How to Be a Grassroots Activist

“What Washington needs is more of you.” This advice comes from Ritu Sharma, VP of U.S. Programs & Policy Advocacy for the nonprofit CARE, who spoke on a panel at United to Beat Malaria’s annual summit. Every year, Cotopaxi’s partner United to Beat Malaria brings about 100 folks from across the world together to hear the latest on this deadly disease and spend a day advocating for malaria prevention and treatment on Capitol Hill. 


Ritu Sharma, CARERitu Sharma at the 2023 United to Beat Malaria Summit   


Last March, I headed to DC for the summit with a Cotopaxi team, and got my first shot at lobbying (although technically, as a non-professional, this would be considered grassroots advocacy, not lobbying). The reason I’d never actually met with my representatives in person before is not that I’m disengaged. As a busy mom who lives in a rural area, when I’m passionate about an issue, my go-to move is to sign an online petition, share an Instagram post, or donate to a nonprofit fighting for my cause. 

But speaking face-to-face with elected officials and their staffers opened my eyes to the impact any of us can have when it comes to fighting for issues we believe in. Sharma is right—Washington needs more of all of us. Here are a few ideas and tips for becoming an effective grassroots activist for the causes you care about. 


capitol advocatesActivists celebrate successful meetings during United to Beat Malaria's Hill Day


Don’t Hate, Advocate: 8 Ways to Make Your Voice Heard 


1. Step one: Find out who your representatives are 

The first thing any good grassroots activist must do is find out who represents you so you know who to reach out to. There are many helpful tools (like this one) for finding your elected officials by putting your address into a search engine. 

From there, you’ll find the official websites for each representative, where you can discover where they stand on issues, plus get all the contact info you need, including office addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and social media handles. Some representative websites also have forms where you can directly send over thoughts (vs. by email) or request meetings. 


find your elected official


If you’re looking for state representatives, check out and if you want to advocate more locally, visit the official .gov site for your county and municipality to find out who your county leaders, mayor, and council members are and how to reach them. 


Wendy DimasWendy Dimas (center) specializes in grassroots advocacy and plays a pivotal role planning United to Beat Malaria's Summit and other outreach programs


2. Email your elected officials 

One of the easiest ways to outreach directly to elected officials is by sending them an email. You can find their email address on their official website. Here are a few tips for emailing your reps:

  • Use a clear subject line that calls out the issue you’re speaking about and the fact that you’re a constituent, like “Thoughts on House Bill 4223 from Your Constituent” 
  • Address your elected official formally by their title. So, “Dear Senator Romney” and not “Hey Mitt!” 
  • In the first sentence, introduce who you are, including where you live and any relevant bio details that might explain your stance on an issue. For example: “I’m a constituent who’s lived in Summit County since 2016, a worker in the outdoor industry, and a mom of two.” 
  • Then cue up why you’re emailing: “I’m writing to you because I’m deeply concerned about House Bill 4223 and what it might do to outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands in Utah.”
  • Add in a story, some key facts, and/or other observations that support your stance.
  • Sometimes nonprofits will offer up statements regarding the issues they work on that you can use. If you do lean on this text, customize it if possible to make it more personal. 
  • Last but not least, deliver a clear ask! What do you want to see your representative do? 
  • Finally, thank your reader for their consideration and sign with your name. 

“They want to know where you live in their state, in their community. Where did you go to high school?” —Peter Yeo, Senior VP, UN Foundation; President, Better World Campaign 


grassroots activist panel Lester Munson (principal of a lobbying group), Ritu Sharma (CARE), and Peter Yeo (UN Foundation) during a panel on grassroots activism at the 2023 United to Beat Malaria Summit 


3. Call up Congress

Millennials like myself may do everything they can to avoid a phone call, but a voicemail or actually speaking with a staffer or representative shows a little more effort than an email. And if you have a powerful story to share regarding an issue, the sound of your voice might just sway your listener! Plus, picking up the phone really isn’t as time-consuming or scary as it seems.

Your phone convo or voicemail can be very quick and efficient. Follow the basic formula for writing an email (above), but be even more succinct since you’re probably going to be leaving a voicemail: who you are, why you’re calling, your (short) story, the ask, and a thank-you. 



meeting with congressAdvocates meet with a rep during the United to Beat Malaria Summit


4. Visit your elected officials in person

Anyone has the right to meet up with their elected officials. Making the effort to schedule, show up, and see eye-to-eye (literally, not necessarily philosophically) with a representative will make more of an impact than an email or call. Here’s a quick guide on how to meet with your elected official, based on my Hill Day and some pointers from Wendy Dimas, Senior Officer for Grassroots Advocacy at United to Beat Malaria: 

  • Scheduling: Schedule about 2 weeks out. The best way to schedule is via a form (if available) on your elected official’s website or via email. You can also call to schedule, but a paper trail is ideal for the office.
  • Timing: If you’re making a budget request, appropriations kicks off in early March, so early spring is the most pertinent time to meet. You can also set up a meeting in advance of a bill that will be voted upon soon. 
  • Where: You can either try for a meeting on the Hill when Congress is in session, or a meeting at their local office when they’re back on their home turf. During the summer, Congress is usually out of session, so this is a good time to meet locally without traveling to the Capitol. Reps may also host town halls or visit community events, when you can connect ad hoc, vs. set something up in advance. Wherever you meet, Wendy says that “in both cases, information is reported back to the Member and key staff.” 
  • The Who: First of all, see tip 1 to find out who your elected officials are. Don’t have time to meet with several representatives? Be strategic and determine if there’s one elected official who might be a crucial swing vote or on the fence and swayable. Keep in mind that it’s unlikely you’ll actually meet your representative. Instead, you’ll probably meet a staffer who will bring the info you provide back to the rep. 
  • Dress Code: While the pandemic has prompted most of us to lean more casual these days, a visit to Congress means bringing those dress pants and blazers out of the depths of your closet. A good lobbyist hack is to change into your uncomfortable, professional shoes once you get inside the Capitol building, since getting to the Hill can be, well, hilly. 

The ACLU also has a handy resource on meeting with your representatives that’s worth checking out. 


meeting with representative Blake Moore Cotopaxi team members and others meet with Utah Representative Blake Moore

“When they ask you for answers and say, ‘What do we cut?’, you say, ‘My job is to tell you what matters to me. Your job is to figure out how to get the money.’” —Ritu Sharma, VP of U.S. Programs & Policy Advocacy, CARE


5. Start a grassroots fundraising campaign 

Show those Super PACs what’s up with your own fundraising campaign to support organizations fighting for the issues you believe in. Here are a few tips on getting started:

  • Pick a platform. GoFundMe is an easy go-to. 
  • Set your time frame and fundraising goal. Make a seed donation yourself before sharing out. 
  • Write a personal description about why you care about the issue. 
  • Share with friends and family first. Then send out more broadly to community organizations, local businesses, or just social media. 
  • You can also tie your fundraising campaign to an event. A birthday is always a great excuse for a fundraiser. You can also enter a race or host your own event—provide a cooking lesson, host a dance-a-thon, have a bake sale, put on a game night, or throw a beer pong tournament. 


Climate MarchThe 2017 People's Climate March in DC

6. Attend a demonstration or march 

From marching for climate change in D.C. to rallying for immigration rights at the Utah state capitol, I’ve found that joining in on a demonstration can be an empowering way to raise awareness around an issue. While this may not deliver the most nuanced message to your representatives, if it gets covered by the media, it will probably be on their radar. Remember to keep it civil (and clever, if possible) when it comes to your poster messages and chants!


7. Channel the power of the pen 

    Another way to bring awareness to an issue is to submit a Letter to the Editor or op-ed (either in your local newspaper or a national publication). You can also send in editorial writing to publications from schools or organizations you’re associated with, like alumni magazines or student newspapers. If you’re submitting to a local publication, try to make the issue feel as locally relevant as possible by bringing up examples of how the topic impacts your community. 

    “This is about storytelling. It’s about why you care about this issue.” —Peter Yeo, Senior VP, UN Foundation


    8. Be a digital advocate  

      Signing petitions, posting on social, tweeting at your representative—digital advocacy can be a powerful tool, too. Much of the strength of digital advocacy is in numbers, from hundreds of thousands of petition signatures to millions of shares or likes on social. 

      An easy way to get involved is by following organizations fighting for the issues you believe in. (Need a good place to start? Check out our incredible nonprofit partners!). Then like, comment on, and share their posts to help more people see the content. Nonprofits often post calls to action to their communities, from petitions to protests, so this is a good way to stay tapped into more advocacy opportunities. Finally, Twitter serves as a direct line to your elected official’s office—and unlike an email or voicemail box, one that’s public to the world. Tweet at your rep!  

      prepping to meet with a representative Advocates prepare to meet with their elected officials in the halls of Congress

      Tips for Being an Effective Advocate

      However you make your voice, below are a few guidelines for doing it effectively:

      • Hone your story. Whether you’re talking to your representative, hosting a fundraiser, or posting on social media, keep it personal. While sharing a powerful stat is great, too, telling folks why you care about the issue is more engaging. 
      • Stay focused. When speaking with a rep or staffer, keep your conversation clear, concise, and focused on a specific ask (e.g., voting one way or the other, funding an initiative, etc.). Keep your “elevator pitch” to a minute or two, or your email to a few sentences. 
      • Be respectful. Washington is filled with division, but make it your goal to find bipartisan, common ground, without getting political or defensive. 


      meeting with an elected official Never turn down a photo op with your rep! 


      • Know your stuff—and your audience. You can’t really walk into a rep’s office and start reading a script, so doing your research is essential. Find a way to turn your agenda into a conversation. Research your rep and what they care about to craft the most strategic talking points around their interests and priorities. And don’t answer questions you don’t truly know the answers to—you can always say you’ll follow up after the meeting.  
      • Be persistent. If a rep doesn’t return your email requesting a meeting right away, follow up. And call your reps as often as you like—phoning them up about an important issue doesn’t have to be a one-time thing. 
      • Show gratitude: If you meet your rep or their staffer in person, Wendy Dimas of United to Beat Malaria recommends always sending a thank-you note and posting a thank you on social tagging the Member of Congress. 

      The biggest tip? Don’t get overwhelmed or intimidated. Just start small and build your confidence as the activist you want to be. 

      activists in front of the capitol