The Basics of Community Organizing
Form a core group: Identify people who are committed to improving conditions for your
community and who would be interested in initiating a community organizing effort.
o Identify an issue: At a meeting of community members interested in working on an
organizing effort, identify an issue that everyone agrees to. (See handout entitled, "How
to Organize and Facilitate a Community Meeting").
o Identify a mission and goals: All organizing efforts or campaigns should have an overall
mission that clearly describes its purpose and what participants hope to accomplish with
it. There should also be short-term, intermediate-term (optional), and long-term goals that
are specific and achievable.
All campaigns have two kinds of goals: external goals and internal goals. External goals are
the public goals: the policy you want to change, the legislation you want passed. The
internal goals are your organizational and base building objectives: how do you build your
organization and get more people involved.
Identify allies: Who will be helpful and supportive of your organizing efforts? Identify
individuals, groups, institutions, etc. that have influence over the issue on which you're
working. How are you going to gain their support?
Opposition: Will there be opposition? If so, who will they be and how will you deal
o Develop a blueprint or strategy: What is your general plan for accomplishing your goal?
In developing a strategy, identify appropriate tools. Examples of tools are
demonstrations; meetings with elected representatives; calls, faxes, letters, etc. to a
targeted legislator, company, agency; press conferences, letters to the editor, and other
Decide on concrete activities: These should be very specific. How many calls, letters,
faxes etc. do you want to generate? How many press conferences do you want to hold?
How many lobby days do you want to organize?
o Timeline: Working backward from the end of the campaign, what do you want to
accomplish at each stage of the campaign.
o Recruit People: The heart of your organizing effort is people. Engaging and retaining
people in the initiative are an on-going effort.
Tools for recruiting people include:
1. Tabling - Set up a small table with literature about the issue and campaign, and talk to
people about them. Find out if a permit is required for tabling before doing it.
2. Flyering - Distribute literature about the issue and campaign, and talk to people about
them. Don't be aggressive.
3. Promoting - Speak about the campaign at cultural events, religious gatherings, sports
events, meetings of other groups, etc. Make sure to get advanced approval for your
4. Surveying - Collect the opinions and sentiments of individuals on a particular issue or
range of issues. The survey should be related to your campaign.
Canvassing - Knock on the doors of people's homes to talk to them about the
campaign and issue. Don't get upset if people are unresponsive or curt. Remember
that you're knocking on their door unsolicited.
6. Ask current members to invite other people they know.
People who are or become involved in the organizing campaign will have various skills and
expertise. Ask them to be open about their strengths and encourage them to take on tasks
that they are best suited for. That is also one way to keep people engaged; if feels good to
be useful! Of course, people should also feel comfortable to work in areas that they are
curious about and would like to acquire skills in, preferably with guidance and support
o Keep and Engage People:
1. Stay in touch with one another - Regular contact is vital. Face to face is best.
2. Welcome newcomers - Introduce them to members of your group. Consider
appointing greeters for large meetings and events. Call new contacts to invite them to
events. Help people find a place in the organization. The most appealing approach is
to say, "Tell us the things you like to do and do well and we will fmd a way to use
3. Act more, meet less - Most people dislike
meetings. It is better to focus most of your time
on doing activities.
4. Keep time demands modest - Make sure people
don't feel overwhelmed. Keep expanding the
number of active members to ensure everyone does
a little, and no one does too much. Work out
realistic time commitments for projects.
5. Do it in twos - Working in pairs improves the
quality of communication, makes work less lonely,
and ensures tasks get done.
6. Provide social time and activities - Endless work
drives people away. Schedule social time at the
beginning or end ofmeetings. Also, it's a good idea
to periodically organize social and community building events.
7. Provide skills training - Provide skill-building workshops or incorporate an education
component into the general meetings. Simply pairing experienced and inexperienced
people will improve the skills of new members.
8. Generate consensus - Consensus is a decision-making process through which groups
work towards a decision that can be agreed to by most, if not all, participants. Before
a decision is made, all opinions are carefully considered, including ones that are
different from the majority. Though this process can be more time consuming than
decisions made by majority vote, it also promotes greater investment in and
commitment to a group. It is important to have consensus throughout the organizing
effort. Participants should always feel that they have a voice or they may not stay
o Identify materials: Identify materials that you'll need to perform different tasks. For
example, a microphone for a press conference or speak-out, a car or bus to travel to a
meeting, easel paper and markers for a community forum, a table for tabling, etc. Most
materials will require money, though some may be donated or borrowed.
Tools to raise money include applying for grants from foundations; fund-raising events
(e.g., parties or cultural events); and collecting donations from the community and
businesses in the community. When doing fund-raising, be clear on what the moneys will
be used for.
AssessmentlEvaluation: To be able to learn from and improve an organizing effort, it is
necessary to reflect on how it has progressed and what outcomes it has had. Everyone
involved in the effort should participate in the evaluation. Some questions to ask are:
What were the goals of the effort? What goals have been met or not met and why? Have
goals that have been met improved conditions for the community? What were the
expectations and did they materialize? Why or why not? What strategies and tools have
been effective or ineffective? What additional resources are needed? What groups have
been most supportive? What have been the greatest challenges?