The Internet has changed the advocacy game as we know it. Online recruiting enables large-scale grassroots advocacy campaigns. Unfortunately, one strategy frequently gets overlooked in today’s digitally driven world: grasstops field organizing.
One of the most common mistakes made in public affairs campaigns is lack of balance. Too much of one tactic and not enough of others oftentimes leaves your effort short of success.
Field organizing is the act of reaching out to targeted groups through direct, individual communication. Some people refer to it as “key influencer contact” or “grasstops organizing,” but the ultimate goal is to contact your target audiences — elected officials, community leaders, or senior government officials — directly, identify the ones who support your issue and get them to take an action, support or oppose legislation 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 influential advocates on the ground to reach out to audiences in a way that is personal, efficient and, most importantly, relevant to people’s lives.
How to implement successful grasstops advocacy
Below are some keys to planning and implementing successful grasstops field campaigns.
Know who your target audience listens to.
Today, grasstops organizing refers to engaging people who already have influence over your target audience. 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.
Both types of organizing are 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 grasstops advocates to take the right action at the right time.
This doesn’t just include asking potential advocates 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 audience, attending meetings and hosting events that pressure your target to agree with you.
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.
Grasstops 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!