Archives for grassroots lobbying

Get Leverage with Grasstops Lobbying

It’s one thing to have organized pressure coming from “real” people and having them relay their real concerns and real stories to elected officials. That the essence of “grassroots” lobbying. But it’s even better to pair that with community leaders who matter to the elected officials or other politicos that you’re trying to influence.

That’s where the grasstops lobbying comes in.

It’s lobbying by people who matter to other people who matter, and it can be a force multiplier and add a new dimension to your efforts. It’s not that grassroots pressure doesn’t matter. It does because numbers matter. But if you can match a local organization’s grassroots with a similar network of grasstops leaders, you will see a tremendous leap in the ability to influence legislators.

Grasstops lobbying is effective for many reasons.

It Promotes Accountability

While many legislators may deceive themselves into thinking that they can ignore or fool the average constituent, they don’t usually feel the same about “Mr. Big” – and they don’t want to get on his (or her) bad side. These are people who are thought of as pillars of the local community, organizational leaders or opinion leaders, and they influence other people – which is why politicians usually like to keep happy. They are people who can make life easier for them if they stay on their good side.

It Breaks Through Barriers

Sometimes elected officials can become insulated from grassroots pressure. While many legislators don’t like being bombarded by letters from constituents, they may choose not to read them. But they can’t afford not to take a phone call from the president of the largest employer in the district or the pastor of the largest church.

Similarly, the number of phone calls coming into a legislator’s office eventually becomes irrelevant. All that registers in their mind is that they got a lot of phone calls. However, several calls from key community leaders or even a personal visit will stick out in their minds.

Examples of Potential “Grasstops” Community Leaders:

  • Pastors
  • Large employers
  • Other elected officials
  • Political party leaders
  • Former staffers to other elected officials
  • Major contributors to the elected officials you’re targeting
  • Civic or other advocacy organization leaders
  • Newspaper publishers
  • Opinion leaders
  • People who have credibility with the media
  • Neighbors, relatives or friends (of the elected official)

Think through the list of names that come to mind. Who has the most influence with the officials that you’re trying to influence? Who represent a constituency that your targeted officials can’t afford to ignore? Whose phone calls have to get returned?

The rule of thumb is to identify those who can get directly to your targets, and not just to their staff. Identify those people and approach them about joining your efforts. Some of them might even be classified as “strange bedfellows” politically speaking, but that’s even better as it makes your effort look more diverse.

Keep a running list of the people that you identify, what they care about and who they can potentially influence. It will be a good reference for you when the next issue campaign comes up.

When you get your new contacts involved, make sure that they are informed. They’re probably busy people, so the more that you lay things out and make it simple, the more likely they will be to help. Then incorporate them into your overall lobbying plan.

Grasstops lobbying can be just the leverage you need to make your grassroots efforts pay off.

The Power of Numbers in Grassroots Lobbying

depositphotos_13429686-Standing-out-concept-dialog-bubblesWhen it comes to grassroots lobbying, there is power in numbers. And numbers can come from a quality grassroots organization that encourages supporters to directly contact their elected officials.

The thing that makes phone calls and letters so effective is that they are short and quick means of relaying your message.  Changing the mind of your officials may not be accomplished with one phone call or one letter, but a thousand phone calls or letters voicing similar opinions will have a major impact on how most elected officials will vote on any given issue.

The most important aspect of basic grassroots lobbying is multiplication.  Once you have taken the time to make contact with an elected official on an issue, find at least ten others to call or write their elected officials too.

Even on the hottest issues, most federal representatives rarely receive more than a few hundred calls, and they represent well over half a million constituents – and state and local officials represent a fraction of that.  If there are one hundred people in your group and each one identifies at least ten others to contact their elected officials, you would generate over one thousand contacts – enough to scare the daylights out of most any politician.

In politics, that’s power!

Remember, no matter how stupid you may think politicians are, they all know how to count. They know that “numbers” on any given issue can possibly mean “numbers” on Election Day. And that gets their attention.

In the end, it’s all about the math.  Use it to your advantage!

How to Target Your Grassroots Lobbying Efforts

grassroots lobbyingOne of the most important questions to answer before starting any grassroots lobbying campaign is “who” are you going to lobby?  In pretty much every campaign there is a limited amount of time and resources available, and you want to get the most out them both.  That means targeting them where they can make the most difference.

It all starts with a list.  And that means some research, organization and coordination with your allies.

Use the following guidelines:

Start a Target List

Make a list of every elected official who has any bearing on the success of your effort.  Such as every member of a committee that is dealing with your issue, or every member of a full legislative body (or council) if you’re preparing for a final vote on something.  Make note of whatever you know about their position on the issue.  If necessary, find past votes on similar issues that can help predict their behavior. Add in any general impressions from lobbyists or legislative allies you may be working with.  Lastly, depending on whether legislators are up for reelection, the narrowness of their former election victories may be a factor in how they are likely to vote as well, (they all want to get re-elected!).  Make note of it.

Organize the List

Next up, you need to organize the list according to the initial information that you have on each official.  Some elected officials will definitely be with you, and some will definitely be against you, and – depending on your vote count – it’s not worth spending a lot of time on either group.  Rate them a scale of 1 to 5: (1 = absolutely with you, 2 = leaning with you, 3 = undecided/unknown, 4 = leaning against you, 5 definitely against you). Add the numbers up to gauge how you are doing, (the lower the total the better).

Your job is to focus on the votes in the middle – the potential “swing” votes. That means focusing your lobbying time and resources on the 2’s, 3’s and 4’s.

Update and Work the List

Successful grassroots lobbying on most any issue is a constantly evolving process right up until the final vote is cast. It’s not a one-time thing where you speak up and then go home.  It requires consistent follow up.

As you and your allies lobby the same target list, information will be coming from every direction if everyone is doing their job.  Of course some legislators have been known to tell one thing to one group of people and something different to others, (imagine!), so targets will move up and down the scale depending on the most up-to-date intelligence.  You have to keep things straight in order to gauge where you stand – and whether you might need to consider compromising if you think you will lose, or change direction and fight another day.

Consider using a notebook (or even a spreadsheet if you want to get sophisticated) with one page to keep track of each targeted official.

Key Information for Tracking Officials:

  • Who made each contact with them
  • When it was made
  • What the official said about their position
  • How it rated on the scale of 1 to 5

This will help you keep up with each official’s “evolving” position over time, and if someone needs shoring up.  It will also help you get a feel for which arguments are working and which ones aren’t – and what objections need to be overcome.  Remember, the argument that you might think is the most persuasive may not be the same one that actually works, (and it may be different for every elected official).  Pay attention to what they say actually moves them and adjust accordingly.

Since maintaining multiple lists will only breed confusion, one person should be designated as the “List Coordinator”.  All information should then be passed through them, and they should be touching base with allies on a regular basis to keep it up to date, as well as send out updates and let allies know who needs to be targeted and when.  Since everyone can’t be at city hall or the state capitol all the time, it’s better to pick a list coordinator who is close to the action and who has the time, (even a lobbyist, legislative staffer or friendly legislator if they’re on your team).

As General George Patton once put it, “Information is like eggs; the fresher the better”.  When it comes to lobbying, the information you gather is only as “fresh” as the degree everyone works to keep it up to date; and it’s only as useful as the degree that you actually put it to use.

Make sure that your grassroots lobbying strategy and tactics revolve around it.