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3 Grassroots advocacy milestones to meet this month

“To stand still is to fall behind,” said Mark Twain. He likely didn’t have grassroots campaigns in mind when he uttered those words, but Twain’s advice is spot-on for grassroots advocacy practitioners as they make a plan to engage the new Congress.

The 118th Congress has new leadership and plenty of new lawmakers. Even the incumbents are in new districts. This means your organization has significant work to do to prepare for the new Congress. And while you don’t have to scrap your 2022 playbook, it does need to be reevaluated from front to back.

Many organizations delayed their policy agenda-setting until they were certain which party would be in control of each chamber of Congress. After all, it wasn’t until after the elections were decided that we would learn which Members secured coveted committee and subcommittee chairs and assignments.

As Twain noted, if your organization was standing still during this period of uncertainty, then you may have fallen behind. Rest assured: it’s not too late to catch up! Meeting these three milestones before the end of the month will get your grassroots team back on track just in time to launch your 2023 campaigns.

1. Conduct a power analysis in your targeted districts

The change in congressional leadership and redistricting means you might no longer have highly-trained volunteers in the districts where you need them most. Conducting a power analysis will highlight these gaps in your volunteer program; information that should be part of your campaign and resource planning.

While these analyses can go very in-depth, at their most basic level they can be as simple as running three reports in your advocacy technology platform (like EveryAction) for each targeted district. The results will help you gain a better understanding of how much grassroots muscle you have in each district and uncover action takers who might be ready to take that next step up your volunteer engagement ladder.

Report #1: took one to three actions in the past six months

These volunteers are mostly your lowest level advocates who might help you fill up a lawmaker’s inbox or gain some attention on social media during critical parts of your campaign. They will provide the air cover for your more impactful actions.

Report #2: took four or more actions in the past six months

Volunteers who appear in these search results are highly passionate about your mission. Even if they only took simple actions like signing petitions or filling out a form to send a message to lawmakers, they are people who deserve some personal outreach as they might be ready to do far more for your organization. This report also represents the number of people you can rely on to take action in the future.

Pro tip: you might need to use a benchmark lower than four actions if your action opportunities were sparse over the past six months. Depending on the timing of your 2022 campaigns, you also might want to extend your time frame beyond six months.

Report #3: took two or more ‘high barrier’ actions in the past six months

A high-barrier action—like calling a lawmaker’s office, writing a letter to the editor, or attending an event—indicates that a volunteer is ready to engage with your organization at a more robust level. They are demonstrating the confidence to speak on your issues and the passion to be very public about it. These volunteers should definitely be on your 1:1 outreach list for recruitment into higher level roles.

Pro tip: the new year is a great time to take a look at your overall volunteer engagement strategy and make sure you’re adhering to communications best practices, like sending new advocates an email welcome series to immediately leverage their interest in your organization. Check out some of our findings and data-driven recommendations from our first nonprofit advocacy email welcome series study!

2. Prepare to schedule recess meetings for the President’s Day recess

New lawmakers and incumbents who now control a subcommittee or for the first time sit on a powerful committee are being inundated with meeting requests. Most of these requests are coming from lobbyists in Washington, but offices are hearing from constituents and local interests as well.

Now is the time to begin preparing for President’s Day Recess—likely to be the first major break on the congressional calendar. Congressional staff, who carefully manage their boss’s time, will designate slots for the lawmaker to meet with constituents while back home.

Ask your volunteers to begin reaching out to lawmaker offices now to schedule a meeting during the recess. You don’t need to know all the details of your ask to get the meeting scheduled.

Establishing that relationship between your volunteer and the lawmaker will be at the core of your ability to influence that lawmaker in the future. A well-trained volunteer will be capable of managing this meeting on their own without a staff member present.

3. Give grassroots a seat at the table when leadership re-assesses your advocacy agenda.

Grassroots should be an organizational strategy, not simply a legislative campaign tactic. That means a grassroots representative must be ‘in the room’ when the advocacy agenda is being developed. Or, at minimum, have someone there who can and will effectively represent the grassroots team’s interests.

As a grassroots leader, you have a unique perspective on where your volunteer power lies and what resource investment will be necessary to unleash that power in a particular campaign.

For example, if your lead lobbyist wants to prioritize an issue that focuses on a committee or Member you’ve never targeted in the past, then leadership needs to understand the level of investment that will be necessary for success. This might include funds for training volunteers, recruiting or acquiring new volunteers in particular districts, or conducting messaging research to help the organization explain the impact of complex legislation in a highly compelling way.

Let’s get started

It won’t be long before Congress begins deliberating the FY24 budget, the president delivers the State of the Union Address, and state legislatures are in full swing. Be sure your grassroots team is engaging in and making the most of this critical planning time so you’re ready for all of the legislative opportunities (and challenges) that will soon be coming your way.


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