Capacity Building Toolkit

Keep your human dignity group alive and thriving for the long haul!

Welcome to the Rural Organizing Project’s Capacity Building Toolkit for rural and small-town human dignity groups! ROP exists to develop and support vibrant social justice groups in rural Oregon. We have learned a lot about what allows a group to thrive and what allows a group to fade away. There are three key components to groups having staying power:  1. a named leadership team, 2. a plan of action, and 3. a regularly used communication system for both supporters and the broader community. In this toolkit, you will find resources for your group in whatever phase you are in, whether you have just organized your very first event and are wondering what to do next or if you have been around for decades and are ready to increase your group’s effectiveness and impact.

[Editor’s Note: This is a lengthy document but is full of ideas and practical steps that your organization can use. On paper, it is almost 60 pages long. After you’ve had a chance to read through, you can download the printable version here. This link appears again at the end of this document.]

Table of Contents

Building Grassroots Capacity for Social Change

ROP Capacity Building Support

The Building Blocks for Developing a Healthy and Strong Group

Keeping Your Local Group Alive And Kicking
Named Leadership Teams
Human Dignity Group Volunteer Tasks
One-on-One Recruitment

Reaching Out: If You Aren’t Growing, You Are Shrinking

A Database Is An Organizing Tool
Effective Email Communication

Taking Action in Polarized Times

Campaign Planning 101
Living Room Conversations


Additional Resources Available from ROP
Human Dignity Group Capacity Assessment
Campaign Plan Worksheet
Democracy Grid Worksheet
Sample Organization Database
Community Power Mapping
Choosing a Legal Status to Match Your Organizational Needs

Building Grassroots Capacity for Social Change

ROP Capacity Building Support

ROP’s mission is to build the capacity of our member groups. What do we mean by capacity? Ultimately, it is the power to make change. That power comes from being able to mobilize people to act on behalf of democratic values. The more people that are willing to speak up for those values the more powerful we will be. This is why our primary focus is on groups, rather than individuals. While individual leaders and activists can make a difference, organized groups can mobilize in greater numbers.

ROP can provide a variety of support to groups, including in-person visits, connections with other groups working on similar issues, tools, and activities for the issues your group wants to take on, and more. Priority for staff time goes to groups working on urgent social justice issues and communities that do not have access to other support or resources. We offer support in a variety of ways: in-community visits and meetings and connecting remotely online, over email, or by phone. Whether your group is working on a one-time event or an ongoing campaign, our mission is to support you and your group to make an impact in your community.

Types of questions ROP can help with:

  • How do I start a group? What do I need to think about?
  • How do we talk about an issue when it is so polarized?
  • What security measures should we put in place for our upcoming event?
  • Do we need to become a non-profit?
  • Can we endorse or oppose a ballot initiative?
  • What are simple activities we can do with a small group that will make a difference?
  • What are effective ways of getting our message out?

Ways we can help

We hope our Capacity Building Toolkit can help! We can also provide in-person, online, or over-the-phone support with things such as:

Capacity Assessments

Is your group as strong as you’d like it to be? Are you setting bold goals and reaching them? Do you have a plan for the next few months? ROP can help your group assess what is going well and prioritize things to work on to make your group stronger.

Leadership Teams

Organizations with a defined team of leaders are more likely to survive and be effective. Staff can work with your group on how to build your leadership team. We’ll meet with current leaders or members to make a plan to recruit people to be part of your group’s leadership team. We can help you identify roles for your leadership team members and create a process for orienting new leaders.

Strategy Sessions

ROP offers multiple types of strategy sessions including (but not limited to):

  • Issue-based strategy sessions: ROP staff facilitates a 1.5 – 2 hour conversation with your group to analyze a particular issue and make a specific action plan for your group on how to work on that issue.
  • Organizational action planning strategy sessions: ROP meets with your group to identify organizational priorities and develop an 18-month action plan.

Communications Assistance

Is your group doing great work that no one ever hears about? ROP can help your group develop systems for keeping track of supporters and staying in touch.

Base Building and Outreach

If your group isn’t growing, it’s shrinking. We can help you develop a plan for reaching more people in your community, finding supporters, and ultimately growing the number of people you engage with (AKA your base).

General Organization

We can support your group in developing by-laws and organizational structure, creating effective decision-making processes, building skills to hold effective meetings, fundraising and meeting your goals, and much more.

The Building Blocks for Developing a Healthy and Strong Group

Keeping Your Local Group Alive And Kicking
(discrimination in the butt!)

In this overview, we share some of the key components for a strong group to help you grow, reach supporters, and have an impact over the short and long term. The below points are expanded upon further in the various resources available in the Capacity Building Toolkit. Read on to get started and then dig deeper into the toolkit in the areas that your group is ready to get working on.

1. Core leadership is needed

There’s no getting around it. There needs to be a core of at least three to seven people who will do all the little projects that need to happen to have a group feel alive and be effective. These projects include:

  • Maintaining a good database of volunteers, members, and interested folks.
  • Putting together meetings that provide structure to focus the group.
  • Coordinating communication with the membership and inviting them to periodic meetings and events (a communication system).
  • Moving a plan of action forward.

While a single person can do these tasks, a team provides a more stable structure. Minimally there needs to be a backup person who can fill in when the inevitable crisis makes one leader unable to fulfill their role. ROP has seen many groups where the primary leader had to leave unexpectedly. The rest of the team never grasped how much work that person did to keep the group going and the group suffered in the transition. A team approach avoids this.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of personal contact

Often when we’re planning for events or meetings, we send out an email reminder or post on social media but don’t call our list. Calling people and inviting them is the only way you’ll have an idea of who is really coming to your event. And, of course, you’ll still have a ratio of people who had to change plans at the last minute, but there’s a higher level of accountability when you’ve spoken with someone and it permits you to call back and check-in. You might find out the person who didn’t show up is the perfect person to help take on a new task you determined needed to happen at the meeting. Personal check-ins with people also show that their presence means something. You noticed they weren’t there and bothered to call to check. That process begins accountability to each other and builds the group. The more interaction you have with your supporters through phone calls and conversations (as opposed to just via email or social media) the better information you’ll have about the people you’re working with. This is how we build deeper and more accountable relationships and stronger groups.

3. Great data is an indicator of a strong group

Your database provides you with a line to your supporters. It is how groups track the relationships you have and provide you with the information you need to ensure that your supporters stay connected to your group. A database needs to be carefully maintained with information updated monthly. You need a person in your group whose task it is to keep the records of the group updated. While a database is only of value if used, having a current system that is backed up ensures that you can create mailing labels for a flyer or make a call list for a meeting or an email listserve when needed.

4. If you are not growing you are shrinking

This principle is that without active recruitment, the likelihood is you are losing members who you once counted on. People move, have to care for ailing parents or a new baby, and otherwise need to change their priorities. The group needs to be consistent about asking people to join the group, sign on to the mailing list, or attend an event. And then you need to maintain contact with new people to develop their relationship with the group. Without a conscious effort to expand, you are likely talking to fewer people than you imagine. This point is closely related to keeping a good database. Every group needs to figure out a communication system that allows what the group is doing or has done to be communicated. A bad communication system will yield a shrinking group.

5. Education is important but action is critical

This is a tricky balance because people like learning about lots of issues that are near and dear to their hearts, but often there doesn’t seem to be the time to take action. Or simply learning about an issue can feel like an action. The challenge of leadership is to help distinguish between education and action and to facilitate a process that creates a series of smaller actions that make tackling issues effective and rewarding. Incorporating simple actions into every meeting will help get people in the pattern of not just learning, but doing. ROP’s Kitchen Table Activism is one such example.

6. Planning is paramount

Without a plan, you have no measurable goalposts of where you’ve been, how far you’ve come, or where you’re going. Part of the work of ROP is to help local groups create plans and then provide support to help make sure those plans can happen. As the group becomes more established, yearly plans are advisable, but starting with short-term plans is a must. A critical role in the planning process is a person who can be realistic and keep the number of objectives to a workable number. No one enjoys experiencing only partial success. Factor in as best you can all the items you need to attend to (like enough time to build your base of supporters and volunteers, expand the core, and fix problems) and still aim high enough to keep your group moving forward. ROP offers staff time to facilitate your planning process.

Ready to go deeper? Sit down with your group’s leadership and fill out the Group Capacity Assessment in the Appendix.

Named Leadership Teams

A named leadership team might best describe a ‘Board’. It is a group of 7-15 people that each commit to a specified period of stewardship for the organization. This working group makes routine decisions and sets directions for the organization (with the input of supporters, of course). A leadership team is essential for completing the regular daily, weekly and/or monthly tasks that ensure the group is functioning and moving forward. When groups don’t have a named leadership team the work of maintaining the group is often invisible and falls on one or two people.

1. A leadership team provides structure

Regardless of what you call it (Board, Steering Committee, Leadership Team), a named leadership team is needed to provide structure. Without structure a group can complete projects, but sustaining an ongoing presence that impacts community culture requires structure. Having the leadership be named allows those names to be made public which makes the group accessible to potential supporters and people in need. It also allows the group to have a decision making process. It helps define for leaders what is expected of them so that they are better able to contribute to the work of the group.

2. Find the right people for the job

It is important that the right people are on a leadership team. There are many perspectives on who is ‘right’ for the job. Here are some screening approaches that ROP uses:

  • Does the person share the values of the group?
  • Does the person function well in meetings?
  • Some people hate meetings despite their dedication to the group, other people enjoy meetings; the leadership team needs folks that can cope in a meeting setting.
  • Can the person make a time commitment?
  • If the person is wearing too many other hats, this might not be the best time for them to take a turn on the leadership team.
  • Is the person willing to make decisions?
  • Is the person willing to cooperate?
  • Do they have the specific skills needed for the role they are being asked to play?

3. Define what it means to be on the leadership team

Once you find that it makes sense to have a leadership team, it is important to define what they would do. Consider writing job descriptions for the various roles, as you would in hiring someone for a job. These can be simple, but should clearly state what is expected of each member, so they can decide if they’re up to the task. You might want to define the length of term for the position and include recruiting new leadership in the responsibilities of each person. (See Human Dignity Group Volunteer Tasks for inspiration and ideas).

4. Recruit!

The next question is how do you find these folks when everyone seems so busy? Rule number one – don’t beg. Take the time to have enough conversations to find the folks where this commitment matches where they are in their lives. Many other folks might be honored to be considered but need to be supported in understanding what the job would require and being honest about whether it fits in with their current life. People who decline now might be able to start making the space for a future year’s turn at leadership. Start by brainstorming a list of prospects. Divide the list of prospects up and set up formal times to meet with these people and discuss the group, its history, its potential and what it would mean to commit to being on a leadership team. Enter into the one on one meetings with a friendly timeline to allow for them to happen. It would be good to have a first meeting date set for folks who say ‘yes’ to plan around. Following up with an email or letter of confirmation as a reminder of the meeting helps affirm and solidify their commitment.

  • Brainstorm names of prospects.
  • Divide who will meet with which prospect.
  • Conduct meetings (see One-on-Ones for tips for these meetings).
  • Host a meeting with new recruits who sign on.

5. When to build or strengthen your leadership team

Many groups go through cycles of ebbing and flowing – being more active and less so. When a group is struggling to establish directions, complete projects or get critical mass to a meeting (or even to have a meeting!), it is a good time to consider beefing up your leadership team! Most groups get started around an action or project – like a rally or march about a timely and specific issue or coordinating attendance at a public meeting about an issue you care about. Once you’ve had this first event or project, this is when groups often fizzle out. This is the perfect time to make a plan to recruit and build a leadership team.

Human Dignity Group Volunteer Tasks

There are a lot of components to maintaining a strong and healthy group – from planning meetings and agendas, to keeping track of supporters, to tracking local events and news. We share a list of volunteer tasks below. Oftentimes one person will fill several of these roles but they can be divided up among many people. Just be sure no one person is doing too many of them – this is a common pitfall that creates too much stress on any one individual and results in a group that is too dependent on one person. Sharing the work among many ensures that if any one person needs to take a break, the group can continue to function.

Leadership Team Roles:

Chair: Coordinates and often facilitates group meetings. Keeps an eye on the overall functioning of the group. Checks in with others to make sure their roles and projects are being completed.

Co- or Vice-Chair: Supports Chair in completion of all their tasks. Takes over roles of Chair in times of absence.

Notetaker: Takes notes at meetings and sends them out to the leadership team in a timely fashion after each meeting.

Treasurer: Manage bank account, issue checks, give account reports at meetings. Can also include being responsible for doing fundraising at meetings and events.

Communication Systems Tasks:

Contact Collector & Database Manager: Maintains group database. Enters in contact information from sign in sheets and other events. If any contact information is missing, contact that person and get full information. Usually works well if the person in charge of data entry on the database also adds people to the email list if your email list and database are not integrated.

Email Manager: Checks the group email. Puts together emails to be sent out to your group’s supporters. Emails can go out weekly, bi-monthly, monthly as is relevant to your group. Oftentimes this means compiling information to be put into one email, but can also include single subject messages. Ideally this person is a strong writer. (See Effective Email Communication for some tips!)

Social Media Manager: Keeps social media updated with events, notices and regular posts. Tracks and manages comments as needed. Identifies new people who could be invited into active group membership. Tracks trolls. This can be one person or divided among several based on the number of social media platforms your group uses and how frequently you interact with it.

Website Manager: Updates the website on a regular basis to make sure the website reflects the history, projects and current events of your group.

Outreach & Public Engagement Tasks:

Welcome Wagon Lead: Coordinates regular contact with supporters to make sure folks are hearing from the group on a regular basis. Additionally, coordinates “welcoming” new people into your group, such as wandering around events to chat with people, following up with new contacts via phone or email to share more information about the group and learn their interests. May also be assigned keeping regular contact with supporters and/or leaders who don’t use our regular communication systems (for example, calling people who don’t have regular access to internet or email).

Publicity: Submits press releases on group events. Coordinates other media announcements and outreach for events and activities as relevant.

Media Lead(s): Keeps an eye on and stays connected to media sources including social and digital media, local papers and radio. This includes tasks such as reading letters to the editor and coordinating ones that need a reply and facilitating a steady flow of public communications on issues your group cares about.

Archivist/Group Historian: Maintains files (both physical and digital) for the group. This can include media coverage and press releases; photos, flyers and announcements for events; meetings notes and summaries; list of leadership team members and more.

One-on-One Recruitment

A one-on-one is a helpful way to engage people on an individual and personal level. It allows for more time together, a deeper connection and ultimately a stronger relationship, the foundation of our groups. One-on-ones are most frequently used to ask a supporter to take on a larger role in the group but can also be a way to get to know someone better. The more you do this, the easier and more natural it feels!

Doing a one-on-one conversation:

1. Connection: Make a real connection with the person:

  • How did you get concerned about the issue?
  • What brought you here? What else is going on in your life?
  • Share your story so it doesn’t feel like an interview.

2. Context and ask: Lay out the type of leadership role you envision them in:

  • Describe the type of commitment you think fits this individual.
  • Tell them what about them makes you think this is a good fit.
  • Make your ask: “I’d like to ask you to lead the next membership meeting”

3. Commitment: Ask an open-ended question that allows the person to talk through whether this is right for them:

  • “Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?”
  • Make sure there’s space for real dialogue. You can find out what is within people’s reach and avoid over or under-asking.

4. Follow-up: This is the time to discuss next moves, logistics, follow up meetings, how you can help this person succeed at whatever they’ve just agreed to do.

Hot Tip! Do your research! What do you know about this person? What role would be a good next ask for them to build their leadership? It’s tempting to jump right to asking someone to be on the leadership team when we should start with another, smaller role. Having them take on a role for an event or taking on a volunteer task is a good way for them to get to know the group better and a good first stage to deepen their engagement and commitment. (See Levels of Engagement below.)

Leadership Ask Best Practices

Share why this person is being asked for this role. Express your confidence in the person’s abilities.

Say how you’ll help. Explain your role in supporting the person, what you will do to help them be successful.

Answer questions honestly. Sometimes we are making asks that will stretch the comfort zones of supporters. Don’t stretch the truth about what people will do or need to do in the new role.

Leadership Ask Pitfalls

Not making a specific enough ask. Provide details about the role, time involved and skills needed.

Talking the whole time. You should be talking less than 50% of the time.

Not leaving space for the person to respond. Often we get nervous and so we talk right over the place where the person says yes or no. Leave them room to answer the question!

Levels of Engagement

There are multiple levels of engagement for any group. When having a one-on-one where you are recruiting someone for a specific role, that most often falls into the positions of Core Supporter/Volunteer or Leadership Team. The levels of engagement include:

Constituency: People directly affected by the issue(s) your group works on.

General Supporters: People who identify with the issue your group is working on, will take action when asked and feel they have a relationship to your group. (This is the biggest number of people connected to your group and can range from a dozen to hundreds of people depending on your size and the scope of work and events you do).

Active Supporters: People who will support most activities, come to most events and come to group meetings occasionally.

Core Supporters/Volunteers: These are people who will take on work and volunteer roles and come to events and group meetings regularly.

Leadership Team: These people have committed to playing a leadership role, help complete the work of the group to keep it functioning and moving forward, participate in (or lead) the leadership team meetings.

The content from ‘One-on-One Recruitment’ is adapted by ROP for human dignity groups from a tool created by Western States Center.

Reaching Out: If You Aren’t Growing,

You Are Shrinking

A Database Is An Organizing Tool

Organizing is the art of bringing more and more people into the movement for social justice. A database may feel outdated as a tool in our world of social media but it is not just a list of names, it is a record of our group’s relationships. The strongest human dignity groups are the ones who build strong relationships, both deep and broad. Ideally, we will build enough relationships that we can wield political power to win on issues we care about and change the culture of our communities towards justice and human dignity. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms allow for a certain amount of contact and communication, but they are limited both in who can be reached (you have to have internet and be on social media) and what kind of communication you can have.

A database allows us to track more details like who needs a phone call instead of a Facebook announcement or who is interested in racial justice issues (and that while they maybe didn’t show up to our Pride event, they will take action on immigrant rights). A database is about building power. Each person represents a potential voter, activist, or leader for social justice. The more people you have in your database, the more support your group can build, the more leaders you can find, and the stronger your group (and its influence) can be.

A database allows you to:

Keep building with your supporters. If our supporters aren’t hearing from us, we know they are hearing from our opponents. A database is how your group keeps track of your supporters. Carry sign-in sheets to every event. Pass them around and collect full contact information. If you can, add little notes about each person you talk to after the event and add that information to the database. (Things such as: “was really engaged – invite to next meeting” or “is worried about the school board election”).

Keep track of volunteers. Some people may never come to meetings but are perfectly happy to bake cookies for events or write letters to the editor. A well-designed database can allow you to create a list of all potential volunteers and their interests/skills.

Keep supporters engaged. Some people may want to stay in touch with your group, but do not use social media or have limited access to email. Your database allows you to keep track of these folks and, with a plan for reaching out, keep them connected to your group.

Track activities. Who showed up at the last training? A database can help you keep track of who does what.

Measure your progress. How many new supporters did your last campaign bring in? Who donated to your group this year that hadn’t donated before? Databases allow you to sort and compare information easily.

Find the right people. Your database should allow you to search based on things like town, legislative district, or county which is very handy for targeted actions.

Know who is on your list. Are you reaching young people? Is your base diverse? If you track demographics, you’ll be better able to tell if you’re reaching the people you most want to reach.

Bring supporters back into your work. If you know who is interested in a particular issue, you can reach out to them when you take on new campaigns that fit their interests.

The most effective database:

  • Is up to date and contains full contact information for each person or organization on your list including name, address, phone, and email.
  • Allows you to tell who is a leader, member, supporter, or volunteer.
  • Has a way to track the interests/activities of members and supporters.
  • Can help you track donations of time and money by project.
  • Is backed up regularly, with backups kept off-site by at least one organizational leader (this could be as simple as multiple team members having access to a Google Drive spreadsheet).

Create procedure and policy:

  • Define who has access to the database, how the list may or may not be used, and who decides.
  • Use sign-in forms that capture the key information you want to track.
  • Notify the database volunteers when anyone learns of changes to contact information (such as disconnected numbers or change of address) and make sure all new contacts get entered promptly.
  • If relevant, have guidelines defining who is a member, supporter, etc.

Tips for keeping your database healthy:

  • Assign a specific volunteer to keep the list up to date.
  • Enter data consistently. (For example is it St, St., or Street?) Write a short “style guide” for your group and make sure to train all new volunteers in the data entry process to ensure consistency.
  • Enter information so it can be easily understood. For example, use Environmental Foundation vs. Env Fdn.
  • Have just one list. Having too many lists guarantees duplication. If there is more than one then data operations must be repeated. The correct method is to have one list with fields that distinguish different types of information.

Ready to get started? Check out the Sample Database in the appendix or reach out to your friendly ROP organizer for a Google Sheet template or to talk through database options for your group.

Effective Email Communication

It can be easy to default to just using social media for our communications. However, as a communication tool, it is limited by both who we reach (not everyone uses the platforms we are on) and by how and what we can communicate. Social media works for short messages. Email allows you to go a little deeper – sharing more of your group’s analysis, including more content, and including multiple events or updates in one post. At the same time, our inboxes have been flooded with emails with many people deleting more messages than they read. Therefore we need to think strategically about how we use email as an organizing tool. The goal is to have messages read and acted on. The effectiveness of email in our organizing relies on leaders committed to building a reputation for short, relevant, and focused messages.

General Tips

  • Think about the subject line. Is it catchy? Descriptive? Personal? Leaving out the subject line or using a generic heading like “hello” or “how are you?” may make your reader think the message is spam or a virus and delete the message without reading it. A boring subject line like “next meeting,” or “funds needed” will only attract your most dedicated readers. Use something that will draw people in, like “Local Victory for Farmworker Rights!” or “Tracking ICE Activity.”
  • Make it short, but not too short. Anything longer than one screen worth of text is probably too long for a message that goes out to a broad audience. But, don’t be so brief that your message is cryptic, or that only an insider will know what you’re talking about. Write your message so that the least informed person on your list will understand what you are saying or asking.
  • Be human. Use warmth, personality, and your own colloquial style to make messages appealing and to help build relationships. Write like you’re talking to someone you care about, and your readers will respond. At ROP we call it being “chatty.”
  • Choose carefully. Everyone is overloaded with information these days. Forwarding too many messages or bombarding people with information is likely to lead to all of your messages getting deleted.
  • Forward with care. If you have something you need to forward, delete the Fwd: from the subject line, and clean up the message, so your reader doesn’t have to look past all the hash marks to read the subject. Delete any unnecessary info, especially other people’s names or email addresses. Try to put it into context: “Below you will find important information because…”

Types of Email Lists

Groups with effective email communication usually have a few email lists. These include:

Organizational list: This is a list of your group’s supporters that you use to share key information about the group’s activities.

  • Messages should be limited to information specific to the mission and purpose of the group. Limited to no more than a few messages per week or a short weekly digest.
  • Each message should reflect your group’s perspective and priorities. See it as the public voice of your organization, like a newsletter.
  • Needs a volunteer moderator or a small team to post to the list, and review suggested messages.
  • Assume that most, but not all, people who get the messages will be familiar with your group. If you’re being effective, your messages will get forwarded. Make sure your organization’s contact info is on all the messages, with information on how to subscribe.

Internal list: This is a clear list of leaders, as opposed to everyone connected to your organization.

  • Good for leadership teams, committees and/or leadership who have specific tasks that require regular communication.
  • Allows for private, internal conversations. This is helpful for internal business that may not be interesting or relevant to your larger base of supporters.

Don’t forget about personalized emails! Personalized emails and invitations can still go a long way. They are great for:

  • Volunteer Recruitment. Asking someone directly for their help is much more effective than sending a message out to your whole list saying, “I need help.” It’s too easy for everyone to assume that someone else will offer.
  • Turnout. In addition to more broad methods, such as announcements to your email list and on social media, consider sending personal invitations to everyone on your list. You can use the same message for many people by cutting and pasting core text; just take the time to write a personal greeting. It is more time-consuming, but also more effective.

Discussion email list: Groups often conflate our Organization List with a discussion email list. However, when you do that, you lose a lot of supporters who do not want to have a lot of email back-and-forth discussions. If there are people who want to have a lot of discussion over email, that is fine! But separate it from your Organizational List. More about this kind of list:

  • Geared toward those seeking information to develop their analysis and with enough time to keep up with a larger number of messages.
  • Great tool for sharing information and/or articles broadly.
  • Good for discussion/debate, but debates can turn into arguments and turn off listeners.
  • The quantity of emails often causes people to drop off from the list.
  • Best to have a moderator and guidelines, though this can be a time-consuming job.
  • Tip: A simple way to eliminate a lot of unnecessary emails (like messages that say “Thanks Jane for that great email!”) is for the moderator to set email list settings to “reply to sender” as opposed to “reply to all members.”

Ready to set up an email listserve? Contact ROP about which platforms to use (such as Google Groups or Mail Chimp) and how to have it connected directly to your group’s database.

Taking Action in Polarized Times

Campaign Planning 101

Spending time on campaign planning leads to the confidence that each task leads to a greater goal. With a good plan, morale is high as we check tasks off our list. We focus our energy where it is most strategic. A plan allows us to measure our success or failure, and learn from our experiences. Developing a campaign plan may take an hour, several days, or even weeks. Ideally, everybody involved with putting the plan into action will be present for the planning process.

Elements of a Campaign Plan

Campaign Aim/Goal: This is what you ultimately want to achieve. It should be a broad and short statement.

Campaign Opportunities and Risks: This involves research to find out what is currently happening on that issue, what has happened in the past, and what may occur soon. This could lead to you discovering an opportunity you could take advantage of to help your campaign, or equally, whether there is something that could derail your campaign or cause you difficulties. This is important as it will help to shape your objectives and tasks.

Campaign Objectives: This is where you break down your campaign aim into the smaller things you want to achieve. These are the things that will enable you to achieve your overall campaign aim. You should try to make each of your objectives SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and within a timescale).

Campaign Stages: It is highly unlikely that you are going to be able to work on all of your campaign objectives at the same time. A much better way to work is to look at your objectives, what they involve, and the timescales you have set for them. Then divide your campaign into different stages. Often, your objectives will follow each other in a logical sequence so the order will be clear. If not, build up your stages into what is easiest to what is most difficult.

Campaign Tasks: For each stage, take the objective or part of the objective that you are going to be working on, and break it down into the tasks you will need to do to achieve that. This will include things like research, outreach to the base, outreach to allies or potential allies, materials design, organizing meetings, etc. The tasks should be as specific as possible and should include details of how to get them done.

Campaign Action Plan: After you have worked out what the first stage of your campaign is and the key tasks needed to deliver that, you then need to put this information into an action plan. Draw a table with the objective (or part of the objective) you are going to be working on across the top, the different tasks listed underneath, and then work out who in the group is going to do each task, and when. Remember to include a column in your table for monitoring, so you are clear about how you are going to check that you are on track. The best way of doing this is to set aside 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each week to see what tasks have been completed.

It’s usually a good idea to also include:

Campaign Rationale: This should be a statement about why you are going to campaign on this issue. Why have you picked this campaign aim and why is it important? This will enable you to communicate effectively when questions arise about the campaign. It will also help you to pinpoint how necessary the campaign is and prioritize your work.

Campaign Message: This is a short, snappy statement that will be your key communication tool internally and externally. It should be a simple message about your campaign issue that you want people to remember, and which will encapsulate why the issue is important and why people should care about it. This is how you will engage people in your campaign.

Try it out! Check out the Campaign Planning Worksheet in the Appendix. Use it with your group leaders to create a campaign plan for an issue or project you are working on.

Want to go deeper? Check out the appendix on Power Mapping in the Appendix.  Power Mapping is a tool to help your campaign focus its targets and answer such questions as: Who are the decision-makers? Which decision-makers can be persuaded? Who influences the decision-makers?

Living Room Conversations 

Building Analysis, Building Power

The Rural Organizing Project promotes a community-building culture where food, children, and our friendship circles are all a part of our social justice efforts. Relationships of trust are a priority, especially at a time of divisive politics, where topics that people are less familiar with and thus less comfortable with are used to drive wedges through our communities. A core part of our work is talking about the most polarized issues of the day: why gender-affirming bathrooms are so critical, why we need to be talking about race in our schools, why we need housing and drug treatment more than criminalization of people on the margins. Raising these topics has become harder and harder and more and more divisive. Your human dignity group can play a critical role in making sure we find ways to have real conversations about the issues that impact our lives and the well-being of our communities.

What is a Living Room Conversation?

Establishing a culture of trust, though, is not that easy. Where and how we talk can matter. ROP recognizes that and has developed a culture around living room conversations – that phrase is used even when the gathering may in fact happen beyond a living room. When our communities are facing such heightened polarization, and when we have real fear and security concerns over having an event or rally, getting together with a group of trusted supporters in a living room to dig deeper into an issue and develop a shared perspective is more important than ever. What can be done in a living room, when we have time to talk closely and honestly with each other, can not be achieved at a rally or an event, and it certainly can’t be done in a Facebook comment thread. What a Living Room Conversation (LRC) symbolizes is important. It communicates that:

  • We gather in a place of relative security and comfort.
  • While our topic might be of great importance, it is scaled for a living room.
  • All who gather come in friendship even if we share a range of views.
  • There is no better place to identify our differences than in a living room.
  • We are here to share ideas not to be talked to.

ROP relies on LRCs to build a shared understanding of an issue or a strategy, especially in the early stages.

Typically, we seek a host that offers a central location. While we want a space that can accommodate 10-20 people we do not want to pick the showiest home. It is fine if people are cozy and some need to sit on the floor – in fact, that creates a certain excitement. The role of the host might be limited to preparing the space including some snacks. Other hosts also handle greeting arrivals and parts of the agenda.

It’s the organizers who should decide who is best positioned to create and complete an invite list – the skills required here are diligence and warmth. There are no shortcuts in inviting people – invitees have to be given the basics at least once, asked for a solid commitment regarding their availability, and then reminded. The more familiar the inviter is, the better the results. A mix of phone and email is ideal.

The pitch – most people feel busy and do not need another obligation. Most people, though, are also feeling isolated and slightly desperate in this wild political moment – they do want to engage in meaningful discussion. Therefore, we invite people to help us think through a tough topic of the moment (immigration, reproductive justice, transgender rights) but we don’t want them to feel like showing up commits them to more than just the LRC. Because in fact, just being there does matter.

The purpose of most LRCs is to give people a chance to process a more nuanced look at an issue and to allow the host organization to better identify ways to be effective in communicating and developing leaders on the topic.

The agenda of the LRC is designed to first present information in an engaging and compressed manner (under 15 minutes) and then a skilled facilitator works the room to get folks to comment on the issue from a very personal, local frame. The format combines popular education and consciousness-raising with political education – yielding participants who feel great ownership of new information.

Standard Agenda Basics

Opener: This should allow people to really share but in a limited time. (What motivated you to attend this discussion?  And when folks joke around with comments like “I’m here cos Pam made me.”, it is good to challenge with a gentle “I bet there is a reason you listened to Pam – what do you think that was?”)

Overview: The presenter welcomes folks, and says why we are here –  eg there is a tough topic being used to divide communities right now. We thought it was critical that we give ourselves space to talk about it before we find ourselves unprepared in public. Plus, the folks in the room have been invited because you have some special gifts in building community. We are hoping that you will each help us feel more effective at puzzling out the best ways to handle this topic. 

Agenda Format Shared:  a. Brief but global overview of the topic in under 15 minutes, b. Discussion of people’s take on the topic and how it is playing out locally – this is the majority of the time!  And c. Wrapping up both what was said but also where the LRC process/info is going next (10 minutes.)

15 Minute Overview – This anchors the wedge topic in a less emotional frame of how they are marketing the issue (such as immigrants are stealing our jobs) to a frame that we are more comfortable with (history of populating this country, cycles of immigration backlash, who benefits, how do human rights and inclusive democracy impact this topic.)

Discussion of Overview and local experience with issue: The Facilitator aims to not only get everyone involved but also to move the discussion from being factual and in our heads to observable at the local level and rooted in our hearts/experiences. Having thought through the questions in advance helps.

Closing: The goal here is to get participants to think about their own next moves as individuals, community members, and as supporters of the host organization. There should be some clear but reasonable asks here.

Ready to go deeper? Having values-based conversations on polarized topics isn’t easy. ROP uses the framework of democracy (something we can all agree upon) as a way to break down the issues and talk about them outside of rhetoric. Check out the Democracy Grid in the Appendix and contact ROP to talk more with your group about using the Democracy Grid to have tough conversations and frame polarized issues.


I. Human Dignity Group Capacity Assessment

II. Campaign Plan Worksheet

III. Democracy Grid Worksheet

IV. Sample Organization Database

V. Community Power Mapping

VI. Choosing a Legal Status

Additional Resources Available from ROP

Creating a Culture of Safety And Security: Over the last several years, we have witnessed white supremacist militias and counter-protestors threaten, harass, and intimidate organizers in rural communities. We have also seen local law enforcement ignore these threats to community safety, and in some cases even encourage them. And we have seen federal officers kidnap undocumented community members and violate the rights of protesters trying to protect their neighbors. In the face of threats like these, figuring out how to keep your group safe is necessary to continue doing the work, and it is also part of our collective work of building and practicing the systems that keep our communities safe for everyone who lives here. Based on the number of requests from rural organizers that we have received for support in maintaining safety over the decades, we have made several resources on safety and security widely available. Contact us for copies of these materials and if you or your group is experiencing threats or intimidation of any sort, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for direct support. 

Building Your Base: If your group is looking to expand who you are talking to or to reach beyond the existing groups of people you are already engaging, this is the tool for you. ROP can help you define your “constituency” (aka the people who are impacted by the issues you are working on) and help develop plans for reaching more people and expanding your base.

Outreach Planning Timeline: Whether your group is hosting an event, gathering people to discuss a hot-button issue, or kicking off a campaign to win real improvements in rural Oregonians’ lives, you need a strong outreach plan to ensure that participants make it into the room! Reach out to ROP for a detailed timeline you can use to plan an effective and impactful event at a manageable pace.

Developing a Website: A website is a good way to keep your members and community informed and up-to-date on the work you are doing. Additionally, websites can serve as a tool for potential supporters to find your group and learn about ways to get involved. The most important thing for your website is to make sure it’s reader-friendly, easy to maneuver and shares core basic information without over-informing. Contact ROP for suggestions about building and maintaining a website. Hybrid Event Capacity: Trying to decide whether and how to host a hybrid event (i.e. an event where some participants are in person and some are on Zoom)? We’ve compiled a list of best practices and useful resources for making your event accessible and successful.

Human Dignity Group Capacity Assessment

This portion of this document was originally designed to be used at an in-person meeting and is very useful in printed form. You can download a PDF here.

Use this tool to assess the capacity of your group and the areas you would like to strengthen. Ideally, this is filled out with your leadership team as a group. Contact ROP for support in this process or to set up a strategy session.

Group name and county:

People completing capacity assessment:

Leadership Team
The leadership team is the group of people who make decisions for your group and see that they are carried through. They may be formally called a Leadership Team or a Board or it may be a more informal group.

Does your group have a named leadership team, steering committee, board, etc.?

Is there a “chair(s)” or someone who conducts each meeting? Who?

Please list other Leadership Team members and their roles (if you have them, such as Vice Chair, Secretary, or Treasurer):

Action Plan
Regular Meeting(s) time/date/location:

Regular Events:

Current programs/issues/campaigns:

Does your group have a database of people who are involved or who want to stay updated about your work?

Does your group have a database coordinator? If so, name & contact info:

Size of database:

What is the main method of storing your database? (Check all that apply.)
___ Paper list(s) Word Document
___ Excel spreadsheet Microsoft Access Database
___ Google Docs Spreadsheet Mail Chimp
Other Method, what?

Does your database have full contact information: name, address, phone, and email for each entry? If not, how many entries are complete?

What other information does your database track (such as donations, attendance at events, volunteer interests, etc)?

Email List
Does your group have an email coordinator? If so, name & contact info:

Does your group have one or more email lists? Who is on your email list(s) i.e. leaders, supporters, etc?

How do you organize email addresses? (Check all that apply.)
___ Email list provider such as Google or Mail Chimp Excel Spreadsheet
___ Google Docs Spreadsheet
___ Other method, if so what? ____________________________

Email list size (number of emails):

Social Media
Does your group have a social media coordinator? If so, name & contact info:

Does your group have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok or other? If yes, what is your page?

How often do you post? Are there guidelines for what to post, where can those be found?

What other forms of social media does your group use, if any?

Does your group have a mailings coordinator? If so, name & contact info:

Does your group do any mailings? What kind? How often?

How many folks are on your mailing list?

Does your group have a website coordinator? If so, name & contact info:

Does your group have a website?

How often is it updated and by whom?

Who has the passwords and what is their contact info?

External Media
Does your group have a media coordinator? If so, name & contact info:

Do you have a media plan? If yes, where can it be found?

Who in the group is involved with the local newspaper, radio, blogs, or other media outlets?

Do you receive ROPnet emails?

Power Mapping – Relationships
List groups your human dignity group works or interacts with and the nature of the relationship:
(for example, other human dignity groups in the region, service groups, churches/faith, unions, government agencies, etc)

Do any of your leaders participate in civic clubs (Kiwanis, Elks, Rotary, etc)?

Are there local businesses that you are in a relationship with (progressive coffee shop, local business owned by a member/ leader, etc)?

Does your group have relationships with elected officials? If so, who?

Do any of your leaders sit on any elected boards? If so, who and what board?

Does your group have relationships with local reporters or media outlets? If so, who?

Other community leaders your group has relationships with:

Want more of this? Reach out to ROP about our Expanded Capacity Assessment with more detailed questions!

Campaign Plan Worksheet

This portion of this document was originally designed to be used at an in-person meeting and is very useful in printed form. You can download a PDF here.

For an in-depth description of campaign planning, you can read more in Campaign Planning 101.

Prepared by:

Rationale for the campaign. Problems or reasons to launch it. What will we accomplish with this campaign?

Explanation of the chosen strategy, including other options considered. All mechanics of a campaign should be included.

Name and Description

Name and Description

Registered voters, political party breakdown, voters in the last election, history of who has been elected and margin, etc.

Who are your members? How much money do you have? What other resources do you have?

Steering committee and who will be recruited to it. Lead organization and its mission. Plan to recruit a steering committee.

Include for each:
Outreach strategies: events/activities, goals to reach
Base building goals: steering committee, members, signatures, etc. (include specific numbers)
Media: materials/publicity

Phase 1:

Phase 2:

Phase 3:


DateTaskWho is responsible

Democracy Grid Worksheet

These principles of democracy come from the World Book Encyclopedia.
#1 Inclusion of All
#2 Majority Rule, Minority Rights#3 Well- informed and educated#4 Reasonable Standard of Living

Democracy Talking Points

Connecting Democracy and Human Dignity Issues

Inclusion of All; Equity for All
“Democracies have various arrangements to prevent any person or branch of government from becoming too powerful.” Throughout history, the most important aspects of the democratic way of life have been the principles of individual equality and freedom” (All quotes from The World Book Encyclopedia 1994 except where noted.)
In his State of the Union speech in 1941, a time when Hitler was sweeping across Europe, Franklin Roosevelt discussed four essential human freedoms. The first was freedom of speech and expression; the second was freedom of religious expression; the third was freedom from want; and the fourth was freedom from fear. Roosevelt’s freedom of speech and expression and freedom from fear seems especially pertinent to this principle of democracy. Only with freedom from fear and with freedom of speech and expression will all voices be heard.
What is meant by inclusion of all has changed over time and is seen in the struggle for increased suffrage for those groups not originally included by our founding fathers. And genuine inclusion of all in a broader sense is still not a reality. However, inclusion of all is an incredibly important goal of democracy. ROP’s personnel files include this description, “ROP is committed to the belief that each individual is entitled to equal employment opportunities without regard to race, creed, color, religion, ethnic group or national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, economic status, education, source of income, marital status, parenthood, familial status, personal appearance, physical ability or prior arrest.”

Majority Rule and Minority Rights
“Majority rule is based on the idea that if all citizens are equal, the judgment of the many will be better than the judgment of a few.” “Democratic countries guarantee that certain rights can never be taken from the people, even by extremely large majorities.” “Most constitutions have a detailed bill of rights that describes the basic liberties of the people and forbids the government to violate those rights.”

Democracy Requires Education and Informed People Who Participate in the Democratic Process
“Democracy calls for widespread participation in politics by the people. . . . The quality of government depends on the quality of participation. Well-informed and well-educated citizens are able to participate more intelligently.”
This principle requires that people move far beyond the “soundbite” level in their discussion and analysis of issues. This means research and digging up facts as well as careful analysis and open discussion of concerns. Applying this principle to anti-affirmative action efforts, for example, helps broaden that discussion to the underlying issue of racism and people’s fears about economic decline that requires scapegoats rather than close examination of the widening gap between the haves and the have nots and how that gap is facilitated (or not) by government policies and business practices.

A Reasonable Standard of Living – Economic Justice
“Most successful democracies have existed in developed societies. In such societies, literacy rates are high, per capita (per person) incomes are moderate to high, and there are few extremes of wealth and poverty.”
In his 1941 State of the Union speech, Roosevelt said, “Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are: Equality of opportunity for youth and for others. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it.” (From: The American Reader, editor, Diane Ravitch, Harper-Collins, 1990).

Community Power Mapping


Strategic organizing takes more than just passion and commitment, it requires analysis and discipline. Creating change doesn’t just happen overnight, it happens over time. The common story on how the civil rights movement got started is that one nice lady (Rosa Parks) was just too tired one day and she didn’t get up from her seat on the bus. From there, we are lead to believe that people spontaneously hit the streets until change happened. What we actually know is that the civil rights movement organizing took strategic planning, decision making, and discipline. Movement centers were established where people organized out of and individuals who wanted to engage with the movement could find and tap into the organizing. It took years of slowly building up power to create change. And it took organization to turn sporadic moments of activism into organizing a movement.

We are still working to create change today. Our local human dignity groups play a vital role in building the progressive movement in rural Oregon. The Power Mapping Tool is one way to assess the current state of our communities and how we can strategically make change to build power and strengthen the progressive movement. The tool allows us to analyze who holds power, how much influence (power) they have, and where they stand on a spectrum of values. We can then use this information to strategically plan our organizing to allow us to build power and grow the movement for justice, peace and democracy in our communities.

The Map: The Community Power Analysis is best done on a large piece of paper. The basic blank map consists of a vertical axis and a horizontal axis. The vertical axis represents the amount of power (from 1: not on the radar to 10: decision making power and influence). The horizontal axis represents agreement with our agenda (total support on our side to total support for the other side). See image below.
Mapping Tools: Use removable items (like different colored post-it notes or cut out construction paper that can be taped on) as representations of the different groups you’ll be mapping. For example, make decision makers blue, organized groups yellow, and impacted communities pink. Markers can also be used (instead of removable items) but this will not allow you to move things around month to month and year to year, as you shift the power dynamics in our communities.


  • Hang your blank map on the wall. Decide what community you are mapping (the county, town, etc) and write that on the top of the map in the center.
  • Decide what “your” agenda is and what “their” agenda is and put “your” agenda in the top left corner and “their” agenda in the top right corner of the map.
  • List the conditions or factors impacting your agenda (drought, the upcoming election, loss of jobs in the community, etc) and place them on the top of the map in the shape of a storm cloud.
  • Do an example of how to power map for folks who haven’t used this tool before: for example you could place Trump on the map to explain how the axes work.
  • Use different colors/ shapes to represent the following different groups: Organized groups (human dignity group, churches, Kiwanis, Rotary, School Board, city council, etc), unorganized groups of people (youth, people against the war, university faculty, etc), and powerful individuals (mayor, DA, etc).
  • As you are mapping each person/group’s power- be sure to note what groups you may have influence with. Take thorough notes on this. For example, is someone in your group in the Rotary Club? On the school board?  Friends with the mayor’s partner?


  • It is easy to overestimate our own power. Be honest about how much influence your group has.
  • Groups to consider mapping are: local government, school board, volunteer groups (AAUW, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc), political parties, Chamber of Commerce, university administration, faculty and students, churches and other religious institutions, elected officials, influential individuals, influential businesses, and social service agencies.
  • The results of a power map can be daunting. Use this tool as a way to discover what inroads and possibilities there are for making change. It takes time to shift the power dynamics in our communities. Use this map as a starting place to make strategic decisions about your group’s organizing. Find out where you might have inroads, make a plan to tap those opportunities, and revisit the power map after 6 months, 12 months, 18 months to assess how things have shifted.

When a group of individuals come together for an organized task, it is often wise and sometimes mandated that a legal entity be created to match the mission of the group. Advantages of becoming a legal entity include ease of establishing a group-based bank account, having potential liability move from individuals to a group, benefits to donors, income raising options and credibility. The primary downside is that once you have established a legal entity, your group (or the named leaders of the group) are then responsible for meeting the legal requirements of that status. Legal requirements vary enormously. The challenge then is to make sure that you match the needs and resources of your organization when picking a legal status and that you monitor that match over time to make sure it stays the best choice. ROP encourages that you work with our staff, volunteers and referrals throughout this process.

This document is intended to give you a thumbnail overview of the options.

A PAC is an easily established option for a group that is coming together to do immediate political work on a ballot measure or candidate. Short term it is easy to configure (file a one page sheet with the Secretary of State’s Office that requests an organizational name, mission and three leaders.) Reporting requirements for a PAC are detailed and ongoing. Your group needs a strong treasurer and good accounting practices. PACs that stay formed between campaigns can easily find themselves in reporting trouble if they miss a deadline and the penalties are enormous. Volunteer groups should dissolve PACs after their immediate mission is achieved. Funds can be moved to a lateral entity and a new PAC can quickly reconfigure when another political task is at hand. Paperwork to establish a PAC can be obtained from your County Clerk or the Secretary of State’s Office.

Any organization with annual gross receipts of $5,000 or less and that functions as a non-profit group can declare tax-exempt status as an Unincorporated Association. No formal application forms are required. Unincorporated Associations can obtain a Federal Tax Identification Number (EIN) by filing a SS-4 with the Federal Government. Visit or call 1-800-829-3676 for free forms and information. The EIN number is often used to identify organizations as legitimately recognized by the Federal Government and can be used (in most instances) to establish bank accounts. An Unincorporated Association can presume tax exempt status if revenues are under $5,000 (and some would say that that the revenue ceiling is as high as $20,000).

This model is enormously flexible and easy – it requires almost no paperwork or filing of ongoing reports. There is no need for by-laws or even a board (although named leadership and basic protocol are always recommended).

Unincorporated Associations have downsides. Every individual involved in the organization is liable for the financial burden of the group. There will be no official letter from the IRS that states the group’s tax-exempt status. This model really only functions for groups that anticipate staying small budget.

The first step in moving forward with any kind of nonprofit status is to file with the Secretary of State’s office as a Nonprofit Corporation. The process is easy. Visit the Secretary of State’s Nonprofit Services at: or call 503-986-2200 to request the one page form entitled ‘Articles of Incorporation – Nonprofit.’

The State will send out a packet including this form and basic directions. Most human dignity groups will find that they are option one, Public Benefit, as the type of nonprofit corporation. Most human dignity groups might find it wise to choose to register as a corporation without members. Changes in nonprofit law create a host of legal requirements that are easy to violate by accident if one is a membership organization. “Member” is a legal term and does not indicate whether or not you have an active and invested base. Filing the form costs $20.00 and requires a board of at least three named individuals. Each year the state will send out a simple form that must be approved and mailed back to maintain nonprofit status.

The Oregon Department of Justice may require an additional form – form and instructions can be obtained from the Charitable Activities Section of the Department of Justice Most state nonprofits will then want to file federal form SS-4 to obtain a Federal Employee Identification number that can be used on bank accounts. Again, the organization can presume tax-exempt status if revenues stay under $5,000 or there about.

Under Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Service there are more than twenty categories of tax exemption for an organization to fall under. Most organizations will fit either the 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) option. The primary difference between the two is that c3s are able to apply for private and public grant funds but are restricted from doing any candidate work and significant electoral work.

Application for 501(c)(3) or (4) is complicated but doable. If you are looking into this option you will want to call ROP for resources. There are many ways to make the process easier, so call!

Becoming a 501(c)(3) or (4) makes sense if you intend to have a lot of expenditures and formal structure over a long period of time (five years or more).

[Editor’s Note: This is a lengthy document but is full of ideas and practical steps that your organization can use. On paper, it is almost 60 pages long. You can download the printable version here.]

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