To further your nonprofit’s mission, sometimes you need to take direct action. Whether that means creating a public petition or hosting a rally to draw attention to your cause, your supporters will play a vital role in the success of your chosen advocacy efforts.

That’s why many organizations choose to launch grassroots campaigns — advocacy initiatives designed to encourage large numbers of supporters at the local level to advocate for change. This article will explore the basics of grassroots advocacy and the steps your nonprofit can take to plan your own campaign.

What is a grassroots advocacy campaign?

Grassroots advocacy campaigns are organized efforts that mobilize community members to advocate for a nonprofit’s cause.

In these campaigns, local, everyday people come together to enact large-scale change by taking small actions. For instance, supporters might participate in advocacy by contacting policymakers, signing petitions, or taking other actions that publicize support for a specific cause or legal issue.

To plan and launch a grassroots campaign for your nonprofit, follow these steps:

1. Set goals.

The first step in creating any type of campaign plan is to determine your goals. What does your organization aim to accomplish with this campaign? Is there a proposed law you want to push back against, or an issue you think policymakers should pay more attention to?

Clarify the specific ways you hope to further your cause, then set realistic, impactful goals that you can measure. For example, say that your nonprofit serves unhoused individuals and wants your city council to approve a public housing project that’s on the table. You might set the following goals for your grassroots advocacy campaign:

  • Have at least 50 supporters contact city council members about the project.
  • Collect 1,000 signatures on a petition to show community support for the project.
  • Recruit at least 20 volunteers to attend the next city council meeting and advocate for unhoused individuals in person.

If you’re unsure exactly what to focus on or how your supporters can achieve results, research specific areas of your cause and identify the most pressing issues. From there, consider actions that your supporters can realistically take and craft your goals accordingly.

2. Create opportunities for action.

Next, determine all of the ways you’ll ask supporters to participate in your advocacy campaign. For grassroots efforts, power is in numbers, so the more supporters you can engage with a variety of straightforward actions, the more successful your campaign will be.

Consider giving supporters the opportunity to take one or more of the following simple actions:

  • Sign an online petition.
  • Call their representatives and read from a script your nonprofit provides.
  • Email lawmakers using a pre-filled template about your cause.
  • Attend an in-person or virtual advocacy event.
  • Share advocacy content on social media to spread awareness of your efforts and invite their friends to join the movement.
  • Volunteer at an advocacy-related event.
  • Join a protest or rally in support of your cause.

As you evaluate your options, make sure to follow all laws about nonprofits’ involvement in political campaigns. Typically, advocating for or against certain legal issues is allowed, but your organization must remain non-partisan and cannot express support for specific political candidates.

This means that you could host a non-partisan get-out-the-vote (GOTV) event and ask volunteers to help register community members to vote. However, you could not ask supporters to attend a rally for a candidate that aligns with your nonprofit’s goals.

3. Create a campaign website and outreach materials.

Once you know exactly how you’ll ask supporters to advocate for your cause, start designing promotional materials for the campaign. The most important resource to create is a campaign website (or a new page on your nonprofit’s main website) that provides information about the issue, ways to get involved, and other details supporters will be looking for.

For instance, if your grassroots campaign focuses on voter access, your website or campaign page should explain what GOTV is, offer multiple ways to participate, and include a registration form for volunteering at your next GOTV event.

Then, determine multiple outreach strategies that will help you spread the word about your campaign and inspire vital grassroots support. These might include:

  • Email campaigns: Segment your supporters based on their likelihood of participating, then create different email series for each group. For frequent volunteers, you might send emails with urgent calls to action. For those less familiar with your advocacy work, write informational emails that encourage them to learn more and get involved.
  • Social media content: Create social media infographics, videos, and posts that feature eye-catching statistics and clear calls to action. Include all the links and information that supporters need to get involved, and encourage them to share the content on their own pages to draw more attention to the issue.
  • Blog posts: Write and share articles about the issue you’re trying to solve on your website. These blog posts can serve as both educational resources that supporters can use to dive deeper into advocacy and promotional content for your campaign.

As you create each of these materials, time your outreach strategically to give supporters enough time to act while still conveying the urgency of the campaign.

4. Thank your advocates.

Finally, be sure to plan out a variety of ways to support, empower, and show gratitude for your grassroots advocates throughout the campaign. Your supporters will contribute their time, energy, and passion to your cause, so it’s crucial to express your appreciation. Additionally, giving heartfelt thanks helps your organization’s retention efforts.

Create a strategy for recognizing and appreciating your volunteers both during and after the campaign. This should include thank-you messages, social media or newsletter shoutouts, and even small gifts for especially dedicated advocates.

Personalize these messages when possible to show that you value every individual involved, and use empowering language that emphasizes the impact that each supporter made by coming together for a common cause.

With a concrete plan in place, your organization will be well prepared to inspire support and drive grassroots action for your advocacy efforts. Monitor the success of certain initiatives and calls to action throughout the campaign to discover which are most appealing to your supporters, and you’ll be in an even better position to drive action in the future.