Advocacy Made Easy: Outreach Events
One of the most challenging advocacy actions for me is the Outreach Event. Gathering with like-minded others is inherently exciting, but it’s important to recognize that it isn’t so easy for everyone. Every participant has to give up some personal time, go to a physical place that might be out of their way, and be open to new ideas and new personalities. As organizers, it’s our job to remove as many barriers as possible, so that new folks can overcome hangups and hesitations and hear our message. In this post, I’ll propose a few considerations to make your event more appealing to brand new prospective members. At the end, you’ll find helpful tips and a sample agenda. LOCATION
Who is your audience and where will they be most comfortable? Is your meeting place centrally located or easy to find? I once went to a school board candidate forum last night, mainly because it happened at a place my kids often have activities. It was familiar and on my way.
What kind of venue is welcoming? Even though our own homes and houses of worship are inexpensive and convenient for organizers, some people are uncomfortable going to private residences of strangers or feel out-of-place in churches, temples, and mosques. My favorite venues are restaurants with private rooms available to community events for free. When they have audio/visual hookups, that’s even better!
I’ve had feedback that some friends liked coming to my home because they were my friends who liked the familiar, relaxed atmosphere. I’ve also had feedback from strangers who joined my group that they liked our public library event because they felt it was safe, neutral territory for them. Consider your audience and pick the best place for them, not you! MARKETING
Let’s face it. People don’t really like to leave their houses anymore for something called an “Informational Meeting” My teenage daughter says, “I’ve been going to informational meetings for years, but I like them better when they’re not called that.” People DO like to go to a party, learn a new skill, or hear a speaker who they think is rare or special in some way. My events tend to have titles like “Action Workshop,” “Celebration of Child Health Success,” or “An Evening with ______.” (fill in name of your guest speaker)
Are parents within your target audience? If yes, then think of ways to keep kids occupied and let parents know the kids are welcome. A coloring table in back with goldfish crackers? A separate room with a babysitter and a children’s movie playing? WHAT TO BRING
Once you’ve solidified your plan, you need to show up prepared. Here’s my outreach meeting packing list. I have a bag that’s always packed with most of these things, so I don’t have to scramble around every time.
A/V equipment if necessary (laptop, speaker, projector, cables, microphone)
Snacks/coffee if needed
Sign-in sheet and pen for attendees
If writing letters to Congress: paper, pens, sample text for letters, clipboards if no tables
Camera for pictures to share on social media
Organization banner if you have one
Overview of organization
Fact sheet about issue
Future ways to engage with your organization and contact info
Here’s a very general sample agenda for the program portion of your event. Of course, you’ll want to customize for your own organization and audience, but this will cover the basics!
1. Introduction: Who are you? What does your organization do?
2. Set Expectations: How long will your event presentation last? What are you going to cover? Any “norms” of the group to mention? For example: remaining non-partisan and not making jokes or disparaging remarks about other political parties.
3. Featured Speaker or Video: Show an inspirational video about what your organization does or highlighting the issue you are talking about. If you have one, it makes a nice break from just talking.
4. Small Group Discussion (if appropriate): Give small groups a question to tackle together and report back to the group. Consider: “Why is this issue personally important to you?” or “What kind of advocate would you like to be and what skills do you need to get there?”
5. Story from a Volunteer: Have one of your local volunteers share a story about what inspired them to take action and how it made them feel.
6. Explain Legislation: What is the specific piece of legislation that you are working to pass? How will it address your issue? How will real people benefit from it?
7. Action Training: Why does the type of action you are taking (phone call, letter to the editor, letter writing) matter? How do you do it? Call Congress in front of people or show them written examples of letters to the editor. Allow time for them to complete the action and ask one person to call in front of everyone or to read what they have written. That’s the bare bones of it! Now, think about how to customize your event toward your specific audience and organization. Please share how it goes in the comment section. It’s always great to learn from each other!