Grasstops: Know the Leaders, Get Their Followers

Grasstops: Know the Leaders, Get Their Followers

The Internet has revolutionized the advocacy game as we know it. Online recruitment and mobilization of advocates provides a quick, cost effective way to reach large constituencies without ever having to leave your office. One of the most common mistakes made in public affairs campaigns is lack of balance. Too much of one tactic and little or not enough of others often times leaves your effort short of success. One strategy that frequently gets overlooked in today’s digitally driven world is Field Organizing.

Field organizing is the act of reaching out to targeted constituencies through direct, one-on-one communication. Some people refer to it as “key influencer contact” or “grasstop organizing,” but the ultimate goal is to contact your target audiences directly, identify the ones who support your issue and get them to take some sort of action on your behalf.

Field organizing is a cross between an art and a science. While the craft of field organizing is based on understanding and utilizing assets, it also relies on creativity and instinct from people on the ground to reach out to audiences in a way that is personal, efficient and, most importantly, relevant to people’s lives.

Below are some keys to planning and implementing successful grasstops field campaigns.

  • Know who your target decision-maker listens to. Today, grasstops organizing refers to engaging people who already have influence over your target decision-maker. Those people can be your target’s friends, relatives, current or former staff and colleagues, leaders of your target’s political party, campaign donors, neighbors or a host of other people your target is likely to listen to.
  • Be sure you have the right combination of grassroots and grasstops organizing. Grassroots and grasstops organizing are both about creating the shift in power that’s needed to win. Usually you need to do some amount of both. The right amount of each will depend on your specific situation. You’ll need to think through who can give you what you want, who those people listen to and what amount of broad public support each of those people will want to see before they stick their necks out for you.
  • Ask potential grasstops leaders to take the right action at the right time. This doesn’t just include asking potential grasstops leaders to make a critical phone call before an important vote; it also includes asking them to take the right action based on how far along your relationship is, who is doing the asking and how much political capital they would be expending for you.
  • Research, research, research. Read everything you can about the grasstops leaders you’re considering approaching. You should know about their current and former jobs, education, families, colleagues, boards they serve on and why they should care about your issue.
  • Have the right balance of persuasion versus pressure. You should be spending the vast majority of your time generating calls and emails to your target decision-makers, attending meetings and hosting events that pressure your target to agree with you.
  • Be Transparent. Never create “fake” coalitions or instruct your advocates to misrepresent themselves. Always be clear about your message and what you are supporting. Terms like “AstroTurf” are often associated with poorly run or misleading efforts.

Grasstop field efforts, if properly planned and implemented, can be a real asset to any campaign. Remember, always work with professionals who understand the nuances of this essential strategy!