Methods for Building Your Base

Photo Credit: Children’s Defense Fund - Texas

Now that you’ve either hired your own organizers or established an effective partnership with another organization, it’s time to focus on the work of base building. Grassroots organizing is best done on the individual level, through relationship-building conversations with community members that highlight the importance of the issue and its relevance to their lives. Once you’ve identified a potentially interested individual, keeping them engaged will require repeated contacts over a period of time. Each contact should be accompanied by an advocacy “ask” of some kind, whether that is writing a postcard to a legislator, attending a rally, or contributing their story to a storybank. In this section of the toolkit, we will talk about how to identify and keep track of your base, and how to move the individuals you work with up a ladder of engagement to build authentic grassroots leadership.

Identify a Base

It is almost always necessary to focus your organizing on a specific base. A base is a very precise slice of the general public that has the greatest proclivity for supporting your issue or campaign. There are a number of ways to go about identifying your base:

Geographic

You may want to consider mobilizing a base that lives in a particular geographic area, like a housing development, near a specific school or hospital, a specific neighborhood, or a particular legislative district.

Demographic

Perhaps your base is a certain demographic type. For example, seniors, or college students. You can be as specific as your data resources allow you to be.

Organizational 

Your base may belong to a type of organization. For example, a labor union’s base consists of their dues-paying members. For a faith organization, the base would be members of a particular synagogue or congregation. Keep in mind that organizations do not readily share their membership lists with others, so if this is your approach you’ll need to develop a close and mutually beneficial agreement with the partner organization. These kinds of relationships usually develop over time.

Many groups will identify a base that crosses more than one of these categories. For example, seniors who live in a public housing development (demographic + geographic), or college students who attend a particular university and participate in organized athletics (demographic + geographic + organizational). Your base should clearly link to the strategies and goals of your campaign or issue. Think carefully about who your natural base might be and be realistic about your ability to engage them.

You Are Going to Need Data

Once you identify your base, you will need to figure out how to have conversations with those individuals. That means you need to know where they live, where they work, what their phone numbers and/or email addresses are, and/or where they gather in significant numbers so you can speak with them. In addition, once you start talking to people and identifying who is interested in your issue, you are going to need a good database in which to store their information. Dollars invested in a good data set and/or in a good database program are dollars that pay dividends down the line. We recommend looking at something like the Voter Activation Network (VAN) or Salsa. Any database program you select should:

In addition to having the right data tool, you need staff people and/or volunteers who know how to use it. We recommend purchasing something that is intuitive and easy to use, as you will want all your organizers to be able to navigate the system easily. Once you have your system, invest in the training needed to make sure the relevant people are able to use it. Require that all organizers regularly input updated information. Consider segmenting your database not just by topic, but also by engagement level. As you grow your base, make sure your organizers are tracking and labeling the level of engagement for each person. Consider using the Pyramid of Engagement to develop your engagement labels.