Community and camaraderie add a lot of value to everyday life; in fact, nearly 60% of Americans participate in some sort of community organization. When members of a community face a common issue that affects all of them, they are primed to come together to push for a solution. This is the foundation of community organizing, and it’s a proven strategy for driving change.
Here’s an overview of community organizing and four strategies for community organizing that leaders can put to use today:
What is Community Organizing?
Community organizing is the process of mobilizing members of a community to gain power and enact change that benefits everyone within that community. Unlike distributed organizing (which relies on organizing across a wide geographic span), community organizing refers to action within a local community, like within a neighborhood, city, or county.
Community organizing emphasizes the power of everyday people to speak up and demand change. Throughout history, people have leveraged community organizing to enact change to expand city-wide policies, school district decisions, and more.
4 Strategies for Community Organizing
1. Segment your list
No matter how big or small the community is, organizers must prioritize contact management from the start. Community organizers can segment their list to section contacts into more manageable outreach targets based on the degrees of separation:
- Personal contacts — friends and family of community organizers
- Second-degree contacts — people that may be connected to the friends and family of community organizers but do not have a direct connection to the group yet
- Affiliated community — other groups in the community that could have an interest in the cause
Segmenting the outreach list will make it easier to curate messaging that best engages the recipient.
2. Leverage the power of relational organizing
One of the best strategies for community organizing is relational outreach. It takes some work to convince second-degree contacts and the affiliated community to start taking action, but leveraging authentic connections can make things much easier.
Relational organizing works by community organizers reaching out to those they know and inviting them to become involved. When those friends and family become involved, they can reach out to more people they know to get involved. In this way, the movement grows through existing and genuine relationships.
This method of outreach is much more effective than other traditional organizing methods. According to a study on relational organizing, organizers found that relational outreach made someone 6.5 times more likely to sign a petition and 8 times more likely to opt into an organizing event. Community organizers that live in close-knit communities will find that relational organizing is particularly valuable for building power!
3. Start recruiting volunteers with small and big asks
Community organizing relies on the commitment and contribution of volunteers. Unlike some forms of organizing that rely on a top-down model, community organizing centers on the voices of local community members.
Therefore, community organizing needs a strong foundation of solidarity and volunteer power. Start recruiting volunteers with tactics like:
- Encouraging them to join community events, where they can learn more about why they should volunteer
- Asking supporters to sign up for one (or more) canvassing shifts
- Prompting supporters to talk to at least five of their friends and family about the goals of the movement
Remember: the ultimate purpose of community organizing is to create structural change, but that shouldn’t stop the community from having fun! The more enjoyable volunteer events are, the more likely volunteers are to stay committed.
4. Make action accessible
Making action accessible and offering multiple ways for people to get involved ensures that more supporters can join the organizing effort. This is one of the most important strategies for community organizing!
Some people gain motivation and inspiration by talking to contacts face-to-face; prime opportunities for these volunteers are actions like door-to-door knocking or tabling. On the other hand, individuals who feel less comfortable with face-to-face conversations or have limited mobility can volunteer with phone banking or text banking.
By accommodating to the volunteers' strengths, community leaders will also have the chance to recognize individuals suited for leadership responsibilities. A scalable community organizing model relies on leadership structures within the community, so identifying those leaders is particularly important.
Ultimately, community organizing centers on authentic relationships that drive collective action. Try these four strategies for community organizing to empower and enrich your community.