Community Organizing: Principles and Strategies
A Guide to Community Organizing
Transformational movements are not defined by funding or logistics but by relationships. When communities work together, they can achieve incredible things and create solutions for those who need them. Effective community organizing creates change equal to more than the sum of its parts. At The Solutions Project, we believe in the power of people and the power to use community organizing tools to focus hearts and minds on the great problems facing us as a society. From building media capacity to awarding grants to grassroots power-building groups, we help inspirational community organizers to create lasting change.
What is Community Organizing?
The community organizing definition extends much further than a few neighbors getting together to lodge a petition. It binds people together regardless of their color, creed, or background in a shared analysis of the problems they face and with multi-solving plans to create the future they want. Bringing people together to achieve common ground in their interests and the wider world around them is easier said than done.
Chronically disinvested groups have relied on community organizing strategies for centuries to engage and empower people across communities to believe they can initiate change. From the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s lunch counter sit-ins and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, major victories were won for the civil rights movement of the 1960s through community organizing and non-violent direct action. The power of social organizing is undeniable. “Community Organizing” is not a buzzword. This is change.
How Can Community Organizing Help?
Follow the trail of failed movements throughout history, and it’s easy to fall into despair. Effective organizing strategies are not about turnout but the clarity of vision and a persistent drive for change. Expertly wielded community organizing tools lead to change, maybe not today, but over time they take root. We are firm believers in the power of community in:
- Exposing Policy and Social Issues – Communities are often unaware of the impact policies and social issues have on them even as they know all too well how to survive the poor conditions they live or work in. Organizers expose the failings of a broken system to mobilize community organizers to take action.
- Supporting Inclusivity – Power imbalances and the forces that want to maintain the status quo only help to divide and dilute the power of ordinary people. Be the change that makes the future by supporting inclusivity. From women of color to underrepresented groups, community activism empowers those who have been ignored and oppressed for the good of all.
- Changing the Future – Make your voice too loud to be ignored. From influencing elected leadership positions to pushing private businesses to take action, organizing now influences policy for the betterment of all.
The days of feeling helpless are over. Communities have all the tools necessary, just like authorities have the solutions to make society a more inclusive, kinder, and prosperous one for all. Lack of change is a failure to listen. A failure to plan. A failure to create a vision everyone can get behind. Social organizing is the machine that amplifies the most potent tool the public good or our movements or the climate justice movement has: you
What We Organize
Climate change is humanity’s greatest threat. What countries and corporations have made clear is that change will not happen of its own accord. Only through ordinary members of the community will action happen. At The Solutions Project, we embrace community organizing principles to support grassroots community groups across the United States. With an emphasis on giving a platform to those most often ignored, more than 90% of all our funding goes toward organizations led by women and other people of color. Here’s a few of our grantees:
- PUSH Buffalo: They’re making sure there are solar panels on affordable housing and training people in the community to install those panels
- Native Renewables: A grantee in the Navajo Nation in Arizona is empowering families to achieve energy independence.
- New Alpha Community Development Corporation: In South Carolina, a church is installing “hydropanels” that use solar panels to pull safe, clean drinking water from the air, in an area hit by storms that affect drinking water and electricity supplies.
We believe that for community organizing strategies to be effective, everyone must feel included. That means financially supporting those who have been traditionally marginalized and ignored. Only a unified front will be enough to tackle the global climate emergency and force change.
How We Organize
Grassroots groups have untold power, but they need to garner attention for their cause. In an era of 24/7 news cycles and social media trends, learning how to spark, ride or disrupt those cycles is key to reaching the people and major decision-makers necessary to grow, expand, and make an impact. The Solutions Project works directly with local groups at the forefront ofmovements across the country. We all have the same goal: to make a better world for us and the generations that come after. We support community organizers in getting the funding and help with logistics as their movement impact evolves. Our grassroots partners are often the backbones of their communities — always making a dollar out of 15 cents, solving many problems at once and responding when crises big and small strike. They don’t always have the energy or access to tell their stories of success in the media, so we provide the tools and technical assistance while helping them grow their own team and capacity for the long-haul.
Going Beyond to Support Our Community Partners
Kind, inspirational words or intentions are not enough. We believe in taking action that is accountable and has a lasting impact. Big aspirations are matched by practical steps to make plans happen. We go above and beyond in supporting local communities that are making a difference. From awarding grants to helping organizations build up their media capacities, we directly support our partner’s incredible results. Time is running out to confront the climate emergency. The time for talk is over and the time for action is here. The Solutions Project is committed to taking action today.
Community Organizing for Climate Justice
At The Solutions Project, we support these chronically ignored groups in gaining a voice and fighting back. Through the power of social organizing, the abuse is coming to an end. Ultimately, climate change is about so much more than reducing CO2 emissions. It’s about forging a brighter and better world for all. It’s a fight for justice. Only through communities mobilizing their collective strengths is this world achievable.
The warning lights for humanity are flashing brighter and louder than ever. This is the one issue that affects us all, no matter who we are or where we came from. Extreme weather, famine, and wildfires are just a few of the many consequences humanity will continue to face if action isn’t taken now.
It appears that our leaders aren’t listening. Large polluters seem unable to care. The solutions are there, yet we don’t invest in them. We are believers that change must come from the base level. Each of us are neighbors, voters and consumers who can force change within our lives. As the United States is one of the world’s biggest polluters, it’s up to us to be the difference. So, why do we get behind community organizing principles as the path for the greatest solutions?
The Climate Crisis
Our planet is our home now and in the future; we have no Plan B. While there’s much to be upset about, there’s also lots to be hopeful about. One look at the news cycles and the climate crisis always features somewhere. It’s the work of concerned citizens that means this emergency cannot be ignored any longer. Over generations, community organizers have forced people to listen. Investments in green technology have never been higher. Green political organizations have never done better. Governments are now talking about the existential threat facing us all. And all of this attention is thanks to grassroots organizations that have grown and found their voices.
We’re also firm believers in resistance. Indigenous groups who’ve been thrown off their land. Fresh, fertile lands are polluted by oil spills and deforestation. Corporations that blatantly violate existing environmental laws. These are the environmental justice issues threatening the livelihoods of underrepresented groups across the world.
Community Organizing Strategies: A Framework
Are you ready to support your fellow citizens but don’t know how to community organize? From the early shoots of the trade union movements to Black Lives Matter (BLM), all movements follow the same five basic steps for success. Unlock the potential of your local community with this framework for change.
Step One – Listen
It’s perfectly normal to have a cause in mind; climate change, social inequality, and gender equality are all righteous causes, but are you listening? Talk to people. Listen to their concerns. Never assume that you know the answers.
Meet them face-to-face and understand their pain points and what they want to achieve. Community champions must be an embodiment of the people they represent. Only by listening can you achieve that. While social media is a great way to meet these people, nothing beats meeting the people you represent in person and carefully listening to what they have to say.
Step Two – Set Your Goals
After meeting the people you represent, you must clarify your mission and its goals. What is this community going to fight for? This was the problem with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It had the numbers and media coverage, but what was it designed to achieve? Their goals were vague, and thus it quickly died as nothing but a tiny footnote in history. It went largely ignored after a few weeks and accomplished nothing. An end to corporate greed is an amiable goal, but it’s too broad of a goal to translate into real action and change.
An end to climate change is not specific enough. Think about the issues that impact your area the most. Is it a coal plant that should be closed? Do you want to stop an oil pipeline running through your region? These are the specific issues that community leaders must fight for.
Goals are multipurpose. There are internal goals and external goals:
- Internal Goals – These are the missions focused on your specific community. Reducing fossil fuels or kicking out heavy polluters are the internal goals relevant to your area.
- External Goals – Focus these goals on the wider world. Passing bills and changing environmental regulations would fall into this category.
Your group needs to have a firm purpose in mind at all times. You must have specific ideas in mind. There needs to be a threshold that defines success and failure.
Step Three – Create Action
Community organizing strategies must translate to action. At The Solutions Project, we are pragmatists, and we know that when words become action, real change happens. Create a blueprint for pushing change. It could include organizing rallies, communicating with lawmakers, and getting into the local news. This is why we focus so heavily on building a media capacity for community organizing nationwide.
Depending on how many members you have, choose the strategy that has the biggest impact. There are several community organizing tools for making this a reality, including peer-to-peer texting and patch through calling. Remember to communicate with natural allies. For example, groups fighting for equal and better pay are advised to collaborate with local trade unions. The right strategy for you depends on your situation and the needs of the local area. There are no silver bullets.
Step Four – Establish Local Leadership
No single organizer can manage a huge movement on their own. Inspirational leaders from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama always had local leaders to help project their messages. Work with the local leaders who will carry your flag. The BLM movement has several leaders nationwide organizing action in their respective cities. These are the grassroots volunteers who will put their heart and soul into initiating change. But how do you develop these local leaders?
- Ask supporters to sign a petition
- Transition them to sharing posts on social media
- Encourage them to campaign door to door
- Empower them to lead their own teams
- Elevate them to coordinate across cities and counties
Developing leaders never happens overnight. No matter how inspirational a leader you are, you must cultivate a support system pyramid.
Step Five – Mobilize for Action
The fifth and final step of successful social organizing is mobilizing in numbers for action. Every great campaign has created moments where massed citizens displayed their support for action. These moments attracted more citizens, media attention, and a gathering that no authority could ignore. You, too, must mobilize your people for action. Whether it’s a mass canvassing of a specific area or fighting a particular virulent lawmaker to change the rules and regulations, action is all about momentum. Be swift and be strong.
This also includes a digital marketing presence. Your own website and social media presence are essential. Bringing in passionate marketers and influencers are the seeds of what makes a local movement grow. Only with a mobilized base can a movement succeed. A single event can be ignored. Constant pressure can’t and means the issue must be confronted. Display the strength of support and passion around your cause. It’s the ultimate key for how to community organize successfully.
Overcoming Challenges in Community Organizing
Bringing together your community is rarely a straightforward process. There will be challenges and roadblocks along the way. It’s these obstacles that The Solutions Project aims to help overcome. So, what are the most common problems community champions face?
Building Your Base
If your organization is not experiencing regular and consistent growth, it’s already on the way out. Some people will move on, but this loss of people needs to be replaced quickly. One of the main community organizing principles is momentum. All movements rely on momentum to stay in the public eye and keep authority figures on the defensive.
You should always have a structure for recruiting new activists, which could include:
- Direct mail campaigns
- Email newsletters
- Phone banking
- Group meetings
Crucially, you must develop a recruitment chain. In other words, as you grow, others should be taking over the recruitment process. Levels of seniority in a grassroots organization work much the same way as a business. Construct this chain for a more efficient growth strategy.
Skill Gaps Within Your Movement
The beauty of a grassroots movement is that your supporters come from every background imaginable. Its weakness is that you may not always have the skills necessary to take action. Marching in a rally is one thing, but do you know how to run a sophisticated digital marketing campaign that’s going to elevate your movement above the self-interest of corporations and lawmakers?
There’s an art to sending a text or successful door-to-door canvassing. Our grants are designed to train activists in the skills they need to change the world. Begin by reflecting on the skills you have and the skills you need. There are workshops designed to equip your most passionate supporters with skills like:
- Recruitment Training – Building a base. Knowing how to speak to people and how to raise awareness of your cause and what you want to achieve.
- Leadership Training – Train the leaders of tomorrow and build the leadership committees that will allow your cause to make a real impact socially and politically.
- Technical Training – Understand how technology is used in grassroots-specific campaigns, such as mass texting and phone banking.
- Action Training – How will your members deal with counter-protests? How to maintain nonviolent protests? How will they handle potential high-stress situations if things escalate? Training courses like this provide the skills to deal with any situation that may arise.
Pledges of support are one thing. Encouraging people to depart from their busy schedules to join you in a day of action is quite another. Low turnouts are a chronic problem within community organizations. Ten people showing up to a protest is embarrassing and sullies the reputation of a movement that should be taken seriously.
Lack of motivation and a lack of faith are the root causes of movements that don’t take off. It underpins the necessity of building those personal, one-on-one relationships. It’s the essence of community and the spirit of your movement. Listen more and talk less. Make these people your friends. Establish strong bonds between activists and people who are more likely to actually show up to events. Even tactics as simple as calling the day before the event or sending a text confirmation can make all the difference.
Harnessing the Power of Data
The Solutions Project believes in the harmony of technology and the human spirit. Data is the fulcrum that turns an ordinary movement into an eye-catching campaign. Harnessing the strength inherent within data not only gives you insights into your movement and the people within it but it also gives you hard numbers to attract and satisfy stakeholders. Donors and supporters are the two pillars that hold up all community organizing strategies. Social proof is what keeps them loyal.
But how do you harvest the power of data? It all begins with leveraging the best tools. Social activism tools are rampant and track aspects of your campaign like:
- In-person interactions.
- Supporter follow-up calls.
- Interaction with digital media, such as newsletters, social media posts, and more.
- Text reminders before a major gathering, as well as responses to those text messages.
- Interactions on the day of the event. Did people show up? Did they bring signs? How many people did they bring with them?
- Actions at the event. These could include being on the frontlines, interactions with lawmakers or law enforcement, as well as any media coverage they garnered.
Data gives you the true reflection of how successful your movement has been and illuminates avenues for improvement. Don’t neglect the impact of modern technology in honing and sharpening your impact.
The greatest threat to community action is cynicism and the belief that these actions make no difference. The New Alpha Community Development Corporation is a perfect example of a locally grown movement that can succeed. Creating by and for low-to-moderate-income African Americans in Dillon County, South Carolina, they have achieved great things, including opening a solar farm. This movement is designed to put people over profit. As six million acres were burned from wildfires alone, this movement has shown itself as determined to fight the climate emergency threatening the world.
At The Solutions Project, we have fortified this movement to empower communities to fight for their freedom, their democracy, and their very lives. We are transferring wealth to black, immigrant, and indigenous communities who have so often felt powerless to stop their gradual destruction. What have we achieved through this community movement?
Case studies like these have led to a third of the entire U.S. population living in locations committed to achieving 100% renewable energy. Not only are organizations like this fighting the climate emergency on their doorsteps, but they’re also creating prosperity. Green energy is harnessing the power of technology to create jobs and eliminate poverty. They’re empowering the underprivileged to rise up and claim what’s owed. They’re helping their families to eliminate generations of poverty and suffering to create a better world.
With the help of The Solutions Project, we aim to provide the knowledge, expertise, and resources necessary for similar movements to spring up across the nation and make a lasting impact.
Community organizing is no easy task, and gathering people is not enough to acquire results. With targeted, well-resourced movements, ordinary people are taking control back into their communities and showing that a better world is possible. Become part of the change sweeping the nation and make a difference as we confront the major issues facing society now.
Provide. Grow. Amplify. Influence. Contact The Solutions Project and start making a difference within your community today.