Many concerned citizens feel they have no way to express their dismay, no avenue to get involved. Starting a group gives people a voice and the means to use it. A successful group creates a loud and clear voice for forest protection, and that sends a powerful message to our elected representatives. The strength of the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts!
When you decide to start a group, you need to consider many questions to give your effort direction and purpose. What kind of a group do you want to start? Here are some questions to consider:
Whether your group will be big or small, the first step is to pull together a core of active members who believe in your mission and will dedicate their time and energy to it. Search for others who want to get involved. Talk to people you know who have similar interests and just tell them your ideas. Get their advice, ask for help, and invite people to join in your effort. Once you feel your plans and ideas are developed and can really work, you can get your group off the ground. TOP
Start by calling a meeting. Choose a place and a time--then begin to spread the word! Call your friends, post flyers wherever you feel interested people might see them, and put an announcement in the local paper. Be creative! Include the meeting time, the location, and a phone number for further information.
This first meeting is critical to the success of your group. You are selling your idea to the people who have come. If they like your plan and how you present it, theyll come to the next meeting and get involved. So be prepared, and try to inspire people with your enthusiasm and commitment. By the time people arrive, the entire meeting should be organized.
Start the meeting by introducing yourself and explaining why you called the meeting. Get an idea of who you are working with--have all the participants introduce themselves and tell the group why they came. Make sure everyone has a common understanding of the issues youre discussing and of the purpose of the meeting and the group. Dont assume that everyone knows what youre talking abouta rule for all group discussions. Include an educational component in every meeting, like an outside speaker, a slide show, or a presentation from a group member. Once youve established a common understanding, you can proceed to discuss issues, plan strategies, and distribute tasks.
If you don't have a specific project to discuss, a brainstorming session might help generate some great ideas. You may want to have a few ideas in mind to start off with in case people are hesitant to speak up. Everyone should come away from the meeting with something to do. It is important that people feel that they are actively contributing to the groups goals, or they may lose interest. You should set a time, place, and date for the next meeting or event. Ask everyone to bring at least one friend to your next meeting.
At this first meeting, you should discuss organizational structure and decision-making process. Positions you may want to fill (by election, volunteer, etc.) will depend on the needs of your group and what you want to accomplish: chairperson, secretary, treasurer, fundraiser, project coordinators, media and publicity coordinator, etc. Eventually, you may find it necessary to form committees to deal with specific projects. These positions do not need to be filled immediately, but discussion regarding structure should be opened at the first meeting.
Decide what methods of organization and decision-making your group will use. You may decide to keep your group non-hierarchical, or you may want to vest decision-making power in one or more leaders and have a more defined "corporate" structureeither way, organization is critical for effectiveness. As your group gains experience, you may want to modify or change your decision-making processes. Make sure everyone knows what the current system is. In some cases, meetings may run more smoothly if there is a facilitator to guide the discussion, to call on people who want to speak, and to help resolve disputes.
The facilitator must be chosen with care. The facilitator should be someone who doesnt always have something to say, but knows how to listen. The job of a facilitator is to be someone the group is comfortable with, and who has skills in group dynamics. TOP
Almost inevitably, there will be a few people who will dominate the meeting and a few others who will not say a word. Try to involve everyone. Encourage the dominant members to let others speak. Some people may be quiet because they dont understand whats going on--try to explain any jargon that you use. Most importantly, be careful not to step on anyones personal beleifs outside the topics that the group is covering. Just because you all agree that we need to save the forests does not necessarily mean that you agree on religion, life-style, other political issues, etc. TOP
Leadership may come from one person but its better if two or more people can pool their talents and share responsibilities. If youre a leader in your group, you are ultimately responsible for its success or failure. Many things will stand in your way: lack of funds, not enough help, missed deadlines, or unsuccessful events. But these things can be usually overcome with perseverance and work.
It is important that you are constantly aware of your leadership style and its effects on your members. Keep desires for personal power in check--your group will run more smoothly if the members feel respected and empowered. Youll get a lot more done if you can share the workload, responsibility, and credit for jobs well done. If you think you are a leader, then you have a responsibility to be a teacher and mentor and to develop the leadership abilities of others. TOP
Delegation of responsibility is critical to the success of a group, yet it is one of the hardest skills for a group leader to master. Not only must you figure out what to delegate and how to do it, but also youve got to make sure the job gets done. As a leader, you can offer different tasks to people to volunteer for. Or jobs can be assigned directly.
The skill of delegation involves knowing how to thoroughly communicate the requirements of a certain task, and how to get people to follow through with their commitments. Often the person doing the task will define the specifics. In other words, be helpful and precise, but don't dominate people's workday. When something isnt getting done, you must make the decision to either help your volunteer out, or to assume responsibility and get it done yourself. The mark of good delegation is the ability to share responsibility but maintain control of the direction and purpose of a certain project. Sometimes this happens easily, allowing room for volunteer initiative, but sometimes it will require a more leadership-intensive style. TOP
Starting a group will be a challenge, but maintaining it requires constant attention. Group leaders must:
Building and maintaining an active membership requires creativity and a lot of work. Broad publicity in your area will also attract people you wouldnt otherwise find: fliers, posters, ads in independent or mainstream newspapers and other publications. TOP
There are four basic kinds of membersactivists, semi-active members, supporters, and hitchhikers:
Dont bite off more than you can chew; know the limitations of your time and resources. It is better to have one successful event than ten poorly attended and poorly run ones.
Sometimes group dynamics can get out of hand: disagreements over strategies or tactics, or personality conflicts can create big problems within your group. The most important things to keep in mind when problems arise are patience and respect. Take time to work out your differences, listen to each other, and realize you are all only human.
Humans disagree, sometimes heatedly--its okay. If all arguments are restrained, you may never get to the bottom of important problems. The best group relationships are based on friendship first. If your active members arent already good friends, try to help it happen. Have a group party or retreat, go out for coffee together, hold a gathering in the woodsrelax and enjoy each others company! Then the work and the hassle of group planning wont seem so bad. Don't forget to have lots of fun along the way! TOP