Freedom Writer |
June 1996 |
Tips for activists
- Draft a vision/mission statement. This may seem redundant or
unnecessary, but a vision statement is crucial for you and your
organization. How would you summarize your organization's purpose in
two sentences or less? You can print the statement on fliers, use it
to unify your volunteers, and quote it for people who ask about your
- Draft your own vision statement. What is your purpose and why are
you involved? Why are you an activist? Your personal vision statement
might be different from your organization's statement, and that's
- Hold a retreat for your organization's leadership. It could be as
short as a few hours, or as a long as a weekend. Discuss your vision
statement, and formulate a list of 3-6 general goals that will help
fulfill your mission. Prioritize these goals, and then draft a list of
actions for each goal. You might want to share your individual vision
statements as well.
- Print up a chart/outline listing your organization's mission,
goals, and planned actions. Keep this in a handy place where you can
refer to it. A few months down the road, have your leadership team do
a reassessment. How are you progressing toward your goals? Can you
check off some of the actions?
- Take initiative at the individual level. Most of the time, someone
just needs to step up to the plate and swing the bat to get things
moving. Sometimes people just need to see someone else doing something
to realize how much a particular issue needs to be addressed in a
- Don't be afraid to ask others outside your organization to help
you and don't avoid recruiting people whom you don't normally think of
as "activist" types. You'd be amazed at who will join a cause!
- Recruit high school and college students to help your
organization. Students are a great resource you can tap into. Local
student organizations might be willing to let you speak at one of
their meetings about volunteer opportunities. Students in public
relations often need advertising campaigns to practice on — you could
find your organization some capable assistance.
- Be bullheaded about what you are doing and be persistent. Just
because one door has been slammed in your face, does not mean that
another one won't open.
- Bring a sense of joy to the world. Bring energy and happiness to
what you are doing, whether it's an internal strategy session, a
mail-stuffing party, or a news conference. Don't be all business and
no fun when you run a meeting.
- Remember why you do what you do. Do not allow unfavorable
circumstances to blow the wind out of your sails. Know what you are
for, not just what you are against. Focus on your goals and not your
- Keep working toward your goals and keep things moving within your
organization, even in the face of opposition or defeat. It's like
piling up little pebbles of sand — you may only be able to add one
handful of sand at a time, but eventually you will fill up the box.
- Work on structural issues within your organization and keep your
structure fluid. Build a structure that allows people to step in and
pick up the vision that you started.
- Delegate responsibility whenever you can. This allows others in
the organization to assume some responsibility and splits the work
load. Don't be afraid to delegate both large and small tasks.
- Never ask someone else to do something that you are not willing to
do yourself, when you delegate something. You should never communicate
to a volunteer that you are dumping an unwanted or exceptionally
onerous task onto her/him just because you don't want to do it.
- Explain things clearly. You may need to take some time to explain
a particular task to a volunteer. At times, it may seem easier to do
the task yourself than to explain it to a novice, but resist the
temptation. A volunteer will remember your attitude, and will remember
the time you spent patiently explaining something.
- Communicate to your volunteers/assistants that you trust them, and
tactfully check on the completion of a delegated task. Ask people how
things are going, and tell them that you appreciate their hard work
- Take time to get to know your volunteers and invest in
individuals. Find out who your volunteers are and why they are helping
your organization. People often need to forge personal connections
- Focus on empowering people. Without individual ownership of the
vision, you can not build an organization with strong grass-roots
based support. Focus on giving individuals ownership of the
organization and its purpose.
- Give individuals within your organization room to be different and
understand that they are not all there for the same reasons. There
might be multiple ways of doing things, and individuals might join
your cause for different motives than your own.
- Facilitate people within the organization getting to know each
other. You could informally suggest everyone go out for something to
eat after a strategy session, use a 5-minute icebreaker to start a
meeting, or pass out coffee club/lunch bunch cards to encourage people
to get to know each other.
- Be willing to listen to people within your organization and be
accessible to them. Maybe a volunteer just needs to check in with you
and wants to update you on her/his progress. Is there a problem that
someone needs to tell you about?
- Watch for the good things. So often we tend to focus on the things
that go wrong that we forget to notice the things that go well.
Rejoice in the small victories that happen everyday. You might even
want to keep a log book of accomplishments. Did you meet a fundraising
goal? Mail information to voters? Have a good talk with a local
- Listen to your opposition. What are they saying and why are they
saying it? Do you share areas of common interest with them? Is your
opposition consistent? Do they have points of disagreement within
- Formulate a rational point-by-point response to your opposition's
arguments. Don't just rely on your emotions for your response. Think
before your speak. Do research and don't make charges without evidence
to back them up.
- Designate a spokesperson to officially speak to the media for your
organization. Carefully draft all news releases and policy statements
and inform your volunteers about news release policies.
- Don't fight with the media over minor misquotes. If a reporter
misquotes you, just let it go. You'll get better coverage down the
road if you don't rankle a reporter and her/his editor.
- Build concentric circles. Word of mouth can be both a powerful and
a detrimental public relations and recruitment tool. Talk to a lot of
people about your ideas and encourage others in your organization to
do the same.
© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.