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:
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.
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.