Community organizing involves mobilizing a group of people to address common issues and concerns and enabling them to take action. It focuses on collective action, the power derived from the synchronized actions of people in unity, as opposed to separate individuals. Quite akin to the common saying, ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’
From fighting social injustice to inequality, community organizing finds its roots in movements of the past such as the suffragettes and the trade union movements, among others. To put it simply, community organizing consists of these five steps:
- Listening to people
- Clarifying common goals
- Framing strategies for action
- Helping build leaders
- Mobilizing the community
This article expands on each step to paint a clearer picture of what community organizing entails with tips that you as community organizers can implement in your organizational efforts. Read on.
Listen to people
Clearly, you should first have an issue in mind which affects a community that you want to help it resolve. This involves talking to people and finding out what their concerns are and what pain points they’re facing and would like to fight for (or against). Face-to-face meetings are the most effective as they show people that you genuinely care about wanting to help them help themselves (by achieving the collective end goal).
By listening and talking in person, you gain a fair understanding of the people who want to work towards bettering a situation as opposed to the ones who merely want to vent but not work.
Depending on the size of your outreach, use different ways to contact people: go door-knocking if you’re targeting a neighborhood or if your community is scattered, use social media to attract people’s attention, and set up meeting spots.
Remember: The aim here is to identify a set of people who would be willing to work towards a common cause, and are interested in initiating action.
Clarify your community organizing goals
Now that you’ve identified your community members, the next step is to pinpoint your mission and its corresponding goals. Whatever it is that your community is fighting for—reducing the usage of fossil fuels by shifting focus on renewables or fighting for more/equal pay, make sure to list out what it is you want to achieve.
As the community organizer, you should divide the goals into 2 categories:
- Internal goals: These are focussed on your community or organization and involve aspects such as how to increase your community base and how to reach out to more people.
- External goals focus on the change you’re looking to bring, the bills you want to be passed, or the rules you want to change.
Remember: You’ve now kept the group centered on exactly what it hopes to achieve by doing this.
Frame strategies for action by community organizers
For this, go about creating a blueprint of actions that your team is going to follow to effect change. These could include (but aren’t limited to) organizing rallies, emailing and calling legislators, holding press conferences, and contacting local newspapers. Depending upon the number of people you can mobilize and the sort of impact you wish to create, choose a strategy that is both manageable and impactful. Check out this article to see how you can manage your volunteers.
Make use of different kinds of tools for implementation: patch through calling to reach out to local representatives, peer-to-peer texting to mobilize supporters on the ground, and social media to reach out to people are just a few examples.
While strategizing, you’ll also have to keep in mind who your potential allies are and who or what your opposition is. If you’re fighting for equal pay, your allies could be labor unions fighting the same problem in another factory or company, while your opposition could be upper management intent on cutting costs by paying less in salaries. Leverage upon your allies, and figure out ways to tackle opposing parties.
Remember: Use a combination of methods that will help you achieve your aims. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
Build local leadership through community organizing
As community organizers, it is impossible to organize every minute aspect of a campaign. This is why you need a plan in place to develop community leaders who can lead local initiatives. After all, if everyone in a group is involved, everyone should be allowed to take up tasks of importance. Check out this article for an example of how volunteer leaders can be nurtured.
The more people you have willing to go the extra mile, the greater is the chance of reaching your objectives in a shorter amount of time.
Organizers should aim at moving supporters along an engagement funnel starting them on low-barrier asks like signing a petition or sharing a post on social media. As the frequency of engagement increases the supporter is moved lower down the funnel to high-barrier asks like joining a door-to-door canvass or even organizing their own team.
Developing leaders is an important step as they serve as a point of contact for the flow of information among volunteers, other community heads, and district organizers.
When people are passionate about an issue, they’d be more than happy to take up additional tasks. By being community leaders, they get to do this.
Remember: This step involves identifying potential leaders and giving them the necessary training to take action.
Community organizers must Mobilize people
This step involves gathering people and taking collective action for achieving your mission. It could be something like staging a rally, going door to door canvassing, holding an event, or calling lawmakers to approve a bill.
The point is you need to mobilize your volunteer base for these activities, for which you require the right set of tools. Use peer to peer texting, phone calls, email, and even social media to keep people informed about an upcoming event. If there are many members, contact the community leaders who would then spread the word to their respective groups.
Creating a website for your community is essential; in addition to posting images and videos of previous rallies and demonstrations, you can also post details of upcoming tasks along with their venues and timelines.
Remember: For mobilizing effectively, your outreach needs to be varied, as different people prefer different ways of being contacted or informed. Use a combination of ways to contact members.
Community organizing is a broad topic that encompasses several aspects. Hopefully with these points in mind, community organizers can find it easier to go about helping communities act towards a common goal.