How to start your own grassroots group
Updated April 2013
Here is a link to an NPE webinar hosted by NEIFPE. Our driends from Indiana shared a wealth of concrete suggestions for ways to educate and mobilize citizens around education issues. Participants shared ideas, asked questions, and learned some ideas about how to create a Grassroots group.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
Phyllis Bush, an NPE Director, organized the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education in 2011. NEIFPE played a significant role in one of the most historic upsets in Indiana government history with the election of a new superintendent of public instruction. Following are some suggestions from NEIFPE about creating a grassroots group.
Starting a group – At the first meeting, become acquainted with one another. A diverse group is definitely a plus. During the first few meetings, allow time for the group to voice frustrations and concerns with what is happening in education in general and in their local schools. Having these discussions is the first step in the process of becoming a grassroots group. We found that this process was powerful and helpful. We all knew that something had to be done, but we didn’t know “what” or “how.” Don’t let that frustration stop the group from moving ahead. These discussions helped us to develop a focus of what was right for our community. Without realizing it, we were developing a process, which in turn led to the choosing of the name of our group and the writing of our mission statement. Even writing this “toolkit” was a product of this process.
Choose a name – Our name was a compromise and our first venture into coming to consensus as a group.
Write a Mission Statement – Your mission statement is your reason for existing. While words may not amount to as much as actions, a mission statement serves to remind members of your purpose and can serve to refocus the group when needed. With many rewrites and much input from our group, we developed this written statement of our goals: “We are citizens, teachers, administrators, and parents united by our support for public education and by concerns for its future. Recent federal and state reform measures have created an over-emphasis on testing and have turned over public education to private interests. We believe that these reforms threaten the well-being of our children and jeopardize their futures. Our goal is to inform ourselves and to start community discussion about the impact of these measures on our public schools and more importantly, on our children.”
Make decisions about Membership and Money – Our group still is hesitant to become too structured. We do not have dues, and we do not have a formal leadership group. We share expenses and are doing well without this structure. The group will be a reflection of its members, and may – or may not – need more structure.
Choose a Group Leader – This evolved naturally; we never had elections. The leader needs to be passionate and able to persevere through all discouraging setbacks. Some groups may need an official chair or president.
Create a Logo and Letterhead – With input from the whole group, one of our members created our logo. Part of our grassroots’ tool kit includes business cards, professionally printed posters, and letterhead stationery with our logo. When any work needed to be completed professionally, we patronized local businesses.
Contact the Media – We developed a list of media contacts that included the name and title of the contact, phone, fax, email, deadlines, and their desired preferences in how to receive our information. Learning the format for writing effective media releases is important.
Build a Web Site – We are very lucky to have a member who likes to maintain our blog. We eventually moved to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It helps to have a member take over each of these social media. A communications committee might be helpful. We have a large email list of interested people who appreciate receiving our information. Here are the links: NEIFPE Home Page & NEIFPE on Facebook.
Start a Project – Here is one way we found to inform the community of our new group. Our first project was partnering with our local independent theater in showing two movies, Waiting for Superman and The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, with discussion following the films. This was a good way to publicize our newly-organized group.
Produce Fact Sheets – As our group has evolved, we have seen the need to reach out to individuals and groups to inform them about education issues. We are doing this through fact sheets (which evolved after careful research and accurate documentation) and a PowerPoint presentation containing this information, which we update as new issues arise. Here are links to some of our Fact Sheets. Feel free to use our information. (Fact Sheets will also be supplied by NPE in the months to come.)
- A 22-Year Review: Improvement in Indiana’s Public Schools, by Vic Smith
- Cost of Testing in Indiana Trifold: pdf
- Cost of Testing in Indiana: Word Version
- Education Talk – Complete List
- Myths About Public Education
- NEIFPE Platform
- NEIFPE Web Site/Blog Resources – Complete List pdf
- NEIFPE Web Site/Blog Resources – Complete List WORD
- Questions for School Visits
Call to Action – When a bill is coming to a vote and legislators need to be contacted, we notify our followers of the pending bill(s) and encourage them to contact their legislators. This has been made easier by assembling links to legislators’ email and websites. This is a very important part of what we do.
Decide about Meeting Times – Rather than having a set meeting time or date, we schedule meetings as the need arises. We always meet in one of our homes where the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. Snacks and drinks are an important part of our gatherings. Following each meeting, notes are sent out for review by everyone. Our group sometimes gathers just to socialize without an agenda. The loose structure of our group works well for us. We have been together more than a year, and we appreciate the talents and knowledge each of us brings to the group. That, plus the fun and humor of our meetings, may be why we have stayed together. Our focus is still on supporting public schools for the benefit of students, families, teachers, and communities. We continue to work hard to meet the goals of our mission statement.
Good luck. We are happy to offer advice to anyone who believes in PUBLIC EDUCATION.