Following the 2016 presidential election, many Americans turned to grassroots advocacy to make their voices heard on new policies. Then again in 2020, advocacy hit hyperspeed as Americans felt the impacts of federal policy daily as a result of COVID-19. However, more campaigns make it harder for advocacy organizations to break through the noise. So what makes an effective advocacy campaign?
What Makes a Grassroots Advocacy Campaign Successful?
- Legislation Changed Due to Campaign – The most obvious measure of success for a campaign is when the legislation has been changed or put into place that falls in favor of your organization’s stance. Although it can be great to see this change, it is difficult to prove direct causation due to other outside factors.
- Increased Issue Prominence – Another metric can be measured if there is an increase in awareness of your cause amongst legislators. One way to keep an eye out if the goal of the campaign has been furthered is to track legislation and dialogue to analyze trends surrounding your issue.
- Organization Saw Growth – Campaign success can be measured internally by keeping track of the growth of your organization, like growth in the number of supporters or the engagement level of your supporters. Although not all campaigns change legislation, each campaign can grow the size of your voice.
Here are seven examples of successful grassroots advocacy campaigns to learn from:
- American Society of Anesthesiologists
- American Farm Bureau
- Veterans for American Ideals
- Land Trust Alliance
- End Rape on Campus
- American Society of Anesthesiologists
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
1. Grow Your Grasstops: American Society of Anesthesiologists
The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) has transformed their grassroots advocates, individuals who are willing to take actions online to contact their members of Congress, into grasstops advocates, who have built personal relationships with their representatives in Congress. To empower their audience, ASA has created a series of educational modules that they can share with potential grasstops advocates that teach anything from the basics of the branches of government to how to take action and build a relationship with a legislator.
But ASA doesn’t just send educational emails and then forget about their advocates. Using their email tool, ASA tracks who opens and engages with their emails. They use this information to then follow up with those who opted-in to the grasstops program but have yet to take action.
2. Teach Your Advocates to Tell A Story: American Farm Bureau
The American Farm Bureau (AFB) often holds events that provide the opportunity for farmers to meet in person with legislators and their staff. The key to making these engagements successful is preparing advocates in advance so that they feel more comfortable in the meeting.
AFB prepares its advocates by training them to share their stories using Pixar’s three-step storytelling model. Storytelling has proven itself as an effective grassroots advocacy strategy for AFB—months after a farmer told his personal story to his legislator during a Capitol Hill meeting, that legislator’s staff called the advocate back to discuss upcoming legislation because they had remembered his story.
3. Utilize Online Advocacy Tools: Veterans for American Ideals
For many years, Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI) managed their grassroots advocacy campaigns with Excel spreadsheets and email marketing software. While this approach provided VFAI a way to communicate with supporters, they wanted a better system designed to activate their supporters.
VFAI invested in dedicated grassroots advocacy software for its most recent campaigns and quickly began to realize the benefits of integrating their work into a digital platform. Their tool enabled them to sort their advocates by both standard and custom tags, which helped them keep data clean and quickly identify groupings in important categories like congressional district and level of prior engagement.
They also used their software to set up their own customized online action center. This tool improved the rate at which their advocates engaged by allowing them to tweet, email, or call their legislator all with one click.
4. Let Your Advocates Report Back on Their Interactions: Land Trust Alliance
Your advocates can learn important insights in their meetings with legislators, whether it be during your organization’s lobby day, a district site visit, or some other form of engagement. Provide advocates with a means for sharing this information with your organization. For the Land Trust Alliance, this means utilizing Quorum’s interaction logger to ask advocates to follow up on their meetings.
“It’s a set of four or five questions that we’ve developed with a lot of room for them to provide feedback on what was discussed and what next steps should be taken,” Schwartz said.
5. Lower the Barrier to Action: End Rape on Campus
When End Rape on Campus needed their advocates to comment on a proposed regulation regarding Title IX, they knew that the typical means of doing so were complicated—the regulatory agency websites were hard to navigate, the regulation text was confusing, and sharing a personal story was not easy. So, they built a regulatory advocacy campaign that both educated advocates on how and why to participate and provided a way to comment, all from one page.
After the campaign was over and the comment period closed, EROC used Quorum to do robust reporting on the impact of their campaign (which drove over 6,000 individual comments).
6. Educate Your Advocates on Taking Action: American Society of Anesthesiologists
Writing or calling your legislator can be a scary or confusing task if you’re new to advocacy. It can also be unclear why it’s important for you to take action. By setting up a system of video modules to educate its advocates on the advocacy process, ASA could keep its advocates engaged, teach them about the organization’s issues, and prepare them so they could act quickly when they needed to launch a campaign.
7. Run Thank and Shame Campaigns: National Alliance on Mental Illness
By using Quorum’s grassroots advocacy tools that are integrated with its legislative tracking database, NAMI’s advocates could send personalized messages based on whether a legislator had signed on as a co-sponsor or not. With this strategy, they could maintain engagement with every office, not just the ones they wanted to sway. Their legislative champions also received “thanks” messages, reminding them how important their action is to NAMI advocates.