How to get your first 1000 supporters
Build your campaign base.
You don’t need a mass movement for change. You can make a difference with a few people, if you have a tight campaign plan and the right team.
But say your campaign needs a big showing in a street protest, signatures on a petition, or pledges for a boycott. Or you’d like to be able to sit in front of a decision maker and say “we’ve got 10,000 people with us” in order to have clout.
Well, then a core team won’t be enough. You’ll need supporters.
Here are seven ways to get them.
1. Go where the news agenda is
Map your issue to what everyone is talking about, and what you communicate will become more shareable. It will reach more eyeballs.
For example, as I write the winter energy crisis is getting a lot of play. It spans many issues, from poverty to local politics to foreign policy. So if your issue relates to any of these, reference this topic in your communications. Construct a pitch around it, with your Ultimate Goal as a solution.
For the same reason, anniversaries and important dates will provide you with hooks that can lift your campaign's reach.
Of course, you can also pitch journalists directly, offering to add comment to their stories. And don’t forget to use the media’s biases to your advantage when doing so.
2. Know the supporters you’re pitching for
The writer Jarrett Carter built an audience for his newsletter by knowing who he was targeting. He described her thus:
[My] average reader is the middle-aged black woman who makes about $150,000 a year. She might be on Facebook, she probably is not on Twitter, and she’s not on Instagram at all, but she is checking her email daily. She probably lives in Georgia or Florida or Houston, Texas or Washington, D.C.
You can do the same to make a pitch for someone’s support. Think about who is most likely to sign your petition, attend your rally, or give you money. What are their demographics? Their job? Where do they hang out (online and offline)? What are they reading? Sketch a persona.
Now, write your pitch with them in mind. (Bonus: factor in what would make them feel good about supporting you.)
And instead of just blasting out emails or social media posts, go to where they are. Search Twitter, Facebook groups or Subreddits (using this tool) for similar causes to yours, and post there.
3. Get on your opponents’ shit list
People support fighters for the cause more than they do talkers. So, tweet at and write to your opponents, with a simple goal: to get a reaction from them which you can use. Even if they just block you on Twitter, it’s a badge of honour you can shout about.
4. Reach out to people affected
Supporters’ motivation to do something is very different when their own well-being depends on it. As of writing, the Don’t Pay campaign has accumulated pledges from 132,000 people to not pay their energy bill on October 1 (to my surprise). These are people in the UK directly affected by the rise in costs.
Doing something like this is obvious, but in the Urgency Of The Moment it often gets overlooked. See also: Engaging with working class activists.
5. Lead by example
Providing services to people directly affected by your issue shows other potential supporters that you’re active, and strengthens your pitch.
Depending on your issue, this could be crowdfunding for energy bills, a direct action for homeless people, or publishing a few pages of free legal advice. You don’t have to do something big. But in the eyes of a potential supporter, moving from good intentions to action is a giant leap.
6. Connect to an existing activist base
Reach out to anyone already working on the issue, and ask them to share your request for support. A few searches on social media and direct messages can make a big difference.
Now, activism is a competitive activity and people can get territorial. Don’t be like this. If you’re rejected or ignored, focus on the big picture and get back to pitching.
7. Make it easy
Lastly, your cause should be easy to support. Unless you’re asking for donations, this is all you need (create a free form to capture it):
Name and email address. To make logins for a future site or mailing list, or to make a list of supporters.
Occupation. So you can use it in your PR material if necessary. (If you’re boycotting a local building company, they'll probably notice if they see the town’s architects are supporting you.)
An ID number. To ensure that ‘signatures’ are genuine. Good for petitions and open letters.
An optional message. To collect quotes. Which you can then use in your campaign material, press releases, or on social media.