If you need a quick handbook on the in’s and outs of grassroots advocacy, along with strategies and the best tools and channels to use, this post is for you. Read on to find out:
Grassroots Advocacy Definition
Grassroots advocacy involves communicating with the general public and prompting them to engage elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels. Grassroots advocates raise public awareness on issues so the general public can influence public perception, regulations, and public policy. While direct political lobbying is conducted by professional lobbyists who bring arguments for or against a specific measure to legislators and government officials, grassroots advocacy relies on citizen-based activism.
Why is grassroots advocacy important?
One of the most important civic responsibilities of a citizen of the United States is to stay informed about the issues that are affecting their communities, and beyond. An extension of that duty is the responsibility to address the government through activism.
Grassroots advocacy lets citizens start powerful conversations around the issues they care about with their elected officials. By combining and channeling many voices around a single issue, you have a better chance of getting leaders to sit up and listen.
Who organizes grassroots advocacy?
If you are a mission-based organization, you are well-suited towards organizing a grassroots advocacy campaign.
Take the example of National Equality Action Team (NEAT), a nonprofit organization advocating for LGBTQ+ justice.
NEAT has been using grassroots advocacy to empower their supporters to take collective action on the issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community. They used phone banking and on the ground canvassing to mobilize supporters.
A 501c (3) organization can engage in grassroots or direct lobbying, but not in political lobbying, such as directly sponsoring a candidate. There are several restrictions when it comes to 501c (3) organizations getting involved in lobbying.
How do organizations engage in grassroots advocacy?
Organizations have options aplenty when it comes to mobilizing supporters. Traditional grassroots advocacy involves organizing a rally or a march, trying to be as visible as possible. It’s still a great way to do it, especially if you have willing supporters, who can travel to attend an event. But changes in the ways organizations have been using technology have made it easier for supporters to participate from wherever they may be. That means they do not have to be at certain places at certain times to make a difference.
Organizations are using channels like these to enable grassroots advocacy:
- Social media
- Phone calls
- Text messages
Whether you’re organizing for an issue within a locality or at a federal level, the tools mentioned above will let you reach the people who need to hear your message.
Grassroots Advocacy Strategies
With grassroots advocacy campaigns stretching on for upwards of a year, there’s a good chance that your supporters won’t retain their motivation throughout. When creating your voter contact plan make sure that you reach your supporter base at least once every month with some form of communication. With time-sensitive grassroots advocacy campaigns that last for shorter durations, you’ll need even more consistency with your contact. It can be an email, text message, or phone call, as long as your mode of contact reaches out to each individual supporter.
Online and offline engagement
Online offers a plethora of channels for you to engage advocates, volunteers, and the voter base. While online channels help you reach out to a mass audience they aren’t always effective in engaging voters on a personal level. Balancing your online activities with a fair share of offline activities lets people give a face to your grassroots advocacy campaign and attach your activities with real-life impact. Offline activities can include phone calls from volunteers, personal text messages, door-to-door visits, town halls etc which should form a balance with online engagement activities through your website, email, online fundraising, etc.
Combine team building with supporter engagement
Running a grassroots advocacy campaign requires you to manage events, run phone banks, do door-to-door canvassing and many more activities, all of which require dedicated staff and volunteers. Grassroots advocacy groups often run lean, minimizing the number of paid staff and relying on volunteers to do most of the work. But rather than running separate volunteer recruitment drives, you can combine team building with supporter engagement to save on time, money and effort.
For example, the initial days of a campaign involve voter identification campaigns where voters are contacted from expansive voter lists to identify supporters and assess voter sentiment about the cause. If you are running a phone banking campaign to do this, make the call to action to volunteer, immediately after a supporter has been identified. Much like this, your call to action to volunteer should be a part of all supporter engagement.
Clear and specific actionables
While supporters share similar sentiments about your cause and are willing to take action on behalf of it, they are often unaware of how to go about those actions. With all grassroots advocacy campaign activities aimed at getting supporters to take action, provide clear and specific instructions on how to achieve them. Provide educational material around the topic if the issue is complicated.
Take the cue of Indivisible and the Indivisible guide. At a time when voters were being told to contact their reps, Indivisible tackled the issue that most voters were unaware of how their representatives stood on issues, how they vote, and their role in the larger picture. Indivisible broke down each important event in the US, or vote taking place in Congress and outlined specific guidelines for how voters can hold their reps accountable. Indivisible now has thousands of local branches in congressional districts across the country empowering tens of thousands of liberals and progressives to take action.
While email and social media form an intricate part of grassroots advocacy efforts, you can increase the effectiveness of your voter engagement by bringing in more engagement channels into your voter contact mix. Experiment with different outreach channels like phone calls, text messages, in-person contact, patch-through calls, and direct mail to identify which channels give you the best returns. When trying out new channels, also experiment with different ways to frame your message and word your call to actions.
Without a targeted approach to voter contact, the majority of your outreach material will end up being ignored or in the trash. The first phase of your voter contact should involve voter identification campaigns where you identify the level of support for each voter. Future campaigns should be tailored based on this information. Fundraising appeals should go out only to supporters, educational material to swing voters, and more subtle forms of engagement for your opponents. As your grassroots advocacy campaign progresses and you learn more about your supporters, each channel of outreach should be further personalized based on voter support and interests.
Grassroots Advocacy Tools
Online Campaign management tools
Campaign management tools are built to manage the entire online presence of your grassroots advocacy campaign. These tools come fitted with a range of digital tools for event management, fundraising, donor management, website design, volunteer organizing, social media and more.
Tools: NationBuilder, Blue State Digital, The Action Network
The NationBuilder software lets advocacy groups harness their base through petitions, events, donation and sign up pages with the help of templates. You can enable social sharing prompts across the pages you create with the platform.
Blue State Digital
BSD Tools enable easy online fundraising and supporter mobilization for advocacy groups.
The Action Network
Action Network is a toolkit that provides advocacy tools for events, fundraisers, letter-writing campaigns, and forms, as well as mass email. You can even send start calling and texting campaigns through Action Network’s integration with CallHub.
Outreach for your grassroots advocacy campaign can include phone calls, text messages, email, and direct mail. When campaigns have to reach out to a large voter base, it can be a cumbersome process to manage outreach activities. The right outreach tools offer scalability, personalization, and tracking for all your outreach at affordable costs.
Tools: CallHub (phone banking, text messaging, voice broadcasting), MailChimp (email), Buffer (social media)
CallHub is a calling and texting tool that integrates with CRMs like NationBuilder, Action Network, and Blue State Digital so organizers can carry out surveys, patch-through calling campaigns and organize events in real-time. Campaigns can mobilize supporters from across the world, with the help of volunteers making calls or sending peer-to-peer texts from the comfort of their homes.
Campaign management tools like Blue State Digital typically have email functionalities built-in. If not, tools like Mailchimp can help you get started with sending segmented mailers to supporters.
Social media can be an effective tool to reach and mobilize supporters around an issue. The downside is that it can be time-consuming to keep track of your posting across channels. A social media scheduling tool like Buffer can save you a lot of time.
Canvassing tools helps grassroots advocacy campaigns maximize returns from their field operations. These tools make it easier to manage door-to-door canvassing through features like intelligent maps to find voters, real-time tracking of canvassers, surveys, etc.
The Ecanvasser app makes it easier to manage field activities through intelligent maps to find voters and real-time tracking of canvassers. Ecanvassers integration with Nationbuilder lets you plugin data from the CRM for canvassing campaigns.
Polis App is a canvassing software for campaigning and door-to-door sales. The app can automatically create walking routes for door-to-door canvassers based on their location.
Volunteer management tools
Grassroots advocacy movements need to recruit a lot of volunteers as the campaign progresses. Volunteer management software provides tools for signing up, managing and tracking your volunteers. While many campaign management software come with volunteer management features, CiviCRM is an open-source tool that does a good job of it.
CiviCRM is designed to manage an expansive cluster of information about an organization’s donors, members, event registrants, subscribers, grant application seekers, funders, volunteers, activists as well as collate data on voters, employees, clients, and vendors.