The Power of Grassroots
All political campaigns are, at root, about people, more specifically, about people existing in communities. Getting the mix right between the mobilization of grassroots and the higher level campaign messaging is the difficult job at the heart of successful campaigns. Happily there now a multitude of ways in which you can engage your public but this also means a multitude of ways to lose people. In political campaigning, what can be you the reason for your success, can also be your undoing. Ensuring you have a solid foundation of grassroots support, therefore, is very important, and it is ultimately the backbone of your campaign. This is why when we think of anyone running for election or doing advocacy work we ask, what is your grassroots plan?
Bernie Sanders is a good example of a campaign that had grassroots mobilization at its heart. Sanders found huge success building a grassroots community from outside of Capitol Hill. He will always be remembered as the outsider who took the establishment figure of Hillary Clinton all the way to the wire with his groundswell of support. Focusing on securing small donations online, Sanders drove his campaign hard through social media to build his support base. Utilizing celebrity endorsements among other things Sanders crossed all manner of demographics from age to race. His campaign was similar in many ways to what Obama achieved in ‘08.
Building a strong community around your candidate is what elections are all about. Creating that enduring foundation has shown itself time and again to be just as, if not more important than, campaign funding. In the last twenty years, grassroots campaigns are showing us that if you nurture and grow a movement, then it can achieve anything. Gathering that momentum makes you credible to the general public and, better yet, dangerous to your opposition. It shows that you worked tirelessly long before your name ever reached the ballot sheet.
So what are some of the fundamentals for a good grassroots campaign?
Face to face contact
This one doesn’t go away. If you want to make a real impact at a local level you will need to get out and meet people face-to-face at some point. Whether this is with a canvassing drive or by organizing a promotional event you will want to capture as much information as possible and try to enlist new supporters. Building f-2-f contact into your monthly schedule will pay dividends in the long run.
Getting people to engage with your message is the hardest thing in any advocacy work. Consider employing secondary elements with your message to drive engagement - maybe gamify, offer incentives or issue a challenge. People will often agree with your cause but not be sufficiently motivated to take an action on it. It is your job to push or pull them with you.
Using digital tools
Things have moved on in recent years and there are a wealth of digital tools now available to help your advocacy work. Campaign technology developed to service political campaigns is totally transferable and will help you with managing your community database and then reaching out to that database.
Don’t be blinded by partisanship
Allying your organization to certain political ideology can be very useful in framing your message and activating an existing bloc to you. However, it is important to get up above partisanship to see about building cross-party support for your cause. Beyond the obvious benefit of opening up a whole new group of people to enlist, non-partisanship does elevate your cause and give you greater freedom in your messaging.
Following up with email/social - content focus
Take a leaf out of the marketing playbook and focus on content in all your missives. When composing emails or social media output consider your target audience in everything you write.
Seek out your influencers
Think about influential people that might be able to create an impact for you. Brand ambassadors are one way to get attention. You might be able to find someone in the media who is well-disposed towards your cause and willing to write or broadcast about you. Of course, there are many other influential people that might not be so obvious but could be well worth getting in direct touch with so keep an open mind rather than focussing exclusively on grassroots efforts.
See it as a database - don’t be casual, use a CRM attitude
Professionalizing your approach to advocacy work will always help. The return on investment of using a CRM system to manage your database can be very high. Having an overview of your database will drive your actions and facilitate better reporting on your efforts. You will also be able to see clearly those supporters who might be activated as volunteers or see where your next fundraising efforts can be targeted to. Organization is king in advocacy.
Listen - gather your feedback and tailor messaging in response to this
Ending on a very obvious one but don’t forget to listen to your community and take note of their feedback. Building an advocacy organization is a community effort and there is no better way to get consensus and forward momentum than is working community feedback into future messaging.