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How crafting meaningful relationships can drive lasting impact

The Challenge

Grow AARP’s Grassroots Advocacy audience, drive actions, and raise revenue.

The Insight

Creating meaningful relationships with advocates will grow the community, drive action, and raise revenue.

The Solution

Providing authentic avenues for action — paired with personal storytelling and backed by data — turned this digital program into a best-in-class advocacy powerhouse.

As the largest nonprofit in the US, one of AARP’s most important goals is to empower people as they age by identifying issues that impact people 50+ — and mobilizing a community of advocates on their behalf.

In 2018, AARP and its Grassroots Advocacy team partnered with Blue State to grow their community and increase advocacy actions.

After a strategy and research deep dive, we were armed with one main insight: putting relationships with advocates at the heart of our program was the key to a larger transformation.

One year into our engagement, the results of that strategic shift are in. How did it pay off? Let’s look at three distinct parts of the program to find out.

Start off on the right foot

AARP Advocacy is in a unique position when it comes to audience growth. While they have a dedicated cohort who opt-in to the advocacy community from the start, the vast majority of their new advocates are sourced from the larger AARP community, which is essentially a cross-section of Americans over 50, with all of their diverse and varied interests and motivations.

This large pool of prospective members obviously already know and are connected to the overarching AARP brand. Pinpointing the specific individuals who are primed for advocacy action, however, is another story.

Throughout the course of the year, we tested multiple creative variations, iterating on graphics, messaging, tactics, and channels to learn how to convert as many potential advocates as possible. Our extensive, multivariate and long-term testing ultimately inspired 2.3 million prospective advocates — maximizing the pool of engaged list members.

Thankfully, AARP has a dedicated data team who has built, tested, and deployed sophisticated audience models to identify likely advocates. Our job is to take these prospects from the model, and design hard-hitting, effective advocacy campaigns that inspire them to action.

Two emails from the AARP campaign

We motivated users to join the community by giving them an easy way to begin taking action: a one-click survey or questionnaire that asked for their input or insight.

We know motivating someone to advocate for their community can be a big ask — but this tactic made an initial action easy and primed new members to align themselves with AARP’s mission and goals. You can see that pairing an easy action with clear, values-based messaging resulted in a dramatic increase in prospect conversions.

AARP conversions over the course of five months
Amount of conversions over the course of five months.

Create avenues for authentic action

The overall size of a community, however, is meaningless if new members don’t take action. That’s why we developed a steady drumbeat of content outside of advocacy moments that educated and informed members of crucial issues affecting people 50 and older. This way, when AARP identified policies or legislation that could positively or negatively impact this audience, they were primed to take action.

For example, when Congress began taking meaningful steps toward a prescription drug reform package, our audience was ready to respond. As committees in the House and Senate each began to move proposals through the legislative process, our community mobilized. Overall, more than 850K people sent 1M+ letters and made 10K+ calls to Congress — high-barrier actions that laddered up to impact at scale.

GIF from an email campaign for AARP

Advocates become all-around supporters

While grassroots fundraising is a secondary goal of the program, it’s worth noting that we’ve seen very strong results here, too. The community also demonstrated how strong advocates often also become stronger all-round supporters who invest both time and money. To make sure we were making the most of that interest, we built fundraising appeals into the program as secondary actions throughout, and after only 11 months had already outraised our entire annual revenue goal.

As we near the end of our first year with the AARP Advocacy team, we’re delighted to celebrate our shared success. By putting personal relationships, strong storytelling, and authentic avenues for action at the heart of our program, we’ve built something special — and had real impact on the lives of older adults.


  • 38% Activist list growth from end of January-December 2019
  • 1.5M+ letters to decision makers
  • 119% of goal for 2019 fundraising
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