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Win Your Grassroots Advocacy Campaigns With These Tips

6 min read
November 16, 2021
Kory Payne headshot
Kory Payne
grassroots advocacy

If your nonprofit is considering grassroots advocacy campaigns, you might be a little lost where to start. With a successful advocacy campaign you can grow your list, energize your audience, get policy wins, and get keen data insights which will all help you win your advocacy and policy campaigns online.

Nonprofits Are Allowed to Lobby & Advocate

First off – we should get clear about one myth in the nonprofit sector: Almost all 501(c)(3) nonprofits are, in fact, allowed to lobby. In fact, Ujoin has put together a guide on nonprofit lobbying rules.

Get Policy Wins, Energize Your Base, Fundraise More

We’ve seen advocacy efforts energize an organization’s online community and Board of Directors. Involving your stakeholders early in the planning process will ensure that when the time comes, you not only have everyone on the same message but acting as a team.

If You’re Just Getting Started: Keep It Simple!

If you’re just getting started, don’t worry about creating an overly complex plan and strategy. Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Create a branded action landing page
  2. Share your action page via email and social media
  3. See which members are taking action on which issues inside of your donor database (you’ll begin seeing this immediately)
  4. Get noticed by legislators and decision-makers who have heard your messages and will want to talk with you about the issues you’re working on

If You’re Taking Your Grassroots Advocacy To The Next Level, Here Are Tips To Win:

tips to win your grassroots advocacy and policy campaigns
tips to win your grassroots advocacy and policy campaigns

Step 1: Make A Field Plan

When making a field plan, just keep in mind your strategies, tactics, timeline, and tactical goals. Here are some of the strategies at your disposal:

Strategy 1: Media

Roll your media strategy into your overall plan, with a focus on getting hits. Media has three main forms: earned media, paid media, and social media.

Earned media is receiving media coverage organically  because it’s a trending topic, paid media is advertising or paid promotions, and social media refers to your self-published posts. 

Some media tactics to consider: press releases, earned media, paid media, TV, newspaper, radio, social media, editorials, creating short videos, memes, or infographics.

Strategy 2: Grassroots Pressure 

This strategy encompasses any tactic that is designed to put some pressure on decision-makers to do what you want them to do. The messaging on these tactics can vary widely depending upon your circumstances.

Ways to grassroots pressure: canvassing, rally/signwave, lit drop, birddogging, targeted tweets, emails to targets, phone calls to targets, lobby day, thunderclap, direct mail, text to call

Strategy 3: Grasstops Pressure

“Grasstops” refers to finding advocates who are VIPs in the community (celebs, athletes, business owners, media personalities, influencers, etc). Bring them in with your organization and ask them to advocate with you.

Grasstops pressure tactics: Lobby meeting, influencer marketing campaigns, and other paid media.

Strategy 4: Fundraising & Capacity Building 

This sort of goes without saying. Fundraising and capacity building should go hand in hand with most of your activities. Set goals around building up your email lists and think about how to raise money around your efforts.

Capacity building tactics: coalition-building, grants, fundraising event, direct mail, online petition, tabling at community events, and canvassing.

Strategy 5: Public Education 

Wrap this into the fabric of other strategies. The one case in which this is a stand alone strategy is when it’s a ballot question (e.g. “Yes on 5”) in a ballot initiative the public decides.

Strategy 6: Research 

Having a report or poll to backup your campaign is usually a good idea. Be careful not to get too bogged down with this though.

Strategy 7: Electoral 

You may need to start getting involved in supporting and opposing candidates in order to get support for your issue. You’ll typically need to set up a separate organizational entity to do this kind of work, but the outcome can often be worth it.

Strategy 8: Litigation

Filing a lawsuit may be the best way for you to get your desired outcome. This usually takes a lot of resources, but there are often legal firms out there to help.

Strategy 9: Advocacy 

This is your inside plan. Plan to meet with as many legislators as possible on your issue.

Step 2: Make A Grassroots Advocacy Timeline With Tactical Goals

Set up your timeline based upon the number of weeks in the campaign, and start planning. This way, you’ll know exactly what to be prioritizing on any given week.

1. Put in Any Fixed Dates. 

If you’re working on a bill, add in when the bills have to clear the house or senate. What is the deadline for the governor to sign or veto? When does the bill or bills need to clear their committees?

2. Set Your Tactical Goals. 

How many earned media hits are you going for on TV, radio? How many people do you want to add to a facebook group? What goals do you have for impressions do you need on your infographics? 

How many emails do you want to send, and to which committees? Sync this up with your inside plan to target the committee chairs who need the most encouragement or pressure. When do you want to have met with every legislator?

3. Plan Out Your Weekly Priorities In Order to Hit Your Goals. 

Typically the beginning of the campaign involves drafting a bill, setting up systems, raising money, finding your bill champions, creating an endorsement form to build your coalition of groups, etc.

As the campaign moves on you’ll start digging into your programmatic tactics — creating press releases, meeting with legislators, mobilizing volunteers, sending out email action alerts, etc.

Grassroots Advocacy Tips & Pitfalls

  1. Be a planner. Planning will help you constantly keep your eyes on the prize and focus on priorities. It also helps you better identify opportunities that pop up and to spirit your way to success.
  2. Collaborate. Build a coalition and work with others. You’ll almost always get farther.
  3. Be flexible. Usually, some kinds of great opportunities will present themselves. Be flexible enough in your plans to shift things on the fly.
  4. Be creative. One time I was part of a campaign that used a huge inflatable Smokey the Bear that we used for press events. We were always able to gain media attention and traction with it. Think outside of the box!

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