Grasstops vs Grassroots Advocacy
Grasstops vs. Grassroots Advocacy: Public Affairs Tactics
Do you ever ask yourself, "What is the difference between grasstops and grassroots advocacy?" Well, you're not the only one scratching your head.
Here at The Campaign Workshop, we know political and advocacy definitions can be confusing. Even folks who have been around for a long time get campaign terms confused. So, in our never-ending quest to define what we do, we want to define what grassroots advocacy and grasstops advocacy are for our readers. Don't get stuck in the weeds with political jargon! Instead, harness the power of grasstops and grassroots advocacy to run an effective advocacy campaign.
What is grasstops advocacy?
Grasstops advocacy is when you focus narrowly on opinion leaders and folks who have connections to elected officials. For example, reaching out to the officeholder's donors, friends, church members, alumni networks or leaders within their political party. Tactics for this include in-person meetings, patch-through calls and letter writing.
What is grassroots advocacy?
Grassroots advocacy is when you reach out to constituents in legislative districts or congressional districts and have them connect with their legislator or member of Congress on an issue they care about. No one is paid for their action, but resources are often spent reaching out to these constituents. Tactics for this include online petitions, patch through calls, digital ads, etc.
What does it mean to be involved in grassroots advocacy and activism?
A community based advocacy campaign is built from the ground up with volunteers and organizing – this can be on a local issue, like getting a 4-way stop put in on your corner; a regional issue, like stopping the damming of a river; or a national issue, like Black Lives Matter.
Grassroots activism takes on a slightly different role. Grassroots activists are the backbone of issue and political campaigns. Activism is the process of harnessing relationships and engagement to make a change.
There is real organizing power in grassroots campaigns. Black Lives Matter is a great example of a grassroots campaign but there are many others, like the Women’s March or The Fight for Gay Marriage. These efforts began with community organizing but grew into national movements.
The ideal time to run a grassroots advocacy campaign? NOW! Helping your community is hard work. If grassroots advocacy work was easy, everyone would do it. Having a goal will help you define timing. Often timing is based on when action can happen, for instance when there is a vote on a piece of legislation you're advocating for (or against).
Can you just do grassroots advocacy or grasstops advocacy? Do you need both?
For a long time, advocacy was almost exclusively focused on the opinion leader outreach. As advocacy campaigns have turned larger, they have become more focused on the grassroots, but both are still important, and in almost all cases, you need both.
Advocacy campaigns are always a question of resources, but often there is a way to target both opinion leaders and constituents at the grassroots level. This approach can result in more bang for your buck in both effecting change and gaining more attention for your issue. Many successful advocacy campaigns use this two-pronged approach by making shrewd tactical decisions to keep the budget under control.
Grasstops and Grassroots Advocacy Strategy:
Before you pick your campaign tactics, set clear goals for your campaign. This includes primary and secondary goals. A primary goal could be passing a piece of legislation, while a secondary goal is something smaller, like getting donors to help build an organization.
Understanding the change you want and who can make that change happen is important. Power mapping is the process of knowing who you want to target for change in your community and who can influence that potential change maker. This could be elected, appointed or corporate leadership. You can read our full blog on power mapping here.
Grasstops Advocacy Tactics:
Voter contact focused on grasstops can make a real impact. Targeting leaders over an extended period can lead to their engagement with an issue and conversion into action either directly or indirectly.
Emails and letters from opinion leaders are useful tactics for grasstops advocacy. Folks who are part of leadership in a community whether that is corporate, appointed, elected, clergy, or community organizations withstand out in a sea of communication. In the same way, phone calls can be very useful. A corporate or community leader with relationships can get their legislator on the phone with little effort.
User-generated content from grasstops can have also a positive effect on lawmakers if employed in the right way. A video from a past teacher, former coach, or other community members can make a big difference in making a connection on an issue.
One-on-one meetings are another tactic you can use in your grasstops campaign. Finding folks with personal connections or community leaders who are willing to engage with lawmakers can give a big boost to your public affairs efforts. Check out our holistic blog on how you can identify and use grasstops efforts.
Op-eds and other thoughtful content about policies are more grasstops tactics that can help move issues forward by giving cover to elected officials and pushing them towards a preferred outcome. Criticism is easier than finding a common path in advocacy. Thought leadership can help by showing a clear path and getting community members on board.
Grassroots Advocacy Tactics:
Patch through phone calls, texting, virtual coffees, social media engagement, user-generated content, door-to-door canvassing, telephone town halls, signature gathering, online petitions, and relational organizing are all tactics that can help grassroots advocacy campaigns succeed. We write about these tactics a lot, check out more of our blogs on the subject here.
There are a lot of great grassroots tools out there including tools for canvassing, signature gathering, online petitions, relational organizing, and user-generated content. Check out some of our favorite grassroots advocacy campaign tools in our campaign tools list here.
The reward of grassroots and grasstops action: a campaign that harnesses the power of grasstops and grassroots advocacy can create long-term benefits, from a list of advocates in specific districts to an engaged set of donors. The benefits of community action can help propel a movement for the long-term and make lasting change.