STARTING A GROUP

As you set up tables and distribute leaflets, you'll meet people who feel the way you do about earth and animal issues. Although it's not absolutely necessary, you can increase your effectiveness by joining forces and forming a group. A group can have more clout than one person. The media, the government, and the public will usually give more serious consideration to the views of a group.

CHOOSING YOUR ISSUES

A group can start with two people. The important thing is to decide from the beginning which issues you will work on. Then choose a name for your group that reflects that focus. Do you want to work primarily on animal or environmental issues? Realistically, you won't have the time, energy, or money to focus on all issues effectively. It's usually best to stick to animal and environmental education, organizing, and lobbying and refer individual cruelty cases to the appropriate agencies in your community that should be equipped and trained to deal with them.

TAKING THE FIRST STEP

Before you get a group together, educate and organize yourself:

  • Setup a website or social media page for your group.

  • Get a post office box mailing address at a local post office.

  • Open a bank account. You'll need to keep accurate financial records from the start, so decide on a record-keeping system. At the minimum, record the date and amount of all donations, and the name and address of the donor. Also keep a record of how money is spent, including the date, amount and purpose. Save all your receipts and write on the back of the receipt the item you bought and the date and reason you bought it.

  • Prepare an information pack for new members and a form thank-you letter for donations you receive...and make sure you acknowledge them quickly.

  • Prepare a media list of newspapers and TV and radio stations with their addresses, telephone numbers and deadlines to save time when you need to publicize an event.

  • Do some long-term planning. Set up a tabling schedule or leafletting plan for the next three to six months.

  • As a small and new group, prioritize your activities. Member newsletters, for example, should be a low priority. Your time and money will be more wisely spent on educational materials, leaflets and campaigning. Remember that newsletters relate what a group has already done - they shouldn't be used as a replacement for action.

  • You may want to postpone incorporating your group as long as your budget is small and you're not launching high-profile campaigns.

THE FIRST MEETING

Decide how you want to operate. Should you meet once a month or call meetings as you need them? If you have regular meetings, they should be held on the same day and time each month to make them easier to remember and schedule. Can you find a room at the library or a local school or church? Avoid meeting in people's homes - you're better off in neutral territory.

LEADING THE GROUP

Expect to be the leader of your group and to do most of the work, even if you have hundreds of people interested in joining. As the leader, it's your job to prepare an agenda for each meeting. Make sure each person will leave the meeting with something to do. It may seem tedious to do this but people feel useless and drop out if they don't feel needed. Find out what kinds of things people are good at: who has web designing skills or access to a copy machine, who is good at designing posters, and who enjoys tabling.

Don't let meetings become strictly social affairs - keep on target. Avoid the "pot-luck supper" trap. Many new activists will suggest having them frequently. But people have a limited amount of time and energy, and it's more important to spend it on activism than on cooking. Make sure your meetings are friendly enough that people feel comfortable offering their feedback and ideas. Having a "work party" to prepare posters or write letters can do wonders to boost spirits.

Always be on the lookout for potential leaders to share responsibilities. Most groups are held together by one or two strong people, with short-term volunteers working only when convenient.

Let people move (and move on) at their own pace, and accept the fact that people will leave the group. Be grateful for every contribution, no matter how small, and never publicly criticize or embarrass anyone. Never make people feel guilty for not doing enough. You won't encourage them to do more; it's more likely they'll stop working completely. People's activism thrives on encouragement and recognition rather than criticism.

It's very important to avoid fighting within the group. Avoid criticizing others, even if you're speaking confidentially - your words may come back to haunt you. If it's really necessary, criticize the act rather than the individual.

Be open to new ideas and encourage people to express themselves. Have regular brainstorming sessions. Ask each person to think of several ideas, and write down every one, no matter how offbeat. Discuss the ideas only after you've finished listing them all. Don't allow people to disparage others' input. Everyone is special in some way, and even outlandish suggestions can lead to creative planning. Ask questions and listen attentively.

WHAT SHOULD THE GROUP DO?

Your group's activities will probably fall into three categories: public education, seasonal or "reaction" events, and long-term campaigns.

Every group should try to sustain a minimum schedule of public education work, including tabling, leafletting and electronic media. Your group can also host educational seminars and workshops, donate earth and animal themed books and media to libraries and schools, and host fundraising events that also educate the public on specific issues.

Seasonal or "reaction" events are another valuable activity. These include leafletting or picketing stores that carry inhumane items in response to advertised sales, demonstrating when a circus or rodeo comes to town or protesting the destruction of area wild-lands. In smaller towns where you are likely to get publicity, these one-time events can be especially effective. 

The easiest way for local groups to work on long-term campaigns is to join one that has been initiated by a national organization. You can bring important issues to your community and have the benefit of the national group's literature and resources.

You may eventually want to take on a purely local campaign to shut down a lab, puppy mill or polluting factory, or to stop industrial polluting. This kind of campaign will most directly involve the local community and can be one of the best ways to bring people into the movement. Be aware, however, that this requires much more time and money than the one-shot seasonal events.

Above all, your group should be visible. Get into the public eye often, and always try to get media coverage for your events.