What is Grassroots Organizing

Photo Credit: Flickr user Joe Brusky via Creative Commons

To understand grassroots organizing, it is crucial to define and distinguish it from other advocacy capacities. To create a common language for this tool, we offer the following definition:

A process of building power by involving a constituency in identifying both the problems they share and the solutions to those problems, identifying the targets that could make those solutions possible, engaging with those targets through negotiation, confrontation and pressure, and developing the capacity to take on further problems.

The Difference Between Grassroots Organizing and . . .  

Coalition Building

A coalition is an alliance or partnership between different organizations that represent a broad range of interests and brings different assets, mission, perspective, constituencies, relationships and strategies to work collaboratively toward a common goal.

Coalition building is a critically important advocacy capacity, but it is not the same thing as grassroots organizing. Organizations can bolster their competence and capacity by forming deliberate partnerships with other organizations that complement their strengths. Most organizations, including Community Catalyst, do this by forming a coalition. However, organizing organizations is not the same as organizing individuals.

Grasstops Organizing

Some members of your coalition, such as organizational leaders or community members in positions of power, may be considered grasstops.

Members of the grasstops will already be seen as community leaders and will be able to influence decision-makers through established connections.

It is important to include these people in your work, but organizing at the grasstops is not the same as organizing at the grassroots.


We refer to manufactured attempts to mimic genuine long-term organizing efforts as astroturf, or a synthetic “grassroots” movement driven with large cash infusions, often from corporations, public relations firms or other deep-pocketed sources.

Organizations and groups that use an astroturf strategy are generally using short-term tactics that are designed to influence a policy or campaign at a specific moment in time. Unlike true grassroots movements astroturf campaigns do not represent authentic engagement of activists organizing on their own behalf, and this tactic does not build a base of support that can be engaged over time. Any organization with money can use astroturf tactics, and those tactics can be effective. However, an astroturf campaign will almost always collapse in the face of a true grassroots base. In other words, building a grassroots base is your best inoculation against an astroturf campaigns waged by your opposition.