Grassroots organizing has come a long way since we last wrote about it back in 2016. In political circles, Democrats found themselves rebuilding their local branches after a shock victory by Donald Trump. The presidential race that year showed them how disconnected they were from their supporters on a national scale. Interestingly, on the Republican side, they too were left with a challenge, moving online supporters to more permanent fixtures offline. Grassroots organizing has now moved beyond the lines of political affiliation only, we are seeing more and more groups creating powerful change from the ground up. Be it the climate change movement that one student started in Sweden in a schoolyard back in 2018 or the avid gym-goers squatting outside a courthouse yesterday asking for their gym to be reopened.
What does the landscape in 2020 look like?
Curate and nurture a database
Many organizations or community groups will require a database of contacts to grow substantially. Normally this is a list of volunteers that you may have been building up through the years from field events or sign up days. If you are an advocacy organization you may have access to a voter file of the local precinct, this list may be available from your administrative office or available for purchase from a vendor.
What kind of database you are working with is very important. Being able to visualize this database through an online platform will make planning and strategic segmentation much easier. Mapping your supporters or the individuals you want to reach should be a simple task, one that will allow you to see areas of strength and also areas you need to focus more on.
Connect with your community in a safe space
Meeting face-to-face has always been the best form of outreach. We saw greater response rates from conversations we had in-person, be this trying to onboard new members into your organization, or simply conducting field surveys. Relationship building just works better in real life. Currently, we have been helping our clients connect with their community through virtual canvassing or social distance appropriate canvassing.
Many individuals are free to operate within a couple of kilometers of their own home and are using this distance to check in on neighbors. You can call people in advance to see if they are willing to talk to you face-to-face while respecting social distancing guidelines. Safety is always the top priority here so keeping your distance is important. This check-in could prove to be very significant later on when recruiting new members through a follow up social media drive. Remember multiple touchpoints matter when building relationships.
Do strategic and dynamic outreach
Staying connected with your community and trying to onboard new members into your team is critical so why not utilize your voter database and try to turn those contacts into team members? Couple your virtual canvassing with actual phone-banking and email outreach and you should be able to connect with new members.
This dynamic type of outreach will solidify your organization in the minds and inboxes of your community. Ensure that you are always offering value in your output and ask for feedback so you can amend messaging as you work.
Ecanvasser’s relational organizing platform and integrations with Mailchimp are the perfect combinations to conduct this two-pronged approach.
Use direct mail
Grassroots organizations have built success off the back of direct mail and leafleting for as long as I can remember. Posting information leaflets will set you apart from community groups who solely rely on social media platforms to connect. Making sure you pair an offline strategy with your social media one that ensures no potential contacts get left behind. It is also a great way to get your logo or brand into the homes of people during these stay-at-home orders. Remember to have contact information and social media handles on every piece of paper that you mail.
Employ organization ambassadors
For advocacy and nonprofit organizations, campaigns may have no end date and therefore you are looking for long term buy-in. Where many groups find success is that they employ the reputation of someone with a large following or support base already. This use of the influencers as ambassadors allows your group to piggyback on the influencer’s existing support base. This is a very savvy way of opening up your organization to greater volumes of people quickly. Many charities have onboarded global icons as their ambassadors because these people are interested in the objectives of the charity. Draft a list of people who match well with your organization’s mission and approach these people for help. They may agree to speak about your organization on their social media or may want to attend events and speak there. This really is a great way to get more involvement from a larger group of people.
Track the concerns of your group
If you have already connected and spoken to your community and established a relationship, then you now need to push these people up the ladder of engagement. The ladder of engagement describes how people hear about your organization, begin to engage with you, become supporters, then activists, and so on. The ladder of engagement describes an ideal outcome for supporter engagement for most advocacy groups. Follow through and consistency in outreach is paramount to turning supporters into volunteers. Offering help and tracking the action that is being taken is very important for many groups. Ecanvasser’s caseworker is proving a great hit with organizers nowadays who want to track ongoing issues within their communities.
This allows any issues captured from your dynamic outreach to be funneled back to HQ and prioritized. When the issue has been resolved you can close it off but the thread will remain so it forms a part of the relationship you now have with this contact.
Hold virtual events
Live streaming has earned a new lease of life recently with field organizing and direct outreach not being possible. However, connecting with grassroots audiences needs to continue. Opting for digital tools allows you to stay present and on the screens of people. We have seen major usage of Facebook and Instagram live broadcasting by many orgs and even candidates in political circles. It allows you to create your own space online that you control and can promote at your convenience. Most platforms are free so all you need to do is provide quality content and ensure you follow up on any interactions that you may have.
It’s a fun way to establish yourself or organization at the forefront of any topical conversation. It also allows you to react fast, not having to wait for a radio spot or TV ad to promote anything new occurring within your org.
Plan for an offline meet
With all this virtual connecting and building, you should be aiming to compound it with a physical meet up when the landscape will allow. At the moment, large group gatherings can not take place but you should always remind volunteers or community members that the objective is that field events will one day become acceptable again. Building toward an offline meet puts the onus back onto members that something will be expected from all this engagement. Hopefully, you have created an appealing space where people will happily want to get involved and any online forums can be transported into offline actionable events.
If you would like to discuss grassroots organizing for your organization we would be happy to talk to you, book a call below!