Most advocacy organizations have advocates who range in commitment and willingness to participate in campaigns—from grasstops advocates who are extremely involved and dedicated to the cause, to grassroots advocates who support the cause, but may not be as active in their advocacy. While both groups play an important role in the effectiveness of an advocacy organization, the way an organization engages these advocates should be distinct.
As Director of Grassroots Program Development at the American Farm Bureau, Jordan Craig has built out systems to engage grasstops and grassroots advocates in ways that are appealing to both groups and take advantage of their strengths. Here are four considerations when working with grasstops versus grassroots:
When signing advocates up for email lists, the Farm Bureau starts by segmenting its supporter based on their preferred level on involvement.
“We ask them, ‘How often do you want to hear from us? Do you only want to hear on issues that you care about, do you want to hear about all the issues?’” Craig said.
Rather than anecdotally identifying who is a grasstops advocate versus who is a grassroots advocate, the Farm Bureau has a succinct definition of what it considers grasstops.
A grasstops advocate, in this case, is defined as an advocates who has gone through leadership training with the American Farm Bureau, has a relationship with their senator or representative, and has indicated an interest in participating in more high level policy debates concerning farming and agriculture.
With a clear definition of grasstops, the American Farm Bureau has been able to create specific means of communication for these advocates and more efficiently activate key segments of their supporters.
To foster community amongst grasstops advocates, the Farm Bureau has created private Facebook groups. This has provided a space for these advocates to communicate amongst themselves, share advocacy stories, and find commonalities with one another . In this group setting, advocacy becomes something they enjoy and are excited to get involved in, rather than something that feels necessary.
“They are excited to share about the things they’ve done,” Craig said. “For example someone posted the other day and said ‘Hey guys, I just wrote an editorial and it was published in my local newspaper, here’s a link to it,’ and that was really cool to see that they are putting that on there and then their fellow members are commenting on it.”
In the agriculture industry in particular, there are a variety of ways that policy can affect farmers—both in larger legislation and in more niche regulations. As not all policy is the same, the asks that the American Farm Bureau cannot always be the same.
“When we need more high level stuff like commenting on a regulation and we need some really detailed comments, we know that [the grasstops] really care about this issue,” Craig said. “They are going to make the time to focus on writing a one to two page comment, versus a regular member who is going to take action because we asked them to but may not have the time or the interest to put the time in.”
When engaging with any of your advocates—grasstops or grassroots—Craig says the most important thing is to be authentic. Just as you wish your advocates to be authentic with the members they are engaging with, the organization should be authentic in the way that it shares messages and asks for action from advocates.
“When we use a bunch of hyperbole and make it seem like the world is about to end tomorrow if they don’t contact their legislator right away, those tactics just don’t work,” Craig said. “They get at some people but people are smarter than that.”
To learn more about effective grassroots advocacy, see three examples of organizations who have had success.