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3 ways to boost grassroots participation back home

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We’ve all been there — the meetings are finished, the fly-in is done and our grassroots advocates are heading to the airport.

Then it hits you. That feeling that all of your hard work, the momentum you built up during your fly-in may be lost. That your advocates will consider their job done once they get on the plane.

This is a perennial challenge for grassroots professionals — how do we get our advocates to take action back home in the district? How do we maintain, or even build on, the momentum we created at the fly-in?

To tackle this challenge, it helps to break it down into its component drivers. For our purposes, I’ll frame the challenge as “hill, skill or will” —

  • Hill — Are we asking too much of our advocates? Do they have the right tools and resources to accomplish the task?
  • Skill — Do our advocates have the training required to complete the task?
  • Will — Are our advocates willing to complete the task? Do we have the right incentives in place?


Provide advocates with the right tools and resources to engage back home.

Here we’re seeking to answer the question: do our advocates have the right tools and resources? And if not, are we in a position to provide them?

In this case, we’re asking our advocates to take time out of their work day so we need to make the process as easy as possible for them. Do they know who to contact? Do they have a convenient way to ask for a meeting?

We can start with the basics: send to your advocates meeting request templates and contact information for nearby district offices, alert them to upcoming town hall meetings or to recess periods. There are plenty of great toolkits available online that you can use. One I’ve had experience with is the NAM’s Plant Tour Guide, which is loaded with sample templates your advocates can use.

If you’re already doing the basics and still not getting any traction, decide how much support (aka hand-holding) you can provide. If the member or issue is important enough, some organizations will reach out to district offices and schedule meetings for their advocates. This can be difficult to scale across a large number of lawmakers, but it may be worth doing if it gets the ball rolling.


The smartest organizations are moving from an ad hoc or campaign-driven approach to advocate training towards one of continuous training and reinforcement.

The most commonly reported challenge among organizations we’ve worked with, this part is all about making sure our advocates have the right training and skills in place to accomplish the task.

So how should we be thinking about boosting our advocates’ confidence, knowledge and comfort level in a way that they feel capable of having productive conversations the district staff?

Too often we forget that our advocates are volunteers often with little advocacy experience outside of attending the fly-in. And, though we may invest heavily in training on the issues and meeting etiquette in the days and weeks leading up to the fly-in, research shows they forget as much as 75% of what you teach them within only 30 days.

One of the more effective solutions to improve training retention in your grassroots network is to provide it on-demand. It’s not the only solution, of course, and we’ll be exploring various advocate training methods in a future post. For now, suffice to say that leading organizations are moving from an ad hoc or campaign-driven approach to one of continuous training and reinforcement.

For most organizations, this means using a multi-channel approach. In addition to tips, tricks and “how-to” articles in member and employee communications, some organizations are recording webinars or using tools like Prezi to create a series of training modules posted on either the company intranet or in a members’ section of an association website.

The chief benefit to deploying an on-demand approach is that you make it easy for your advocates to get a quick refresher in the days leading up to a meeting.


Carrots vs. sticks: Innovative ideas for carrots, sparing and smart ideas for sticks.

Let’s assume that we’ve done everything in our power to provide our advocates with the tools they need. They have the recess schedule, they have the meeting request templates and they’re up to speed on the issues.

And yet we’re still not getting the activity levels we’re looking for.

That leaves the issue of will — do they have the will to engage now? Is there a sense of urgency or accountability we can use to drive action?

Here, we have two options — the carrot or the stick. In terms of carrots, I’ve seen many organizations create an “Advocate Hall of Fame” as a way to reward advocates who advance our mission. Other organizations are using gamification — advocates can earn “points” for engaging in various activities, with the top scoring advocates getting prizes like caps, shirts or lunch with the CEO.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we do have a couple of sticks available. As our advocate pool is comprised of volunteers or employees, tread carefully here. The most effective solution I’ve seen is the reverse of the hall of fame idea above — you break out advocate activity rates by peer group or geography and show participation rates for each. Publicly posting activity levels can foster a competitive spirit between groups that will drive the desired outcomes.

So there you have it — a framework for thinking through how to best drive advocacy activity back in the district. If you’re going to get your advocates engaged back home, make sure you’ve addressed your hill, skill and will challenges first.


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