What Does an Effective Grassroots Advocacy Campaign Look Like?

Each grassroots campaign, one that grows from the ground up, is pretty much what you’d imagine—a social or political movement driven by regular people, those who will be directly affected by its impacts. This means every campaign, focused on a specific goal, is different. Some strive to influence social justice issues, others policies affecting climate change, and still others the elections of political candidates.

For example, Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee for U.S. president, wasn’t the establishment’s go-to choice that year. The Arizona senator earned his nomination after galvanizing a grassroots coalition of business folk, Southern and Midwestern conservatives, and libertarians disillusioned with the GOP party at the time. Decades later, Bernie Sanders, the progressive Democratic senator from Vermont, did the same for folks on the other side of the fence, by riding a grassroots wave of support during the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns.  

While neither gent won the presidency, grassroots efforts certainly bolstered their campaigns. And beginning with the 2016 election, many other groups and individuals turned to grassroots advocacy to raise their voices and promote their causes. By 2020, when COVID-19-related policies and social unrest were making headlines, grassroots advocacy at the local, state, and national levels was almost commonplace.

Therein lies the rub. Any grassroots marketing or advocacy conducted today—by a business, trade association or nonprofit—must rise above the din. Its participants have to work extra hard and be truly creative, to wage an effective advocacy campaign.

How Do You Measure a Successful Campaign?

While each campaign is different, and backed by an army of advocates striving for a unique goal, there are a few basic metrics that help determine whether it’s successful of not:

  • Increased awareness

Did your efforts—whether you’re a business bolstering your brand or a nonprofit seeking change—turn up the volume on your cause? Did it make headlines, draw legions of supporters, catch the attention of legislators? If the answer is “yes,” and you were able to keep track of what you’ve achieved, raising awareness is half the battle.

  • Impact on policy, legislation, or an election

 Even better is that your efforts resulted in a policy and/or legislation change—in your favor, of course—or the election of a political candidate whose presence in government will benefit you in the future. But this isn’t always easy to measure. Other people, groups or factors may have played a role in achieving such goals. At the very least, you’ve helped accomplish the change you lobbied for. And if you’re a business, you’ll know whether grassroots marketing has helped sell a product or service or expand your brand.

  • Growth

As in the growth of your company, association or nonprofit. By the end of a campaign, you can measure, again by keeping track of, the number of supporters and their engagement during the campaign.

With these metrics in mind, we’d like to share examples of successful grassroots advocacy campaigns, each with valuable lessons to impart.

The Power of Social Media and Storytelling

The first example takes us abroad, to Sweden, where, a decade ago, UNICEF Sweden, which provides humanitarian aid to families in developing countries, conducted what it called a “Likes Don’t Save Lives” campaign. Responding to the obsession with collecting likes on social media, the nonprofit wanted to make the point that likes alone don’t translate into change. So it created several YouTube videos addressing that very theme, each accompanied by a donation button.

The videos went viral worldwide and raised enough money to vaccinate more than 630,000 children against polio. So the campaign, leveraging digital technology, was bold, creative and beneficial to hundreds of thousands of the organization’s core constituents.

Closer to home, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) recently ramped up its advocacy efforts by providing farmers with opportunities to meet with legislators and their staffs in person. To ensure impact—which, in this case, means having legislators remember the farmers and their needs whenever relevant legislation comes up for a vote—the bureau trained its advocates in effective storytelling techniques. It worked. The AFBF reports that the storytellers, in particular, are often called by the staffs of Congresspeople to discuss upcoming legislation.

Storytelling is just one of the bureau’s methods. On its website is a page dedicated to grassroots advocacy as well as a toolkit providing a long list of ways “to increase your effectiveness as a champion advocate for agriculture.” Those ways include creating virtual farm tours, sending personalized emails to lawmakers, attending events and conducting year-round advocacy.  

Appealing to Lawmakers and Celebrating Real People

Another nonprofit that proactively reaches out to Congress is Save the Children, which, for more than a century, has championed the rights of kids worldwide. It, too, has an advocacy page and operates the Save the Children Action Network, which provides advocates with a host of options for getting the word out on specific issues, including a Take Action page enabling people to reach out to lawmakers. The script for each message states the purpose of the action and what a lawmaker can do to help.

Advocacy, of course, isn’t just reserved for nonprofits. One example of how a well-known company used grassroots marketing to burnish its brand took place during the height of the COVID pandemic. In the summer of 2020, Coca-Cola tapped into the widespread feeling of isolation by creating an ad titled “The Great Meal,” an homage, it said, “to the silver linings of a global pandemic.” Produced during the quarantine, the 90-second ad featured 13 real-life households in eight countries preparing, then eating home-cooked meals with Coke on the side.

The ad followed months of Coca-Cola refraining from marketing due to the pandemic. So this was its way of resuming advertising during what was then the new “normal,” living in COVID bubbles pre-vaccine. That normal ended up being temporary, of course, but the company successfully applied a grassroots method to bonding with its consumers during a difficult time.

Promoting Safety and Upping Your Game

Another food-related organization, this one a nonprofit promoting organic and sustainable alternatives to processed food, went the grassroots advocacy route to raise awareness about, of all things, popcorn. In 2015, the Center for Food Safety shared that 40 insecticides, including three that are bee-toxic, were being used in the processing of popcorn products. It created a campaign site that included a petition and social media instructions, with the intent of pressuring companies to pull back on the use of bee-toxic insecticides. And by the next year, it was reported that several big brands had removed them from the popcorn supply chain.

Other organizations, when they’re not launching specific campaigns, are simply looking to up their advocacy game, which is what Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI) recently did. For a long time, it managed grassroots campaigns with Excel spreadsheets and email marketing software. But it wanted to do a better job of activating supporters, so it invested in the kind of grassroots advocacy software CiviClick encourages and quickly realized the benefits of integrating its advocacy work into a digital platform. This enabled the VFAI to upgrade its advocacy page, which provides visitors with information on whom it works with, the help needed, and the ways in which advocates can get involved.


The forms of grassroots advocacy are as varied as the causes for which they are utilized. They range from ad campaigns to social media movements to training advocates on how to meet, greet, and influence lawmakers. For successful campaigns, like those shared above, the bottom line is that they’re bold, creative, and accessible, energizing advocates and enabling them to easily promote a cause.

These examples are meant to inspire and inform. But we also invite any company or organization that might be looking for extra help to reach out to the CiviClick team. We’d be more than happy to show you what we can do to help.

Digital Advocacy 101: How It’s Done

Whether you’re an organization or company engaged in a campaign, or in advocating for a specific policy or cause, there is rarely a break in the action these days. When it comes to “rallying the troops,” off-seasons no longer exist, which means your advocacy teams must be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to leverage digital space to spread the word and mobilize advocates.

Sending emails or text messages, making phone calls, creating social media campaigns — whatever it takes, organizations must be able to move quickly and efficiently to target their intended audiences in support of a campaign or cause.

With deep-bench expertise in advocacy, CiviClick knows just how important the digital component of any successful effort is. But we want everyone else to be aware of its import as well as what it takes to fully ramp up an advocacy campaign. You simply can’t do it without digital tools.

So, welcome to Digital Advocacy 101, complete with the details you’ll need to step up your game.  

What It Is, and Why It’s Important

As noted in an earlier post, digital advocacy, quite simply, is the use of technology to create, promote, and mobilize support for a cause or campaign. Those engaged in the practice employ a whole host of tools, including their own websites as well emails, text messages, online petitions, social media, and virtual events.

While traditional advocacy, including face-to-face meetings, is still highly effective and, indeed, crucial for campaigns, the digital component, over the past decade, has evolved into an indispensable means of bolstering campaigns. Why? Because it is:

  • Quicker than traditional advocacy, reaching more people in a relatively short span of time — especially considering the magnitude of leads and contacts on your advocacy list.
  • Scalable. One email or text can go out to an entire list, then be forwarded to others by supporters. And, on social media, a video can be shared — and potentially go viral — reaching well beyond your list. The same is true of digital narratives, which appeal to younger, highly active audiences prone to sharing on social media.
  • More efficient, thanks to digital advocacy software making it possible to store all in-house info in a central, searchable, and highly functional location. If you need to identify active supporters, or advocates in a certain location, it is relatively easy to do.

There’s a reason so many companies and organizations have made digital advocacy, via social media especially, a crucial part of their daily efforts. As a couple of examples, see what the American Childhood Cancer Association and the Red Cross are doing.

Depending on what you’re promoting, digital advocacy campaigns can be relatively simple or quite complicated, or somewhere in between. Whatever the goal, there are a handful of steps essential for carrying out a digital advocacy campaign.

Know What You Want

Planning is everything. House-builders need blueprints, triathletes need to know their routes. So make sure to take the time necessary to prepare for your campaign. Establish measurable goals, set a timeline, know exactly how you’ll communicate and meet all the requirements necessary to launch a campaign.

First and foremost, do not have unrealistic expectations. And make sure that the team and tools at your disposal are sufficient to handle however long the campaign may take: a couple weeks, three months, or more. For longer-term goals, you may want to recruit a healthy number of advocates and/or reach out to those policymakers or legislators who can ultimately be of help.

Your Toolbox and Target Audience

Among the essential digital advocacy tools are: a database to maintain your list; email and text messengers to communicate; a website enabling advocates to take action; and an analytics suite to track progress and optimize performance. Advocacy software does all of those things in one place, and it is always the first step. A proven, reliable, easy-to-use system helps guarantee you have the capabilities you need. It also provides the technical support for success.

First, though, know your target audience. From the get-go, identify the advocates who will help spread the message. For some campaigns, you might send a call to action (CTA) to your entire list. For others, it might just be supporters in a single state or region. Choosing the right advocates is extremely important, seeing as you’ll be attempting to engage those most likely to take action. 

Also keep in mind that legislators, if they’re on your list, will listen to their constituents; so that’s who should be sending them emails or letters. Otherwise, you’re wasting time and energy.

Your Message and Advocacy Activities

Carefully craft your message. You need to know what you want to say and what imagery you will use when launching a campaign. And, again, plan ahead of time. If you know your organization’s position on an issue, creating messaging and having it approved in advance can speed up campaigns. Consider too what it will require to mobilize your audience. While some may respond to a simple request, others may need education to get up to speed on an issue.

If you do have to create messaging spur of the moment, you can still be proactive by setting up an approval process ahead of time, so that you can go from 0 to 60, draft to launch, expeditiously.

Once your team is in place, an audience established, and the messaging down, it’s time to launch your campaign’s advocacy activities. CTAs are guided by what works best for the situation and your audience. So they could include advocates signing a petition, sharing materials (such as videos), contacting legislators, or other requests.

Here are several additional ideas:

  • Host fundraising events via social media (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, Instagram) and your website.
  • Offer webinars to raise awareness about your cause.
  • Conduct outreach activities, such as calling and texting supporters, donors, and other stakeholders to garner support.
  • Engage in texting and email campaigns to keep people updated about your campaign or cause.
  • On social media, conduct live sessions with experts.

Ups and Downs, and How to Handle Them

As with everything in life, digital advocacy comes with challenges. Your audience members, for example, may experience digital fatigue and, in turn, be difficult to mobilize. Some may engage on certain issues, not on others. The best campaigns successfully navigate obstacles and continually motivate advocates without being too aggressive.

The rhythm of a campaign is especially important. Email or text too often, advocates may ignore your messages. If you don’t do it enough, they may forget why your issues are important. A winning strategy focuses on specific channels and includes a timeline for what to post and when. These strategies also help boost performance:

  • Educate your audience. Messaging should include links to appropriate resources, like studies and data backing up your assertions. It may also include links to personal stories and your campaign page, where they can find out more or sign up for notifications.
  • Choose the correct channels by knowing where your target audience spends its time. Are emails or texts more effective? If social media is the way to go, which platforms?  You want to match your digital tools with the ways your audience communicates.
  • Send appropriate messages. People don’t act unless they’re connected to an issue. Whether enlisting advocates, sharing info, or reaching out to policymakers, make the message relatable. How does an issue affect them? Why would a change benefit them?
  • Recruit grasstops advocates. These are usually high-profile people who’ve shown interest in advocacy and have close relationships with policymakers and legislators, people who, once you share impactful information with them, can help boost campaign performance.
  • Re-engage advocates. By tracking campaign activity, you can find ways to reactivate advocates who haven’t taken action and increase their participation. See who’s acted the fewest number of times, then provide them with resources designed to energize them.

Assess Your Campaign

After your campaign is done (or is put on hold or is shifting gears), it’s important to evaluate its performance. If you have, indeed, set measurable goals from the outset, you can look back and assess whether or not the goals were or have been met. As mentioned above, with the right software, you’ll have insights into which efforts yielded the most impact so that you can optimize your strategy moving forward.


Digital advocacy is no longer a sidekick to traditional advocacy. It’s a crucial part of any advocacy efforts, so long as you employ the appropriate tools and set up teams able to handle them. While it doesn’t substitute for traditional advocacy, it hones, quickens and makes more effective those efforts.

But digital advocacy is not easy. You need a team focused on digital tools and how to use them, and your messaging, audience and ways of communicating must be mapped out ahead of time if you want to succeed. And always assess how the campaign is doing so that, afterward, you know what worked and didn’t work and can adjust for future campaigns.

Taking all these steps will help to ensure that your organization’s advocacy efforts are more efficient and effective than ever before. Don’t ignore digital advocacy; embrace it.