7 Questions with Joshua Habursky on Grassroots Advocacy
Grassroots Advocacy 101 with Joshua Habursky
Joshua Habursky is the Founder and Chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network (GPN), an organization that helps associations, corporations, and government agencies develop skills in the world of grassroots advocacy. Joshua is also an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and specializes in advocacy communications. He is currently the Head of Federal Affairs at the Premium Cigar Association where he works on campaigns that help advance the interests of the industry. His writings have been cited and featured in publications such as The Hill, Bloomberg, and Roll Call.
1. Why did you start the GPN?
I started GPN to simply learn how to do my job without having to pay for a membership or thousands of dollars to acquire new skills required to be an advocacy/grassroots professional. There was a clear void in the industry for a small non-profit (especially membership organization) and GPN filled that void by providing free or low-cost networking opportunities.
GPN continues to be a disruptive force and has helped shape the advocacy market for the past four years. We want to be nimble, adaptive, but never forget where we came from as an organization dedicated to helping advance the industry irrespective of staff or budget size.
2. What did you feel was missing in the grassroots advocacy community? How is GPN helping bridge the gap?
I felt there were several different gaps in the grassroots community when we started four years ago. People were talking all about technology, which is important, but I wanted to see programs about diversity, ethics, and other challenges and opportunities facing the industry. Four years ago you could find a program every week on “How to Craft the Perfect Tweet” but nothing comparable to other industry best practices. I saw synergies with marketing, communications, political campaigns, and other industries and began working with the big players in those areas from the onset. We were successful at building a following because people gravitated towards the unorthodox style and substance of GPN.
3. What are some emerging trends in the field of grassroots advocacy that professionals should know about?
I would be careful when discussing any trends currently. There are a lot of “Top 5 Trends” pieces out there or comprehensive reports about grassroots advocacy trends that really serve to sell a product or service. My best piece of advice for grassroots practitioners is to try something new and disruptive. Doing the same email campaign Congress after Congress and year after year isn’t innovative. I truly hope that we see some emerging trends in the next few months, but over the course of the four years of running GPN, we are in a period with the least amount of credible innovation. Outside forces and factors of the political environment could be involved here, but it’s a bit anti-climactic at the moment.
4. Does your grassroots advocacy approach/strategy differ depending on whether you’re working for a public sector client or politician versus a private sector client?
Absolutely. The client or organization determines a lot of the characteristics of a campaign. I would posit that this is the 2nd most important factor in determining the strategy for a campaign and only bested by timing. You can have the greatest client with infinite resources and momentum, but if the timing isn’t right you can still lose. The best grassroots strategists know how to deploy the appropriate methods at the rights time irrespective of the client or cause.
5. As a professor, what is the main takeaway with regards to politics or advocacy that you hope your students learn in your class?
Political lessons don’t come from a textbook or lecture. They come from the field.
6. What are the biggest mistakes you see in grassroots campaigns?
I think a lot of people view grassroots as an exercise that they now have to do but will put little effort into coordinating activities. Many organizations create action alerts for the sake of action alerts as if launching a campaign is a key performance metric by itself. People who truly understand grassroots will be much more calculated and methodical. An organization may only run 1-2 campaigns a Congress, but they can be just as successful (if not more successful) than an organization that runs 20+ campaigns a year.
7. What is the number one tool needed for any successful grassroots campaign?
Bonus: What characteristics make up the most interesting advocacy projects?
Campaigns that coordinate strategy with design and development. When an organization leverages sounds strategy with creative elements these projects are the most noteworthy and interesting to watch as an observer. These are the campaigns that I look to highlight in my writings as well as our industry awards.
Bonus: Is there any book that you have read on advocacy that you recommend?
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli.
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