Grasstops Will Grow Your Advocacy Program
A grasstops campaign seeks to persuade the people who can influence key decision-makers. Legislators are often inundated with calls, emails, petitions, meetings, and other communications about a wide variety of issues. Breaking through that noise is tough, and grassroots campaigns, unless they reach critical mass, may not be enough on their own. When those efforts are paired with the authority of grasstops supporters, their impact will be greater, and your campaign will be more likely to succeed.
What can grasstops advocates do that grassroots supporters can’t?
L earn the difference between grasstops and grassroots here. A grassroots campaign mobilizes a large group of everyday people to champion an issue or cause. This support can include petitions, protests, emails, and calls to legislators, social media engagement, and other communications that work best at a large scale. You need a lot of those people to draw enough attention to your issue for members of the press and lawmakers to take notice. A grasstops campaign requires far fewer people but they need to have sway over a legislator. This can come in the form of connections, influence, personal relationships, or a large platform. Just one or two people with enough clout, in concert with constituents making their voice heard on the issue, can make for a decisive victory.
How do you identify grasstops supporters?
There are many people that can influence lawmakers, the trick is finding those who will be the most likely to back your campaign. Prominent constituents, campaign donors, lobbyists, allied legislators, senior party members, influential journalists, and even celebrities can all make a difference. Research your key legislators to see where those connections might lie. You can check campaign contributions records to identify top donors. Review any committees they might be on or bills they’ve cosponsored and who those cosponsors were. You can also look to see if any causes or charities they support, share any ties with your own. Even social media can provide some insights—who do they follow or have LinkedIn connections with?
How do you convince someone influential to support your issue?
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and a celebrity will make a statement that makes national news. But instead of relying on luck, it’s better to actively seek out your own connections. Compile a list of people who you think might have a legislator’s ear. Then consider the people on your staff and your existing supporters to see if they may have connections to your target influencers. Even secondary or tertiary relationships provide an opportunity for that staff member or advocate to work their way up the ladder to the person you’re trying to influence. If there aren’t any preexisting relationships to leverage, other connections like being members of the same close-knit fraternity or growing up in the same area can forge a sense of community with someone that may make them more willing to hear your case. Make sure you keep a thorough list of journalists who have reported on your issue before, whether you reached out to them to do so or not. It’s possible that they’ll be willing to write another story and if you give them inside access to your organization through interviews, it can also raise your profile. Keep in mind that you’ll want to court a variety of people instead of pinning all of your hopes on just a few influencers.
Another important aspect of persuading someone to advocate for your campaign is to personalize your ask. Each message should be tailored to that specific individual, highlighting your connection to them and why you think they would care about your issue. You’re asking them to make a personal appeal to a powerful person on your behalf, so your interactions with them need to be compelling. Emailing, calling, direct messaging, or @ing someone likely won’t be enough on their own. Use those initial interactions to ask to speak with them directly over the phone, on Zoom, or, ideally, over a cup of coffee. This will give you a better shot at connecting with them as people, rather than coming off as just another person who wants something from them.
How do you become a grasstops influencer?
Another often more long-term route is to become a grasstops advocate in your own right. Even before you have any specific, time-sensitive initiatives to discuss, you should be asking to meet with legislators. Meet with them regularly, especially around the beginnings of legislative sessions, so you get to know them, and they remember who you are. Don’t just speak to them about the issues but engage with them personally. People always like to talk about their interests and the people they’re close to, so research them to see if you share anything with them. Do you have children around the same age or similar pets? Are you interested, or close to someone who is, in any hobbies they have? Do you root for the same sports teams? Make sure they feel like you see them as human beings with a life outside of their office.
This is something you can also ask supporters to do on your behalf. It can be difficult to mobilize people to meet with their legislators for coffee, but the effort is typically worth the reward. You may not always be the right messenger for every lawmaker, but chances are, you know someone who is. Another advantage of asking someone outside of your staff or board to connect with a lawmaker is that the ask can come across as more genuine. A volunteer doesn’t have any formal ties to your organization and their successful interactions with a legislator likely won’t improve their career. Instead, this person has devoted their personal time, and often their own money, to your issue. They are invested in your campaign because they truly believe in your mission, so their words may have more meaning. Make sure you prep anyone you ask to speak with a legislator on your behalf. You should provide email templates for the initial ask and talking points if they land a meeting to make sure they keep the conversation on track. Just make sure to also prompt them to tell their own story and why they volunteer for your organization.
Running a grasstops campaign requires a lot of effort, time, and research, but so do most successful programs. Once you make a connection with someone who goes to a legislator on your behalf, make sure you let them know how much their effort meant. Send a personal thank you and follow up with them to let them know what happens with your campaign. Make sure to acknowledge their part in any successes and, if they’re comfortable with it, you can give them a public shout-out to let people know that they went to bat for your cause and made a difference. Regardless of the outcome, stay in touch with any influencers you connect with even after your campaign ends. You never know when you might need their help again. If you’re looking for tips on community advocacy basics, check out Joe’s blog.