1. Do your homework: This means that you must approach any meeting or organizing you do from a place of knowledge and hopefully wisdom. It also means you are choosing to work as hard as you are and it isn’t on anyone else to do the same amount of work or to be as effective or extended as you are. This is your CHOICE. Just like with homework, if you are resourced well, you’ve slept and eaten and exercised and basically seen your therapist recently or done any number of things that you need to do for yourself, you will succeed and so will your event!
2. Start at the End: Assign or find the folks who will be responsible for CLEANING-UP your event. Do this part early on in your process. I actually recommend getting this done as soon as you know the date and time of your event. When you are in charge of an event or care about it, you will be there early, you will be doing a hundred things, you will be EXHAUSTED by the time things need to get cleaned up. If you can’t find volunteers who will be in good spirits and energetic and capable to do this clean-up, HIRE someone! This is money well-spent, always.
3. BE NICE: Expect that many things will go wrong, learn to breathe and be flexible and always BE NICE! Whatever your feelings are, no matter how valid they are, you will be remembered for your outbursts, rudeness and inappropriateness. So, try to get your anger out of the way before you organize people or communicate with large groups. People are more receptive to your agenda, your ideas and your visions when they aren’t being blasted with your (probably valid) feelings. This rule is for community organizing, not protest marches or confrontations with despots who need different approaches. Remember your community is your ally, not your enemy.
4. DELEGATE: Get help and realize, at the same time, that if it matters to you, which it should, you will probably still do the lion’s share of the work. Do not expect other people to have your standards, your work ethic or your priorities. Be prepared to have everything stop happening if you decide to pull-out because you are overwhelmed or doing too much. Take it into consideration at the beginning of your organizing, so you don’t have to reach that place. Maybe you’ll get lucky!
5. MONEY: You need Money, you need donations. Food is good! If you tempt people with goodies, they will come and partake. This means outreach in the community to get stuff donated for big events. This is where your presence as a nice person who people can count on is crucial. If you are a flake or unpleasant, people won’t be as interested in giving you money, stuff or time. This applies to getting musicians to donate their time as well.
6. HUMILITY: Don’t be afraid to apologize or admit you are wrong. Community organizing means you are working with the community. Expect to learn something, to be challenged, to be confused or supported and recognize that the nature of community work is cooperative.
7. BEING STRONG AND CLEAR WHEN YOU ARE IN CHARGE: Cooperative work requires humility but once that has been said and understood, if you don’t manage things well and take control when you should, things will either flop or get out of hand. So it behooves you to set clear agendas, have good facilitators and note-takers (this is especially important when issues are heated.)
8. MEDIA: Media is crucial. Find out what you can get for free, there is lots of it, but all of it has deadlines and specific formats. This is the grunt work, if you can assign someone else this task, who will actually do it, great! If no one knows about your event or you don’t target the right places to advertise or alert, even if everything else is perfect, no one will be there to appreciate it!
9. SLOW DOWN: Say less! Listen More! Slow Down! Please note, I am notoriously bad at all of these and have paid the price many times over for not following this advice. Being respectful of others is the best way to achieve your goals, no matter what is going on.
10. YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL: Don’t try to tackle every issue. Find the category that really charges you. Some people are activated by the environment, some by social injustice, some by legal inequalities, some by police brutality, globalization etc… You will be more effective working where you have the most energy. All of these issues are interconnected though and there will be overlap.
11. COMMUNITY: Use your community, involve yourself in where you live and work and you will find allies.
12. BE ORGANIZED, (no kidding!): Develop a good filing system. Don’t laugh! This also applies to your computer data. Organize things in files and folders by date, organization, issue etc… If it takes you an hour to find the thingamajig that what’s his name gave you, you’ve just lost valuable time for no reason. Compile email lists and phone lists and keep them at the front of your folders so you can call what’s his name and actually remember who he is and get him to do the thing he promised. In this day and age, create a Google or other easy online Drive format and import all your contacts. Keep your contacts list current, delete old addresses/information. You don’t need 3,000 copies of your contacts. You need to have a back-up of them somewhere electronic, an online version and if you want to be very diligent a printout, so in case all computer related things stop (in a power outage for example) you can still hopefully reach folks you need to reach.
13. REMINDERS: Remind everyone multiple times about meetings and events. I know it sounds like elementary school, but we’re all busy saving the world and one more meeting is easy to forget. I do this exclusively by email, which is unfair for all those who don’t use that system, but it is the only way I can manage to get it done quickly. If you are working with people who don’t have access to computers, you must develop phone-trees and quick post-card type reminders. Also, be early to all your meetings and endeavor to start things on time. If you care, you will always be there at the beginning and, usually be the last one to leave as well. (That’s the truth!)
14. BE PLAYFUL OR PRAYERFUL: There is always time for a quick icebreaker activity/song or introduction circle with a brief one-word check-in or something like that. Help people arrive in the space by giving them a moment to be humans together in a room, before they tackle an issue or get down to doing a large job, this is what all coaches know, rev your team up before you send them out on the court, reassure them, remind them of why they are there and appreciate them.
15. THANK YOUS: I endeavor to always personally write, yes, actually hand- write a note of thanks to the vendors who gave things, to anyone who really extended themselves, to your co-workers/co-leaders, to volunteers and to someone who always does things but never maybe gets a thank you. Believe me, the people you thank will remember that you sent them a thank you. This is not a minor step, just because it’s close to the end of the list. This can take two weeks or more to do, you don’t have to rush to do it, but if you were organized as you should have been, you will have the names and addresses of folks handy that you need to thank.
16. BE NICE! I know I said that already. It just bears repeating. This is also related to “do your homework.” The more clarity you have as an individual, the more balanced you are, the more effective you will be in all that you do. When you are in the community, you are in the public eye. Your grace and intelligence will get you far, so develop them.
Breaking Bread Together at Temple Beth El, Eureka. Photo by Lorraine B. Miller-Wolf