Hannah Cooper worked in grassroots advocacy at Smiths Group and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States before joining Quorum. In 2019, she built and launched Spirits United, a first-of-its-kind grassroots advocacy program for the distilled spirits industry. Here, she shares what she’s learned in launching grassroots advocacy programs.
With a grassroots advocacy program, you can rally your members to action—along with their employees, suppliers, and other industry allies—whenever you want policymakers to hear your industry’s voice loud and clear.
Building a grassroots program from scratch is not a daunting project when you follow these seven steps.
#1: Know when the time is right to start a grassroots advocacy program.
Launch your grassroots program when your association is ready to bring your industry together as one voice to support or defeat pending legislation or regulatory action. Look for the “aha” moment — a major bill your team can rally around or some other change in the policy landscape that elevates your issue and makes it top of mind with potential advocates.
The time to take this leadership stance with advocacy is when your Government Affairs team is ready to expand their advocacy efforts beyond lobbying. By engaging every part of your industry—association members and their employees, customers, suppliers, and other industry allies and stakeholders—your association increases its influence with policymakers.
#2: Develop a one-year roadmap.
A one-year roadmap is proof of your team’s readiness to take your advocacy program from an idea to an impactful part of your strategy. By sketching out the work ahead, you can break tasks into manageable chunks.
Clarify your goals and metrics up front. For example, make decisions on the:
- Number of advocates you want to recruit in the first year.
- Number of actions per advocate, such as calling or writing a letter to their legislator, or sharing your message on social media.
- Number or percentage of return advocates—those who take action on more than one campaign.
- Percentage of member companies or individual members who participate as advocates.
With a roadmap, your association’s leadership can see your plans for the coming year and what outcomes you wish to achieve. This information helps you gain buy in as leadership will understand the outcomes you can expect. Planning ahead for these baseline metrics will also help you select the best grassroots advocacy platform for your needs and supports your request for a program budget.
#3: Gain leadership buy-in from the start.
Prepare a business case to get the board’s approval for your plan and the budget you need to acquire, activate, and engage advocates in grassroots campaigns. But don’t stop there. Get the board excited about the influential role they play in the program’s potential. As industry leaders, they must set an example by not only participating in the program but getting their employees to sign up too.
Make it super simple for board members to participate by creating turnkey communications for them to send out to employees. This first call-to-action explains why it’s so important for employees to sign up as grassroots advocates. Ask board members to invite you to their next all-staff meeting, where you can promote the grassroots program in person or via Zoom.
#4: Get buy-in from your association’s lobbyists.
Getting buy-in from your association’s lobbyists should be easy. Grassroots advocates will help your lobbyists make their case to policymakers. Legislators know they should listen to their constituents and donors’ voices.
Keep lobbyists informed about the performance of your digital grassroots campaigns. When they’re in meetings with elected officials, they can show legislators how many of their constituents and other supporters are behind your association’s position.
#5: Find a platform to help you mobilize advocates and help them take action.
Look for mobile-friendly grassroots advocacy software that allows your association to grow its advocate network with acquisition tools like texting and Facebook integration. Select a tool your association can grow into, so you can use available functionality as you need it rather than having to switch software as your program matures.
Lower the barriers to action by letting the software do most of the work for your advocates. They should be able to learn about your organization, read about pending issues, and take action all in one place. Choose a tool that matches advocates with their legislators, allows them to personalize and send their message in a matter of minutes, and lets them share the campaign with co-workers, business associates, friends, and family.
Ideally, your grassroots, CRM, and email tools are all housed in one system. When these tools are siloed in separate systems, you are forced to deal with laborious manual tasks, for example, individually tagging people by:
- Grassroots campaigns
- Roles—board, committee, or company/individual member
- Previous grassroots engagement
With data living in three places, you increase the risk of errors and record duplication (or triplication).
Because grassroots advocacy can be perceived as a cost center, you must be able to prove the ROI of your program to your association’s leadership. You can demonstrate this value if your software includes reporting tools that can immediately show real-time data, such as the number of new advocates, the number of actions they took, the most popular issues and campaigns, and, of course, your number of wins—the ultimate value of a grassroots advocacy program.
#6: Develop your advocacy brand and promotional strategy.
Your advocacy brand guides the messaging of the emails, marketing materials, and advertising you create. It must be relevant to a broad group of individuals, beyond members, who can help your advocacy efforts. This brand reflects the mission of your grassroots program, for example:
- Bringing everyone in the industry together to help each other succeed.
- Tapping into previously unengaged advocates, like customers and suppliers.
- Empowering people to have a voice and act.
Try to narrow your advocacy mission down to one sentence so it’s easy for everyone to understand, remember, share, and recognize.
Develop a strategy for emails and social (Facebook and LinkedIn) ads that encourage people to sign up as grassroots advocates. Work with in-house designers or outside design firms to create marketing collateral for digital and social advertising.
#7: Roll out your grassroots program.
All momentum is lost if your grassroots advocates sign up and then have to wait a few months to take their first action. Launch your grassroots advocacy program only when you have an issue ready for action, preferably one that most people know about already and doesn’t require significant education. In your first call-to-action, you’ll ask your advocates to write or call their elected officials about that issue.
As your grassroots program grows, consider inviting state and local affiliates to join you as advocacy partners. They can use your platform to rally support for state and local issues if they agree to help you grow your advocate base for mutual initiatives.
Never stop recruiting advocates. At events, carry around a tablet, talk to folks about your wins and upcoming battles, and get them signed up for your grassroots network. Encourage loyal advocates to take on the ambassador role by talking with others about your initiatives, sharing campaigns on social media, and encouraging people to sign up as advocates. Many associations gamify recruitment with competitions and incentive giveaways.
The most effective recruitment and retention strategy is giving credit to your advocates for your association’s wins. When you have a legislative or regulatory success, share the good news with your advocates and members. Let everyone know you got this win because of your advocates’ efforts. This recognition enhances rapport and trust in your association, encouraging their continued engagement.