Best practices for activists
December 27, 2016 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm becoming involved in what I guess would be called activism work lately. I have little experience, but I'm chairing a couple of teams focused on social justice issues. Not so much with the protesting, more along the lines of say, coat drives for the homeless, educating people about homelessness and trying to encourage changes in the local system (homelessness is not the focus of my work right now, but it's a comparable example).

I think I'm effective enough, but I'd like to be more effective and I'd like to help my team be more effective. I'm looking for best practices in this kind of leadership - where I don't have a budget or an HR department and if I kick someone off the team because they are only fulfilling about half of their duties that just means I don't have anyone doing it at all, because it's such a struggle to find new volunteers. We all have day jobs and work on this as we are able, for free.

I'm interested in pretty much all advice, but particular areas of interest are 1) maintaining morale when people get discouraged 2) encouraging volunteers to do better, more timely work 3) communication 4) recruiting new volunteers.
posted by bunderful to Work & Money (4 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
As far as possible, ensure that your work is heavily informed by the people you hope to serve. Find the resources to compensate these people for their time and expertise, defer to them on matters in dispute, provide any training or resources they may need to fill their roles, and have a plan to ultimately transition your group's leadership into their hands. Bring your time, resources, enthusiasm and networks to your cause but please don't be another well-meaning person who hopes to solve other people's problems with your unique insights, in the absence of theirs.

Thank you for the work you are doing.
posted by embrangled at 5:19 PM on December 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

Activist burnout is a thing, and don't be afraid to set boundaries/ take time for self care if things become too intense or tiring.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:09 PM on December 27, 2016

Volunteers do well with tasks that have visible, tangible results. Quantify what your group has done so far, and thank them early and often for their work (be specific). Provide food (you can get that donated). Make it fun.
posted by aniola at 8:40 PM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

At the end of each planning meeting, take a few minutes for everyone to write down their "action items". Have the note-taker write them down as well. A few days before the next meeting, send out the list of action items as a reminder. Then have each person share what they did at the beginning of the next meeting. This is a way to build accountability and encourage people for the work they are doing.

Most of the time people don't do 100% because they forget, they are busy, other areas of their life take priority, or they get stuck and don't know what to do or how to do it. Don't be afraid to ask people what the obstacle is if something isn't getting done. And ask them what support they need.

Lastly, make sure people feel a sense of concrete accomplishment. If the goal is to collect 100 donated coats, put up a chart showing the group's progress and update it frequently.
posted by mai at 9:52 PM on December 27, 2016

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