Starting a Group
Snappy Page Essence
You can do many activities alone, but an animal rights group can sometimes be more effective than a soloist, eg members contribute complementary skills and the public may take your campaign more seriously.
Anyone can start being active in animal rights, with friends or alone. You can be successful as a solo animal rights worker depending on the nature of your campaign and some examples are Teacher, Flyer, Solo Information Centre Worker, and Preacher (see the relevant entries, Chapter 4). However, a group can sometimes be more effective than a soloist. A group of people can be an important campaign resource because:
- The public may take your campaign more seriously if they see you are backed by a broad membership and consequently may give you more attention.
- Members contribute complementary skills and abilities that a singleton working alone lacks.
- A core of committed campaigners may share your burden and hard work.
- A group is a long-term entity that can outlive the comings and goings of its individual members.
- You might enjoy social company.
Even if you start out alone, acting as a nucleus for kindred spirits to gather round, you may eventually find others to pitch in. Patience and perseverance are assets.
What to Do?
No one and no group can do everything. So chose a section of animal rights that interests you and that you are good at doing (Chapter 3: How to Start Being Active for Animal Rights), then hack away at it doggedly. An option would be to concentrate on where most animals are dying. Undoubtedly this would be factory farming or the mass extinction of wildlife (see Mass Extinction, Chapter 1). But these two areas are so broad you would have to specialise somewhere within them.
You could pick out an aspect of animal rights that other activists neglect. An example is hair products. Many cosmetic and artists' paint brushes are made from animals, such as shaving brushes from badger hair and paint brushes from sable. Then there are bows of orchestral instruments, like the violin and cello. Most bows are strung with horse hair from China, Mongolia and Canada. How the hair is obtained is a shady business because most people know nothing about it and the few who know won't tell. Hair is fur, usually of the courser kind, so your specialised niche would be this aspect of the fur trade (great if you are an artist, beautician or musician and wish to influence your colleagues).
Alternatively, your group could work independently by complementing a large animal activist organisation, perhaps under their banner. Just ask them.
Name & Logo
You could give your group a name and design a logo for it as a symbol of your group's individual identity. A well designed logo imparts a sense of common purpose and is good for morale - you can blazen it across your own promotional material, like T-shirts, badges and posters - and if you use letterhead paper it communicates a respectable image on your correspondence - all useful for influencing people.
Look for potential or fellow activists who feel as strongly committed as you do and might be keen to play a central role in a campaign. Look everywhere and make allies. Query friends and acquaintances. Exchange ideas with people. Put up cards or flyers on noticeboards (clubs, libraries, health shops, animal shops, charity shops and supermarkets). Ask potential members for more people you can approach and take the contact details of anyone who seems interested. Arouse their interest; make your enthusiasm infectious.
Put up notices and hand out leaflets to explain your campaign and why it matters. Produce a simple but professional-looking flier (see the entry Chapter 3 Leafleting). Put down a campaign title, say what your campaign is about and give your contact address. You may want to hold a few initial meetings to attract people and acquire more members and should put this information about meetings in your notices.
Unless you aim to work clandestinely your group should be loud and visible. People who hear about your campaign may join your group. Get into the public eye often. (See the entries News Media and Internet, Chapter 3).
You may find it easier to persuade people to join you if your campaign is achievable and attainable in the near-term (shut down a fur shop). But perhaps your goal is big and long-term (abolish the fur trade)? Then split it into segments and concentrate initially on the achievable and the attainable (shutting your local fur shop - see Schumacher Furs in the entry Picketing, Chapter 3).
Should your group have a constitution? A constitution is a set of rules that guides the efficient running of a group and settles disputes about how to do things. You do not need a constitution if your group consists of just a few close colleagues; concentrate on your mission, not on your admin. On the other hand, too much rule-making is a mistake that can restrict a group's growth and development. People who are 'rule happy' often err by making too many rules in an attempt to cover all eventualities.
However, if your group is large, internally truculent, or with an already growing jumble of rules to govern its members, then a constitution incorporating the rules in a simple yet formal way may be useful. A constitution may also be necessary to open some banking accounts or for being recognised officially in some capacity.
Here is a simple 12-point formal constitution that your group could adopt and modify to suite its purpose.
The Group Committee
- The Group shall be known as ... (hereafter called 'the Group').
- The purpose of the Group is ... Other activities furthering the purpose of the Group or for the Group's benefit shall be carried out from time to time as its members decide.
- The area covered by the Group is mainly ... but activities may be undertaken elsewhere as decided by the members.
- The Group shall cooperate and exchange information with other bodies in similar fields, work in consultation with relevant individuals and organisations, and do such lawful things as are necessary to attain the Group's purpose.
- Membership of the Group shall be open to everyone engaged in and pledged to the Group's purpose.
- The Group shall hold regular meetings to discuss all aspects of its work. Meetings shall be fully publicised and all members shall be entitled to attend.
- Funds shall be raised when necessary for carrying out the purpose of the Group and shall be used as the members decide.
- There shall be an annual subscription to help pay necessary expenses. The subscription shall be determined at the members' meeting from time to time and at a rate that is considered adequate.
- When required, officers shall be appointed to conduct the administration of the Group. Officers shall include a Chair, a Secretary, and a Treasurer. They shall be in charge of the day to day running of the Group and shall be answerable to members at the Group's meetings.
- The Treasurer shall keep the accounts of the Group. Accounts shall be submitted for approval at least once a year at a members' meeting.
- If the Group shall cease to exist it will be decided by a majority vote at a group meeting. All assets after all bills are paid shall pass to a similar group as the members decide at the meeting.
- This constitution may be amended only by consent of a majority of the members of the group.
If you are going in for a formally and rigorously organised group it should have a number of officers, the members who run the group. These members are called the group's committee. If you wish your group to have a committee then its committee members should keep in touch by meeting every so often. Other interested members should also be able to attend these meetings. Three important posts of the committee are Chair (or Co-ordinator), Secretary and Treasurer.
The Chair is an administrator, responsible for conducting meetings, ensuring they are carried out properly and that order is maintained. Chairing meetings is a skill that improves with practice. The Chair may ultimately be responsible for group decisions and coordinates what all the members are doing.
The Secretary is responsible for the efficient day to day running of the group. The Secretary deals with the correspondence and office work, keeps records and minutes of meetings and writes the annual report. The Secretary is the group's executive who carries out the decisions of the group's committee.
The Treasurer is responsible for the group's money and financial transactions. The Treasurer collects subscriptions, pays bills, keeps the accounting books and an eye on expenditure. Accurate financial accounts are essential to any large formally organised group; you need to know where the money is coming from and going to and how much you have at any time.
You may want other officers, such as a publicity officer, newsletter editor or liaison officer. But no group need have all these functionaries and one member can combine more than one function. Some responsibilities are best delegated temporarily rather than put an ineffective member permanently in charge of them.
Group Success or Failure
You will not want to set up a group for it to fall to pieces. Therefore paying attention to what can go wrong will pay dividends. Here are some functional tips about organising a group.
- Mission - Not Admin
- Be organised but not to the extent that bureaucracy takes over your group's reason for being. Use the simplest administration to make your group a going concern. Concentrate on the action.
- Know Where You Are Going
- Think through what you are going to do. Draw up an action plan (Chapter 3) to act as your practical guide.
- Any voluntary organisation generally consists of five percent activists and 95 percent members; activists do 95 per cent of the work. The familiar '20/80 rule' is more optimistic: 20 percent of members do 80 percent of the work. This is human nature and the way with voluntary organisations. So expect to do a lot of the work yourself. Most members may just turn up now and then.
- Beware of your personal drive burning out. No matter how enthusiastic you are now, constant work and stress may exhaust you. Burnout might happen in the far future but watch out for when it comes. Better to work steadily and keep up a good average performance than to explode onto the scene only to extinguish yourself. Should you get burnt out take it easy, thoroughly get over it and then carry on. This applies to anyone getting burn out in your group.
- Membership Demands
- Will you require that prospective members adopt a certain lifestyle before they join your group, that they be vegetarians, vegans or whatever? You might not want to scare them away but let them adapt in their own time. Then you will have more members and they will be more animal-friendly.
- Assign Tasks
- The continuation of any group of activists depends on finding more active members. If you are looking for more members, when new people turn up make them feel wanted and involved. They will be less likely to change their minds about joining you the sooner you give them the opportunity to take part in an activity. So make sure everyone who really wants something to do has something to do.
- You stand to lose contact with your members if you do not see each other reasonably frequently. The longer you delay face to face meetings the greater the likelihood of your membership leaking away. A less forceful alternative to meeting in the flesh is sending out frequent emails, even phoning.
- Top Heavy
- A big group is not necessarily better than a small one. It is not the vastness of your group that counts but what it accomplishes. If you have many members you could divide them into core activists and a general membership. Communicate with all but work primarily with your 'shock troop' core.
- Small Victories
- Animal rights opponents often succeed in a conflict because they are well established and therefore can hold-out longer than you simply by carrying on in the same old way. They can ignore you and count on you becoming discouraged and giving up. Therefore you may well need victories from time to time to keep up your member's spirits or they might desert you as a no-hoper and your group will perish. So break down your long-term tasks into small achievable steps you can win. And when you win a small victory let everyone know about it.
- Be Dispensable
- Efficient managers are dispensable. They can leave their business and relax knowing they will run smoothly in their absence. If you can do this with your group it show how competent you are. So share responsibilities among your group's members. Coach members who are willing and able to take over in your absence. Some members could at least be familiar with the work of the group's officers so that any sudden officer vacancy can be taken over by someone else.
- Pleasing Everyone
- You cannot please everyone all of the time; if you try you will be seen as a weak leader and your group may fail. Be polite and firm, make the best decisions you can and expect to be wrong sometimes.
- Encourage members to contribute their views and fully take part in the group. Act on their suggestions and let them feel valued members, otherwise you could lose them to another group.
- Fiction within the group may crop up. If you leave friction unresolved it may tear your group open. Recognise you have a problem and discuss it openly in a friendly, non-confrontational way.
- Positive Criticism
- Criticise assertions, arguments or acts but not the individuals behind them. Be on good terms with everyone you disagree with and make sure they know you are not attacking them personally.
- If people come to hate you they may turn a blind eye and deaf ear to what you represent and you will make no headway with them. Cultivate good relations within - as well as outside - your group: diplomacy and good humour are always valuable.
- No matter the seriousness of your issue, and without being frivolous, take time to have some fun and enjoy your campaigning. Fun reduces stress. With salubrious humour your group will last longer. Socialising can add an extra dimension and enjoyment for many members and make the difference between keeping members and losing them. Social events are better if they depend on members' spontaneous initiative for initiation.
- Think Ahead
- It is vital for the continuity of your group to keep an eye open for potential leaders. Groom them to take over for when the time comes, such as when you step down (no one lasts forever). You should do this even before you think of quitting or at least a few months before you intend to go. All your efforts setting up the group and making it work efficiently will go to waste if the group perishes for want of good leadership when you are gone. You can derive great satisfaction knowing that your work will outlast you.
In summary, make animal rights not admin your target; expect to do most work yourself; watch out for burnout; beware of making membership stipulations; keep members busy; meet every so often; productivity not size matters; motivate troops with achievements on the road to victory; be a dispensable manager; share responsibility with other members; encourage members to participate fully; criticise the act/argument not the person; make decisions without trying to please everyone; recognise internal friction and deal with it; be diplomatic; have fun; prepare future leaders.
Producing newsletters about your group, what it does and is doing, could be a good idea at some point. A good newsletter evokes a sense of common purpose and is a force for binding together individuals interested in your animal rights issue. A newsletter advertises your group to non-members by telling them what you do and is of value for recruitment. The more well written and produced your newsletter is, the more credible your group will appear to people. Impress them with your convictions and make them laugh at your good humour.
Give your newsletters to group members. Ask them to distribute copies. Enclose a copy when you correspond with people about your groups business. Stand about town and give them away to passers-by. Leave copies in public places, the town hall and public libraries. Use your newsletter as a calling card.
A simple newsletter need only be one page of news. A bigger newsletter could consist of a larger sheet folded to make four pages.
Depending on what you are doing, on your campaigning and on what is happening locally, you could include:
- Aims and problems.
- Proposed activities and ideas for future events.
- Reports of past and continuing activities.
- Copies of newspaper stories about your group.
- Pieces about animal-human relations.
- Letters from members and what individuals are doing.
- Reviews of your group's financial situation.
- Dates or social activities for the group.
- Pinches of light gossip if you want to keep things lively and informal.
- Think of a catchy name for your newsletter's title. Tails Up! is better than The Newsletter of the Grimstown Animal Rights Group. You can always append the longer name as a sub-title in small print below the pithy name to give your readers a better idea of what you are.
- Find a volunteer to illustrate the newsletter and other people to contribute, whether members of your group or not (but sometimes it is simply easier to do everything yourself!).
- Key everything into a computer and print off from it as many sheets as you need, or print off a single master copy and photocopy it repeatedly.
- How often will your newsletter come out? Four times a year is ample, provided the newsletter is not too difficult to put together and the printing and distribution are easy and cheap. However, twice a year could be sufficient if your newsletter production is long hard work (but it gets quicker and easier with experience).
- The cost of the newsletter does not have to come to much with a cheap source of paper and computer print-outs and photocopying. One way of paying for it is to ask members of your group for a small membership subscription, have a whip round, or foot the bill from your own pocket. You might even print prominently on the front page for subscribers.
- What ever you write in your newsletter bear in mind that you can be sued for libel. A way around this might be to criticise people's actions rather than make claims about the people themselves. Be circumspect. You can make many points with good humoured jabs and satire.
For related info see Leafleting.
Much of what your group does may not need funding. Nevertheless, you might require some money to cover your costs. It is up to you to generate funds, so go out and get it.
Do not shy away from asking people for funds or for material you can convert into cash. The fundraiser's first rule is ' if you don't' ask, you don't get'. Their second rule is 'ask frequently'. So start asking. With the right frame of mind fundraising can be fun and absorbing - some people do it for a career - and for animal rights fundraising is a virtue. While out and about fundraising, double up by publicising your campaign and bagging new members for your group.
Methods of raising campaigning funds are diverse. Here are perhaps the two most reliable and time honoured ways plus a new one.
- Jumble Sale
- Selling jumble might be the number one time-honoured way of raising cash. Book sales are similar and might raise more money with less effort. Make leaflets asking for jumble (or books). Advertise by making four small strip-leaflets, by tearing up an A4 page, and distributing them to the houses in your district. Donors may want to know that their donations will be used to good effect, so just tell them you are a voluntary group for animals (they might not agree with the rights bit) and that their jumble is to help animals (which it is!). State your name or the name of your group and the date and time a few days later when you will collect the jumble. You could ask donors to leave the stuff outside so that you need not knock on their door. Hire a stall at a fair or sell your wares at a car boot sale. Adjust your jumble's price to something very reasonable and attractive for people to buy. Your income will depend on the quality and quantity of the jumble and on your expertise selling it.
- Sponsored Event
- Carry out an activity, like a cookie-making spin, long-distance walk or bicycle ride, an all night dance, a marathon run, a litter clean up or something unusual, and get people to pay you for doing it. An excellent system for publicising your event and collecting the money is via an online company, like JustGiving.com, the only catch being that your group must be a registered charity (alternatively you might be able to go through an established registered charity) and have a bank account. JustGiving provide you with your own personalised online fundraising page. Your friends, family, acquaintances and anyone accessing your page from anywhere in the world could sponsor you with a donation of any amount by credit card. JustGiving thank the donor, collect the money and send it to your account for a small cut.
- Sell Merchandise Online
- Some online companies, like CafePress.com, provide you with an online 'shop': one or more pages of merchandise that web viewers can look at and buy from. Most wares are clothing, favourite buys are T-shirts and sweat shirts, and there are also coffee mugs and a selection of other things. You characterise your shop with your logo and group details, select the wares to sell, apply graphics and/or a message to them - for instance a T-shirt or mug with your logo and the message Respect Animals! across it - and decide on your price tags. When a viewer makes a purchase the company sends them the stuff and forwards you the purchase price minus a percentage. The company handles everything, even returns from unsatisfied customers (should there be any). If your group has its own web site, selling merchandise like this can make it look more interesting and professional. However, you have to sell quite a lot for this way of fundraising to be more than just pocket money!
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