Building Your Group’s Structure
With a critical mass of parents interested in organizing, it’s time to pick a name for your group. The name should reflect your mission and be immediately recognizable. Naming your group gives your efforts legitimacy because it shows that you are unified and organized, and demonstrates to the public, media, and government that you are serious about tackling your issue. It also allows your group to easily serve as a point of contact for any media who are interested in your story. Do not underestimate the importance of this simple step.
Your name can be anything you want – but you should try to make it something that will appeal to a broad audience and be as positive as possible. For instance, you might choose “Parents for Educational Choice,” instead of “Parents Against Failing Schools.” You should never list ideologies or political parties in your name, because educational choice transcends politics!
Once you decide on your name, you can think about creating a logo with your new group’s name that is easily recognizable so that you can put it on a t-shirt and promotional materials. (If you want to get t-shirts made, contact IJ – we can help!) It’s also important that it is in high-resolution. If possible, ask someone who has a background in graphic design to make it, or reach out to IJ and we can help! There are also free versions of graphic design services like Canva.com that are relatively easy to use.
Possible Committees for Your Group
Training Parent Leaders
As you dive into this section, you might be thinking “But I don’t know what a parent leader looks like!” Recruiting other parents to your cause is hard enough; how will you know how to find and cultivate leaders?
If that’s you, then take a deep breath – and look in the mirror. By reading this guide and building a parent network, you already are a leader. Start this process by asking yourself what drew you to this cause and what could get others to do the same.
Remember, the point of creating your group is to stand together with other people and doing so requires building real community and connections. When you do that, it’s easy to find out what other people are interested in and learn who wants to be a leader.
You as a parent don’t have to take on this fight alone. There are many national and state-based organizations and community groups that would make great partners for your efforts, and this section discusses how you can find and partner with them.
The first step is to do your research! If you’re starting from scratch, take a look at the list below, and make a list of other groups in your town and your state. Of course, you probably already have some groups to start with, even if you don’t realize it! Many people are members of civic organizations, churches, clubs, and so on. Even if you aren’t a member, maybe you’ve attended local events that these groups put on. You can start by making a list of all the groups that you belong to or know about and ask your members to do the same thing.
Here’s a list of some ideas and why these groups might be interested – but remember, it might not be comprehensive, or there might be some we list that turn out not to be good allies in your community. You know your community better than we do!
Keeping Your Group Growing and Strong
Elected officials ultimately often look to the input they receive from their constituents. More than most other issues, educational choice is an emotional and controversial policy area, and regardless of what party your representatives are in, what their public statements might be, or what their district looks like, you can expect that they will hear from opponents of educational choice loudly and often.
That is why it is so important to get the public engaged and involved in your group and to continue building it up throughout your fight. As we have discussed earlier, you can do this most effectively by reaching people where they’re at – speaking to the concerns that they have and using a message that resonates with people no matter how much they know about the issue or whether they agree with you on other issues.
As you continue to grow your group, consider taking the following steps and making the following materials to have on hand whenever you need them. Remember, this is something that you can work with IJ and other partners on, whether you need design help or the materials themselves.
What If You Can’t Organize in Person?
Throughout this guide, we’ve talked about remote alternatives to various activities and events. But each state and community is different. You might be reading this guide knowing that your state legislature will be having a shortened session or holding important meetings remotely – or maybe they’re meeting as normal but not allowing people to come in and meet with them in their offices. Maybe you have planned out a campaign, but now something has changed in your community, and it’s either not safe to meet or just isn’t practical.
Can you do all of this remotely? The short answer is yes!Although not every in-person event can be perfectly replicated online or over the phone, there are many tools to help. And you’re not alone – almost everybody is adapting to a digital world together. You can adapt, too.
What’s more, these tools will be useful in a variety of different situations. Maybe you live three hours away from your most active parent leaders. Maybe you have a head cold or bad allergies but don’t want to cancel a meeting that’s been on the calendar for weeks. Maybe one of your leaders wants to join an event but can’t get off work in time. You can navigate these everyday challenges just the same as the once-in-a-lifetime challenge of a pandemic.
Supporting Your Efforts
You might have noticed that a lot of what we’ve talked about so far is free – meeting in free meeting rooms, using online tools to connect with members, emailing or calling your state legislators, and so on. But other things, like getting t-shirts, printing materials, and getting to the state capitol cost money.
Raising money can be a challenge, and it is one where your fight will seem the most lopsided, because unions and other opponents are often well organized and start off with lots of money and resources already in hand. You will have to figure out how to pay for things that your group is doing that cost money.
For many people (maybe even you!), asking for money might sound like the biggest challenge yet, but you can overcome it too with just a few tips and tricks. Remember that you’re asking for a good cause, one that you believe in, and one that will make a difference for your children and children across the entire state. You are asking people to make an investment in everyone’s future.