What I learned at the Annual Grassroots Convening
by Diane Stark
I was excited to join over 70 colleagues from grassroots organizations throughout Northern California for Rose Foundation’s Annual Grassroots Training on October 28, 2016. Together, through interactive workshops and presentations, we learned the art and science of organizing. This is especially helpful for all of our organizations with limited staff so that we can reach our goals to protect our natural places and public health.
The Annual Grassroots convening was held at the David Brower Center in Berkeley and led by Jonathan Poisner who has been helping organizations thrive for 20 years, and Tess Fields, who worked for the last two decades as a political organizer, organizational leader, and campaign consultant.
Here are 9 things I learned from the convening:
Give volunteers responsibility: To attract and engage volunteers to help get your grassroots work done, give them responsibility. Jonathan calls this the “Spiderman Theory” based on the infamous quote, “With great power there must also come great responsibility.”
Match volunteers’ interests: Find out what volunteers are interested in and give them some room, and guidance, to run with it. This works great for long-term or ongoing projects. Short-term events may require more specific tasks for volunteers.
Not everyone will stay: Know that a percentage of people who express interest in volunteering will not follow through. So, give yourself time and a pool big enough to invite more than you need to help out. And remember to follow through with anyone interested in volunteering within 72 hours of their expressing interest.
- Avoid burnout: Listen to inspiring people and practice gratitude to stay sane no matter what the workload is. Also, recruit, delegate and let go of power and responsibility. You can’t do it all. Sometimes you just have to say “no.” Pause to stop and celebrate your small and large successes. Get out of the office and take a hike to remember why you’re doing this work. And remember to have fin.
- Are your organizers artists or scientists? People can tend to be more of an “artist” – a big picture type with a strategic perspective about a campaign or a “scientist” – more detail and data-oriented. Your organization needs to be a bit of both!
- Recognize Campaign vs. Mission Organizing: Campaigns are for a specific goal over a specific period of time, like stopping coal in Oakland. Missions are ongoing, for the long haul, like protecting wild places.
- Use one-on-one meetings to galvanize key volunteers: Meet your volunteers face-to-face. Tell them your story, why you are doing what you do. Ask them to share why they are engaged with your organization. Build a relationship while building your cause.
- Develop your leaders: With good leadership develop, you can “organize yourself out of a job.” This will help you accomplish even more environmental victories.
- Make a “we believe” statement for your mission: Take the time to think about why you do what you do. For example, at the Rose Foundation, we believe in the power of community in protecting the air we breathe, free flowing rivers, and the health of our communities.