In this highly charged political climate, corporate grassroots advocacy can be a powerful strategy for brands wishing to influence public policy. When conducted ethically, transparently, and inclusively, corporate advocacy can be good for brands, stakeholders, bottom lines, and even industries as a whole.
Here, we explore the hows and whys of crafting an effective corporate grassroots advocacy strategy.
What is Corporate Grassroots Advocacy?
While corporate influence over public policy is traditionally seen as the domain of professional lobbyists, “corporate grassroots advocacy involves getting a company’s stakeholders involved in the legislative process,” explains Sherry Whitworth, managing director of public affairs and advocacy at FiscalNote. Grassroots advocacy involves encouraging and enabling employees, partners, shareholders, and even local communities to write to their congresspeople or to vote in elections.
What’s Behind the Rise of Corporate Grassroots Advocacy?
While large corporations have been forming coalitions and encouraging stakeholders to put pressure on the legislative process for decades, the pandemic and its aftermath created a new culture of highly vocal consumers and employees who expect brands to take a stance on divisive issues.
The last few years have seen seemingly no end to contentious social and environmental issues. “The COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd, the rise of gun violence, the Dobbs Decision, and recent wars — each of these issues has led to vocal concern,” explains Whitworth, “and people are asking their companies and leaders to take a stand.” Rather than having to send letters by mail, the internet and social media offer citizens countless ways to make their voices heard.
Can Corporate Grassroots Advocacy Be Effective?
“Corporate grassroots advocacy exists in a unique space,” explains Adam Campbell, senior client success manager at FiscalNote. “It’s powerful for politicians to hear not just from lobbyists, but from constituents who work in the industries affected by proposed legislature changes.”
Grassroots advocacy has the advantage of scale. Rather than a handful of lobbyists, thousands of constituent voices can put significant pressure on those in charge. Yet it also has the power to highlight the single story that can so often make history. “Grassroots advocacy makes things human,” says Whitworth. “If you can bring along the farmer who can tell his story, you’ve now got a face for your campaign. We often tune out hearing about the ‘millions of people’ affected by an issue, but a single story can be highly effective.”
”"Corporate grassroots advocacy exists in a unique space. It’s powerful for politicians to hear not just from lobbyists, but from constituents who work in the industries affected by proposed legislature changes."Adam Campbell, Senior Client Success Manager, FiscalNote
What Should Companies Know Before Getting Started?
Grassroots advocacy is not without risk. “Corporates have to walk a fine line,” Campbell says. “There’s so much in the advocacy space that’s emotionally charged, and taking any kind of stance is guaranteed to aggravate someone. The biggest risk we see is taking an unpopular stance on a social issue and alienating your work base and potential client base.”
This is the difficult position many companies find themselves in today: it can be risky to take a stance on an issue, but with so much pressure from consumers and stakeholders, it can also be risky not to.
“Best practice is to run a ‘good governance campaign’,” says Campbell. “This involves not taking a ‘side’, but rather, presenting factual, objective information, such as the current status of state-level laws on the topic, with open-ended prompts for discussion. Rather than taking a stance, you guide your stakeholders on how to make their voice known.” Such a campaign might also involve helping employees or consumers register to vote, organizing debate watch parties, arranging carpooling on voting days, and other activities that politically empower them. In this way, good governance campaigns allow companies to make their voice heard to legislators with little pushback.
Additionally, Whitworth recommends that companies stay in their lane. “Make sure it’s an issue that’s affecting your industry,” Whitworth advises. “The companies doing this work most effectively aren’t talking about every issue; just the ones that are right in their backyards.”
How Can Corporates Leverage Technology For More Effective Advocacy?
The first step in your grassroots advocacy should involve speaking with legal teams to determine whether campaigning this way will have legal consequences. Once you’ve got their approval, getting the right tools can make the grassroots process faster and more effective.
“Advocacy tools like VoterVoice are incredibly effective at disseminating information about emergent issues,” explains Campbell. “They allow you to send out reference materials on bills and regulations coming up, and ensure that you have a one-stop-shop that your employees can go to to access up-to-date information.”
In a political climate intensified by misinformation, access to accurate information is critical. VoterVoice also allows your advocacy team to send feedback surveys to ensure your campaigns reflect employee or consumer sentiment.
One powerful and often overlooked element of grassroots campaigns is audience segmentation. “Knowing who to reach out to about different issues is extremely important,” explains Campbell. VoterVoice’s powerful list segmentation functionality allows your team to conduct highly targeted outreach. “For example, if a proposed bill might affect distribution, you don’t need to engage employees in manufacturing or marketing,” says Campbell. “At the same time, you might also filter by activity level, reaching out differently to members who have participated in the past, or interest, reaching out to people passionate in particular topics.”
Corporate Grassroots Advocacy is Here to Stay
Corporate grassroots advocacy only grows stronger by the day. When used in tandem with professional lobbying efforts and carefully crafted communications strategies, grassroots advocacy can be a highly effective method of influencing policy and legislation that can affect your business. With the right tools and strategies at your disposal, your organization might just shape history.
The most trusted and secure advocacy tool on the market, VoterVoice helps you influence the policy that matters. More than 2,000 organizations use VoterVoice to connect directly with lawmakers and advocates.