5 Questions for Every Grassroots Effort

Sometimes it feels like you're herding cats

Let’s be honest, getting a group of friends together to do anything is never easy. Whether it’s a restaurant, an afternoon activity or anything in between, having even a small group agree on the plan and how all the pieces should come together can be difficult.

Now, think of a larger group of somewhat like-minded individuals – each with their own jobs, responsibilities and backgrounds – and attempting to unite them to move legislation in your favor. Still not easy.

In short, educating, engaging and empowering an advocacy audience to create lasting change is no simple task.

Now, we’re not saying the list below will help you magically unite your audience to all take action on a specific bill. Instead, think of this list as an important first step in putting together the building blocks that’ll be a foundation for your efforts.

One note, one thing to keep in mind when looking at this list – These aren’t questions that get answered once and put on a shelf. Instead, as your effort grows and evolves, you should revisit this checklist as often as needed to make sure you’re continually addressing the needs of your stakeholders.

So, let’s take a look at the list that our team uses with clients to help them strategize where to go next, who to engage and put the pieces together to achieve their goals:

5 Questions for Every Advocacy Effort

1. What Does Success Look Like?

It’s always best to start at the top. With that in mind, for every advocacy campaign, the first question to tackle should be what is your effort trying to accomplish? For example:

  • Are you looking to sway a specific legislator or committee to vote in a certain way?
  • Would you like to influence the CEO of a specific company?
  • Are you hoping to battle back a specific federal or state regulation?

As you can imagine, the goals you set here are important and will help guide you in determining how you go about reaching them.

Tip:  Don't confuse the overall organization's goal with the goals of your leadership. They may not be one and the same. Be sure to ask leadership what their secondary goals are and potentially what you're being judged on when completing the task.

Getting started, ask yourself, what does success look like? If you think about 3 / 6 / 9 months from now, what would you want to have accomplished?

Be sure to sketch out a timeframe for what you’re trying to accomplish and identify the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that’ll help you determine whether or not you succeeded.

Note: Make sure you weigh quantity and quality when setting goals. 1000 letters may seem like a lot, but identifying grasstops and facilitating an interaction with a legislator’s close friend or a handful of poignant stories may be just as effective. A balanced and layered approach will get you far in online organizing.

2. Who is Your Intended Audience?

You’ve set your goals, it’s time to think about your audience.

For some efforts, it may be your association’s membership or the general public as a whole. For others, it could be as straightforward as your corporation’s employees.

One idea to keep in mind as you’re determining your audience is to start to think about what an advocate persona might be for your effort. That is, what are 4 or 5 different types of advocates that you feel would be the best participants in your effort.

Again, imagine what success looks like in 6 months and beyond. If you were to be successful, what group(s) of individuals will you be empowering?
Tip: Be sure to revisit this question every few months. Goals may shift, new channels may emerge and as the answers to other questions change, so too will your intended audience.

3. How do you plan to segment your advocates & stakeholders?

Just as important as identifying your audience is a general idea of how you plan to aggregate that audience into various groups and segments. We mentioned advocate personas above, take the time to think about how you’re engage each of those groups.

Even more granular, start by thinking in concentric circles, identifying the lowest hanging fruit – those who would be most interested in and potentially affected by your effort – and grow outward from there.

Quick Example:  Sample segments include job title, job responsibility, organization, division, work location, and / or issue interests. Each gives you a distinct group that cuts across your database and lets you track, target and engage in a unique way.

Overall, one-size-fits-all messaging hardly ever works. With the right stakeholder management system & CRM it should be easy to segment and target the right groups at the right time with the most effective message.

4. What's your underlying message & distribution channel(s)?

Now that we have an idea of the audience and the segments that we’re going to create, we need to think about the issues we’ll be highlighting, the channels we’ll be targeting and the language we’ll be using with each group. Key to educating and empowering your stakeholders will be speaking to them through a channel that they’re comfortable with in a language that they understand and expect from you.

The secret here is that even within your individual segments, you should look to break your message into various buckets. What I mean by that is that the most successful advocacy efforts don’t just throw a 10 page PDF at their stakeholders and hope it sticks.

Instead, look to break content up into “snackable bites,” a few key bullet points, a couple paragraphs and, for those that want the in-depth read, the full PDF. Segmenting your content to match your stakeholder groupings and channels employed will be key to empowering your users to act.

5. What are your calls to action?

You’ve marked down what success looks like. You’ve identified the audience and segments that will get you there. You’ve thought about the issues, channels and messaging to convey that information to your stakeholders. The question now is, what are you going to be asking them to do to reach your goals?

Will the call-to-action be reaching out to their elected officials? Will it be an ask to share stories of why the issue matters to them? Will you just ask folks to sign up for your newsletter so that you can keep them informed until the time is right?

The answer to #5 won’t be set in stone. In fact, far from it. As you gather data points and start to learn about your stakeholders, you’ll be able to adjust your gameplan and find the right balance of activity that works for your audience. Segments you once thought would respond well to certain messaging may change how they want to be addressed. Those that were once active on Facebook may have moved to Twitter.

The key here is to constantly monitor the data that you’re effort is generating. By seeing what messaging, calls-to-action, website content and more motivate your stakeholders to activate you can adjust as necessary and continue to push your effort forward.

Bonus Question: How will you use the data generated to better your organization?

As we’ve spoken about in other posts, every (in)action your users take is a data point that can be used elsewhere to strengthen your organization. From membership acquisition and renewals to whitepapers sales, event registrations and more, the more that you learn about your stakeholders – what moves them to action, what issues they care about most, etc – the better your organization can provide value while influencing decision makers and affecting change.

Getting Started

Theodore Roosevelt famously said “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are…” Building any community can be overwhelming. The first step is understanding the data and people who are already involved. To do so, you’ll need a Stakeholder Management Platform (CRM) to keep track of each individual, their interest, activity, interactions you’ve had with them and more. From there, organize a group to dive in to the questions above with a starting point of – here’s our stakeholders, let’s identify what we’re trying to accomplish and how we can get our group educate, engaged and empowered to act towards those goals.

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