"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does."
There are a lot of good progressive web sites out there, packed with solid, issue-oriented material, meant to raise consciousness and give people the ideas and facts they need to be effective activists and educators. But often there's an assumption that the reader is prepared to put these ideas right to use--that they'll just know how to translate them into organizing efforts and outreach projects and public presentations. It isn't always that easy. Especially if you're new at working with a group, or trying to start one up, before you're all ready to charge out and change the world, you need to do some groundwork. You need to build a strong, cohesive organization with a clear sense of its mission and an ability to focus its energies efficiently and creatively.
Over the years I've worked with a lot of organizations--professional associations, student governments, social clubs, community service agencies, activist groups, and others. I've learned a lot about what seems to help them run more smoothly, be more productive, and make the people involved feel good about what they're doing. I've worked with some very wise and capable people, and borrowed some good materials from them on the nuts and bolts of getting organized and getting things done. I've created this page to share them.
Some of these materials were written by other folks for a variety of organizations--labor unions, environmental groups, student organizations, businesses--but they contain good advice that can help just about any group. Others I've developed myself, based on my experience and on other people's materials I've collected while working as a student activities advisor.
Some of the linked sites here give permission to copy their materials freely for non-commercial use. Others sell printed copies, often as a fundraiser to support their other work. Please respect the copyright holders' rights and wishes, and if you use someone else's materials, please make sure to give them proper credit.
You can copy and distribute the materials I've developed for non-commercial purposes, as long as you give credit to me and to the other sources I mention. I'd also like to hear from you about how you're using the materials, and/or any suggestions you have and additional resources you'd like to share. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organizing 101: Getting Your Group Up and Running
"Don't agonize. Organize."
These Guidelines for Developing A Mission Statement and Bylaws can help you focus your thinking and create a statement of what you're there to do, and how you intend to accomplish it.
The California State University, Chico Student Activities Office has creates a Model Constitution or Bylaws to help organizations get the basics down on paper.
The ACTION Center's Activism Training Materials & Resources page is a terrific set of links to help with developing a mission, goals and plans for your group, motivating people to get involved, running effective meetings, publicity and marketing strategies, your legal rights to circulate petitions and pass out leaflets in public places, and much, much more. This site is a gold mine for experienced leaders and novice activists alike!
Protest.net's Activists Handbook is another comprehensive set of resources, covering everything from "Why should I do something?" to coalition-building and working with the media.
The Vegetarian Union of North America's Guide for Local Vegetarian Groups covers the basic steps to start, maintain, and expand a local vegetarian group--but their tips and guidelines could assist any new organization.
The Center for Campus Organizing's Organizing Guide for Peace and Justice Groups has some excellent, practical advice on group process, decision-making options, building membership and keeping people involved, planning events, and more.
The Citizens' Handbook is a comprehensive guide to community organizing, from the basics of getting started to community-building activities to sustain and expand the impact of your organization.
CampusActivism.org is designed to facilitate networking between progressive student and youth activists in the US and Canada through the sharing of contacts, ideas and resources.
NetChange is a project designed to increase the presence of progressive students activists in cyberspace. Their Activism NOW! bulletins will alert young activists to ways they can take action and effect change directly from their computer terminal. The Online Activist Database will connect activists with similar interests and provide organizers with a source for online contacts. Finally, the NetChange Journal is a medium for activists to express their views in writing, photo essays, cartoons and any other way you can imagine.
If you're ambitious enough to be thinking of starting a more structured, formal organization, Idealist.org's Nonprofit FAQ has some good information for you. Topics here include legally incorporating as a nonprofit, boards of directors, strategic planning, marketing, fundraising, and more.
Management 201: Making Things Work
"A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will say, 'We did it ourselves.'"
People and Planet Online's Groups Guide has specific advice on many of the problems and concerns that come up in the life of many groups.
Nuts & Bolts Publishing has some free articles and resources on a variety of nonprofit leadership and management topics.
Capaciteria is "a comprehensive, searchable database directory of administrative resources that help nonprofits leverage their own capacity" (I wasn't sure exactly what that means, either). They have materials on legal issues, financial management, membership development, fundraising, and much more (now those, I understand!)
Your meetings can make or break your group. If they're run well, you'll be productive and members are likely to feel that their time was well-spent. If not, you'll find yourselves spinning your wheels, and people will eventually give up on your group in frustration. This handout on Facilitating Meetings Effectively has some good suggestions on running efficient, productive meetings.
Resources for Meetings and Group Process has links to some excellent materials on meeting management, conflict resolution, communication skills, and more.
How To Make Meetings Work in a Culturally Diverse Group is a set of guidelines to help people understand differences within a group and find common ground.
The Disability Etiquette Handbook has tips on welcoming and accommodating people with disabilities in your organization.
Tips for Equal Access Presentations can help you make your meetings, lectures and other events accessible to people with disabilities.
The Seattle Peace and Justice Events Calendar offers some considerations for making your event accessible to people with disabilities.
Every group has them, and these Hints for Facilitators: Handling Difficult Behaviors in Meetings can help you handle them.
Meeting Minutes is a set of guidelines on taking and writing up the minutes of a meeting.
The National Association of Parliamentarians' How to Use Parliamentary Procedure is a comprehensive guide to operating under Robert's Rules of Order.
Jim Slaughter's site on Parliamentary Procedure includes charts and articles on meeting procedures, "cheat sheets" to Robert's Rules of Order, and much more.
Parliamentary Procedure: Toward the Good Order of the University advice from Dr. John A. Cagle, Parliamentarian of the Academic Senate and Professor of Communication at California State University, Fresno
Robert's Rules of Order Revised The original source--complete and comprehensive, but probably not for the casual user.
This handout on Consensus Decision-Making offers a basic introduction to the concepts and process, and helps you decide if the method is right for your group.
On Conflict And Consensus: A Handbook On Formal Consensus Decisionmaking is an excellent and extensive guide to facilitation skills and consensus development. Food Not Bombs Publishing sells printed copies, but they also offer the entire book here and let you download and print it free of charge.
Ron Kelly's conflict resolution tools page has many useful links that may help individuals and groups.
Training For Change has a great and ever-growing set of experiential exercises and activities for helping people learn to work more effectively in groups.
Event Planning Made Easy is a set of questions to consider and tasks you need to take care of in planning any event.
Learning to delegate work is one of the most essential--and one of the hardest--skills a leader or manager needs to know. These Tips on Successful Delegation may help.
If you're planning to pursue funding through grants from foundations and public agencies, this Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal may help.
Hell-Raising 301: Changing the World in Your Spare Time
"Power never concedes anything without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both."
The Jewish Democratic Council's How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community has a lot of useful information and tips that would help in all kinds of activism and public outreach. Their guidelines on public speaking and working with the media are especially good.
Lesbian Avengers' Civil Rights Organizing Project has created Out Against the Right: An Organizing Handbook detailing strategies they used and lessons they learned in working against anti-queer ballot initiatives in several states. They have good advice on doing direct actions, building coalitions with other groups, conflict resolution within your group, and more.
The 20/20 Vision site has some very good tools for grassroots activists, including tips for dealing with the press and for writing effective letters to policymakers.
Tips on Making Letters and Phone Calls Effective is a set of guidelines for making your voices heard. Whether you're contacting an elected official, taking on an offensive ad campaign for a product, or calling for change in an organization's policies, these suggestions can help.
The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance has a good set of suggestions for Writing Successful Complaint Letters.
Working Assets' Act for Change includes tips on understanding the legislative process, visiting your elected officials, and working with their staffs on issues that concern you.
Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest helps nonprofits learn to lobby lawmakers and get their help in achieving their missions.
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting offers a Media Activist Kit with "how-to" guides for identifying, documenting and challenging inaccurate or unfair news coverage, along with information about how to promote independent media.
Cause Communications has some good, free resources and tips to help activists and nonprofits publicize important issues.
The Seattle Times and the Asian American Journalists Association have created a downloadable Media Access Guide that offers strategies for approaching the media. They cover the news release, the news conference, building good media relations and more.
An Activist Guide to Exploiting the Media covers publicity planning, press releases, being interviewed, and dealing with unfair or inaccurate media coverage.
The Ruckus Society Media Manual has some great information on how the media works, and how to work with them to get your story covered.
It's tough to do effective education or activism when no one is listening. So how do you get the word out? Dr. Randall Hansen's Guide to Writing Successful Press Releases is a great set of links to sites that show you the basics of writing effective press releases, special considerations for sending press releases electronically, and more.
InfoScavenger's Writing and Sending Press Releases is another set of tips and pointers show you how to write and distribute releases that get noticed.
Say It On the Radio covers talk radio--how to get on the air to talk about your issue, and what to expect once you get there.
Marilyn Wann, media diva extraordinaire, has learned some valuable lessons about doing radio interviews. She shares some of them here.
Another great article on media interviews comes from John U. In Make Sure It’s Not Poly In, Garbage Out he talks about how polyamorous people (or anyone with a story that the media might distort or sensationalize) can prepare and manage interviews to best get their message across. The article first appeared in Loving More magazine
Paper Tiger Television's ROAR Guide to Media Activism helps activists use television to get their message out.
If you have a story to tell on film, MediaRights.org helps media makers, educators, nonprofits, and activists use documentaries to encourage action and inspire dialogue on contemporary social issues.
E The People gives you access to over 170,000 government officials in 9,800 towns and cities across the US and helps you send them emails and petitions on your causes and concerns.
The Virtual Activist is an online training course intended to teach you how to use email and the Web as effective, inexpensive, and efficient tools for organizing, outreach, and advocacy.
Psybernet's Resources for Hosts of Internet Mailing Lists and Conferences has links to some good sites and articles on creating and maintaining online communities.
On Designing an Activist's Web Page has tips for the non-professional web designer on creating a page that will interest people, give them a reason for hearing you out, and make it easy for them to follow you.
E-mail can be a hugely powerful tool for activists, and even Internet rookies can use it effectively on a global scale. But Is It Outreach--Or Is It Spam? This article from the Mother Jones site can help you tell the difference.
The Vegetarian Union of North America has a good set of Guidelines for Tabling that you can translate and apply to distributing information to the public on almost any issue.
Anarchism in Action's Postering, Tabling, and Propaganda Distribution has some good suggestions for getting the word out.
These Public Speaking Tips, some created by the author and some adapted from Toastmasters International manuals, will help you with presentations and speeches before all kinds of groups, large and small.
Anarchism in Action's Tips on Giving Speeches and Presentations has some good basic suggestions.
a goodman is a communications consulting firm that helps public interest groups, foundations, and progressive businesses reach more people more effectively. They have some interesting publications, including one called "Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes" that they offer free to people who work full-time at nonprofits, foundations, government agencies or educational institutions.
The Vernal Education Project's site has a collection of interesting papers, including the excellent "How to Talk to 'Middle America' about Progressive Ideas"
How To Win A High School Election is the site for a book of the same name. Young activists who want to work within the system will find some great, proven advice here.
Activism takes many forms. Singing Bears: A Home for Activist Art is "a community site for promoting and connecting all those using creative art to transform our world."
Michael Albert's Why Protest the Conventions? starts out talking about the reasons for protesting at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, but it quickly moves to discuss the coercive power of protest against entrenched authorities, the importance of linking different social justice movements, and also the nature of leadership, money, and retention of people in our efforts.
This Action Outline, taken from the Lesbian Avengers Handbook, covers the steps involved in planning a public action to bring attention to an issue or cause.
Training for Change's 7 Ways to Make Our Protests More Powerful helps activists focus their energies and get their message across effectively
Papers on Nonviolent Action and Cooperative Decision-Making are .pdf files containing agendas, notes and handouts from a series of workshops by Randy Schutt to prepare people for nonviolent direct action.
The Peace and Justice Support Network of the Mennonite Church USA offers these Peacemaker Guidelines to help prepare volunteers whose aim is to keep demonstrations nonviolent.
The Demonstrators' Manual was created by the New York City Chapter National Lawyers Guild. It covers planning an action, your legal rights and the applicable laws and court cases, and what to expect in dealing with police and the courts.
ACT UP's Civil Disobedience Index is another good resource for lawbreakers with principles and a purpose.
Anarchism in Action: Methods, Tactics, Skills, and Ideas has some good suggestions on communications, organizing, public actions, security and self-defense, and more
Black Cross Health Collective's First Aid for Radicals and Activists picks up where the Red Cross leaves off, giving you tips and techniques for safety and first aid preparations for a demonstration, dealing with pepper spray and tear gas, aftercare, and other essential considerations.
Not that I'm recommending vandalism or assault...but the Billboard Liberation Front has some creative ideas for getting your message across. The San Francisco Weekly also has some tips on How to Pie.
The Ruckus Society Training Manuals cover some adventurous methods of bringing attention to your causes and concerns. They cover topics like scouting a target, communications, climbing techniques and safety issues, and more.
Consciousness-Raising 499: Special Topics
"No one is free when others are oppressed."
These are some subject areas that I've done presentations or research on. I've borrowed or created some good resource materials for workshops, information tables, and other kinds of educational outreach on these topics.
Fat Acceptance and Body Image
And to find resources on just about every progressive issue and cause under the sun, try these sites:
Jay's Leftist and Progressive Internet Resource Directory
Adam Rifkin's Activism Links Page
Activist San Diego's Online Resources
Tolerance.org (a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center)
Recommended Reading (And Other Stuff You Might Want to Buy)
"Ideas are the factors that lift civilization. They create revolutions. There is more dynamite in an idea than in many bombs."
A classic book about community organizing and grassroots democracy is Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals.
The Positive Revolution Page is a resource center inspired by Edward de Bono's book The Handbook for the Positive Revolution. It explains the principles and methods behind this elegant, powerful, and constructive model for social change.
Empowerment Resources Online Bookstore has an interesting selection of books for personal growth, social change, and ecology. Don't miss the Political Empowerment section.
East Wind Community's Community Bookshelf has books on community and alternative culture--everything from consensus-building to cooperative games and activities.
Northern Sun Merchandising carries a large variety of message-oriented apparel, stickers, pins, posters, magnets, and other stuff promoting a long list of progressive causes. They offer discounts if you want to buy in quantity and sell the materials as a fundraiser.
Donnelly/Colt is another mailorder company that carries progressive buttons, stickers, t-shirts, posters, postcards, books, videotapes, calendars and other products. They also offer quantity discounts for fundraising.
Northland Poster Collective "The Mall of the Other America" features union made products (art posters, buttons, t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, baby bibs, and more), focusing on labor, peace and social justice issues, as well as organizing in general. They said to tell you "Be sure to ask them about extended sizes of t-shirts!!!" (which don't show up on the website).
Irregular Goods has some great , original bumper stickers and other merchandise, featuring progressive causes and candidates.
Contempl8 sells "t-shirts designed to disturb the status quo," plus stickers and post cards, too!