1) Finding the people
You and a few others have decided to form a new group. You have a sense of what you want to work on and have made decisions about the nature of the group you want to form. Now what?
Expand the organizing group
The first step: connect with people you already know. If five of you are starting this group you probably each know one other person who might be interested in joining. If that's true you have immediately doubled your size! There might be many more people your initial core group can reach. The main thing is to not be shy: everyone should make a list of who they know who might be interested in joining and decide on a time frame for contacting them.
Invite others to join
There are many times when just a few people can get a whole lot accomplished. But let's assume the work you've identified for your group will take time and will need the active participation of many people. Here are a few things you can do to invite others to join:
- plan a get-together or meeting in a location that's easy for people to get to
- post notices about the meeting on public bulletin boards in community centers, religious institutions, laundromats, and other places
- send notices to community media outlets
- hand out leaflets announcing the meeting in locations with lots people – for instance, if your group is focusing on education issues hand out leaflets at the local schools when parents drop off or pick up their kids.
Important detail: it is helpful to ask people to let you know in advance if they’ll be attending the meeting. Is there a phone number they can call or an email address they can send a note to?
2) The first public event
You want all of the activities of your group to go well, but there is something special about the very first open meeting or get-together. You want people to come, and once there you want them to have a positive experience and make the decision to join your group.
Think through what you want to happen at this first meeting:
- greet people
- introduce the core group that convened the gathering
- have everyone who attends introduce themselves
- explain why you are forming this group, the nature of the problem you want to address, the need for this constituency to come together and how you see this group working
- explain what activities you hope people will be involved with
You might want to have a guest speaker or show a short film. If you do, leave plenty of time for the other items you also want to cover as.
Some practical items to consider:
- have the event in a location that is easy for people to get to and find
- make sure the room is comfortable – heated in winter, air conditioned in summer
- do you want to serve some food or refreshments?
- be sure to end the meeting at the time you told people it would be over!
- have enough copies of any materials you want to hand out to people:
- agenda for the meeting
- overview of why you are forming this new group
- ideas for how people can be involved
- sign in sheet
- notice of the next activity or meeting
Soon after the meeting the core group should review how things went:
- was the turn out what you had expected or hoped for?
- were people enthusiastic and interested enough to come to the next meeting or activity?
- did people sign up for committees or activities you are planning?
- were you able to do everything you had planned to at this initial gathering?
- was there anything you should have done differently?
3) Keeping people involved
Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to help ensure that people will stay involved is this one simple task – call them! There is nothing as good as direct contact with people. Talking with people in person is always great, but the phone is the next best thing.
It is very important to call the people who attended, especially anyone who signed up for a task or a committee. Tell them how much you appreciated their participation, and make sure they know what comes next. Encourage them to ask any questions or raise concerns or new ideas they might have. In other words, don't just tell them the time and place of the next meeting – have a conversation.
Central to keeping people involved is having real activities they can participate in and real tasks they can take up. Most people have other demands on their time and energy: family, work, school and/or involvement with other organizations. If someone has shown an interest in your group you need to have specific and concrete ways for them to be part of the effort.
These can be very simple tasks:
- making calls or handing out leaflets announcing an activity of the group
- asking local stores to hang a poster from the group
- entering names into your data base
- working on a mailing
Or tasks can be more complex, requiring more time or skill:
- calling other volunteers to sign them up for tasks
- working on the logistical details for the next public activity
- taking charge of a specific committee or group
- coordinating the work of a group of volunteers
The challenge is finding the right balance between engaging people and not overwhelming them; giving people assignments they can handle and making sure they are not bored; and asking people to try new things while making sure they can handle the tasks they take on.
Most people want to be involved in helping to decide what the work is. They want to help shape the decisions of the group: what positions the group takes, the organizing priorities, the specific activities being planned, and other items.
Some people will come to your group with experience and expertise and will be able to jump right into a decision-making role. Others will need to be taught how to do this type of work. Everyone's involvement is important so you'll need to figure out how to work with them all.