Are you planning to launch a new Relational Organizing program to make a difference in your community? We’ve helped dozens of organizations across the country do just that and we have some advice for you: Don’t start with a “meeting”… start with a meal!
If your organization has a budget and is in a position to foot the bill, that’s great! If not, that’s okay too. Potlucks are a great way to keep costs down and they have a way of making everyone feel comfortable, even if they don’t know anyone there. I can’t remember your name, but I LOVED your potato salad!
Here’s a few more things we’ve learned over the years, helping numerous organizations launch their Relational Organizing programs.
Start with the food -- it’s a great way to set the mood
We know you’re excited. You just can’t wait to get a bunch of people in a room and start talking to them about changing the world.
But here’s the thing: no matter how passionate they are about your cause… if they aren’t comfortable at the intro meeting, they aren’t going to come back.
Give people a chance to eat and get to know each other before jumping into anything of substance. You can come up with some on-brand icebreakers and try to force people into talking about your issue. But in our experience, the best approach is to just let them ease in at their own speed.
Not sure if you should get nametags? If they work for your community, they are worth the $3 investment. If they feel forced, feel free to leave them in your bag.
Make sure your meeting is at least 90 minutes and while you can tell people they’ll have 30 minutes to eat, your actual agenda should recognize that they’ll probably need 45. Work it into your plans so you aren’t caught off guard.
Don’t go over time — people have appointments to get to, babysitters to relieve, and bus schedules to keep. Ninety minutes should be plenty of time for folks to eat, socialize and then for you to lay out your plans for next steps.
In our experience, this is a surefire way to ensure that everyone leaves happy, fed and ready for action.
There is no right way to name your event -- but fun is better than boring
If you invite people to a round-table discussion to further inspect the maintenance schedule of… whatever, don’t be surprised when no one shows up.
You name can be specific (Workers Unite) or general (Concerned Citizens Meeting).
But in our experience, fun is better than not fun. Keep it in mind before you start spreading the word.
Weekdays are fine -- weekends are better
Depending on the population you’re trying to organize, weekday meetings can be hard. People are busy. But honestly, they’re busy on the weekends too. So do what works best for your people.
That said, we highly recommend that weekday meetings happen over dinner, unless you know your audience tends to be freer during the day.
If you’re hosting on the weekend, lunch or dinner meetings can both work.
Host it someplace that enhances your organization’s mission
In our experience, nothing beats a house party. They’re overcrowded, there’s not enough room for everything in the fridge, the icemaker can’t keep up with demand so everyone’s drinks are room temp. It feels like home!
The goal here is not to impress people. It’s to make them feel comfortable. We’d rather be overcrowded in a small living room than super impressed by the fancy event space you rented out for the day. (Maybe that’s just us, but we don’t think so?)
That said, if there’s a community space available to you that is relevant to your brand, that can be a great option as well. A local community center, locally owned restaurant, a co-working space, a union’s HQ… so long as it feels on-brand with your organization’s goals, it works for us.
Let the meal serve as the example
You’re bringing people together to launch a Relational Organizing program. So use the meal as an example to help them understand what a successful Relational Organizing event can actually look like.
Organizing at its best is exponential. The more people involved, the more people you can bring into the cause, who can then turn around and keep the movement growing.
Help them understand just how simple a concept Relational Organizing actually is. They are living it in that moment.
We’ve found that simply giving voice to this concept can begin to demystify the concept of scary “organizing” for those new to the process.
Listen before you try and lead
You can’t lead a community if they don’t trust you. Relational Organizing is all about grassroots change. Listen to the people, consistently and persistently.
While we’re mentioning this one last, it should be retroactively applied to every item that preceded it.
Don’t pick a time and date to host your event. Ask your community what will work for them. Don’t pick a location, name your event or even set an agenda without getting buy-in from the very people you are trying to organize.
If you want the people to feel heard… listen to them!
These are some things we’ve found over the years, as we’ve helped launch RO programs across the country.
Now get out there and change the world!