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.

Having a good logo matters because you want people to recognize you and your cause at a glance – later on, when you show up to talk to legislators, you’ll want to fill the capitol building with a visual representation of how strong your cause is.

Your logo isn’t just for t-shirts. It can be used on a variety of materials like flyers, pens, and stickers, and it can be used as your letterhead. This helps people recognize your group out in public. Make sure to keep track of what you’re spending on these items, because costs can add up quickly.

Next, formalize your mission statement. Think back to the “Five Keys to Effective Organizing” – having and sticking to a clear mission is critical. Remember that you should have had a basic goal formulated as you recruited others, but now it is time to clearly outline what you want to accomplish. For the purposes of this guide, your mission is to enact an educational choice program – and you can be more specific about what that looks like in your state.

If your group is large, it might help to establish a leadership structure. Let people opt into roles they feel they will thrive in. They will be more likely to remain engaged if they are doing something they enjoy and excel at and if they have a title as they are doing it. This will also help take some of the pressure off your shoulders, so you’re not managing all of the group’s activities yourself. Leaders can include traditional positions like a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary, but may include others depending on the specifics of your campaign, like a recruitment coordinator, social media coordinator, or events coordinator.

You may also decide to establish committees. This is a great way to divide up work and make sure things get done in a timely fashion, and it will be another chance to let people do things they are good at and want to do. Whether you decide to set up formal committees or work with your leaders to get these things done without committees, you should keep the following activities in mind as you build out your group.

You might need:

  • A membership committee focuses on increasing your group’s members.
  • An outreach committee reaches out to other organizations and the general public to join your coalition. This committee should focus on increasing your number of public supporters.
  • A media committee could be led by your main spokesperson. This committee is in charge of things like making sure you monitor the news for articles about your issue and are ready to respond with letters to the editor or calling in to talk radio shows. This committee can work to make sure your members stay on message and work on developing relationships with reporters who are covering your issue. IJ can help! We can work with your committee to establish a media plan for your group.
  • An events committee organizes events that recruit new members and help raise awareness about your cause.
  • A fundraising committee raises money for the group. Depending on what strategies you utilize, costs can add up, and having your leaders pitch in to help find ways to pay for things can be helpful.
  • A legislative committee is on point for lobbying efforts and executing your campaign strategy. They should get to know the elected officials, attempt to develop relationships with key staff, and ensure the group is on track to accomplish your legislative goals.

Also, develop a good way to stay in touch. At your first meeting, establish the best way to stay in regular contact with your core group of activists. This may be through email, phone, or regular meetings. Consider getting your group to download a chat application on their phones, like WhatsApp or GroupMe. WhatsApp is our favorite because it doesn’t use the phone’s cellular network or data to send SMS messages; it uses the internet to connect to anyone whose phone number is registered in the phone’s address book. WhatsApp can be used for texting, multimedia messages, voice messages, and group chats. It even has a web version, so you can use your computer to send a lot of text messages quickly.

Maintain an email list of your current members and future supporters. You can set up your own email address through a service like Gmail and keep the signup list yourself in a spreadsheet.  For example, you could register ParentsForEdChoice@gmail.com, and communicate with your members through that account. Make sure to ask your members whether they would prefer to be BCC’d (so people cannot reply-all) or CC’d (so members can communicate directly with one another).  Smaller committees working on joint projects would likely prefer to be CC’d, but your larger list will probably want to be BCC’d.

If most of your members are not online, a phone tree can work wonders. Be sure to get everyone’s phone number at your first meeting and every time you recruit a new member. Create a phone tree that has each member calling or texting two or more people to let them know about upcoming events, urgent action that needs to be taken, etc. If your group is smaller, someone from the group can volunteer to make all the phone calls. Print the phone tree out for your members at each meeting and keep it regularly updated.

If you end up with thousands of members in your group and need better technology support to email and text your members, contact IJ and we can help you identify an easy solution.

The most important thing is to keep track of all sign-up information, whether you collected it online, in person, at events, or somewhere else. You may also decide to divide your list, at least between your core parent activists and the rest of your supporters, because you may be emailing them about different things.

Elsewhere in this guide, we will discuss in more detail the types of materials and handouts your group can create, but before you start anything else, make sure you have a name, a logo, and a list keeping track of everyone you bring into your network.

A final note: Should you incorporate legally?

Some groups incorporate under state law, while others stay completely informal. There’s no hard and fast rule determining what you should do because each situation and its needs are unique. You might also be wondering if you should apply for a tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit charitable organization. A tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization may make donations tax-deductible under federal law and can provide other advantages, but this type of exemption will place certain limits on your group’s ability to lobby for legislative reform – which is a key function of your group. It’s also very time-intensive and requires a lot of paperwork. If you register as a 501(c)(4) and start carrying out activities, that might place limits on how other groups can work with you. Before you start pursuing options, it is a good idea to speak with someone knowledgeable on the issue. Each of these introduces another layer of formality that you should be aware of before either incorporating or filing for a tax exemption.

Have questions or need assistance? We are here to help! Contact us at activism@ij.org. 

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.

As you know, parents are some of the busiest people on the planet. From getting their kids to school and going to work to making sure bills are paid and the kids are fed, parents have a lot of responsibility. Many of the parents who you will be working with are struggling to get by financially. There are very good reasons why not every parent can be or will want to be a parent leader. That’s okay! You want parents to fill the roles that best suit them, and there is always something, big or small, for them to do.

It will be easy to start spotting the parent leaders. They will be the ones who are there early to help set up and stay after the meeting to help clean up. They are the ones who ask how they can help before you ask them.

As you move past your first meetings, calls to your parent leaders should be the first phone calls you make if you are unable to attend a meeting or hearing, because you know they will drop what they are doing to take your place – and you’re comfortable with them representing the group. These select parents view this program as a priority in their life as much as you do, and other parents will look to them for guidance. Their main job is to recruit, mobilize other parents, and share their stories.

You probably already know who the leaders will be – share this guide with them! It’s a good idea to get together as a smaller group to discuss their respective roles and interests, and you can discuss this guide. Learning tips and tricks from people who have done it before is one of the most important ways to ensure success. IJ and our allies can help with parent leadership training by joining you in person or by video conference to lead sessions teaching new members of your group how to be well-prepared activists.

When you get together with your leaders, you can talk about how to share your story with strangers or the media, how to provide testimony, and other strategies detailed in this guide. Each parent leader should be ready to tell their story and answer hard questions. The goal of these efforts is to give parent leaders the confidence to be representatives of the program in any situation. One day, the parent is in the grocery store, meets a family, invites them to an event, and that family becomes part of the network. The next day, the parent leader is meeting with a legislator and able to effectively share their support for the program.

Your core group of leaders will need to be ready to motivate the other parents who are not able to give as much time, so it is a good idea to keep them motivated. Find out what they like to do most – and what they’re really good at.

If one of your leaders is more outspoken, let them focus on public speaking; if a leader is tech-savvy, let them lead your social media or build a website; if a member is organized and creative, let them take over event planning. But don’t just assume you know what people enjoy – make sure to ask! Be careful not to take anyone’s time for granted, no matter how motivated or energized they are. They should know how much you value them. Even a simple thank you note for their time is a meaningful gesture.

Also, make sure to enlist your parent leaders to communicate with other parents in the network. Some parents may need occasional personal phone calls or texts to remain engaged and excited about this effort.

Ultimately, parent leaders will be doing exactly what you did to find them: becoming visible in the community, identifying people who are supportive and could contribute their time to the campaign, and then helping those people learn to speak out in support of the cause.

Have questions or need assistance? We are here to help! Contact us at activism@ij.org. 

Finding Partners

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!

  • Community development organizations, like your local or state Chambers of Commerce, are concerned with growing the economy and bringing new business – having a solid foundation of education is a starting point for a lot of their efforts!
  • Civic clubs like Rotary and Civitan might avoid politics, but their members are involved in the community and care about its future – and you might be able to speak at regular meetings and recruit new members.
  • Local philanthropy and charitable organizations that give grant funds to other local groups or individuals often focus on things like early childhood education and have leaders and members who care deeply about improving education.
  • Community watch groups, many of which are organized on Facebook, are made up of some of the most active and dedicated members of your community. Many of them are trying to make things better already, and they might jump on the chance to join your group and share information about your cause.
  • Church groups are often very involved in the community already, through things like food giveaways and local festivals. Many of them might be interested in teaming up to help spread the word.

If you don’t know where to start or don’t know anybody who is involved in a group like these, you can start by doing some homework ahead of time. Even if you do have a connection at a group, it’s always a good idea to then go to each of their websites (if possible) and see if they talk about educational issues. You can also try searching local and state news websites for their name plus terms related to educational choice. You should search several terms, like “school choice” and “education policy in (your state)” to see if groups have taken a position on educational bills or issues lately. Knowing what might motivate them to partner with you will make your chances better when you approach them. Remember that everyone cares about this issue for different reasons.

It’s always better, if possible, to reach out to a new potential partner through a personal connection such as a member who you know or someone who you have a connection with. If you don’t know anyone at the organization you are reaching out to, try to find the person on their staff page whose role seems relevant to your cause (for instance, someone in charge of community outreach or education). If that fails, you can send it to the general inbox (through a contact@ or info@ email address). After the email, you should follow up with a phone call after two or three business days if you haven’t gotten a reply. Don’t feel bad about being persistent (but respectful!) – people are busy, and sometimes you have to work to get someone’s attention.

Your pitch should be as short as possible without leaving out important information. Start with an introduction of who you are, then make your ask – it’s best to keep it to one “ask” per email. Then explain why it’s worthwhile for the organization to join your efforts.

Pitch Example 1:

“Hi Mr. Smith,

My name is Jane, and I’m a mom here in Jackson who wants a better education for my two children, Jack and Jill. The public school system in Jackson is failing my children. I know that the Jackson Chamber of Commerce prioritizes building a strong workforce, and that’s not happening in many of our schools. My son struggles with dyslexia and my daughter is bored all day because the work is too easy. I know they have amazing potential but can’t reach it if their schools keep failing them. I can’t afford private school tuition for one, much less both of my children, so that’s why I’m working to pass the Empower Scholarship Program to help me get them more choices. Can we please schedule a phone call to talk about whether the Chamber would be interested in joining our upcoming event about how this program would help build a strong workforce?

Sincerely,

Jane”

Pitch Example 2:

“Dr. Jones:

My name is Jane, and I’m a mom here in Wichita who wants a better education for my two children, Jack and Jill. I’ve joined with 100 other parents who are working to pass a scholarship program so that our children can attend a school that works best for them.

The public school system isn’t working for every family, and my children started to struggle as soon as they started kindergarten. I know that Wichita Community Group focuses a lot on making sure our children get a strong early education, and that’s just not happening in many of our schools. My children have amazing potential but can’t reach it if their schools keep failing them, and I can’t afford private school tuition for one, much less both of my children. That’s why this program is so important to our community.

Can we please schedule a phone call to talk about whether your organization would be interested in joining an upcoming forum we’re hosting on early childhood education?

Sincerely,

Jane”

You don’t have to reach out via email, of course. There are many ways to connect with community leaders and organizations that you might want to partner with. Maybe you attend an event and stay afterward to talk to the organizers. Maybe you call their office directly and introduce yourself (but make sure to know what you want to ask them before you pick up the phone!) Be creative and work with your fellow parent leaders, and you’ll have the best chance of building a strong coalition of partners.

National allies 

There are national organizations that are dedicated to this cause and eager to help. Your group can and should use the resources and expertise that are available as much as possible. The list of groups that either advocate for educational choice or who can offer resources in your fight includes:

  • Institute for Justice
    IJ’s activism team is here to help you with grassroots organizing, as we have done for thousands of activists nationwide. IJ’s attorneys regularly help legislators and policymakers ensure that educational choice programs are legally sound, and IJ intervenes in legal challenges to such programs to defend parents’ right to direct the education and upbringing of their children.
  • EdChoice
    EdChoice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization located in Indiana that’s dedicated to advancing a K-12 education system where all families, regardless of race, origin, or family income, are free to choose a learning environment that works best for their children. EdChoice provides research and countless resources on programs across the 50 states and D.C.
  • National School Choice Week
    National School Choice Week is an independent, public awareness effort designed to inform and empower families about educational options that are available to them. They can provide funding and support for events in your community during National School Choice Week, which happens each year at the end of January.
  • American Federation for Children
    The American Federation for Children is based in Washington, D.C., and supports educational choice by working in states across America to empower families, especially lower-income families, with the freedom to choose the best K-12 education for their children. AFC lobbies in state capitols and produces educational materials to share the importance of educational choice.
  • ExcelinEd
    ExcelinEd is based in Florida and supports state leaders nationwide in transforming education to unlock opportunity and lifelong success for each and every child, including by partnering with advocates in states as they work to pass educational choice, and teaching lawmakers and the public about why it is important to allow families more educational options for their children.
  • State Policy Network
    SPN is a network of state-based organizations all across the country that work on a variety of issues. Most of these state-based groups will agree with you on the need for greater educational choice and will be able to help with things like events and contacting the state legislature.

In addition to national organizations, there are many state-based groups who would like to partner with you, and IJ or State Policy Network can connect you with them.

When you’re just getting started, you don’t need to reach out to each group listed above – but they can all be valuable partners, helping support you as you work to get a program passed in your state. IJ is happy to make introductions for you with these and other organizations.

Here are ways outside organizations may be able to support your efforts:

  1. Share online details about your efforts to increase recruitment.
  2. Share details of your events with their supporters to increase attendance.
  3. Sign a coalition letter.
  4. Write an op-ed with you and help you get it published.
  5. Give advice on which legislators could champion your bill.
  6. Send a representative to speak at your event.
  7. Provide expert testimony to your legislature.
  8. Help create a video for you to use about your efforts.
  9. Partner with you for an event in your area.

This list above just names some examples – it is possible that an organization can get far more involved in helping your efforts or be able to provide help that isn’t listed here. There are many potential partners who are eager to help as you build your organization!

Have questions or need assistance? We are here to help! Contact us at activism@ij.org. 

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.

  • A Simple, Eye-Catching Flyer. This is the first thing your organization should create. The core team can distribute these to the general public and provide allies with stacks to distribute to their members. You want to hand these out at every possible opportunity. Give them to supportive local businesses to keep at their cash registers, distribute them at events or from your own business, and even use them to go door-to-door. The flyer does not need to be overly designed and complicated to be impactful. In fact, you should limit the amount of text that you include on the flyer. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience with too much information. Stick to the basic facts. Your call-to-action should be the boldest text on the flyer. Include your logo and your organization’s website if you have one, as well as any social media information.
  • Postcards. These are smaller, more expensive versions of the flyers described above, and they have two main purposes: The first is to mail a lot of them out to recruit new people into your group, and the second is to mail them to legislators and encourage them to vote on a bill. IJ can help you find the right time and target for each kind of mailing! You will want to get someone to design something that “pops” in the mail, because the goal is for them to be eye-catching and easy to distribute, especially if you plan to do a mailing. These should have even less information on them than the flyers, and they should prominently display your organization’s logo and social media handles.
  • Petitions. If you are thinking about circulating a petition, you should first consider the reasons a petition should be used. You may have only one chance to gather a large number of signatures, so you need to have a specific goal in mind. The best use of petitions is to gather and show large support for your cause, as well as to get information from new supporters! We aren’t talking about formal, legally binding petitions that try to get something on the ballot – those kinds are incredibly difficult and time-consuming, and usually it’s best to focus your efforts on the legislature. If you are interested in a formal petition, always talk to an election law attorney before doing anything.
  • Social Media/Website. We have already covered social media at length in previous sections, but it’s worth repeating here: An active group should probably have an active Facebook page that you update regularly. You can also have a website – and definitely should consider it if most of your members are not on social media! Whatever you have, make sure to link it on everything you make – whether that’s flyers, postcards, balloons, stickers, bumper stickers, or even t-shirts. Make it as easy as possible for people who are curious and want to find out more!   (You might think building a website is something you have to pay for, or at least know how to write code and design. But it can be a lot easier than that! Websites like WordPress and SquareSpace offer low- or no-cost options for building a basic website – even if you don’t know anything about web design. They have step-by-step instructions for putting together your website, or you can reach out to IJ. We’re happy to help!)
  • Hang Signs (Where Legal). Always make sure you’re obeying the law when hanging signs on public and private property. You might post flyers on bulletin boards at grocery stores, staple them to trees, or tape them to light posts and at bus stops, taking every opportunity to talk with and sign up new members as you do so.
  • Have Current Members Recruit Others. Your current members are involved because they care about the issue, and they probably know others who do too! You should ask each current member to recruit one or two additional supporters to come to your next meeting, ask them to sign up their neighbors on your petition, or direct them to your Facebook page. Your numbers will grow exponentially.
  • Go to Potential New Members Where They Are. It is helpful to attend other group meetings, fairs and festivals, and community events. When appropriate, you can distribute flyers and conduct giveaways, but remember that people put in a lot of hard work putting together events, and you should be respectful and never disruptive!
  • Go Door-Knocking. Sometimes it takes boots-on-the-ground work to get the job done. You should plan to hit the streets and a sign-up form at some point. You can order door hangers online that you can print on a regular printer. These have just a few sentences about your fight, a link to your online presence (website or social media), and your contact information to leave behind when people don’t answer the door. These conversations will be no different than ones you have when signing people up at events, so don’t be nervous! Do take extra precautions like going in pairs and respecting people’s personal space – and never knock after dark.
  • Develop Relationships. Don’t underestimate the value of individual one-on-one recruitment. The investment you spend developing a relationship with one activist could end up having more value than a cursory conversation you had with ten.

More public recruitment strategies are listed in “Time to Make Some Noise.” However you recruit, always make sure to promptly follow up and sincerely thank your new friends for their support.

Keeping members engaged

Everyone leads busy lives, and the members of your group (and you!) have families to care for, so sometimes your campaign will take a backseat to busy, everyday life.

The most important way to keep members engaged is to only mobilize when you need to – if you are constantly asking members to take off work for this or that “urgent” meeting, you can make them burn out or lose interest when a truly urgent need comes along. Only have meetings when you have something to say (the Mister Ed rule!) and opt for conference phone calls if possible. Take notes at your meetings and circulate them to the group, if possible, so people who are unable to attend can stay engaged.

The main goal is to make it easy for people to participate. Consider piggy-backing on already existing events like back-to-school fairs, after-school parties, and other community events that your target audience would be attending anyway. This limits the amount of time and resources needed, and attendees are able to get multiple things done at once.

And remember to socialize when possible and welcome newcomers! You don’t want this campaign to be draining – you want it to be fun and as welcoming as possible. It’s much more fun to fight alongside friends! Don’t forget to celebrate small wins. If your group reaches a certain number of members or your bill passes through a committee, celebrate together.

Have questions or need assistance? We are here to help! Contact us at activism@ij.org. 

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.

Before we start this section, we should discuss the most important rule for organizing in a pandemic:

Everyone must assess their own risks, and no one should be pressured to do something they’re not comfortable with.

At some point, depending on your state, it is possible that you as an organizer might be eager to go back to in-person events. You’ll take the first chance at a lobbying day; you’ll leap at the opportunity to go canvassing. Or maybe you’re not so sure. Remember that only you know what you’re comfortable with – and the same is true for your members.

What might seem like an acceptable risk for you might be way too far for one of your best leaders because of pre-existing health conditions they haven’t told you about. You might be eager to go rally on the steps of the capitol, but one of your leaders might have lost a family member and isn’t sure how to tell you that they are too worried to join a crowd, even if cases are very low in your area.

In ordinary times, effective organizing requires persistent, polite pressure to keep people involved. In a pandemic, you will have to substitute pressure with options. If someone doesn’t respond or is hesitant to commit, offer a remote opportunity – never pressure.

If some of your members decide to meet in person since cases are going down, then make sure to offer a way for others to dial into the meeting – never pester people to come join you if they don’t want to. If some leaders go to the capitol in person to talk to legislators, get written stories ahead of time from others who can’t attend – don’t ask them again if they’re sure they won’t make it. Most parents want the best for their children and will make any sacrifice to get it. You must never make parents feel like their only options for helping their children are things they aren’t comfortable doing. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

The most important thing to remember is the original purpose of why you’re doing events, whether virtual or in-person. You’re doing them to accomplish a certain goal – whether that’s recruiting new leaders, learning how to be good advocates, or lobbying your legislators to enact change.

It might be more challenging to find new ways to hold these events, but it’s possible if you keep your purpose in mind. It might help to think about this in terms of the table below – then, draw your own based on your specific, tangible goals – and the activities you are going to do to accomplish them.

What is your in-person version of each event, and what is the remote one you can plan?

Goal: Recruiting and Training Leaders in Your NetworkGoal: Urging Legislators to Pass a Choice Program
In-Person Recruiting/
Engagement
Remote Recruiting/
Engagement
In-Person Lobbying/
Activism
Remote Lobbying/
Activism
Visiting events to sign up parentsTargeted ads;
calling community leaders
Visiting legislators in their officesEmail and phone drives to legislators
Holding training events and partiesHosting training webinars“Call days” with
parent activists
Phone call drives over video chat
Meeting with
leaders one-on-one
Hosting small focus groups on video chatEvents, rallies, and capitol days“Going viral”
with social media
campaigns
Building relationships in personHosting community-building events onlineMedia training/in-person interviews“Share Your Story” video
campaigns

Below, we’ve outlined a few of the main options that you have for remote organizing, and the situations when you might use them to replace an in-person event with the same goal – you might also plan for both, so that parents who are not comfortable attending in person have a way to stay involved, and you have a quick alternative to your event if something changes and you are no longer able to hold it in person.

Social Media

You might use social media to replace (or complement) recruiting events, social activities for the network, and connecting with new members. Social media can also be used effectively to make legislators pay attention to your cause – whether that’s tagging them in a photo or video campaign sharing your stories, commenting on their official pages asking for more choice, or voting in polls they host. The rules we discussed before about exercising good will and good judgement still apply here.

Facebook has many advertising tools available, and when used correctly, they can be very effective at reaching new people who are likely to be interested in your organization. As we’ve mentioned, IJ can help your group learn how to use advertising to reach out to people you don’t know and recruit them to join your network. The most important thing for you and your fellow leaders to remember is that once someone joins remotely, the importance of being in touch and getting to know them quickly is even more important – you don’t want to wait longer than a day to reach out with an email or phone call to any new members who signed up.

Video Chats

Once people have signed up to your group, you might use video chats to replace (or complement) a training meeting, an organizing meeting, an educational event or a guest speaker, or an informal get-together. You might also have the opportunity to connect with elected officials through a video meeting.

As we discussed earlier, there are many different programs to use for video chatting, including ZoomSkype, Google Hangouts, and even Facebook. Zoom is probably the one you’re most familiar with, but you can use whatever platform you and your members prefer. The basics of each program are pretty similar, but it never hurts to go to the website of the program you’re using, copy down some basic step-by-step instructions, and save them in a file on your computer that you can send to attendees before every event.

What do you need to run a successful video chat meeting? In many ways, it’s very similar to the kinds of things you should keep in mind when running an in-person event. Instead of checking if your microphone is loud enough and everyone can hear you in the room, you’ll make sure that you have working earphones and that everyone in the virtual room can hear you. Instead of making sure the lighting on stage is just right, make sure you sit facing a window so that you are well-lit and everyone can see your smiling face when they log in.

One thing that is especially important when running a virtual meeting – let’s say to train new parent leaders on how to talk to the media – is to make sure that everyone who logged in is engaged and interacting as much as possible. It can be especially hard to pay attention during a virtual meeting, so you want to make sure your attendees aren’t just idly listening while checking emails or catching up on work.

One way to do this is to have a full list of attendees that you printed out or have pulled up in a file on your computer. Make sure to call on each person by name at least once during each meeting. This doesn’t need to be aggressive; it can be as simple as “Kyndra, how was your afternoon?” or “Tom, did you get a chance to read the article I sent last week?” When you’re learning new skills, you can ask each attendee to practice something or share their thoughts.

Especially if your attendees are shy, you can encourage them to use the chat feature on the video software to type out questions or feedback. Then, you can refer to their questions (“Sandra just asked a great question I want to answer”) and make sure people aren’t afraid to speak up and interrupt. Having icebreakers, either at the beginning of your meeting or as you’re transitioning into the next part of it, can be a huge help as well! Maybe you can ask everyone to introduce themselves and tell you about a TV show they’ve been watching lately, or what their favorite dinner was this week. Your job is not just to share the information you set out to share – but make sure that your attendees feel welcomed and comfortable participating.

Email, Phone Calls, and Texts:

If you’ve read previous sections, you know that you can use email or text messages to alert your members when they need to call their state representative or show up for an event.

But don’t forget that these tools can be used for personal outreach as well. In a remote environment, that is one of the most important things to focus on. We might not think of a phone call or text message as technology that helps us adapt, since we’re all used to using it every day – but it can help in many ways.

When it comes to your existing members, that might mean putting a calendar reminder for yourself to send a quick text checking in with all your parent leaders once a week, or setting aside time to do phone calls with some members who might be older and not as comfortable using technology like Zoom or Facebook.

Don’t forget the value of a phone call to introduce yourself to community leaders, heads of private schools and PTAs, and other people who are connected to the communities that you are reaching out to. You might not be able to visit schools to recruit new parents for your organization, but you could find a time to have a phone call with PTA leaders who can talk to people who trust them and recruit others to your organization.

When it comes time to activate your network to lobby your state representatives or state senators, you might help members of your network know what to say when they call their state legislators ahead of an important vote. Sometimes, it’s easier to make these calls as a big group so that people who are new and a little nervous can support each other – and you can support each other over video chat even if you can’t all be in the same room together.

It is always good practice to write down a plan before you start putting together events – what do you want to do this month? What about next? What are the main goals for each event? When you have the answers to these questions, it will be easier to find ways to replace an in-person event with its digital counterpart. Remember that all of the events we’ve discussed so far are just tools to achieve your goals – and you can still achieve great things even if you have to use slightly different tools.

Remember, you’re not alone! IJ is here to help if you have an event planned and aren’t sure how to use a particular type of technology – or even which one to pick in the first place.

Have questions or need assistance? We are here to help! Contact us at activism@ij.org. 

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.

The best way to look at fundraising is to keep in mind that funding comes in three different forms: cash, time, or service. While lower-income families or local organizations may not be able to contribute much in the way of a cash donation, they can offer to knock on doors with you, lend you their space for a meeting, donate cookies for a meeting, or print flyers for you for free. Also, take advantage of the free community spaces and events in your area so to lower your expenses. Libraries are fantastic places to host events and have tons of resources for you that are free or low cost.

Events can be successful fundraisers and will also help you raise awareness about your cause and recruit the public. You can solicit financial support by requesting donations to auction or raffle (if your state law allows it). You can also design and sell t-shirts with your logo on them. This will not only generate revenue but also get the word out about your cause.

If you are going to be asking for cash to support your cause, first make sure that you are clear on all legal limitations – which might be different depending on how you have formed your group. Make sure to be as transparent as possible from day one. Even if you only expect to have a little bit of money involved, it’s a good idea to have a bank account under your group’s name with multiple people keeping track of what is being raised and spent – it’s generally a bad idea to have any money for the group going in or out of your own personal bank account.

You can ask supporters for in-kind contributions, too! Business owners can donate things like office supplies, photocopies, use of computers and printers, and so on. You can ask local printers for discounts on t-shirts and handouts. Success will come from being creative!

Activists have held bake sales, car washes, dinners, and other social events. While these help bring attention to your campaign, they are not usually big sources of funds. Some activists have “passed the hat” at community affairs, places of worship (with permission, of course) and town halls. You could also sell advertising on your website and flyers. Of course, others have successfully identified high-income individuals who care about the cause and can write bigger checks to support it.

Finally, a note of caution. No matter the size of your donor, set polite but firm guidelines on what donors can ask of your group, set them early, and stick to them. If someone promises to write a big check, but only if you take a position that your group disagrees with, you need to be ready and willing to say “no.” Your cause can succeed only with integrity, and once lost, it is hard to get back.