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Don't Sit on the Sidelines: 4 Ways to Effectively Start a Grassroots Movement

Author: Cherie Wicks
Created: 13 March, 2017
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read

How important is grassroots organizing in politics? New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley argues that a decision to prioritize TV ads over grassroots outreach cost the Clinton campaign last year’s presidential election. With this in mind, former Bernie Sanders campaign organizers have launched an effort called Knock Every Door, with an eye on attracting Trump swing voters and building a grassroots base for the next election cycle.

As this illustrates, grassroots organizing can play a pivotal role in the outcome of elections. If you want to impact election outcomes, here are four keys for organizing your own local grassroots movement.

Define Your Goals and Strategy

Defining your goals is the first step toward building a grassroots campaign, says nonprofit marketing consultant Carole Mahoney. Mahoney advises setting SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

For instance, you might set a goal of registering 1,000 new voters in a district by next November, getting 10,000 people to sign an online petition by the end of the month, or raising $100,000 for your candidate before the next primary.

After setting your goals, you should define your strategic plan for achieving your goals. For instance, if your goal is to register voters, you might decide to use door-knocking, rallies, volunteer activities, press releases, a website, and social media to connect with prospective voters.

Plan Your Promotional Campaign

To execute your plan, you will need to plan an effective promotional campaign. One key to an effective promotion is focusing on a clear, compelling message that defines your brand and makes you stand out from the competition.

Your message should be communicated both through your campaign’s visuals and through accompanying slogans. For instance, in 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign hired a Chicago design firm to come up with his campaign logo, a stylized “O” using the colors of the American flag, with a rising sun in the background, communicating a hopeful message. Donald Trump themed his campaign around the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” a phrase which clearly articulated the campaign’s core message. Being clear about your core message is vital to a successful campaign. If your message isn't clear, or if you try to deliver multiple messages that appeal to different groups, your audience may be confused about your message, as the emotional impact with be diluted.

Once you know your core message, the next task is to organize a promotional campaign that delivers it through the media that will best reach your target audience. In today’s world where the vast majority of Americans use smartphones and social media, delivering your message through these media is crucial. Videos can be exceptionally effective for reaching smartphone users. For best results, shoot your videos with a smartphone that has a high-quality camera, like the iPhone 6 Plus.

Organize Fundraising

Promoting your message to your target audience will take money. You will also need funding for things such as paying your staff, purchasing campaign materials such as hats and buttons and covering travel and food expenses.

The Leadership Conference provides an online fundraising toolkit. They recommend organizing your fundraising effort around a clear statement of need that tells donors what human need or social problem your grassroots campaign will address. Make a list of potential donors, such as board members of your own organization, members of the local community, unions, churches and nonprofit foundations. Know what your donors value so you can craft your requests accordingly.

Techniques you can use for approaching donors include fundraising letters, live events, online fundraising and face-to-face conversations. Follow up fundraising requests with thank-you notes and with a review of your performance so you can make improvements.

Forge Connections

The heart of organizing is building connections. The fastest way to launch a grassroots campaign is to form coalitions with groups that share common goals. Identify potential partners, reach out to them and form a steering committee to coordinate tasks such as research, fundraising, door-to-door outreach and media outreach.

You will also need to build connections with communities and policymakers. Use community events to build groups that support your cause and will volunteer to support your efforts. Reach out to policymakers who share your goals and get them to join your team.

Photo Credit: a katz / shutterstock.com