Why building a compelling story is essential for a grassroots campaign
Emily Cleary, a seasoned campaigner, strategist and chair of her local Parent Teacher Association (PTA), which is responsible for strengthening the school community and ongoing fundraising initiatives, believes it all starts with a great story. Based in Buckinghamshire in the UK, she says: ‘A lot of it is storytelling. People won’t pay attention unless you’re telling them some kind of personal story.’
Once on board, campaigning groups still have challenges to face, one of the biggest being the ratio of the volume of work to the amount of people on the team. Emily has a specific strategy for dealing with this issue. She says: ‘Always allow for dropout, at least one-third, whether that’s stallholders [or] your support group. Don’t be disillusioned, just plan to have a team that’s one-third more than you think you need.’
Why cultivating diversity will strengthen your grassroots campaign
When it comes to spreading the word, social media is a key tool to use, and appointing one or two people to run a campaign can be helpful, along with setting up a central point of information like a website, but Emily believes nothing beats a face-to-face conversation. And the more welcoming, inclusive and diverse your group, the greater the chance of spreading your message far and wide.
Create events that appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds – for example, a food festival celebrating the diversity of cultures within your community – and use them as a springboard to get your message across. Younger people also have a role to play, especially if you’re campaigning for something that involves facilities for children. ‘It’s harder to say no because people can see where their proceeds are going,’ says Emily. And, let’s face it, children can also be harder to say no to.
How setting up a Community Interest Company can help with grassroots fundraising
What, then, if you’re starting from scratch, having felt moved to launch a grassroots campaign? Helen Nichols, who’s based in Eastbourne in East Sussex, has some answers. When her local Victorian swimming pool failed to reopen after lockdown measures were eased in 2022, she, along with others in the area, felt something had to be done to save the facility for existing residents and preserve its use for future generations.
The first step was to set up a body known as a Community Interest Company (CIC), a limited company that exists to benefit the community, rather than private shareholders. With members including representatives from the local council, as well as the general public, setting up a CIC is a crucial first step when significant fundraising is needed and outside contractors are likely to be appointed. As chair, Helen keeps the pool’s restoration progress in the news via social media, information boards at the site and regular public events.
Some more tips for making an impact with your grassroots campaign
Get your local authority on side. Work with your local representatives towards a common
goal, make use of their access to the media, funding streams and influence.
Use official and unofficial methods. Organise a rally but also make use of online petitions. Not everyone will be able to access events or use technology, so employ diverse methods to reach as many local people as possible. Get in touch with any official bodies, such as heritage groups or historical associations, where you might attract funding.
Be realistic. People will drop out, change doesn’t happen overnight and you will see many ups and downs. Set a series of smaller goals to make the end target feel more manageable.
Share responsibility. Don’t try to organise and control everything yourself and be aware that leading a campaign often involves accommodating other people’s existing commitments, as well as managing expectations.
Take time off. While acting on behalf of your community is a form of self-care in itself, do remember to take time off. Adding campaigning duties to work and family commitments can be stressful. Ask for help when you need it and make sure to schedule things that bring you personal joy.
Keep going. Be prepared to stick with it for the long haul. Some goals might not benefit the here and now, but take comfort from the fact that a successful campaign will benefit future generations. The chances are you’ll also learn new skills, meet new people and feel enriched by the process.
Read more articles about community spirit in Breathe 60.