6 Steps to Grassroots Success
Paul Schmitz was the former social innovation advisor to the White House, before taking the helm at Public Allies, a leadership development program that helped more than 5,000 young adults from diverse backgrounds. Recently, he launched Leading Inside Out, an organization that advises philanthropic and nonprofit organizations. Here he offers six tips for building grassroots success.
1. Recruit leaders from your district or states.
Consider who isn’t at the table in Washington, and find the people closest to the issue at the local level to recruit for your grassroots efforts. Inviting some of the smaller group leaders can help to diversify those with an opinion, and build greater leadership for your issue.
“One of the things that people in Washington sometimes miss is … to engage and really work with the grassroots leadership. [They] are going to make anything you do succeed or fail,” Schmitz says. If you want to achieve success promoting an issue, you have to first look to the grassroots and those who are closest to it. It takes [both] grassroots and grasstops to make progress.
2. To change policy, change beliefs.
Take to heart the famous phrase by management guru Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” People often focus on the technical aspect of a problem, and forget what it really takes to changes beliefs and practices. Ask yourself, “what are the cultural adaptive changes needed to pursue this new policy?” A lot of policy people bypass the cultural aspect of change, because it’s “messy and difficult.”
Schmitz says he has seen advocacy professionals “hit the wall,” because they haven’t taken this aspect into consideration.
3. Create a different kind of leadership.
Support the development of new grassroots leaders. These leaders can be groomed from schools, colleges, or from Americorps. New leaders are always needed, especially to support vulnerable communities. Whatever your issue may be, find the people it affects the most, and recruit leaders from there. “I spend a lot of my time focused on this, as simple as it sounds,” Schmitz says. A lack in local, invested grassroots leadership is one of the biggest barriers to getting advocacy results.
4. Know what it takes to make change really happen.
Advocacy and change takes the efforts of many people, over time. Change comes about through collective impact. The federal government uses collective impact to create change at the local level. Tap into those efforts to fuel your advocacy.
5. Demystify how leadership happens.
Leaders aren’t just born. Many great advocacy leaders evolve. You miss so many opportunities to recruit great leaders when you overlook the average person.
6. Think outside the box.
You have to think beyond the usual suspects if you really want to solve a social issue, promote a cause, or pass legislation that speaks to social issues. Social change cannot be addressed only at an institutional level. For example, if you want to improve infant mortality, don’t just recruit the heads of community health centers for your grassroots efforts. Find young mothers to serve as leaders, as well.
Paul Schmitz is the author of Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up, based on lessons learned from his 21 years at Public Allies. He is senior advisor to The Collective Impact Forum, and the first Innovator in Residence at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Innovation and Impact.