Suddenly, grassroots-led campaign platforms are everywhere. Ever since the spectacular growth of Change.org in 2011, people are starting petitions and running their own campaigns like never before—saving hospitals, stopping industrial dumping, and creating real change in their communities.
What is the real impact of all these campaigns? What does it mean for the future of social change? What lessons can we learn about how to be successful? We asked the minds behind the biggest grassroots-led campaign platforms these questions and more.
In 2014, we set out to find answers to those questions and outlined them in Grassroots-Led Campaigns: Lessons From the New Frontier of Grassroots-Powered Campaigning. Authored by veteran progressive digital strategist Colin Holtz, this report draws upon interviews with Change.org, MoveOn.org, Avaaz.org, 38 Degrees, CampaignsByYou, CREDO Mobilize, GetUp! CommunityRun, and more.
Presented in a quick and digestible slide deck format, the report is intended for a range of audiences, from executive directors seeking a quick overview, to practitioners searching for best practices, to media outlets and individuals looking for a better understanding of this rapidly growing model.
While Grassroots-Led Campaigns: Lessons From the New Frontier of Grassroots-Powered Campaigning was originally put together in 2014, when MobLab was a part of Greenpeace, we believe the findings remain as relevant today as when this was first published.
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.
Top photo: A Mahan Sangharsh Samiti member talks about her involvement in the campaign against Mahan Coal Limited. © Vivek Muthuramalingam