Maximizing the Impact of Your Grassroots Activities

Grassroots mobilizations have been a long-time staple of issue advocacy campaigns, but much has changed and is constantly changing. Technology has made it easier and more efficient for a wider group of people to communicate their view on any given issue at any time –24/7. Consequently the process too has changed. Web-based platforms and data-sharing mean that organizations no longer have to initiate a linear movement from phase to phase of identifying, recruiting, educating, and activating your grassroots audience. Today, activists identify and educate other activists. Identification becomes recruitment. Recruitment becomes education. Education becomes an ongoing dialogue that includes activation. Successful organizations feed this ongoing process on a continuous basis by providing tools, resources, infrastructure and experts to generate interest, momentum and action. What might be lost in “control” over the exact wording of the message and exactly who the messenger is often is made up for in passion, dedication and effectiveness of getting your message heard.

The most successful civic, public policy and labor organizations have fully embraced the need to stay on the cutting edge of grassroots outreach and activation, and a number of corporations and business trade associations also are emerging as leaders in this field. Is your company one of them? And as the number of people communicating with elected officials continues to grow, how do you rise above the clutter and get your message heard by the policymakers you are seeking to influence? The following are ten best practices FSC has identified as being consistently used by grass roots leaders to increase the impact of their efforts.

  1. Provide supporters with added value: Offer those who support you – whether it is your products or your point of view – a wide array of services and resources, preferably via a website that these supporters view as a trusted resource and will keep coming back to for more information. What you offer can vary widely but also should include training in how to influence the policy and political process and news and information they can use to do so. The site can also include information specific to your product – including local information. For example, the National Rifle Association provides a wide array of benefits and services to its members that range from how and where to register to vote, to gun safety training programs and local clubs for hunters and recreational gun users. http://www.nra.org

  2. Personalize the issue: Encourage supporters to share their stories – either by sending them to you directly or posting them on your site. There often is nothing more powerful than a personal story to encourage action. This is also a great tool to identify potential spokespeople and witnesses that you can help tell their story in person to the elected officials you are trying to influence or more broadly in advertising and news packages.

  3. Get activists to enlist other activists: Provide a mechanism to enable supporters to encourage friends and relatives to get involved in the issue. This can be by sending an e-mail alert, by sending a mailing or point of sale flyer that has an 800 number or web address through which they can contact elected officials, or by simply adding a “tell a friend” section to your website.

  4. Broaden the appeal of the issue by involving other credible experts and organizations. Seek out credible experts and public figures to speak out on your issues. The trusted source does not have to be someone famous, but instead could be someone an elected official trusts (friend, business colleague, longtime supporter, etc.) or who is trusted by the activist being recruited. For example, drinkiq.com has a responsibility channel where experts can share programs and resources for others to use.

  5. Provide regular, ongoing issue communications, and create your own news: Organizations are establishing their own blogs to keep up a steady drum beat on priority issues and to encourage activists to share their own opinions. For example, Verizon has created its own policy blog, to encourage a discussion of public policy issues affecting the telecommunications industry and Verizon in particular.
    www.policyblog.verizon.com/PolicyBlog/blogs/policyblog/default.aspx

  6. Integrate your grass roots network into electoral political activity: Create opportunities through your organization to involve supporters directly in the political process, including: get out the vote, campaign volunteerism, campaign contributions, as well as face-to-face meetings with candidates and elected officials as appropriate. For example, AARP encouraged their activists to get involved in the 2008 Super Tuesday primaries.
    www.aarp.org/issues/dividedwefail/elections/super_tuesday.html

  7. Provide Political Report Cards to Supporters: Many organizations and some companies conduct candidate surveys and keep detailed voting records on key pieces of legislation over time. These are ideal for campaign finance decisions as well as for identifying key swing votes. BIPAC provides voting records on business issues to its members, and The National Taxpayers Union provides another good example of this tool.
    www.ntu.org

  8. Thank elected officials who support your position: Some organizations encourage supporters to thank elected officials who have gone on the record in support of their position.

  9. Create paid and earned media to support efforts: In addition to hearing directly from supporters by e-mail, fax, phone and in-person, organizations are also reaching elected officials through new web-based vehicles. The Service Employees Union International provides a comprehensive section on its website dedicated to political involvement.
    www.seiu.org/action_center/index.cfm

  10. Build communities around shared issues of interest, on-line and in-person: Bring activists together – face to face, or electronically – so they feel they are part of a larger effort. Added-value platforms include seminars, training sessions, hill visits, town-hall meetings, dialogues, rallies and blogs. Through its website www.willyoujoinus.com, Chevron provides a platform for discussion and encourages activists to share information about the future development of energy resources.

These are ten ideas that you may or may not already be using at your company, but it remains critically important to also maintain the ability to deploy a range of activation tools, depending on what you need. Tools to enable activists to contact legislators are not one-size-fits-all. Postcards, patch-through calls, e-mail, handwritten letters, petitions, in-person meetings, web meetings, e-mailed audio/video messages, etc., all need to be kept in the mix and utilized as appropriate. But the more you can do to stand out above the clutter – to make sure that elected officials are hearing from their constituents in their own unique words on your issues – the more likely your campaign will succeed. To discuss how these and other tools can work for you, contact us through Insights@forumstrategies.com or call us directly at 212-554-2155.