Many lobbyists tend to believe that successful grassroots movements rely on two key factors, large numbers and loud voices. In theory, a large, well organized group of supporters are able to have a significant impact on legislators, and lobbyists have been searching for tools to help them harness the power of these large groups. While common sense may dictate that large numbers of people are needed for successful grassroots lobbying efforts, it misses the purpose of the movement itself. A grassroots campaign is all about conveying a message to legislators, and having the legislators respond to it and your grassroots tools should assist in achieving this goal. Here are three key things to keep in mind when running a grassroots campaign.
The top objective of a grassroots effort is getting your message into the head of legislators that could have an effect on the issues with which your group is concerned. Large groups of supporters sending letters and making phone calls can be effective, but many supporters will not always be able to actively participate in a campaign. Additionally, it is important to realize that a small number of contacts from people a legislator knows can have the same effect as mass communications. One association we talked to was able to influence a key politician with only five phone calls from their supporters that happened to have a close relationship with that politician. The major point here is that your grassroots tools should be able to keep track of relationships so that you can utilize them when necessary. For state-based professional groups, or university alumni associations, it is inevitable that your members have relationships with the people at your state capitol because they have either worked with them or knew them from school. So make sure you are able to collect those relationships and use them to call on lawmakers when you need them.
Utilize Your Supporters
Your organization should understand that any collection of people can and should be segmented for better use of their talents. In grassroots lobbying, while it would be nice to get a 100% response rate from your network, the truth is there will be some that show no interest in helping. However, there will be some that are interested and want to help your cause and don’t know how, and there will be those that have direct connections to legislators. We have found an effective way to segment your membership is to split them into three groups:
- The “warm bodies” or total number of supporters in your grassroots environment
- The active supporters, or those that have indicated they wish to help the organization accomplish its advocacy goals
- The influential supporters, or those that have indicated that they have a connection to a legislator and have indicated willingness to help the organization
With these three segments a lobbyist has choices about how they wish to invoke their grassroots supporters and reach politicians either with a large group campaign or a small focused campaign.
Craft a Message
Finally, it is important for your grassroots effort that you are able to lead your supporter’s communication efforts. Too often lobbyists ask respondents to send a message to their legislators with just a small bit of information about why they should be interested in the outcome. Lobbyists assume that their participants have the time, the inclination, and the expertise to craft an effective message to politicians, but they are often disappointed by the response results. Ideally, the advocacy coordinator should be able to lead the audience with the message’s content as well as which legislator should receive the message. Once the supporter is able to understand the message, they should be able to send it easily. A well crafted email campaign can be a very effective tool for lobbyists, so make sure your grassroots tools enable you to make your email campaigns the best they can be.
If your grassroots tools do not let you identify legislative relationships among your supporters, segment your support database, and help the audience to get the right message to the legislators, then maybe you should search for other options. Knowing that legislators can turn off their email and phones requires that an advocacy network have the ability to be strategic.