After achieving huge wins at the state government level in 2023, the Alameda County Community Food Bank has set its sights on duplicating that success at the local government level in 2024. The food bank joins a growing number of organizations that are recognizing the untapped potential of grassroots advocacy campaigns to influence important policy decisions at the local government level.
Engaging supporters to influence local representatives offers a unique advantage. Local officials are less overwhelmed by constituent communications compared to their state and federal counterparts, meaning a small number of targeted messages can make a significant impact. However, local policymaking operates on a faster and more unpredictable timeline than state and federal legislative processes, so teams must often work to mobilize supporters very quickly to influence policy outcomes.
If you’re looking to increase the effectiveness of your local grassroots advocacy efforts, consider employing the following strategies.
Strategy 1: Develop a Year-Round Advocacy Program
Planning, launching, and running a successful grassroots advocacy campaign to influence local officials’ decisions about a particular ordinance takes a lot of time. At the local government level, because of the accelerated timeline, you may need to mobilize your supporters within a matter of days. That’s why it’s helpful to develop a year-round advocacy program, rather than only reaching out to supporters when there’s a key issue on the agenda in an upcoming meeting.
For example, Ezer Pamintuan, senior policy advocate for Alameda County Community Food Bank, says his organization aims to send two or three emails per month to their supporters, and they include a call to action in each message, such as contacting your representatives or signing a petition. Pamintuan says he sees the highest open rates for these emails when they emphasize urgency, avoid technical jargon, and focus on the impact of the policy as opposed to the technical details. However, he notes that creating a false sense of urgency can backfire.
If there’s no need for urgent action, there are other useful efforts you can direct your supporters to that can advance your advocacy efforts, such as filling out surveys, signing up for educational webinars, and updating their personal information.
Keeping your advocacy efforts going all year can help you combat the attrition that often happens when people’s circumstances change and they’re no longer directly affected by an issue. “You have to constantly be refilling your bucket,” says Sherry Whitworth, former managing director of public affairs and advocacy at FiscalNote.
Strategy 2: Leverage In-Person Events
One of the advantages of local advocacy is the smaller geographic area you’re working in, which can make it easier to gather your supporters in person. For some organizations, gatherings already happen as part of their normal volunteer efforts. This was the case for Alameda County Community Food Bank, which this year mobilized almost 1,500 supporters to send letters to their state representatives by leveraging VoterVoice’s grassroots advocacy solutions during their routine volunteer events.
When volunteers came in to sort produce or bag groceries, they were encouraged to scan a QR code which took them to the food bank’s VoterVoice Action Center, where they could complete a pre-filled letter to their representative within a few seconds. The campaign resulted in a 10-fold increase in the number of letters sent by advocates compared to previous campaigns.
“It sent a message to our volunteers that volunteering can look like many things, including sending a message to an elected official,” Pamintuan says.
Strategy 3: Create Positive Feedback Loops
A major challenge for grassroots advocacy groups is keeping their supporters engaged and active for the long term. If supporters feel participating in an advocacy campaign is a waste of time, they’ll be less likely to take part a second time.
That’s why it’s helpful to create a positive feedback loop by following up with advocates about the specific impact of their engagement. If you can tell supporters that the ordinance they sent a message about passed out of committee with a unanimous vote thanks to their advocacy efforts, it encourages them to participate in future campaigns.
“I can look our volunteers in the eye and tell them that their letter writing worked because I just met with a state senator who said they received letters and read them, and it was pivotal,” Pamintuan says.
Grassroots advocacy tools like VoterVoice that allow you to segment your supporters based on previous actions make it easy to send follow-up messages only to the individuals who participated in a particular campaign.
”"I can look our volunteers in the eye and tell them that their letter writing worked because I just met with a state senator who said they received letters and read them, and it was pivotal."Ezer Pamintuan, senior policy advocate, Alameda County Community Food Bank
Strategy 4: Identify Your Champions
While there is great strength in numbers in the world of grassroots advocacy, it’s also important to look for individuals who can amplify your message by sharing personal stories or leveraging relationships to reach policymakers.
Grassroots advocacy technology can help you identify your champions. For example, the leaderboard feature in VoterVoice shows which advocates take action most often in response to your campaigns. This can help you find people who are willing to do more — perhaps show up in person at a council meeting, or schedule a one-on-one meeting with an elected official. With VoterVoice’s surveying and questionnaire tools, you can collect compelling stories from supporters and find individuals who have personal relationships with elected officials. “VoterVoice can help you pick those needles out of the haystack,” Whitworth says.
Personal messages from the people most impacted by the problem are often more compelling than messages from strangers. By gathering additional information about your supporters and analyzing their activity, you can find champions whose stories will be the most likely to sway elected officials to support your cause.
Ramp Up Your Local Advocacy Efforts With Digital Advocacy Tools
Local grassroots advocacy presents a huge opportunity for organizations to enact change. Effective local advocacy strategies include using newsletters to develop a year-round program, mobilizing supporters at in-person events, keeping the momentum up with positive feedback loops, and leveraging champions whose stories are most likely to influence policymakers.
Digital government affairs tools like Curate and VoterVoice, both part of FiscalNote, make it easier to apply these strategies. Curate’s automated tracking of local government documents helps teams stay up-to-date on local policy developments they might otherwise miss.
VoterVoice helps teams target the right officials and staffers with a local database that includes contact information for the main elected officials of the executive and legislative bodies of all U.S. areas greater than 250,000 in population. It’s the only grassroots advocacy tool that matches advocates with their specific local representatives, ensuring that elected officials only hear from their constituents.
VoterVoice’s customizable grassroots action center pages make it easy to keep your supporters informed about emerging issues, facilitate letter-writing campaigns, and track their representatives’ voting records. Plus, the segmentation tools in VoterVoice allow you to tailor your outreach efforts by location, constituency, activities, custom fields, and previous actions.