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What is Grassroots Advocacy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Grassroots advocacy is a form of advocacy which originates among concerned citizens, rather than being orchestrated by organizations or companies. The idea behind the term “grassroots” is that it refers to a movement which grows spontaneously and naturally, without encouragement from outside sources, much like the roots of stubborn grass. People can participate in grassroots advocacy on many levels, ranging from writing letters to political leaders to organizing educational workshops for members of their community.

People come together in a grassroots advocacy movement when they see an issue which they feel is not being resolved or addressed appropriately by government officials and other entities with the power to determine the response to the issue. This type of advocacy often involves some level of political activity, with members of the movement interacting with elected and appointed officials in the process of attempting to draw attention to their cause. It can also involve community activity and community education, such as attempts to get members of a community to become more environmentally conscious.

Anyone can engage in grassroots advocacy. Simply writing a letter to an elected official about a cause of concern is a form of grassroots advocacy, as is attending city council meetings, or taking a more active role in promoting change in a community. Organizing with others can increase the power of grassroots movements by creating a united group of concerned people which is hard to ignore, but it is not necessarily required. People can also approach advocacy from a number of political and social perspectives, and sometimes people with very disparate politics and ideas come together in the same movement because they have causes of mutual concern.

Grassroots advocacy often involves low-level community activism. Local groups of concerned citizens may join together to increase their strength when it comes to pushing for change, and sometimes these groups even turn into political organizations. Concerned groups of conservationists, for example, eventually created organizations like the Sierra Club. In these cases, the advocacy moved beyond the grassroots and into a more organized form, with more clout.

In a simple example of grassroots advocacy, people might decide that the patients at a local hospital are not getting adequate care. They might lobby the hospital board as well as professional organizations of nurses and other medical professionals to promote the development of higher standards of care. They could also push elected officials to audit the hospital or to get involved in the process of formulating more patient-friendly policies which would improve conditions for hospitalized patients.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Tomislav — On Aug 25, 2011

@saraq90 - I have found this to be true for myself as well, but I think it can still work for larger organizations as well.

For example, I had a professor that worked for a large nonprofit that pursued advocacy for children with cleft palates. Because the professor showed me pictures from the trips she had been on, I was happily and readily donated to the advocacy's fundraiser.

So I think grassroots advocacy of groups works for both small and large non profit groups.

By Saraq90 — On Aug 24, 2011

A friend of mine works for a small non profit advocacy group which works to advocate for education in a specific third world country.

She loves what she does and as the non profit has grown she has actually struggled to keep it more grassroots. She sad she feels that people are more apt to trust the organization more because of it small and grassroots type organization.

When she told me this, I had to agree with her. I realized that the non profits that I gave money to were typically those that I had heard about from word of mouth or that I have seen the fruits of their labor in my community.

Has anyone else found this to be true?

By backdraft — On Aug 24, 2011

I had a really frustrating experience as part of a grassroots organization. I own a small business that operates out of the industrial part of Kansas City. About 10 years ago the city decided that they were going to build a prison work release center about a block from my business. This would mean that every morning an army of convicted felons would be released into my neighborhood and evry night they would come back to sleep.

I had reservations about the project from the very start. I had to think about the safety of myself, my employees and my customers. Even if these prisoners have been determined to be safe, there is the great potential for something to go wrong. Many of the other property owners in the area agreed with me and we decided to organize ourselves to try and stop construction of the prison.

Well, long story short, they built the prison anyway. We put up a good fight and for a while I though we were starting to find some support in the legislature but voices louder and more powerful than ours eventually won out. I still believe in grassroots advocacy but this experience was kind of a wake up call. No matter how much you believe and how hard you work, there is no guarantee that things will go your way and then you have to live with the consequences.

By chivebasil — On Aug 23, 2011

I think the success or failure of any grassroots advocacy organization comes down largely on how it is run. I have been involved with lots of non profits and single issues campaigns and I have seen them go both ways. Some have been a tremendous success even if we have not yet managed to swing the issue onto our side. But others have been an unmitigated disaster.

The benefit and hazard of this type of organization is that it is small, passionate and directed only by the will of the members. In some cases this can lead to bold ideas, strong voices and outside the box idea for advancing a message. In other cases it can lead to disorganization, infighting, dissension and lots of bitter feelings. People get very fired up about the issues that are important to them and this can lead to a lot of extra sensitive feelings about the course of a grassroots campaign.

To be successful you need, communication, organization, funding and leadership. With a lot of work and a little bit of luck it is possible for the average citizen to effect the political discourse in this country. Never underestimate the power of a vocal minority no matter how small.

By summing — On Aug 22, 2011

I think that grassroots advocacy is one of the most important features of a healthily functioning democracy.

Too often we think of change, and choice, and important decision as coming from the top down. They are causes that are important to big corporations, or rich men, or powerful politicians or long established lobbying groups. But in many ways the outsized influence and attention given to these groups distorts what are the true issues in our country.

Grassroots advocacy is the voice of the people guided by the will of the people. It is change on the most basic level. If there was not a way for the average citizen to organize, speak up, influence power and eventually lead to lasting progress in this country then we have no hope.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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