What Are the 3 Main Types of Grassroots Lobbying?

May 13, 2024

While grassroots lobbying activities can vary in scope and focus, they typically fall into one of three main categories:

  • Self-advocacy
  • Cause advocacy
  • Systems advocacy

Because of the potential for lobbying to shape public policy, public affairs professionals need to understand how to create a strong public affairs strategy for their own advocacy efforts. Knowing which grassroots advocacy strategy will work best for your policy advocacy goals is an important first step in developing your outreach plan.

Self-advocacy campaigns

In self-advocacy grassroots campaigns, individuals advocate on their own behalf for changes to policies or laws that impact them. For example, people with disabilities calling for equal employment protections in their workplace, or neurodivergent students advocating for specific classroom accommodations.

While personal perspectives and first-hand accounts can be powerful and persuasive, self-advocacy campaigns also require an understanding of individual rights and needs, specific policies, and effective communication strategies to maximize the chances of a favorable outcome. Self-advocacy campaigns often achieve this by providing supporters with in-person training or access to online education courses to develop the necessary skills to self-advocate within a larger system.

Cause advocacy campaigns

Cause advocacy, or issue advocacy, widens the focus of the campaign to issues of broader impact, such as the environment or gun control. In contrast to self-advocacy campaigns, supporters of a cause advocacy campaign may not hold a direct connection to the issue, but instead may advocate on behalf of a group adversely affected by an issue. Two prominent examples of cause advocacy campaigns are when late-night comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart testified before Congress in support of migrant farm workers and better benefits for September 11 first responders, respectively.

To attract a broad coalition of support for a cause advocacy campaign, public affairs specialists should think beyond highly specific messaging that may appeal only to those directly affected by the issue and instead highlight common ground and a shared vision among a diverse audience.

Systems advocacy campaigns

Systems advocacy campaigns seek structural changes to the broader system in which the issue occurs. The idea is that unless the root cause of an issue or injustice within a larger framework is addressed, those negatively affected can’t seek proper redress. As a result, advocates may call for changes to policies, laws, or institutions that affect the broader public.

While litigation has its place in systems advocacy work, these campaigns more commonly seek to build public awareness and create buy-in through education and consensus-building activities. An important part of systems advocacy work is tracking policy developments, gathering data, analyzing trends, and articulating the impact of a policy or program on the issue at hand.

Reach the right decision-makers with Bloomberg Government

A strong lobbying strategy is key to shaping public policy. Grassroots lobbying can be an important part of a corporate public affairs campaign to influence policy makers. Bloomberg Government has everything you need to connect with policymakers, move the needle, and impact change. Our news, intelligence, and expert analysis will help you track legislative and regulatory developments so you can strategize for your most pressing challenges.

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