At some points in your campaign you’ll need to persuade people to agree with you, like your primary targets and the secondary targets who influence them. Other times you’ll need to pressure people to take action. But when you’re first starting out, your job is to sort people. The bigger the challenge you take on, the bigger your core team needs to be. Sorting people is how you identify who is in your coalition of the willing to help you get the work done.
Early in my career I clocked hundreds of hours sitting at information tables for Amnesty International gathering petition signatures and collecting handwritten letters to help political prisoners, with the added benefit of getting in to U2 and R.E.M. concerts for free. Most passersby never stopped at my table. I put them on the What’s Wrong With These People? list in my mind. Many people did stop, took the actions I asked of them, and gave me their contact info on my sign-up sheet so I could get in touch with them later. Their names ended up on my list of people to call if I needed lots of warm bodies for a big event. Then there were two distinct types of humans who stopped at my table and engaged with wild enthusiasm. The first type shared personal stories about why human rights work meant so much to them and made it onto my list of potential leaders whom I invited to planning sessions and called upon to delegate organizing tasks to and build their skills.
But the other group of wildly enthusiastic people stopped by my table to debate. It took me a while to recognize this other time-sucking subspecies. They cared as little about my issue as the people who didn’t stop at all, but I let them take up too much of my time for too long, because I didn’t realize then that sorting people is a critical part of organizing.
Have a clear picture in your mind about who you are, what you want, what your goal is, and what kind of people you want to work with. With that in mind, people will sort themselves out. For every one person who wants to waste your time, there will be six who want to help. Be equally clear about who specifically you’ll need to persuade and pressure when you intend to have those conversations. You don’t need to pressure or persuade everyone.
Do you spend your limited time talking to the right people about the right things? Tell me all about it.
And if you haven’t already downloaded these free guides, you can get them at the links below. If you can think of other tools that would be helpful, please let me know.
One of the biggest challenges organizations have is the campaign planning process. To help serve them, I’ve created a guide of the 11 essential points that I use with organizations, as well as with my grad students at Johns Hopkins. In it you’ll find the critical elements your campaign must have. Use this as an easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers.
- The 10 steps of power mapping
- The questions to ask and where to find answers
- Easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers
- What coalitions do
- Who to recruit
- How to pick the best coalition name
- Attracting diverse coalition partners10
- Leadership & structure of coalitions