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:
- 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.