section at the bottom of the request form.
  • Body text – your email may have one block of text below the primary image, or there may be two sections of text broken up by a CTA (Intro Body Text and Closing Body Text).
  • Call to action (CTA): It is best practice to include only one CTA URL (one action) per email, however you may choose to include multiple buttons with different text (e.g., “Add Your Support” and “Take Action Now”).  Note that your CTA URL can also be linked from body copy, which is highly recommended to ensure you have 3 – 4 links to your CTA URL in the email. 
  • Email Signer Name (Optional): Include the name of the person signing the email.  This is optional but recommended to help convey a personal tone and appeal to the email. 
  • Email Signer Title (Optional): Include the title of the person signing the email.   Should always be included if you are including a signer. 

On the following page, take a look at the email example with fields labeled.

Most templates will require additional fields to be completed in the request form. Please refer to the CEP layout guide for which fields you will need to provide on your request form.

In addition to the email fields, with your request you will need to provide:

  • Target Audience and Suppressions:  Detail to whom are you sending the message and who should NOT receive the email.
  • What and Why: Describe what you want recipients to do and why you are sending this message to them. This will help with the review and approval process.
  • Conditional Content: Detail any personalized content that will appear in this email.
  • (Optional) Box link for email distribution list: If you are requesting an email send to an ad hoc audience, please place the send list in the linked Box folder. Then retrieve the Box link to the list and paste it in this field.
  • Attachment: Don’t forget to include your image(s) as attachment(s)!

Once you submit your request, it will undergo Email Review Committee review (required for all advocacy sends). Your requested send date will also need to be approved to ensure that it does not overlap with other important, scheduled sends to the same audience. You will receive updates as to your review and your send date directly on your request ticket. If more information is requested from you, or if you are asked a question on the ticket, please reply on the request ticket unless otherwise noted.

Advocacy email sends are subject to the CEP guidelines, which can be found here



Advocacy Email in the “Letter with Simple CTA” format
Screenshot of an advocacy email Displays the different sections of the email labeled

Advocacy Email in the “Letter with Simple CTA” format consists of: Header, Primary Photo, Image Caption, Image body text, call to action (CTA) title, CTA text, CTA button text, closing body text and signer name

Advocacy Email Inbox Preview (Gmail)
Advocacy email inbox preview Advocacy Email Inbox Preview (Gmail) © TNC

Screenshot of example of a gmail inbox with subject line "Thank you for speaking out about Marine life" and preview text

Covering your Legal Bases

Grassroots advocacy can help achieve TNC’s policy objectives, but it can also subject TNC to an expanded universe of legal and compliance frameworks. Grassroots and direct lobbying are regulated at the U.S. Federal, state, and sometimes local levels. All TNC work—even in non-U.S. jurisdictions—must also comply with relevant IRS rules around grassroots and direct lobbying.

Tracking your time

Under these rules, TNC must track and report all time and expenses related to lobbying—generally defined as an attempt to influence a legislative or executive process. Should your email campaign relate to or explicitly mention specific legislation or executive action, any staff who engage on the email must track their time appropriately.

Email communications which most often represent grassroots lobbying: identifying pending legislation for the general public and including a “call to action” for citizens to contact their elected or public officials.

This grassroots lobbying must also be tracked under the IRS rules and under most state/local rules. Examples of staff who may need to reflect lobbying time on their timesheets include the communications staff who develop the message, policy or management staff who review and vet the message, and marketing staff who help execute the campaign. Important note: as a result of the prohibition on using private foundation funds on legislative lobbying, none of the above-mentioned staff time or expenses should come from a private foundation award.

“Paid for by” language and campaign finance laws

If your email campaign relates to a ballot measure initiative—even tangentially or in the very early stages of the campaign—public communications may invoke state or local campaign finance laws. These laws require public disclosure of all money spent on ballot-related communications. They almost always require very specific “Paid for by” language conspicuously disclosed on all communication, including email.  Our review of your campaign will identify any connection to a ballot advocacy and flag potential additions/edits required to comply with relevant campaign finance law. As with the lobbying guidance above, all activities to support or oppose a ballot campaign must be tracked as direct lobbying time and expenses.

Additional considerations and legal team support

As a reminder, in order to maintain TNC's tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) public charity, no TNC resources may be used to help or hurt a Candidate or political party's chances of being elected to a public office ("Candidate Electioneering").  

Apart from lobbying and campaign finance considerations, our legal review of your email campaign will also consider cross-cutting legal issues such as privacy, data security, and private benefit. An attorney may be in contact to vet and resolve any such issues before your campaign is approved.

If you aren’t sure about anything in this section, the legal team is here to help. The purpose of this guide is to help you better prepare on the front end to avoid extended legal review on the back end. Remember, legal approval is required for all advocacy emails, so consider that necessary step when building your campaign timeline. To help reduce the time needed for legal review, ensure you’ve considered the following:

  • Does you advocacy email includes references to specific legislation, executive action, and/or a call to action? Confirm all TNC staff who contributed to the message tracked lobbying time appropriately.
  • Sending an advocacy message relating to a ballot measure? Ensure you’ve included all necessary legal disclaimers (e.g., “Paid for by…”) and tracked any staff time in support of that message as ballot advocacy. See Ballot Measure Legal Compliance Memo for more information.
  • Are you linking to a third-party site? Legal will want to see prior IT review of site security, privacy policy, and fundraising best practices.  

Messaging and Copy Best Practices for Emails & Actions

To be most effective, your advocacy email should focus on a single issue, not multiple parts of your policy agenda.  This will help avoid multiple calls-to-action, which are shown to decrease response. 

For maximum effectiveness, your advocacy email should also link to an online action that allows TNC supporters to send a message directly to government leaders or makes it easy for them to complete some other specific action.  Linking to digital content should only be done if there is a specific reason an action isn’t feasible. 

Keep these guidelines in mind about what to emphasize in the copy for your email, the action intro & the letter to target:

  • Email (advocacy email)- The email’s job is to make it crystal clear, as quickly as possible, what’s at stake with this policy so supporters are inspired to care & take action.  Sum up what will happen if this policy does or does not take effect and focus on that in plain language.  It’s a fact of human psychology that negative framing/loss aversion is much more effective for motivating people to act, so if there’s something bad that will happen with or without this policy, lead with that. 
  • Petition Introduction Text (action center page)- The action intro should similarly sum up what’s at stake and not be longer than 3 -4 very short paragraphs maximum.  It should culminate with a clear call to action that includes the impact we want to make—i.e. ‘Sign now and tell your lawmakers not to pollute Maryland’s critical rivers.’
  • Petition Letter Text (action center page)- The action petition is the part that actually gets sent to the intended recipients—government officials, etc.  So unlike the email and action intro, policy makers are the audience here so it needs to get across what you want them to hear, while also being written clearly enough that our TNC supporters know what they’re signing.  This is the place that it’s OK to include a little more wonky detail if that’s what you need to get across to your policy makers. 

All of the general copywriting best practices for email that are included in the CEP email guide are relevant to advocacy actions and emails as well.  It is especially important for advocacy emails that you have a clear call-to-action linked in the 1st or 2nd paragraphs so the hyperlink catches the reader’s eye as quickly as possible.  In addition, be sure to:

  • Keep it short
  • Avoid insider jargon and acronyms
  • Write it so simple that an 8th grader can understand it
  • Have a clear call to action that is repeated a few times in the email
  • Highlight why this is important to TNC’s mission/conservation and what a win would mean