The nonprofit sector is comprised by organizations that provide a wide range of information,
services, and advocacy (Salamon & Anheier, 1992). Although many activist groups are not
recognized as nonprofit organizations, in that they may not be formal organizations or possess
501(c)(3) status, nearly one-quarter of registered nonprofits in the United States are advocacy
groups (Jacobs & Glass, 2002). Just as activists, advocacy groups are nonprofit organizations
that engage in activities designed to influence public opinion and policy (Berry, 1999). The
United Nations’ International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations identifies 12 broad
groups of organizations that comprise the nonprofit sector, including a category for advocacy
organizations (United Nations, 2003). The implications of this study are thus of theoretical
and practical relevance to both activist and nonprofit advocacy organizations—the difference
between which may often be in name only.
The findings suggest that the types of resources mobilized by activist groups and the strategies
in which they engage are interrelated. As such, the results of this study support the assumptions
of power resource management and resource mobilization theory that resources help to
shape activist behavior. Although no claims can be made regarding the ultimate efficacy of the
strategies employed by the groups studied herein, the results provide a tenable road map for
future activist or nonprofit advocacy activity, helping to explain how other groups have
attempted to gain the necessary resources to manage issues via different strategies.
The results of the study lend insight into the kinds of resources activists should attempt to
mobilize if they wish to develop into more systematized organizations that can continue to successfully
advocate for an issue once it gains legitimacy, widespread social currency, and reaches
the policy development stage (cf. Crable & Vibbert, 1985). The goal of activist organizations is
to move issues through their life cycle to a successful resolution. If activist groups are to remain
a ‘‘potent force of change’’ for their issues, they must ‘‘achieve structure, conduct routine tasks,
and maintain or increase membership’’ (Heath & Palenchar, 2009, p. 180).
As issues gain legitimacy and mature, so too must the successful activist group legitimate
itself if it is to endure—groups must mature in form and conduct. Power must take on a different
Indeed, the ways in which activists advocate for issues must change if the group is to continue
to successfully maintain power and exert influence. Different strategies may be required at different
stages of an issue’s development (Botan, 2006). As issues advance, and as activists
acquire more structure and division of labor, strategies of efficacious issue advocacy change.
As Heath and Palenchar (2009) explained, ‘‘The kind of organization is likely to predict the kind
of communication’’ (p. 208). Part of Salamon and Anheier’s (1992) operational definition of
nonprofit organizations is that they are formal or institutionalized in some sense. That is, the
organization has ‘‘some institutional reality’’ in the form of regular meetings, officers, rules
of procedure, or some degree of organizational permanence (p. 135). Ad hoc activist groups cannot
be considered part of the nonprofit sector under this definition as these are too amorphous
and fleeting. As such, evolving forms of mobilization and strategic behavior can be considered
part of an activist group’s journey to becoming a formal or systematized nonprofit. Strategies
mirror the development of activist groups from diffuse, grassroots efforts into structured, hierarchical
operations. The resources mobilized will change synchronously. The results lend insight
into the specifics of this change in mobilizing the relevant stakes used to affect issues.
This observation does not discount that a highly structured and systematized organization
may choose to mobilize resources to engage in symbolic strategies, such as organizing a boycott
or protest. Indeed, Internet technology has allowed certain kinds of systematized organizations to
exhibit the characteristics of grassroots movements (Bimber, Flanagin, & Stohl, 2005).
However, the use of such strategies are likely to be strategic decisions by activist issue managers
intended to produce certain outcomes, such as increased media attention. Activists must assess
what resources they have available or what resources they need to enact an issue strategy (Perry
et al., 2003). Reverting to symbolic or informational=media related strategies may be an
indication of an issue returning to an earlier stage in the Crable and Vibbert (1985) model—
wherein activists might strive to gain increased public attention for a new issue or for an issue
that has gone dormant. Intimate knowledge of how to effectively mobilize resources is
inherently tied up with effective issues management—understanding the life cycles of issues
is essential to approaching them strategically (Botan, 2006). Once an issue has been legitimized
and made current in the public agenda (cf. Crable & Vibbert) activist resource mobilization and
strategy may shift from gaining issue legitimacy and public attention to participation in the social
or legal resolution of the issue, which requires that different resources be mobilized.
This study contributes to the growing body of literature on activist public relations; however
there are limitations to address. First, the reliance on one database to provide the sample, even
one as large as, cannot guarantee a true representative sample of activist groups
with Web sites. Second, the list of online mobilization features, although extensive and refined
from previous research, cannot claim to be fully exhaustive. New forms of mobilization emerge
almost daily as technology grows at an exponential pace—heightening the importance for
researchers to understand how activists are gaining support and building relationships via new
technologies. Third, the generalizability of the results is limited as the sample was comprised
by Web sites from organizations in the United States. Activist online resource mobilization in
other countries may be influenced by exogenous variables not present in the United States, such
as authoritarianism, Internet censorship, or a lack of access to the technology itself. Many factors
have been found to influence how public relations is practiced around the globe, such as the
political system, level of economic development, and local culture among others (Sriramesh
& Vercˇicˇ, 2003). Activist public relations is subject to many of these same factors. Future work
could identify how online mobilization is accomplished by activists in places where activism is
more suppressed or where Web site mobilization is not feasible.
As in all forms of research, multiple theories are often needed to explain phenomena of interest.
This study has taken a resource-based approach to understanding activist behavior, as
opposed to other favored perspectives on activists such as emotional approaches (cf. Jasper,
2011) that largely reject resource approaches to researching activist conduct, or the political process
theory (cf. McAdam, 1982). In so doing, the article bracketed out these valid perspectives on
the formation and activity of activists. There are, no doubt, other factors that will influence the
strategies in which a group engages. Such factors might include the size, culture, and funding
sources of an activist group, which are difficult, if not impossible, to assess through the examination
of a Web site. Research that examines mobilization outside of the Web site context should
attempt to assess such factors and include them as predictive or control variables in future models
or in qualitative research. The nature or orientation of an activist group’s membership may also be
a force in dictating strategic behavior and, therefore, resource mobilization (Murphy & Dee,
1992). Future studies should also consider rhetorical discourse used to attract and manage
resources, as rhetoric advances the power needs of organizations (see Heath, 2011, pp. 427–428).
What has been presented herein is not intended to be a definitive explanation of which resources
every type of activist group will attempt to mobilize. Clearly, all activist groups have different
objectives and will mobilize resources to reflect such purposes. Moreover, different resources
will be mobilized to create stakes during differing stages of an issue’s life cycle. But future
discussions of how activist groups publicly interact with corporations, governments, or other
antagonists should recognize the resources activists attempt to mobilize, and interrogate how
they use such resources in building stakes to influence the public agenda or policy decisions.
Such recognition will help to further the understanding of the fluid and complex interaction
among activist organizational structure, issue-based objectives, and issues management strategy.

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