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3 lessons from a panel of grassroots experts

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On August 31, I had the honor of moderating a panel of grassroots experts at an event hosted by the Grassroots Professionals Network. Below are three of the interesting things I learned from the expert panel. You can watch all the event’s discussions here.

Combat grassroots complacency! Otherwise it’s like restarting an engine that hasn’t been run in a while.

We had a great discussion on the detriments of grassroots complacency. Organizations that were generally happy with the previous administration now face a challenge of reactivating a grassroots network. As one panelist put it, that is a bit like restarting engines that haven’t been running for a while. Conversely, organizations that are newly energized by a unified Republican government are working to convince their grassroots networks that their work is not yet done.

The panelists shared a few tips to guard against complacency:
Remind the grassroots network that elections, including the 2018 election, have consequences.
Celebrate wins to maintain engagement, while being very clear on what still needs to be done.
Maintain engagement and relationships with the Hill, even when the policy is not top of mind. This includes thanking members of Congress for supporting the issue, reminding them why their support is important, and reiterating the fragility of previous policy wins.

1 + 1 = 3: There’s power in coalition building and third-party engagement.

Joe Franco, VP of Grassroots and Internal Advocacy at the American Diabetes Association, shared the results of his association’s involvement in a collaborative Hill Day. Organized with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, nine organizations came together for a joint advocacy day.

Having advocates from many different patient groups proved far more impactful than running several individual advocacy days. There is something powerful about lawmakers hearing personal stories from a wide cross section of constituents. Along those lines, Quardricos Driskell shared his experience planning a Hill Day with the American Urological Association. They are partnering with patient groups, so members of Congress can see how legislation affects physicians as well as patients.

This is validated by what we hear from our Leadership Council membership. Many of our larger members have asked us to do a lot of custom research on third-party engagement as part of our Network Science Initiative. (Email me if you’d like more info.)

Continuity matters; social media can help.

If your Hill day is a one-time event, it’s going to have limited impact. Year-round engagement and continuity are key to building a sustainable grassroots presence. Social media is one way to maintain engagement and energize advocates, but there is a difference between “being on social media” and implementing an effective social media strategy. Advocates often need social media training, and even if they are social media savvy, it helps to have everyone playing from the same playbook. Also, consider that social media can enhance, but can’t yet replace, person-to-person contact. For an organization to be truly grassroots, the human element is required.

Bottom line: be active, build partnerships, and use available tools to extend the impact of face-to-face interactions.