A major component of an effective public affairs strategy involves advocacy or promoting the interests of a group or person. Utilizing advocacy strategies helps organizations expand their outreach and organically rally communities around a cause.

Advocacy groups are generally split into two groups: Grassroots and grasstops. While both types seek to educate and attract public support for a cause, there are several key differences between grassroots vs. grasstops advocacy.

In this blog, we will explore the intricacies of grassroots and grasstops advocacy organizations, shedding light on their characteristics, strategies and impact on societal change.


What is Grassroots Advocacy?

Grassroots advocacy is characterized by its organic, bottom-up structure. These organizations derive their strength from the people, often starting at the community level and gradually gaining momentum. Grassroots movements are not confined to national or international scales; they can be hyper-local, addressing specific issues within a neighborhood or city.

At the heart of grassroots organizations is the belief that change starts from the ground up. Grassroots activism thrives on the passion and energy of ordinary people who come together to effect change. They are typically known for their inclusivity, diversity and reliance on collective action.

One of the defining features of grassroots advocacy is its decentralized structure. Decision-making is often participatory at the grassroots level, with leadership roles distributed among volunteers or community members. This structure allows for greater adaptability and responsiveness to local needs.




Grassroots Advocacy Examples

The power of grassroots organizations lies in their ability to mobilize large numbers of individuals, creating a groundswell of support that can be impossible to ignore. Grassroots movements are known for their grassroots lobbying, where individuals directly engage with policymakers, leveraging the strength of their numbers to influence decision-making.

Examples of successful grassroots movements include the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, where ordinary citizens rallied together to demand an end to racial segregation and discrimination. More recently, movements like Black Lives Matter have harnessed the power of grassroots organizing to raise awareness and drive change on a global scale.

Other examples of successful, modern grassroots organizations include:


Grassroots Organization

Just because grassroots movements may be decentralized and rise up from demands of a large number of Americans does not mean that they do not rely on nationwide organizations. Indeed, nationwide organizations sharing the same advocacy mission can harness the power of the grassroots to create a more effective movement. Organizations tapping into this movement can provide a centralized voice for the movement, can initiate media campaigns and can rally advocates to attend relevant events.


The Changing Nature of Grassroots Advocacy

As we witnessed substantial social changes over the past decade, grassroots advocacy organizations have been forced to adapt their tactics to suit modern expectations.

This includes the mass adoption of social media, where many people now receive their information. As a result, grassroots organizations now often engage in tactics such as:

  • Text Alerts
  • Livestreams
  • Facebook and Twitter Updates
  • Social Media Videos

The COVID-19 pandemic became a catalyst for forcing grassroots organizations to adopt a strategic digital advocacy approach, with so much of the population stuck in their homes. This type of digital advocacy has proven to last beyond the pandemic and will likely be a foundational strategy for grassroots organizations in the years ahead.


What is Grasstops Advocacy?

There are several key differences when comparing grassroots vs. grasstops advocacy. In contrast to the bottom-up grassroots approach, grasstops organizations operate from the top down, relying on influential figures, policymakers and established institutions to advocate for change.

Grasstops organizations operate at the highest levels of society, leveraging existing power structures and influential individuals to advocate for change. These organizations often have well-established networks and access to policymakers, allowing them to navigate the intricacies of legislative processes with greater ease.

Unlike grassroots movements, grasstops organizations may have a more centralized leadership structure, with key figures driving the agenda.

These organizations often focus on policy advocacy, using research, data and expert opinions to shape legislation and public policy. Grasstops lobbying involves engaging directly with lawmakers, regulators and other influential figures to promote specific interests or causes. However, it’s often very important to demonstrate as much public support for the advocated position as possible, often involving efforts to get the public to express an opinion, sometimes by simplifying a complex issue so that the public sees the issue in simple black-and-white terms.

The influence wielded by grasstops organizations can be significant, especially when dealing with complex issues that require expertise and insider knowledge.


Grasstops and Grassroots Approaches

The strategies employed by grassroots vs. grasstops advocacy reflect their inherent differences in structure and approach.

Grassroots movements rely on community mobilization, public awareness campaigns and direct action to build momentum and effect change. This often involves organizing protests, marches and community meetings to engage and empower individuals at the grassroots level.

In contrast, grasstops organizations employ strategies that capitalize on their access to influential figures and institutions. This may involve high-level meetings with policymakers, targeted lobbying efforts and strategic partnerships with other influential organizations. Grasstops organizations specialize in leveraging their expertise and connections to shape public policy and influence decision-makers.


Impact on Societal Change

The impact of grassroots and grasstops organizations on societal change is a subject of ongoing debate. Analyzing the impacts of grassroots vs. grasstops advocacy reveals that both approaches have their unique advantages and drawbacks.

Grassroots movements, with their ability to mobilize large numbers of people, can bring about transformative change by shifting public opinion, raising awareness and pressuring policymakers to act. The spontaneity and authenticity of grassroots activism often resonate with the public, making it a potent force for social change.

However, the influence of grasstops organizations should not be underestimated. Their access to policymakers and ability to navigate complex political landscapes can result in more targeted and strategic advocacy efforts. Grasstops organizations often excel at shaping specific policies and regulations, making them key players in industries and sectors where expertise and insider knowledge are crucial.

In some cases, successful advocacy requires a combination of grasstops and grassroots approaches. Grasstops organizations can work behind the scenes to navigate the political process and push for concrete policy changes while grassroots advocacy can generate the public pressure needed to put an issue on the agenda.



Understanding the Power of Grassroots and Grasstops Advocacy

The distinctions between grassroots vs. grasstops advocacy are vital for understanding the diverse strategies and impacts these entities can have on societal change. While grassroots movements draw strength from the collective power of the people, grasstops organizations leverage influence and access to shape policies at the highest levels.

Ultimately, the most effective approach may depend on the nature of the issue at hand, with some causes benefitting from the authentic, groundswell support of grassroots activism while others requiring the strategic expertise and connections of grasstops advocacy.

For those looking to decide whether grassroots vs. grasstops advocacy works best, consider using public affairs software such as LegiStorm. The LegiStorm platform allows you to gain real-time access to the information and developments affecting your cause, including reports, hearings, town halls, press releases and more. This all-encompassing grassroots advocacy solution can help your organization develop an effective government relations strategy to help further your cause and achieve your legislative goals.


Originally published February 9, 2024, updated April 5, 2024




  1. https://campaignsandelections.com/industry-news/the-challenges-that-come-with-the-globalization-of-grassroots/
  2. https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/direct-and-grass-roots-lobbying-defined
  3. https://edsitement.neh.gov/closer-readings/grassroots-perspectives-civil-rights-movement-focus-women
  4. https://www.aclu.org/news/racial-justice/how-black-lives-matter-changed-way-americans-fight
  5. https://www.hrc.org/
  6. https://colorofchange.org/
  7. https://hispanicheritage.org/
  8. https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
  9. https://www.immigrationadvocates.org/
  10. https://pac.org/impact/digital-advocacy-leaps-forward-pandemic-lockdown
  11. https://home.nra.org/
  12. https://pphe.utk.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Intro-to-Grassroots-Organizing-reduced.pdf

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