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The importance of a plan

Okay, you’ve researched and you’ve picked a strategy.

Now it’s time to plan what you’ll actually do.

Again to Tools for Radical Democracy by Minieri and Getsos, “Without a campaign plan, you are more likely to engage in unfocused activities that do not contribute to getting targets to meet your demands.”

There are many formats for campaign plans out there. I’m very impressed with the The Just Enough Planning Guide. Which planning format you use matters less than that you create a plan. It should include:

  • Your goals;
  • A roadmap for how you will get those goals met;
  • A timeline with objectives that you can measure your progress against;
  • Your message;
  • What resources you have;
  • What allies you want to bring on board and what adversaries you will have to deal with.

The important this is that after you create this plan, you keep looking back at it.

Yes, it will probably change as you move forward, but looking back at it will make sure you don’t spend three weeks trying to get a visit with a newspaper’s editorial board if your plan tells you that getting the support of union reps is more important.

Research. Choose a strategy. Plan your actions.

Then do!

Choose a strategy based on what outcome you want, not what actions you want to do

Tools for Radical Democracy by Minieri and Getsos has a great chapter on strategy. To define strategy, they explain:

Campaign strategy is the way or ways that a  community power-building organization uses its power to win a demand. . . . If the organization just plunges into action with no clear strategy, it goes from event to event with no deep payoff.

This is key. Choose a strategy based on your best analysis of if it will give you what you want.

Don’t choose it based on what you want to do. Or what another group is doing. Or what you’ve done before.

Of course, this takes research into your issue, your target, and how you can actually have the impact you want.

Rallies and sit-ins can be fun. Media activism can feel empowering. Legal strategies have generated great wins. But this doesn’t mean that any of these are right for your specific issue.

Minieri and Getsos list seven different strategies:

  1. direct action
  2. disruption
  3. legislative
  4. advocacy
  5. alliance-building
  6. media
  7. public education

Each of these  have their own benefits and drawbacks. And no, you can’t do them all at once.

If you’re building a house, you have to know when to use a hammer and when to use a saw. Likewise, when fighting for social justice, you have to know when to sue and when to sit-in.

Don’t just act, research and plan

It may not always be fun, but to succeed in your campaign you have to do your homework

It may not always be fun, but to succeed in your campaign you have to do your homework

One of the things I really appreciate about Tools for Radical Democracy is that it puts a lot of emphasis on researching and planning campaigns and actions.

Take for example the chapter “Researching the Politics of an Issue.” Minierni and Getsos talk about the need for thorough campaign reaserach: going to the library, talking politics with people, going to political meetings, etc.

All this needs to hapen early, before you start putting pressure on a target.

You know what? This kind of planning and preparation is hard work. It’s takes time. It slows you down. Many people find it boring.

And this kind of planning and preparation is absolutely essential if you want to be successful. You need to know your issues, the people and the communities involved,  and the poltical landscape.

Your mother was right, y0u need to do your homework if you want to pass the test.

You can do it, but you have to train for it

A training plan gradually built up my strength and prepared me to run a marathon. How can you build up your organizations strength to achieve your goals?

A training plan gradually built up my strength and prepared me to run a marathon. How can you build up your organization's strength to achieve your goals?

When I started running I could barely make it 3 miles. After that, I was out-of-breath, my knees screamed, and my stomach felt woozy.

But I kept at it. I ran a bit farther each time. The more I ran the more I could run.

Now, I have three marathons under my belt, and it came from consistently doing what was just at the edge of my ability, and watching my ability increase.

Community organizing is the same way. Organization strength grows just like running strength does; by consistently completing efforts that are just at the edge of your ability.

I see too many social change organizations that want to do the equivalent of running a marathon without working up to it.

So when faced with the recent escalation in Gaza, for example, I hear people saying we need to completely reverse US policy toward Israel, that we need to stop Congress from passing a resolution supporting Israel’s “right to self-defense,” and that we need to do this immediatly.

Let’s be honest, that’s more than running a marathon, that’s more like running the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon.

I would like to run Badwater, and I would like to see the U.S. have a balanced policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I know I’m not ready to do either just now.

Is this a call to despair? No, far from it. This is a call for honesty and a movement “training plan” to make us strong enough to achieve our goals.

Keep that long-term vision of a balanced US foreing policy toward Israel and Palestine. Keep that goal of running Badwater. Keep that goal of universal health care, of eliminating nuclear weapons, and eliminating malnutrition.

Then develop a plan to build up the strength or your organization and your allies to get you there.

Each of my three marathons has been difficult. For each of them I followed a training plan to get me ready to run all 26.2 miles. This training plan told me how far to run, how hard to run, when to run, and when to rest. And that marathon training plan came after I had successfully shorter races.

So if our goal is to change U.S. policy in the middle east, the first step is not a 180-degree shift in policy; it’s a 2-degree shift. Maybe the first step is to get funding for coexistence groups in the Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Maybe it’s getting an interfaith coalition to raise money for humanitarian relief for Gaza to show that Jews, Muslims, and Christians can work together and do all want to end the suffering.

I said earlier this isn’t a call to despair. In fact, it’s the opposite. Always failing because you take on more than you can manage, that is cause for despair. Taking on a realistic, thoughtful way to grow and strengthen so you can accomplish more than you can now? Not that’s a cause for hope.

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For a great tool to plan how to acheive those steps along the way to your goal, check out the Just Enough Planning Guide.

Plan your follow-up BEFORE the event

When you have an event, your energy and excitement peaks before the first guest walks in the door. By the time the event is over, you’re exhausted.

For your attendees, however, their energy peaks at and right after the event.

Here’s how it looks if you’re an organizer:

Energy curve for organizers

Your guests, however, have a different experience. It looks like this:

Energy curve for event attendees

What does this mean?

First, it means that your attendees are most ready to take further action and to get more involved right after the event, right when your energy is at its lowest.

That means you need to plan your follow up before your event!

You have a golden opportunity to cement your attendees’ commitment to your cause immediately after it finishes. That’s when they will be most receptive to action alerts, fund appeals, or just a feel-good “thank you for attending” email.

So plan that follow up while your energy is high. Plan what you will do to keep in contact with your attendees. Create the infrastructure. Even draft the emails you will send out.

By the time you get back to the office after the event, exhausted as you are, you want to be ready just to do a very little bit of tweaking and data entry to get your follow-up to your attendees.

Follow-up is like gold for increasing commitment to your cause. Don’t lose that chance by neglecting to plan for what happens after your last guest goes home.