Grassroots and the Elections

Believe it or not, there’s an election around the corner. No, I’m not talking about the Presidential campaign. I’m talking about November 6th, 2007 when communities all across the country will be deciding on local ballot measures, county commissioners, city councilors and the like.

OK, so maybe the thought of these local elections doesn’t fill you with the same level of anticipation (or dread) as a rip-roaring presidential campaign can. But whether you’re considering getting involved in the local 2007 elections, or gearing up for 2008, there are a dozen effective and fun ways to involve grassroots network members in the political process. In doing so, you’ll build both recognition of your cause as well as a pool of motivated and knowledgeable activists.

But before we get to those dozen ways, be sure you understand the rules around non-profit electioneering. Overall, the hard and fast rule at the national level is that your organization is not allowed to support or endorse a particular candidate for office. Rules for state and local elections will vary, so be sure to become familiar with the restrictions in your area. One of my favorite resources for this type of information is the Charities Lobbying in the Public Interest site at clpi.

org. Properly armed with the legalize, let’s plunge in! 1. Registering People to Vote: At work, home, school and everywhere in between, your grassroots activists can help get people registered to vote. Print up business cards, flyers or buttons that they can either download off your site or pick up at a local Kinkos or other distribution point (you can upload your documents online and have them printed out at most locations). The message? Go to www.

beavoter.org to register in your state – that’s it! 2. Candidate surveys: Use a service like Zoomerang or Survey Monkey to put together a survey of candidates asking for their views on your issues.

Then, work with your grassroots advocates to get responses. Candidates are always more likely to respond to requests from people in the districts they are seeking to represent. You may not use this information to endorse a particular candidate – but you can sure use it to raise the profile of your issues in the election.

3. Media response teams: Whether it’s talk radio, local newscasts, letters to the editor or online outlets, there’s generally a great deal of talk in the news about election matters. Spend some time identifying advocates who can respond quickly to media stories in their community. You can help them by providing short talking points and referring them to Congress.org’s media guide 4.

House Parties: The Humane Society Legislative Fund encourages advocates to take action around issues and elections through their “Party Animals” house party program. Activists arrange small parties in their community and are connected to the larger effort through a call with national HSUS reps and supporters. Consider a similar approach for your issues to generate enthusiasm over specific candidates and issues. 5. Bloggers Unite: Set up a “blog for [insert name of your cause here] day” near the elections and ask any of your advocates who run a blog, read blogs or even know what blogs are to comment online about the importance of [insert your cause here] on that day. Again, you’ll want to avoid the appearance of supporting specific candidates, but your members can certainly talk about the issues as much as they like.

6. The Election will be YouTubed: You Tube has become the ultimate democratic medium. Tap the creativity of your advocates by seeking their videos highlighting the importance of your issues.

The videos might be interviews with business leaders, concerned residents or whoever is most affected (hint: puppies and children are ALWAYS well received.) 7. GOTV (the old-fashioned way): For the uninitiated, GOTV stands for “Get Out The Vote” and it’s an important component of any election effort. The “old-fashioned” (and still viable) means of getting the vote out include handing out flyers, making calls to registered voters (lists are available from local party organizations and/or the local board of elections) and partnering with popular gathering places like malls and churches to help spread the word. Even simple techniques like changing one’s voice mail to remind people to go vote can be effective. 8.

GOTV (the new-fashioned way): At the same time, Web 2.0 has provided additional tools for GOTV, including texting, twitter, IM, e-mail taglines and autoresponders. If that all sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, recall that most people under 30 use text and IM to communicate with one another – if you want to get them to the polls, sending a text message is probably the best way to do so! Go ahead, ask your teenager how to do it.

9. Take a friend to vote: OK, not much explanation needed here. But if every one of your grassroots members encouraged one of their friends to go with them, turn out would likely increase, right? And although one can’t assume that ALL the extra votes would go your way, if your advocates are bringing their friends (possibly likeminded people), there’s a more than 50-50 chance it will turn out positively for you. 10.

Have some fun! Numerous national groups are raising the profile of their issues and having some fun through efforts like www.Edin08.com and www.electsusie.com.

These efforts to, respectively, raise the profile of education issues and children’s health issues engages advocates in a whole new way. 11. Online petitions: At a minimum, getting people to sign on to online petitions gives you a ready list of people willing and able to be active on your issue. In addition these petitions can, if popular enough, capture the attention of candidates.

Start your own at http://think.mtv.com, www.petitiononline.com or www.

ipetitions.com. You can also start a larger online campaign effort at www.citizenspeak.org or www.care2.

com 12. Encourage Election Day Workers: Although some might not count this as truly supporting the cause (after all, as a worker, your advocates won’t be able to promote your issue), I do believe that encouraging people to serve as election day workers will enhance not only your cause but the whole democratic process. I’ve done it and it’s NOT easy – but anyone who does it learns a great deal about the election process -- knowledge that will serve them well in other advocacy efforts. Oh, and here's a bonus idea. Get out there and vote – early and often.

Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates, works with organizations that want to impact public policy through effective advocacy techniques. She offers training and consulting services on getting government to listen and can be found on the web at http://www.advocacyguru.com

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