Grassroots Advocacy: Definition & Best Practices for Success
Grassroots advocacy thrives on large groups of people gathering together to focus their efforts on one issue, but there are various other factors that go into making these campaigns successful.
Political and economic movements are often supported by a network of individuals at the local level working to enact change. This is where grassroots advocacy, which centers on people contacting their elected officials and reaching out to the public regarding important policy issues, comes into play.
What is Grassroots Advocacy?
The term grassroots implies a bottom-up method for influencing decision-making as opposed to a top-down method in which those already in power call the shots. More specifically, grassroots advocacy involves connecting with individuals either within the local community or across the country who believe in and want to support a particular cause; as with any form of advocacy, it also encourages these individuals to take a variety of actions — big and small — to promote that cause. By building these connections, grassroots advocates wholly rely on the power of numbers rather than the power of wealth and prestige to drive change.
Strategies include putting up signs and posters, mass letter-writing or phone-calling efforts, holding demonstrations or protests, holding organizational meetings and soliciting signatures for petitions. In the end, the sum of multiple smaller efforts by a large number of everyday people can create significant momentum for raising awareness and advocating for change.
How Grassroots Advocacy Helps Shape Public Policy
The key to the effectiveness of grassroots advocacy is strength in numbers. Because laws, policies and actions taken by publicly elected officials can affect the entire community, decision-makers are likely to take notice if a large number of their constituents strongly advocate for something. This is not so much the case if they only hear from a few individuals with messages that only differ slightly.
That said, grassroots advocacy isn’t just about getting a large group of people together to shout (or mail or phone) their demands to their local congressperson. A successful campaign changes policy by informing and educating elected officials while also demonstrating broad public support. This means that organizers of grassroots campaigns must take time to do their research, identify compelling data, and present a coherent and impactful story.
Where is Grassroots Advocacy Conducted?
- Local: For issues that pertain to a city, town or county, grassroots advocacy may be conducted at the local level, drawing in proponents from the affected community. Demonstrations, signage and community events work well for raising awareness at this level, as does filling the seats at school board and city council meetings.
- State: When a policy applies to an entire state, advocates may put more effort into targeting elected officials with letter-writing campaigns and demonstrations held near the state capitol building or key population centers across the state.
- Federal: Grassroots advocacy conducted on the national level requires significant organizational efforts and coordination with state and local groups across the country. Some strategies may include simultaneous demonstrations in multiple cities at once, demonstrations at the nation’s capital, digital and social media campaigns, and more.
Taking a Two-Pronged Approach to Grassroots Advocacy
The rise of the internet and modern media in all its forms means that modern-day grassroots advocacy can be conducted in various formats, both in person and digitally. The most effective campaigns leverage both options in parallel to reach the largest number of people.
In-person strategies include holding rallies, marches and protests. A big part of what makes these events effective is when and where they occur. If you’re simply trying to raise initial awareness of an issue, then make sure to hold such events near population centers or at locations relevant to the cause (such as advocating for labor policies outside of a factory whose less-than-desirable practices you hope to change).
If an issue is starting to make headlines, it can be a good idea to scramble and get a demonstration off the ground as soon as possible to capitalize on the momentum. If you hope to influence lawmakers with your campaign, then in-person events work best while the legislature is in session, especially if they are held near the location the decisions are being made.
Marches or rallies can be highly impactful, but they also require careful planning to get enough people to show up. Again, grassroots advocacy is all about the power of large numbers. Ten people holding signs outside the state capitol, while encouraging, is not nearly as powerful as 1,000 people marching down the main street. Messages should also be clear and coherent – it might be a good idea to hold a pre-event gathering to get everyone on the same page regarding signage and goals.
While grassroots campaigns can start through traditional means, such as going door to door or making cold calls, the use of digital means can transform a campaign and drive its success. Thanks to the power of social media and the internet, a carefully crafted digital campaign has the ability to reach an extremely large audience, especially if it goes viral.
Digital advocacy includes strategies such as sending mass emails or encouraging others to send emails to their elected officials, spreading social media messages and sharing videos that tell a story. Often, these strategies are easier to implement and organize with the help of specially-designed advocacy software, like Capitol Canary.
Advocacy software and digital platforms can help you mobilize more advocates and stay on top of bills, regulations and news associated with your cause. This technology can also help you monitor and shape policy across multiple levels – from local to federal. Last but not least, it makes it possible to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns, which can guide your future efforts as you continuously refine your strategies.
As the leading grassroots advocacy software, Capitol Canary offers best-in-class, mobile-first and multi-channel capabilities. You can engage and re-engage supporters with email and text messaging, send personalized messages to policymakers and even uncover relationships with officials. You’ll also have the ability to generate reports that show conversion and engagement rates, as well as who your top supporters are, so that you can leverage their skills and influence effectively.
Schedule a demo today to learn how Capitol Canary can help your organization start driving successful grassroots advocacy campaigns.