Finding Participants

—    


For most people, finding participants is the hardest part of organizing. But we are confident you can do this, especially if you start small.

Find an Organizing Partner 

To start out, try to find an Organizing Partner, one other person in your community who is also excited about this idea. Once you have a team of two, the rest of the organizing will be easier and more fun. Think about who might make a good partner.  You’ll want to find someone is also excited about this idea and will make the commitment to move things forward with you.

Communication

In all of your organizing, including your outreach to find an Organizing Partner, you will be called upon to communicate about Resilience Circles. Circles cover a lot of ground—they are a rich experience where relationships deepen and people re-learn the practice of mutual aid; they address both ecological and economic concerns; and they tap into a vision of a new, fair economy in harmony with the planet. This can be hard to get into a sound bite.

To get a handle on communicating, think about what attracted you to this idea. Why do you want to form a Resilience Circle or other small group? How do you think it will help your community, your family, or your own situation? What do you hope to gain?

Growing Your Group through Relationships and Conversations

The best way to form a Circle is by reaching out to people who you, or your Organizing Partner, already has some connection to. If you currently aren’t connected to many folks, you can try to expand your network through Base Communities and the Linking Method (see below).

Once you a part of a network of folks, you can build up your small group by discussing your ideas with others in “one-to-one” conversations.  Labor and community organizers have been using this practice for generations. In a one-to-one, you authentically share your story with another person and listen to theirs. Based on your commonalities, you invite the person to work together; i.e., in this case, to join or form a Resilience Circle together.

You may be able to use this form of conversation spontaneously. Perhaps someone will off-handedly mention their frustrations (i.e., with potholes in the roads, fears about their kids’ student debt load, etc.). You can take the opportunity to ask more questions and make your call to action (“I’m forming a neighborhood group, you should join me” or “I’m forming a group to talk about our economic concerns”).

If you’re serious about forming a small group, however, you will probably need to be more deliberate. An easy way to get started is to invite someone you already know to meet with you for about a half hour at a neutral public site, like a coffee shop or a park. Our culture can be suspicious of open-ended agendas, and you don’t want people to think you’re starting an Amway business. So go ahead and be clear about what you want. For example, you could say, “I’m forming a small group for mutual support, and I’d like to have your input,” or “I’m concerned about [our schools] and want to hear your concerns too,” or “I think that a lot of people are struggling with economic stress alone, and I want to ask you what we might do to support each other.” If the person wants to talk then and there, be sure to set aside enough time for a focused conversation.

The important thing is to make a friendly, honest invitation that fits your own interests and values. Not everyone will say yes, but some will—and each new invitation builds your skills and confidence. 

Structure of a One-to-One

One-on-ones often follow this four-step outline, but each conversation will be unique.

1. Tell your story. Think this over. Why are you committed to social change, building community or organizing a small group? How do you think it will help your community, your family, or your own situation? What do you hope to gain? 

2. Listen. Turn to the other person and ask open-ended questions, such as “What brought you to this neighborhood? What are your struggles or concerns? What events in your life changed you and shaped your choices? Who helped you along the way? What do you think are the biggest problems this community is facing right now?” 

3. Identify your common concerns. The good news is that you are likely to find some common ground with the person. After a few minutes of deep listening, you can say something like: “It seems we’re both concerned about [unemployment in our town, our schools, access to clean water, access to health care, making new friends, our kids’ futures, climate change, etc.]. Maybe we can work together, and find other people who share our values and concerns.”

4. Here is how we can work together: _____. At this point, you might say, “I want to form a group and we want to have a nucleus of good people who care. Are you open to an invitation to attend a first meeting?”

Experiencing Push-Back

One-to-ones can feel risky. People are likely to look at you a little funny when you issue an invitation to have a chat.

Furthermore, no one likes to experience rejection, and unfortunately you aren’t likely to hear an enthusiastic “Yes, I’ll join you!” at the end of every conversation. It’s best to prepare for a range of responses. No matter how skilled you are as an organizer, some people will say “No” to your call to action. Some will say “Maybe” (which generally means “No”). Some will say “Yes,” but won’t show up. Some will say “Yes,” show up, and then drop out. Some will say “No” today, and “Yes” later. And luckily, some will say “Yes” and become valuable contributors.

However, building relationships through conversations is the best way to build up a small group. It’s also imperative for building community and for social change generally. For more reflections on relationship building and social change, click here.

Growing Your Group through Networks and Publicity

In addition to one-to-one conversations, here are some tips for growing your group.

Tip 1: Use Existing Networks as “Base Communities.” Perhaps you or your Organizing Partner is already part of a congregation, neighborhood association, or other group that can serve as a “base community.” That’s great. Our experience suggests that it’s helpful to base your organizing in such a network, even though you will also reach beyond it for participants. But if at least some members of the circle know each other from the outset, this gives the group “glue” to help it stick together over a longer term. Another benefit is that a base community might be able to provide space for your meetings.

If you’re not part of a base network, you might consider reaching out to one, or even joining one. Some good possibilities are: congregations (churches, synagogues); community organizations like Neighborhood Development Corporations, housing counseling organizations, organizations for parents, or the YMCA or YWCA; neighborhood associations; local environmental action groups; unions; book clubs; Transition Initiatives; Time Banks; and social action campaigns.

Think about how a Resilience Circle might connect to the interests and goals of these communities. Before you reach out, prepare to explain the benefits of basing a Resilience Circle in their community, such as potentially attracting new members to the congregation or network. Resilience Circles are also a great way to deepen relationships among people who already know each other, since the circle will help folks share topics that are usually difficult to address.

Tip 2: Use the “Linking” Method. A complementary strategy is what we call the “linking” method.  Here, you and your Organizing Partner identify one or two other people who are also excited about forming a Resilience Circle. In turn, each of you invites two or three more people to an Introductory Session. In this way, your team builds linked relationships among participants at your introductory event, so each person feels some connection to the group from the outset.

Tip 3: Think About What to Call Your Circle. A key question to consider is what you will call your group. Think about what will attract the most people to your group, and/or think about the audience you are trying to reach. We primarily use the name “Resilience Circles,” and we find this name works especially well for people who are concerned about the earth and ecological threats to our security. Many groups also use the name “Common Security Clubs,” which evokes the importance of creating shared economic and personal security together.  Other groups have used names such as Resource Sharing Groups, Neighbor Groups, Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Worker Groups, and Economic Security Circles.

Tip 4: Publicize. Base communities and the linking method are the best way to attract participants who will join your Resilience Circle. But don’t neglect basic publicity. Once you have scheduled an Introductory Session, put up flyers and post an announcement on online calendars in your community. Consider creating a Facebook or a MeetUp event. Use the sample materials below. And lastly, don’t forget to tell us at the Resilience Circle Network so we can publicize for you.

Visit the section on Communication Resources to browse materials developed by facilitators for specific audiences, such as leaders of Transition Initiatives, Unitarian Universalists, Roman Catholics, and others. If you develop something similar, please send it our way or post a link in the comments on the site.

Finding a Facilitator

To organize a circle, you don’t need to facilitate it. We do suggest that facilitators have some small group leadership experience before facilitating a Resilience Circle. If you have some experience but would like a refresher, click here.

With your partner, brainstorm places where you might find a facilitator to lead the circle’s discussions. Consider leaders from the communities listed above as potential base networks. In addition to appealing to your common values, you might suggest that you’d like to learn to facilitate by working with them. Many community leaders are highly motivated to share their skills with other people in this way.

Lastly, keep in mind that the Resilience Circle Network has developed a six-hour Facilitator Training Workshop. It is not necessary to attend a training to be a facilitator, but we promise you will enjoy the training if you can attend one. If you have some experience leading such workshops and would like to hold a training in your community, contact us and we’ll get you started. We can also discuss sending a trainer to your area.

NEXT: Communication Resources

Be Sociable, Share!