During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses and citizens turned to grassroots lobbying to make their voices heard on constantly changing government policies. But with so many people reaching out at the same time on dozens of issues, you can wonder if grassroots lobbying is your team’s best use of resources. You might question whether grassroots lobbying actually works. The short answer is it is effective. The longer answer is that you need the right tactics to run great campaigns to make them effective.
Here’s an explanation of how grassroots lobbying works and a few examples of organizations that used advocacy to be heard during the pandemic.
Does Grassroots Lobbying Work?
Grassroots lobbying is the basic source of support from the ground up. Grassroots lobbying or advocacy, as it’s sometimes called, includes organizing, mobilizing, and engaging members of the public – whether it be your employees, association members, donors, or other groups interested in your organization’s issues – to engage with their elected officials. It’s an effective way of drawing government attention to key issues that matter to voters.
Grassroots lobbying is a way for communities to interact and increase their influence over certain topics. Its main benefits include:
- Outreach to government legislators by constituents (aka voters)
- Education for informing the public and lawmakers on complex issues
- Proof points in a policy area through power of numbers
Sometimes grassroots lobbying can get a bad rep. People feel legislators don’t listen to them and that their voice doesn’t matter. After all, if you send a couple of emails, does anyone actually read them?
But they do – if you craft an effective message from the right voice. Legislators are much more likely to listen to personalized messages from constituents who have a say in voting them into office than those who don’t live in their districts or who use mass email copy.
It’s about pulling together all the resources and relevant people in your organization’s network to present your side of the story to legislators. These small actions accumulate and suddenly ten messages can turn into 10,000 –– something no one can ignore.
Here’s an example of how grassroots lobbying worked to get AHLA’s needs across to key power players in Washington and set them up to receive critical relief funding:
How AHLA used grassroots lobbying in their campaign for US fitness professionals
Following the devastating consequences of COVID-19 on the hotel industry, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) wanted to make sure its members’ voices were heard by Congress.
Their primary aim was to help and support their employees. They wanted their employees to tell their stories so that when the lobbyists came in to discuss legislative details, the personal side of the legislative impacts was already felt.
Through a combination of letters, emails, and social media, thirty thousand people had their voices heard through 100,000 letters.
“This meant that when AHLA held a meeting at the White House and had calls with the Speaker, the Senate majority leader, and the Senate minority leader, they were already familiar with the story, and therefore, more receptive,” said Chris Burgoyne, Vice President of Government and Political Affairs at AHLA.
These stories prove that grassroots lobbying can have a huge impact. The key is to have your advocates share their stories. They are on the ground feeling the immediate impacts of policy and so often are the best communicators of how the nuances of a bill will impact them.
By organizing your network and encouraging people to take part, you can amplify your efforts and get your ideas in front of lawmakers. That way, when it comes to in-person visits, they’ll already be familiar with your campaign and more inclined to take action.
How Does Grassroots Lobbying Work?
Grassroots lobbying differs from direct lobbying by asking the public to contact legislators and government officials instead of solely relying on professional lobbyists to do so.
This is why grassroots lobbying is usually effective in tandem with traditional lobbying.
Legislators want to hear from people who live in their district, not just lobbyists. They also want to hear from people who have been directly impacted by a policy (or lack thereof). Hear from Rep. Donald McEachin on why he’d rather here from constituents directly:
The most effective teams bring the two together – they integrate their grassroots and traditional lobbying to present a message from different voices. Advocates do the most storytelling and connect the policy to actual voters, while lobbyists get in the weeds on how a policy should work.
As you build your grassroots lobbying campaign, think about how you can leverage this personal element to your advantage.
When organizing a grassroots campaign, it’s important to think about all the different grassroots strategies your group will use. These grassroots lobbying activities might include:
- Letter writing – have your advocates send messages to their elected officials. Make sure to encourage personalization as those emails are more likely to be read.
- Calling legislators – while it’s possible to let your inbox number pile up, it’s impossible to ignore a constantly ringing phone.
- Scheduling site visits – bringing legislators and staff to see your facilities helps give them an experience of why the issue is important
- Organizing a lobby day or Hill day – like we’ve all learned through COVID, virtual is ok, but in person is often still better. Bring advocates to meet their officials whenever possible to discuss your issues.
To get the most out of the grassroots lobbying process, you might also consider using grassroots advocacy software. Tools help you stay organized and keep lobbying efforts moving forward.
Look out for toolsets that include the following features:
- Easy-to-use action centers with a quick registration
- Gamification that incentivizes participation
- An integrated email tool for sending calls to action
Best Tactics for Grassroots Lobbying
For grassroots lobbying, the most effective tactics are personalized and speak to the legislator directly.
Grassroots tactics in numbers are highly effective –– the more people that tweet or email something, the more likely it is that legislators respond and address the issue.
- Media lobbying: This could look like advertising or writing letters to the editor of leading publications. By getting your campaign into media publications, you’ll get it in front of more potential campaigners and legislators.
- Social media: Asking your network to write and share social media posts is a great way to get on your legislator’s radar. Specify which legislators to tag and which hashtags to include to improve visibility. Social media applies social pressure to legislators, so make sure to use it when you’re going after a big ask or saying thank you.
- Corporate advocacy campaigns: Often major enterprise companies need to campaign for legislative and regulatory policies. Creating a voluntary opt-in grassroots lobbying campaign at your office can yield big results, just like Toyota’s.
Email communication: Emails are one of the most effective ways of campaigning for legislation. It gives campaigners the opportunity to write personalized notes and follow up. When hundreds or thousands of campaigners write personalized emails, it becomes hard for legislators to ignore.
See how a software platform like Quorum can help your grassroots lobbying actually work:
How IHRSA Drove 30,000 Emails to Congress — Leading to 123 New Co-Sponsors
In uncertain times like during the COVID-19 pandemic, grassroots lobbying is even more vital for ensuring people are heard by legislators and able to push changes they want to see.
Take this example from the IHRSA and how they leveraged grassroots lobbying for change:
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the 116th Congress passed multiple relief bills, but the fitness industry struggled to receive enough funding to keep their industry afloat.
To counter this, the GYMS Act, a $30 billion fund for affected businesses in the health and fitness industry, was filed but needed more support to pass. This left many fitness businesses without funds or support to keep working.
But the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) knew that their base of fitness professionals could help get more co-sponsors signed, increasing the chance of bill passage.
To help their base of fitness professionals start lobbying, Jake Landry, the IHRSA’s Public Policy Assistant, set up a Quorum dashboard to create a public advocate accountability system.
Landry used the dashboard to encourage friendly competition between advocates and show each participant’s progress in contacting legislators.
The organization challenged coalition members in each state to race to get their representatives signed onto the bill as co-sponsors first. And the dashboard reports on GYMS Act updated progress in real-time, allowing state advocates to see their wins as soon as they happen.
The results of this grassroots lobbying campaign were huge and felt across the nation’s fitness industry.
There were a total of 30,000 emails sent to Congress, 123 current co-sponsors in the House, two co-sponsors in the Senate, and 557 logged interactions with members of Congress (and counting).
Landry said, “We’ve had participants in those campaigns in all 50 states, which is not something we’ve had before.”
By combining proven grassroots lobbying tactics with effective tools, the IHRSA achieved maximum results from their campaign and had concrete results in growing the number of cosponsors for this key legislation.