|Starting your own group |
If you live in an area where there is no animal advocacy organization or you feel the existing organization does not focus on the same priorities as you would like to, you might consider beginning your own organization. Starting your own local group is one of the most effective ways to educate the public about animal exploitation. A community organization gives you recognition with the media, government officials and the public. It also shows that you and your group are a strong, committed force for animals.
The size of the group does not really matter; two motivated people can really make a difference. However, the more you reach out in your area, the more people will want to get involved.
Choosing a name is important. Take time and care to pick a name that conveys your group's mission. Do you want to run an animal rights group, a welfare group, or do rescue work? Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to have a group that does all three. Limited time, money and energy make it difficult to do them all thoroughly. In most communities, there are usually designated agencies that handle cruelty cases and rescue groups that deal with adoptions to which you can refer individuals.
|Be Accessible |
It is especially important for a new group to have a phone number and mailing address so that you can be reached by potential members, the media and the public.
Get an answering machine or a voicemail box. You do not need an actual phone to have a voicemail box. Record some information about your group on the message (for example: "While we do not handle animal rescue or adoptions, we do have information that could help you. If you are witnessing animal cruelty, please call your local sheriff's department. The number is...") Also, be sure to announce the date, time and location of your next meeting as well as what you will be discussing. If there are any other events coming up, make sure to mention them too. When returning calls, make a point to sound enthusiastic that people have called (the more interested you sound in them, the more likely people will be to participate.
Get a post office box at a local post office. These boxes are usually reasonably priced and allow you to protect your privacy at home.
Have stationery made with your group's name, address, phone number and logo.
Develop a phone tree so one person is not left making all the calls for meetings or important actions. A phone tree is a system in which you call one person and that person then makes several calls, and so on.
Avoid feeling compelled to produce newsletters. While they can be a great fundraising tool and help keep members informed and motivated to participate in events, they often take time and money away from actual activism. Do a newsletter only if you feel it will not be a drain on your time and resources.
A simple and inexpensive way to inform people about your meetings is to distribute flyers. A flyer might say something like, "Do You Want to Help Stop Animal Suffering? If so, join Action for Animals at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at Oak Brook Library. For more information call..." Copy your flyers onto brightly colored paper and post them at universities, health food stores and other stores likely to attract a sympathetic audience. (Suggestion: To help save paper and copy costs, you can design your flyer to fit two on a sheet.)
Decide how often you want to meet. Will it be once a month or only when planning an action? Try to meet on a regular day and time, and if possible, at the same location. This will make it easier for people to remember the meetings. Libraries can provide meeting rooms that are usually free or fairly inexpensive. Avoid meeting at a restaurant or someone's house. These places are great for social events, but tend to be distracting when used for meetings.
It is essential to have an agenda for your meeting. If meetings are too disorganized or not well planned, people will become irritated and leave early or not come back.
One way to come up with an agenda is to have a summary of your group's activities in the past month. This will get new and existing members excited by what the group is doing and motivate them to brainstorm for "next time." Next, list upcoming events and pass around a sign-up sheet to solicit those who are interested in working on that project or event. At the end of the meeting, distribute information about calls or letters that need to be written and provide background information on topics covered.
It is important to have something for people to do after they leave the meeting because it makes them feel like a valuable part of the team. This can be as simple as making a phone call or writing a letter.
The moderator of the meeting need not be the group organizer. However, the person running the meeting must understand what the group represents. You do not want your moderator saying something like, "Some animal research is necessary."
It is up to the moderator to keep the meetings on track. During a meeting is not the time for people to tell stories about their companion animal. The moderator should politely remind the "storyteller" that while everyone would love to hear the story, there is a lot to cover in the meeting.
Make sure your meetings are friendly and positive. No one wants the moderator at a meeting to simply preach and complain; they want someone motivated to make changes for the animals.
|Using videos |
Videos are useful if you find there are some members of your group who are new to the movement or who don't completely understand the concept of animal rights. Videos can coincide with an upcoming event or simply be used to educate your members. Videos help to remind people why it is important to keep fighting so hard.
For longstanding activists, or those who don't need to see graphic images to fully comprehend animal exploitation, you might want to show videos at the beginning or end of your meeting, so that people can easily choose not to watch them.
It is really important to keep your group busy! Members will come and go, but you want to use everyone's talents where they will be most effective. Artistic people can help with making posters; writers can help develop brochures or write letters to the editor; students can help recruit new members, and activists in video or photography classes can help get a show on cable access or document your group's activities with photos.
Make a point of finding out what skills your members have and when they are available to help. Not only do people generally enjoy doing things that they are good at, but you may find a talented graphic artist in your group who can help with flyers, banners or brochures.
Some groups may want to form small committees that focus on specific issues (animals used for food, research, etc.), while others may choose to create committees based on upcoming events. This way, people are working on issues that interest them and all of the responsibility is not left to one person.
|Tackling Special Problems |
Some people may complain that there are not enough social events. Remind them that when there is a limited amount of time and resources, we need to focus on what we are here to accomplish. This is not to say that groups should not get together and enjoy each other's company, but you do not want meetings to turn into social gatherings. If someone wants to have a party or potluck dinner, let him or her organize it, but keep it separate from your meetings. Instead, try to have focused parties (e.g., poster making) that provide food and time for people to get to know one another.
Beware of those who always feel you are not doing enough. Constructive criticism is important, and groups should constantly try to improve. However, some people are never satisfied. Listen to those people, remind them about all you are doing as a volunteer and ask them if they are interested in taking on the issue they feel the group should be addressing.
Also, beware of people who want to make decisions but are not there when the time comes to do the work. Usually it is unwise to make serious organizational or planning decisions at meetings. This may not be very popular, but you don't want to have a group of people vote on work that only a few people must carry out.
|Choosing Activities |
Always brainstorm with your members about what you can do regarding a certain event or campaign to ensure a broad spectrum of ideas.
Most groups focus on seasonal or upcoming events, public education and long-term campaigns.
Seasonal and upcoming events will include leafleting, tabling and protests in response to a certain issue, such as a fur sale or a circus coming to town.
Public education includes disseminating informational literature, working with the media or any other way you can educate the public about animal issues while at the same time promoting your organization.
Long-term campaigns usually address a local issue that the group has chosen to focus on until a victory is achieved. For example, you may want to protest against a particular vivisector at a local university.