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 Advocating for America’s Neighborhoods

If you have ever walked down a beautiful, vibrant main street, taken public transportation to work, or made a quick trip to the grocery store and back, you’ve experienced what a smart growth approach to urban development can do.

Smart Growth America is a national advocacy non-profit dedicated to helping communities across the country create great, walkable neighborhoods. A smart growth approach supports thriving businesses and jobs, provides more options for how people get around, and makes it more affordable to live near work, the grocery store and other important living essentials. The organization uses Salsa’s platform to bring that worthwhile mission to supporters across the country.

The Challenge:

Influencing the complex process of urban development

Changing how communities approach development takes diligence, collaboration, and a shift in thinking among policymakers.

“Public policy shapes development in a number of ways,” said Alex Dodds, communications director at Smart Growth America. “State and federal legislators make decisions about things like transportation or infrastructure spending, and development tax incentives and loan programs. Local leaders make choices about things like zoning codes, street design, and budgets for downtown. At each of these decision points, leaders have an opportunity to grow in ways that support long-term economic prosperity or hurt it.”

Smart Growth America’s challenge is to educate and promote these issues at all levels of government so that elected and appointed leaders understand their community could benefit from a smart growth approach to development. The organization advocates for federal programs and legislation, and also raises awareness to teach people about neighborhood improvement strategies. The nonprofit regularly publishes new reports and blog posts, and shares this information with their supporters through email blasts, e-actions, and newsletters. The org also holds in-person events to bring people together to better advocate for improvements among congress and policymakers.

“As a national organization that advocates and educates on so many different levels, we needed an online platform to organize, and we got that with Salsa,” said Alex. “I basically eat Salsa for breakfast I use it so often. It’s a really well-integrated way to interact with our supporters.”

The Solution:

Technology designed to connect and educate

Salsa’s email marketing and outreach features enable Smart Growth America to send email blasts, build targeted lists and track the performance of their campaigns. The nonprofit uses the Salsa platform to send email blasts, and to empower supporters to sign petitions or send a letter to their members of Congress.

“Our grassroots supporters are a key part of our advocacy work,” said Alex. “Salsa is what enables us to engage their support.”

Email is one of the core communications tools in any online advocacy strategy, and Salsa’s email marketing outreach solutions provide Smart Growth America with the functionality they need to create and send engaging emails. Combined with Salsa’s advocacy solution, the nonprofit can effectively engage its supporters in online advocacy and legislative issues. Supporters who choose to join the cause only need a couple of minutes and their address to send powerful messages directly to their congressional representative. Salsa enables Smart Growth America flexibility when sending email blasts – supporter lists can be segmented based on geography, type of supporter or specific cause allowing targeted emails to be sent very quickly.

Smart Growth America uses Salsa in more unique ways as well. When supporters register for a webinar or an in-person event, or sign up for advance copies of the non-profit’s research, it’s often Salsa providing the backend functionality. This allows Smart Growth America’s staff to access custom query and reporting tools to control its own data and take advantage of more accurate campaign reports and statistics. The nonprofit’s database links subscribers, events and donations giving the organization access to an unlimited list of measurements.

“Salsa has become a really wonderful integrated part of our communication,” added Alex. “It connects our individual supporters to their interests through email blasts, event registrations, advocacy actions, donations– everything we can we tie back to Salsa. The Salsa tab is always open in my browser. We are growing, and that is exciting.”

Effective use of Salsa’s platform, combined with an active social media outreach effort has provided Smart Growth America with a strong online voice that will help build and improve communities throughout the United States.

Smarth Growth America Meeting


Changing America, one project at a time

Building better communities involves policy change at all levels of government, and Smart Growth America’s successes come at many scales. They celebrate local mayors who pass new zoning ordinances as much as a new region-wide initiative or funding for years-long federal programs.

One of their recent victories involved asking the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to hold states accountable for road and bridge conditions in the Department’s somewhat obscure rulemaking process. With the help of Salsa’s petition function, Smart Growth America and their campaign Transportation for America gathered letters from more than 1,100 supporters and successfully convinced USDOT to keep the provision.

“It was a very specific issue, but USDOT listened and adopted the recommendations we suggested,” Alex explained. “Our supporters spoke out and thanks to Salsa’s technology, their voices were heard.”

Raising awareness is another objective, and nowhere is that success more visible than in Smart Growth America’s campaign the National Complete Streets Coalition, which works to make streets safer for everyone no matter how they travel. To date, more than 700 agencies at the local, regional and state levels have adopted Complete Street policies—thanks mostly to the Coalition’s effort to raise awareness of the issue.

Smart Growth America’s mission is to create the public policies and the public programs to support better communities. The effort, sometimes 20 years in the making, is well worth it according to Alex.

“If you have ever spent an afternoon or evening walking around a neighborhood—going out to dinner or a play, shopping—that’s a place you want to visit again and again,” she concluded. “If you can also have that be a place where people can afford to live and work and have the transportation to get around—that is success for us.”