• August 10, 2022
  • Capitol Canary

Grassroots vs. Grasstops Advocacy: What Is the Difference?

Gaining widespread support around a specific issue requires advocates to leverage a variety of strategies. And while grassroots advocacy is one strategy that is heavily relied on, many may not be as familiar with its counterpart – grasstops.

What Is Grasstops Advocacy?

Grasstops is a term used to describe an individual who has extra influence at the campaign level, can mobilize support and has a relationship with politicians of influence. With grasstops advocacy, the focus is on getting high-profile individuals to take action in support of your cause. This form of advocacy leverages the personal and political connections of current and former leaders, celebrities and other individuals with significant social clout. In other words, the power behind grasstops advocacy comes from people’s natural inclination to listen to those they perceive to have status.

What Is Grassroots Advocacy?

In contrast, grassroots advocacy relies on everyday people in the community who are passionate or otherwise interested in a particular cause. The success of grassroots advocacy lies with strength in numbers. When a large group of everyday people comes together to advocate in a coordinated way, it creates momentum and signals to decision-makers that an issue is important to a large portion of their constituents.

Should I Choose Grassroots or Grasstops Advocacy?

While both grassroots and grasstops both have their place in an advocacy program, there is a clear distinction — one is focused more on volume (grassroots) and the other is focused more on a specific group or individual with significant influence (grasstops). That said, in many cases, you don’t need to choose one approach or the other but can instead leverage both forms of advocacy as needed.

Consider grasstops advocacy when approaching legislators that are more swayed by a single, strong voice of influence and a grassroots approach for legislators who want to meet the needs of their constituents and are more likely to be swayed by crowds. If you choose a grasstops approach, be sure to consider who your grasstops representatives are and their relationship to your cause and the lawmakers you hope to convince. For example, you don’t want to send a celebrity to talk to a lawmaker if their political leanings conflict with each other.

For reasons just described, participants in grasstops advocacy must be carefully chosen and be able to speak convincingly. Grassroots advocacy, on the other hand, works well with a carefully curated message that can be expressed by a variety of people. The grassroots approach also often works best during the early stages of a campaign when you are gathering supporters and spreading your message, whereas a grasstops approach is most useful during key turning points or for targeted meetings.

Avoiding Challenges of Grasstops & Grassroots Advocacy

Just as both forms of advocacy have their strengths, they also come with challenges and weaknesses:

Campaign Fatigue

Be careful not to overuse or over-rely on your grasstops and grassroots advocates. People get worn out after a while, especially since they have their own lives outside of your campaign and other issues they must attend to. To avoid campaign fatigue, consider assigning varying roles for advocates over time. That way, each person involved can make an impact without constantly feeling like they are the last line of defense.

Lack of Authenticity In Approach

If every member of your advocacy group delivers the same message, word for word, regardless of how they personally feel about it, it can start to come across as inauthentic and insincere. To get ahead of this issue, seek out a way for each supporter to use their own passion and voice when delivering your message — this starts with considering why each advocate is supporting your cause. As you divide and conquer, assigning different roles and tasks, play to each individual’s interests, passions and strengths so that the message they deliver and the actions they take come from an authentic place.

Lack of Advocate Training

Both grassroots and grasstops advocates may not come from a background in politics and persuasion. This lack of skill can leave them ineffective, particularly when it comes to one-on-one interactions. Consider offering crash courses on how to advocate. It is imperative that your grasstops advocates know what approach to take in conversations and how to present your messaging.

Final Thoughts

While grasstops advocacy relies on the concentrated power of high-profile individuals and grassroots advocacy plays upon volume, both have a role in a successful advocacy campaign. By understanding both the differences and similarities between grassroots and grasstops advocacy, you can better align your strategies to effectively address the issue at hand.