In grassroots activism, it's critical both to "gather the troops" and to keep them rallied. If you are active in wildlife advocacy in your community, chances are you're not alone. You may be part of a loosely-defined network or an established local group. Either way, once you have gathered a group of concerned, committed individuals, you must find ways to make it simple for people to take action, and to stay involved with the cause.

Using effective communication tools and developing partnership with other local groups are also helpful in furthering wildlife protection at the grassroots level. Below are some tips on creating effective, dynamic community groups and coalitions.

Communication tools such as the telephone, the Internet, and email can make networking a breeze for community-based groups, and can improve the efficacy of campaigns.

Perhaps the single most important step a local wildlife organization can take to prepare itself for a campaign is to create a phone tree. Many, many times, just a dozen phone calls or a handful of letters have helped increase protection for an endangered species or stopped practices toward animals that are cruel.

A phone tree is a network of individuals who agree to make a couple of phone calls – one to an elected official and one or two more to others on the phone tree. Phone trees can also be used for alerted other wildlife activists about legislation that is moving quickly through Congress or a public hearing on an animal protection issue.

There are different ways to construct a phone tree. It is also helpful to have a loopback mechanism so the coordinator knows everyone was contacted and made his or her phone call to the lawmaker and/or other activists. If a phone tree is missing “branches,” you may have the illusion that action is being taken when in fact your message is not getting out.

In a nutshell, the coordinator contacts one or more activists in the network and conveys information about the action that needs to be taken (e.g. “Please call Senator Keri Oaky and urge her to support a bill on the Senate floor that would ban canned hunts of carnivores. After you place your call to the Senator, be sure to call two more people on your network.”). The activists in turn contact one or two more on the network until everyone is called. The last contacts on the phone tree then report back to the coordinator to ensure he or she knows the process has been completed.

To set up a phone tree, you might target people who have expressed an interest in issue work but who don’t come to regular meetings of your group. Keep asking likely members or others who might be interested in getting involved. Make it fun. Instead of calling it a phone tree you might consider naming your network of callers the Wildlife Rapid Response Team or Wildlife Action Network.

Encourage your activists to log onto your website or Big Wildlife's website ( to keep up to date about pressing issues. The more information you can provide the people on your phone tree on national, regional, state, or local issues, the better informed and more confident your callers will be when it is time to get the phones ringing.
When calling legislators, messages should be kept simple. In many cases, the person calling an elected official will leave a message. For example, “Please oppose reinstating bear hunting in New Jersey.” Lawmakers’ offices will tally these calls just as they do letters as either pro or con on an issue. Check with your congressional delegation or state legislators to see if they have district offices in your area or an 800 number. Both of these options can save your callers money.

Get the word out
Don’t forget to thank your callers whenever appropriate. If possible use the phone tree to alert your callers to the outcome of an issue; they’ll appreciate knowing their work paid off. Don’t overuse your phone tree, but don’t let your callers get rusty either. Using it one or two times per month is a good average. The telephone is a well-established, speedy tool for getting our message out. Many volunteers find it easier to make a phone call and voice their opinion than to write and mail a letter.

Click here to learn more about electronic organizing.