Saving hospitals in the UK. Blocking “super trawlers” in Australia. Winning local environmental battles in India. Stopping biased education standards in the United States. Suddenly, platforms that allow anyone to start a petition and run their own campaigns are everywhere.
But the impressive growth of this new frontier in people-powered campaigning brings with it new questions: How do these “grassroots-led campaigns” platform actually work? What kind of impact are they actually having on the world? What are the wider implications of this new approach to campaigning for individuals and organizations? Should every group launch their own grassroots-led campaigns platform? If not, why not?
We answer these questions and more in a new Mobilisation Lab report, Grassroots-led Campaigns: Lessons from the new frontier of people-powered campaigning, which summarizes the wisdom and insight of the people at the cutting edge of grassroots-led campaigns.
Read on for our five key takeaways:
1) If you generate campaigns and test, you will grow. Part of the value of grassroots-led campaigns is that they reach new audiences and bring in new members. If you generate a sufficient volume of campaigns (see #2 — and the full report) and test to see which campaigns recruit new people before promoting them widely, your membership will grow.
2) Campaigns volume leads to growth and impact. Any one campaign could potentially recruit thousands of new members, or have a huge impact. But the reality is that to you need to generate a lot of campaigns each month in order to grow your member base and, to a lesser extent, create impact through winning campaigns.
3) Grassroots-led campaigns win victories and add value, but don’t entirely replace staff-led campaigns. There is no denying that giving people more power to campaign on the things they care about brings real value for everyone involved, and creates real change in the world. But don’t fire anyone — you still need a team to win campaigns on all those big, intractable problems.
4) Invest staff time to be successful. This was the universal refrain from every group interviewed. Grassroots-led campaigns platforms are not Field of Dreams — “If you build it, they will come.” You need to spend resources generating campaigns and helping campaign creators be successful.
5) Initial concerns and expectations are often overstated. This report will help you avoid many of the big red flags that worry groups considering giving more control to their members, while offering guidance for setting reasonable expectations around what grassroots-led campaigns can accomplish.
Want more? The full report reviews the basics of grassroots-led campaigns, spells out their impact on the world, digs into strategic lessons current programs, and offers practical steps to success. It is designed to be quick, helpful resource whether you are an executive director trying to decide whether to invest in this new model, a practitioner tasked with building a program, or anyone who wonders about the future of people-powered campaigning.
Colin Holtz is a freelance writer and digital strategist. He is the former National Campaigns Director of Rebuild the Dream.