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Grassroots Advocacy 101: A Brief Guide for Anyone Newly Involved in Political Advocacy

June 7, 2016 at 1:00 PM

Nearly everyone, whether in the nonprofit world or not, has a vague idea of what constitutes the term "grassroots advocacy"; however, if somebody stopped you in the street and asked you to give an official definition, it may be difficult to spell out exactly what activities count as true grassroots advocacy. So here is a cheat sheet with the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of grassroots advocacy (disclaimer: not necessarily in that order). 

What?

Grassroots advocacy is the process of communicating with the general public and asking them to contact their local, state or federal officials regarding a certain issue. In contrast to direct lobbying, grassroots advocacy is often citizen-based activism. 

It’s a fairly straightforward concept. The confusion surrounding grassroots advocacy comes from misconceptions about lobbying. Some people may assume and ask, “don’t we have lobbyists who do this for a living?” and the answer is, technically, yes. However, there is a difference between lobbying and grassroots advocacy. Direct lobbying conducted on behalf of an organization is exercised by lobbyists, government relations teams and involves the participation of members of a certain nonprofit organization or association. Grassroots advocacy, on the other hand, is considered indirect lobbying. Grassroots advocacy initiatives look to involve citizens who are personally affected by an issue that an organization care about. They care about it so much that they ‘plant seeds’ of concern and try to grow awareness and engage citizens organically, like grass. Hence the name.

Who?

Easy answer: many mission-oriented organizations can ask the general public to participate in a grassroots push. If you are a leader of a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, check out our educational articles (here, here, and here) on how to properly participate in political advocacy, or download our advocacy checklist. 

When?

Not as straightforward of an answer for this one, but that’s a good thing! There are so many ways that grassroots advocacy can be effective. Here are 4 possible ways:

  1. If you’re a nonprofit or association and you need to mobilize your membership.
  2. When you want the general public to contact their representatives at a local, state or federal level about a certain issue.
  3. If your legislative agenda could be boosted by the support of constituents, especially if it is a local issue.
  4. When you want to raise awareness about your issue and start the conversation within the general public.

Where?

  • Local: A common hesitation that people have about grassroots advocacy is that they think their issue isn’t important enough. THAT’S NOT TRUE. In fact, local grassroots advocacy sometimes ends up becoming the most effective because the issues directly impact the day to day lives of every citizen in a town or county.
  • State: Every state has their respective senators and representatives who care about the voices of their constituents. Advocating at the state level requires an engaged membership, and grassroots advocacy can make more voices heard and impact legislation.
  • Federal: These issues are often daunting. However, with the technology at our disposal, it is easy to utilize grassroots advocacy by reaching out to people across the country to raise awareness and contact their respective representatives about a national issue.

How?

It used to be that advocating for something involved rallying and protesting. To be successful, you quite literally had to be the loudest. But now that we are living in the digital age, grassroots advocacy has split up into two branches. The first is the rallying and protesting or any other publically visible form. The new second way to advocate, however, is more precise and powerful and involves things that we already do every day: emailing, calling, and using social media. Grassroots advocacy software is your organization's most powerful tool.  

Check out another one of our blog posts on how to execute a successful grassroots campaign.

Why?

One of our civic responsibilites as citizens of the United States is to inform our elected officials on what issues are important to us and to our communities. Our representatives and aren’t able to constantly craft solutions to issues affecting their constituency if they aren't hearing from their own voters. Grassroots advocacy is an effective and powerful way to communicate with elected representatives and start a policy-centered conversation.

Nick Howe

Written by Nick Howe

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