Your First 30 Days Working in Grassroots Advocacy
It’s that time in the election cycle when staffers and campaigners are taking up new jobs. For those moving to grassroots advocacy, here’s some tips from a seasoned pro for your first 30 days on the job.
You left the Hill and landed your first government relations job in grassroots advocacy, or maybe you’ve seized the opportunity to work at the intersection of lobbying and communications. Irrespective of how you got a job in grassroots advocacy, the first 30 days can be intimidating and overwhelming with the volume of information you have to consume.
Every organization has different expectations, responsibilities, technology assets, processes, layers of approval, strengths, and challenges, and a step-by-step guide on how to approach a grassroots job doesn’t exist.
Grassroots is a fluid profession where you need to develop and maintain relationships to compel people to action. One of the most valuable resources for navigating the profession is the experience of other grassroots pros that have tried different techniques that have succeeded and failed.
While the below isn’t a guaranteed recipe for success for the first 30 days of running a grassroots program, there are a few time-tested tips and tricks that could get you started as you delve into your role in grassroots advocacy:
Take a technology inventory: Find out all of your technology assets throughout the organizations that you could potentially use. Maybe another department uses a webinar service you might use to launch a monthly training for your top advocates? Is there a CRM in place elsewhere, or a marketing email automation? Knowing what technology you have at your disposal is valuable when you are making programming decisions on how you want to recruit or engage.
Meet & greet: Introduce yourself to every department and find out their roles and responsibilities. Share some of your initial ideas and discuss a few ways on how you could collaborate in the future. Come prepared to these meetings and find out what is currently going on between your departments and where they would like to go in the future.
Seek to communicate: Find out every single channel of communication that your organization has at its disposal from in-person conference to newsletters, magazines, blogs, and email marketing. How can you get your message across to your different audiences?
Develop the elevator pitch: What does it mean to be an advocate for your organization? What are you goals, and why should people want to join your cause? Having the message ready during the first 30 days is critical and something that should be shared internally and externally. This is why your role exists within the organization.
Learn the processes: Find out all of the approval processes and make sure that your initial projects follow these processes. Making a first impression within your organization will go a long way as you seek to develop new programs and come up with innovative ideas that may challenge the conventions of previous advocacy initiatives.
Recognize your role: Responsibilities in grassroots advocacy vary, but generally speaking you are not the policy expert, the top lobbyist, or the head of communications. You play a critical role in an organization, but you are not expected to know the ins and outs of complex policy or know every Member of Congress or staffer on the Hill.
Rehearse your voice: Every organization has a different voice, sometimes even multiple voices, which govern how an organization communicates to the public. Discovering the organization’s voice early on is important, because those are the confines in which you are forced to operate and fine-tune your craft. You might be the voice of advocacy within your organization, but you are certainly not the organization’s voice. A misstep in tone or message presentation can hurt your credibility infinitely. Cautiously prepare your first communications and ask questions throughout the process. Also ask multiple people with institutional knowledge to review it.
Reach out to your peers: Communicate with those in a similar situation and physically meet with people in grassroots advocacy one on one, at networking events, or through email to solicit advice. The first person on your list should be anyone who has held your new role in the past, and others in grassroots advocacy in your issue area.
Research your issue: This process should have already started when you accepted the new position, but make sure that you read up on the issues your organization deals with. Remember, you are not the expert in everything, but you will have to represent your organization and interface with members, colleagues, and the general public about your organization’s issues. It is a lot easier to communicate a message if you yourself have a clear understanding of the policy behind the initiative. A little research during off hours and on weekends will pay dividends in the long run.
Create a service model: You should be viewed as a resource within your organization. Other departments should seek ways to work with you and vice versa. You should also be viewed as a resource to the advocates of your organization. Creating a service model similar to constituent services of a Congressional office is a way to approach how to interact with both internal and external stakeholders.
Set goals: Having realistic goals will set the pace for your program and give you a to-do list. Segment these goals into short-term and long-term and be as specific as possible citing key deliverables and deadlines to give you expectations.
Have fun and be creative: Hopefully you took the job because you generally like teaching people how to communicate with government and be part of the public policy process. A career in grassroots advocacy is rewarding in the sense of building civic capital, but is also rewarding in the sense that you get to come up with your own ideas and campaigns to do so.
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” -William James
Joshua Habursky is the Director of Advocacy at the Independent Bankers of America and Founder/Chair of the Grassroots Professional Network. Joshua also is an adjunct faculty member of West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media and Heidelberg University’s Political Science Department.