Long-term effective advocacy and the lobbying that supports it requires positive, trusting, strategic relationships with elected and appointed officials, their staff, the media and your own base.
Because the work involves long-term goals, it is important to consider how to sustain your efforts into the future. This is necessary in order to prevent burnout and to ensure that your campaign doesn’t reinvent the wheel each and every year.
Consider the following tips for creating grassroots sustainability.
- Think of your organizing as an infrastructure. Give serious attention to the flow of information. Figure out how to strengthen the weak parts without compromising stronger areas.
- Keep an eye on the nuts and bolts. Some groups get so caught up in the vision that they fail at the concrete tasks that hold any effort together. Take care to maintain your data and lists, plan for basic organizing activities like reminder calls and follow-up communication, and if you have a web site, update it regularly.
- Build from the base out. Like any good infrastructure, a sound foundation (solid base) ensures that you won’t topple. Never forget your base, even as you are expanding it.
- Cultivate leadership. Permanent grassroots infrastructures are built through volunteer leadership. Train, thank, recognize, and consult with your volunteers. Treat them like gold, and continue to give them opportunities to lead.
- Force Multiply. Ask your existing volunteers to get more people involved in your effort. Explain the importance of building grassroots power, and ask them to be a part of building the permanent infrastructure.
Articulate a vision. Volunteer advocates respond to a long-term approach if they’re able to see an exciting, bold vision at the end of the road.
Be methodical. Many groups who want to build grassroots infrastructures take on too much too fast. Don’t get stuck in the mud, but don’t rush yourself either.
- View advocacy as a cycle. Avoid the trap of only mobilizing during a legislative session. Seek ways for your volunteer advocates to contact their elected officials in the home district and before and after the legislative session.
- Track and report votes. Elected officials can tell constituents that they support kids or the environment, but their voting record can say otherwise. Teach volunteer advocates the power of accountability.
- Evaluate. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself and your volunteers and partners what is working and what is not, and modify your activities to respond to their feedback.
- Finally, and perhaps, most importantly: celebrate.
The work of building long term change is challenging, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to create community, engage in efforts that can really make a difference and light the way for those who will follow.
Remember to keep your “eye on the prize” and to value the people and accomplishments along the way. Remember the voice of citizen activists is what strengthens and maintains our democracy. Your participation is very valuable and the job of advocacy is well worth doing.
From Winning on issues: How to be a successful citizen lobbyist, Wellstone Action! Organizing Corner.