| Building Your Organization
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Recruitment and leadership development are critical to the strength
and success of your organization. While small groups may be easy
to work with, there’s a limit to the progress you can make
by working with a small group of folks. And no matter how large
your group may be, if you’re not developing new leaders you’re
not going to be very successful – because sooner or later
(presumably) you’ll graduate – and the group will be
back at square one. On the other hand, by investing in the future
of your organization you’re setting yourself up for success
– the larger and more empowered your group is, the more likely
you are to win.
Why People Join Groups
A group of
one. You can do better than this guy.
Some major motivators can include:
..........• A personal relationship
with an existing member. Many will join a group or volunteer time
simply on the strength of their personal investment with someone
else who’s involved;
..........• Moral or personal
commitment to an issue. People may commit to an organization or
issue campaign based on their personal ethos and values systems;
these can be based on a sense of religious, ethical or ideological
..........• The social outlet
of group membership;
..........• Someone simply took
the time to ask them. Everyone wants to be needed and needs to be
Generally, one of the best ways to recruit new members is by running
an exciting and dynamic campaign that draws people into your group.
Large numbers of students will learn about your group and write
their names on your sign-up sheets if you hold rallies, teach-ins,
sponsor speakers, petition, and regularly table. Whenever your group
organizes a notable activity (petition, rally, educational forum),
always send out press releases to both campus and off-campus media.
With a little work, your organization will receive substantial media
coverage, especially in smaller papers that are always looking for
stories. Media coverage builds your organization’s credibility
and helps you recruit. Finally, build alliances with other progressive
organizations (both student and community ones) by participating
in their campaigns and events, and getting them to likewise participate
in yours. By being visible, you can collect a large list of people
who support your group and its goals.
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The kick-off meeting is the first big event your group will organize
during the semester. Make it count! The goal is to recruit new members
and get new students involved with the group. Try to make sure that
the meeting is fun, interesting, and participatory.
The first step is to take care of logistics. Pick a time when the
most people can come. Don’t panic! There’s no perfect
time when everyone can make it. Try to pick a time and place that
can stay the same each week. Set a goal for how many people you
want at your meeting (be ambitious). Then reserve a room that you
think will be a little too small. When you pack a room it creates
an atmosphere of excitement; there’s nothing worse than empty
chairs at a kick off meeting. Try to find a room with movable chairs
so you can sit in a circle.
The meeting should be planned far enough in advance to wallpaper
the school with flyers and send an announcement to all available
campus media. Furthermore, the agenda should be planned out to the
minute and the meeting should be well facilitated. Kick-off meetings
are a great time to bring in a guest speaker - often a well-liked
progressive professor will bring more people to an event as well
as keeping it interesting.
If it’s possible, get food for your meeting. Food’s
always nice, and it will help keep everyone in a good mood. Another
mood-saver is to start and end roughly on time. You want to convince
people that the group is a good use of their time.
A short guide
to the stages of recognition and acceptance your new members
may go through (pdf)
During this first meeting, it’s important for everyone to
give introductions, which works best with a fun icebreaker. Don’t
have all the “core people” sit together in a block during
meetings; instead, disperse yourselves throughout the group. This
creates a mood that’s much more participatory. Pass around
a sheet to collect everybody’s name, phone number and email.
One of the planners should give a brief introduction to the group.
New groups need to emphasize that a group is what people make it.
If the planners have some ideas, they should be presented, but as
well-developed suggestions, not declarations. This should take only
about 5 minutes.
Every attendee should leave the first meeting with a good understanding
of what the group's purpose is, how they can fit into the group,
and with confidence that the group is action-oriented.
The organizers should ensure that every new member leaves with
a specific assignment or task to work on before the next meeting.
Work assignments not only make new people feel like vital and needed
members of the group, but people are also more likely to return
for future meetings when they feel that they have a responsibility
to the group. Of course, you want to encourage individuals to willingly
take on tasks rather than just autocratically assigning jobs to
new people – dude, that’s just not cool.
Some key things to do at the first meeting:
..........• Establish Working
Groups on key projects (e.g., further recruitment, fundraising,
media stunt, campaign development, etc.)
..........• Set committee meeting
times and a structure for check-in with the main group
..........• Plan a media stunt
to announce your presence on campus
..........• Set a date and time
for your next meeting
Make your first meeting fun - provide food, play a game - but make
sure that it is much more than a social event. Afterwards, have
everyone go to a café or bar to keep talking and facilitate
a chance for people to get to know each other. A lot of good potential
activists will come back because of someone they met the first night
who they would like to see again (for romantic or platonic reasons!).
Remember, organizing is about building relationships.
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Recruitment: Six Basic Steps
a basic message, stick to it, and have lots of materials
..........• be more specific than
general (say exactly who you are, what you’re working on,
where you’re going)
everyone to do something. Have a few options available for people
to get involved (sign a petition; write a letter; help me table
today [or within the next week]; come to the next meeting; do research
on this specific thing; etc.)
with new recruits IMMEDIATELY (call them the next night and ask
them to do something).
creative with volunteer opportunities
..........• keep a list of creative
tasks that need doing
should be a top priority at all times
..........• it should be built
into EVERYTHING you do
..........• your group should
be stronger at the end of semester than the beginning
can’t recruit everyone yourself
..........• get other people to
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Common Recruitment Troubles
..........• Not taking recruitment
seriously; not treating it like a campaign complete with goals,
..........• Not appealing to people
in a variety of different ways on different levels. You should engage
in multiple tactics.
..........• Thinking that you
have enough volunteers and people to help. You’re wrong!
..........• Approaching recruitment
with a guilt-inducing kind of message.
..........• Not being organized
enough. Good materials can go a long way in looking professional.
..........• Not following up w/
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A good place to start is where support is likely to be strongest
- for example, the membership (and leadership) of other progressive
groups, or your classmates in courses that address issues like poverty,
labor history, racial justice, or environmental activism. Many professors
will allow you to take a few minutes of class time to make announcements
if you ask beforehand.
In addition to focusing on likely allies, you should also take
advantage of the many "new student" events or student
activities' fairs frequently held at the beginning of the school
year to reach out to the wider school population. Remember that
one of the keys to building organizations and movements is attracting
new supporters and reaching out to non-traditional allies.
Students are busy and have a lot of demands on their time. You
have to compel them to pay attention - and some techniques are more
effective than others. The more human and personal the interaction,
the better chance you have that someone will join your organization
and help build your campaign effort - and that you’ll win.
Some techniques that you can use include:
..........• Personal conversation
(the four C’s)
..........• Personal phone call
..........• go to other meetings
and make announcements
..........• making class raps
(ask professors if you can speak about your group for two minutes
at the beginning of class)
..........• sponsoring a social
..........• creating a spectacle
..........• giving people fliers/quarter
..........• big events
..........• table tents
..........• attractive tabling
..........• stuffing mailboxes
..........• dorm storming (knocking
on doors in dorms and talking to folks)
You’ll want to use many of these; keep in mind that it often
takes a combination of several methods to convince someone to come
to a rally or meeting.
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Using the four C’s is one of the best ways of recruiting
new people into your organization:
..........• ask them whether/why
they care about the issue, what else they may be involved in, etc.
Make sure to do this before your pitch
..........• tell them concisely
and clearly about the campaign, what the goal is, opportunities
to get involved (like meetings and the range of involvement), and
why it’s important to get involved
..........• ask!!! You must ask
them to do something. Ex: table w/ me later, come to mtg, help w/
event, put up fliers w/ me, come to event
..........• get them to commit
to one thing
..........• outline the follow-up
plan/commitment plan, applies to ongoing campaign activities as
Examples: “So you can table Thursday outside of the campus
center at lunch? I’ll call you Wednesday night to remind you
the place and time. Thanks so much!” “So you can make
it to the meeting? How about I give you a call the night before
to remind you?” “So you wanna set up a meeting w/ the
president to talk about Bhopal? How about I check-in w/ you in two
days to see how it’s coming?”
..........• talking too much,
not listening enough
..........• not following up right
away (will lose credibility instantaneously)
..........• not getting concrete
enough commitments from people
Never forget the rule of halves. If you get 100
people to say they will do something, only 50 will actually follow
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"To table" means to set up a table in a central location,
sit there or stand in front of it, and try to entice people to come,
look over your information, and hear what you have to say. Tabling
can be used as a petition-signing or letter-writing station, as
a tool to educate and recruit students unfamiliar with the group
or campaign, or as a means to collect donations. It doesn't require
a large number of volunteers, but
as an ongoing activity it can use many volunteers. It’s a
great way to involve new volunteers and members – it’s
easy enough for anyone to pull off and they'll get excited about
the group and learn a lot in the process.
When tabling you may only have a few seconds to deliver your message,
so you may want to develop a campaign rap that is concise and to
the point. Be sure to relay three points: your issue, your desired
outcome and most importantly, what passers-by can do to help you
reach your goal. You may ask them to write a letter to their member
of Congress, attend a debate or come to your next meeting. Just
remember the most important part of your rap is the “ask.”
Some helpful tips to remember when tabling include:
..........• There will probably
be other tables around, and you’ll be competing with other
groups for people’s attention. You’ll need to be active
- stand in front of your table – don’t slouch behind
it. Clipboard in hand, go up to people and get them to sign a petition
or give them a handout.
..........• Don’t make the
8½ x 11 mistake: having a tiny scrap of paper taped to the
front of your table with ‘Students for Bhopal’ scrawled
on it. If a passerby has to squint, you’ve already lost them.
..........• Stitch three sheets
together and create a gigantic banner or use cardboard boxes to
make a huge prop to attract attention.
..........• Location is key. Set
up your tabling operation in a high traffic area like outside of
cafeterias/snack bars, in the mailroom, or outside the gym.
..........• Table during times
that you know people will pass by. You want to talk to as many people
in as little amount of time as possible.
..........• Get the appropriate
permission. The official(s) you need to talk to will vary by school
..........• Always have group
sign-up sheets ready for anyone that expresses interest. And put
one or two names at the top to start out--no one wants to be the
first. (Follow this same tactic when collecting money - start out
with a few dollars in a transparent jar.)
..........• Have informational
material (e.g., flyers) out. Remember that a large colorful banner
will help tell people why you're tabling.
..........• Work in teams. Arrange
your tabling schedule so that you always have between two and three
people at your table--ideally one experienced person, and one or
two new volunteers. Another effective tabling method is to have
one person catching the flow of people and directing them to the
table, while another person talks to them in detail, and shows them
how to write the letter, sign the petition, etc.
..........• Be interesting and
inviting! Give out candy or lemonade, play music, wear costumes
relevant to your campaign, be creative.
..........• Do not pitch two petitions,
letters, etc., at once - it may be confusing.
..........• Don't spend too much
time talking to one person, but don't cut people off either. And,
don't waste your time arguing with people that obviously disagree
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Canvassing means going door to door, either on campus or in your
community (depending on your campaign and its goals) and pitching
a campaign, passing out literature, offering a petition, raising
money, or all of the above.
Canvassing is one of the most fun, active tactics you can use.
It will bring a lot of volunteers into your group, but it can also
turn some shy people off. Remember that it’s essential that
whoever is leading the volunteers is very friendly and enthusiastic
Dorm canvassing is a great tool, if used properly, to both recruit
and retain volunteers. It gives new volunteers or those bored with
tabling or passing out flyers the opportunity to have fun with a
larger group of enthusiastic people. And it gives those volunteers,
properly trained and armed with a clipboard and good informational
material, the opportunity to personally reach out to many new people
and establish a basis for further contact.
Remember, also, to have other tactics available for volunteers
who are shy about talking to strangers.
In order to successfully canvass your school, your group should
have a specific plan, set goals, and train and motivate all involved
volunteers. Every canvasser should be courteous and respectful of
others’ privacy, and they should have a concise, informative,
and upbeat canvassing rap prepared (i.e., a brief descriptive speech
about Bhopal stressing what you want the listener to do –
sign a petition, come to an event, etc.). They should also be receptive
to questions and suggestions.
..........• Gather together a
large group of canvassers. With about 10 or 20 people you can cover
a large area and have fun.
..........• Have all canvassers
meet at a central location and pair up. Teams of two work best—like
tabling, with one experienced member and one new volunteer.
..........• Create a detailed
plan before setting out. Predetermine what dorm(s) you will be covering.
..........• Assign canvass "turf"
to each team (i.e., the floors or rooms that they will cover).
..........• Set goals for how
many rooms/floors you want each team to canvass. Remind everyone
to keep this goal in mind when talking to people.
..........• Give sign-up sheets,
flyers, and other informational material, on clipboards, to each
..........• Have everyone practice
the canvassing rap with his or her partner to ensure that they are
comfortable with it and that it flows naturally.
..........• Make sure everyone
knows what they are expected to do and try to motivate everyone
before sending them off!
..........• Spend time talking
to people who seem interested in your campaign. Avoid wasting time
arguing with people that just want to argue - you're probably not
going to convince them and you could be using that time more productively
talking to someone that is interested.
..........• While you are talking
to them, personally invite all interested students to the next meeting,
and try to get their name and e-mail address, so you can remind
them again later.
..........• Leave information
under the door for people who aren't home--be sure that your flyers
include information about your next meeting and a contact name and
number where they can call for more information.
..........• Have everyone meet
at a designated time at your central location to wrap up the canvassing
effort. Find out what worked and what didn't and pick up extra flyers
and sign-up sheets.
..........• Plan to hold a social
event after a full day or evening of canvassing so everyone can
relax, socialize, and celebrate his or her canvassing success.
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Draw Them In
From the first person who volunteers to help you hand out flyers,
to the dozens or hundreds that may come to your protest, your group
should be vigilant in contacting and activating every single student
who indicates a desire to join the group or work for the campaign.
If you do not use the volunteers you have, you will lose them and
will not recruit any new ones.
Have regular meetings at a regular location and regular time, each
with a specific pre-planned agenda that ensures that at every meeting
something solid is decided and some action is organized.
Your group should always be in the process of researching, planning,
carrying out, or wrapping up some campaign or event. You cannot
recruit people to an inactive organization, and you cannot make
a difference just by talking about it.
When you see a new face at a meeting or event, make sure that person
is immediately incorporated into whatever is happening. Talk to
the new person as soon as you can and introduce her/him to the other
people that are there. Make every effort to ensure that new volunteers
feel welcomed and have a go-around of introductions at the start
of every meeting. And don’t forget a sign-up sheet!
Call new volunteers within 24 to 48 hours. If people want more
information, get it to them within a similar time frame. Avoid the
tendency to be become too dependent on e-mail for outreach. While
email is an excellent way to maintain communication between already
active group members, it’s overused used as an initial outreach
tool. The effectiveness of a personal phone call to a potential
new supporter can’t be overstated.
Once you have a small group of enthusiastic and empowered supporters,
you can more effectively recruit others.
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Your Members’ Commitment
The beginning of the school year is a good time to spend a Saturday
or Sunday discussing the group’s vision and creating a strategic
plan for the year. Set aside a large chunk of time (like six hours).
Choose issues, assign responsibility for tasks and create a timeline.
By being strategic and building internal community, your organization
will achieve far more than most other clubs.
At different times during the year, you might want to organize
training sessions to increase the skill level of your members. Your
group specialists should spend an hour teaching everyone else how
they write press releases, speak in front of crowds, handle your
administrative bureaucracy, facilitate meetings, make sense of the
group’s campaign, etc. Encourage new people to take on positions
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Why People Stay in Groups
..........• Campaign is making
..........• Continue to learn
about issue and gain more skills
..........• Group members and
activities are fun and interesting
..........• People feel like they’re
integral members of the group and feel needed
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It’s important to develop new leaders within your organization
– and to do so with everything that you do. Always keep your
eyes peeled for new opportunities to share responsibility and create
leadership opportunities. A few tips:
..........• Never do something
by yourself. You could be teaching others to do it with you. Don’t
do something for someone else that they can do for themselves.
..........• Give people specific
tasks and titles:
do you wanna be the researcher for the divestment campaign?”
you find out x and y by next Tuesday?”
..........• Develop unlikely leaders;
don’t ignore shy people; keep anti-oppression in mind.
..........• Always pair people
up - new and experienced folks together. Teach people to say, “I’ll
only volunteer for this task if someone who doesn’t know how
to do it will do it with me.”
..........• Let people come to
their own realizations and decisions; be empowering (don’t
just say we have to do this and this and this)
..........• Be transparent. Always
update the larger group over the listserve and at meetings of what’s
going on so they can get involved if they want.
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SfB Recruitment Resources
Try downloading this wonderful organizing
guide for a Bhopal recruitment banquet!
The Bhopal Banquet Recruitment Event Planners Guide is
a great resource! The first few pages are information on how to
recruit new people to you just about any kickoff event. The latter
part is the script for a very specific event for involving new people
who have never heard of Bhopal in your group. The idea is to draw
new people to the event in part due to progressive interest but
also through the classic promise of free food, and put them in the
shoes of a person who experiences the ongoing disaster in Bhopal.
It can be incredibly moving. The Banquet requires at least 3 members
to organize it with 2 months advance planning. I have seen this
work for hunger and poverty campaigns with a high degree of success.
Feel free to edit it to suit your purposes – for example you
may find the narrative too long or not suited for the number of
attendees you have – play around with it! I hope it comes
in handy for you!