Grassroots Tips

The Incredible Power of Small Groups in Politics

small groups leverageYou’ve heard the old expression that “two heads are better than one”? Well, it’s true in politics too. In fact, the more like-minded “heads” that you can get together, thinking, planning and working in the same direction, the more leverage and energy you can bring to any project.

Why wouldn’t you try to bring that same strength to bear on political problems (or opportunities)?

If the type of people that we hang out with impacts the course of our personal lives, then it follows that the type of people that we work with to impact the things that we care about influences our chances of political success. Remember, “Irons sharpens iron”.

The Benefits of Small Groups:

  • More skills and resources become available
  • Broader networks of contacts are created
  • Relationships grow stronger
  • Group brain-storming leads to more ideas
  • Action items are developed
  • Group members get encouraged and are held accountable

It’s one thing to have a good group of people that you tend to hang around politically, but it’s another thing to have a specific group of people who come together for a specific purpose.  In other words, it creates leverage.

Why are you together? What does everyone want to accomplish or what do they want to see changed? Does everyone have the same expectations about what kind of time and resources they need to invest in it?

As Solomon put it in Proverbs, “Without counsel purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counselors they are established”.

Before You Start a Small Group:

  • Know the purpose – (if everyone’s not on the same page, then there’s no point)
  • Know who you need – (when you know the purpose, it’s easier to figure out “who” you need to recruit…people who are committed to the goal and the idea of having a group)
  • Know what everyone brings to the table – (look for unique benefits…and how they relate to reaching the goals of the group)

Don’t invite everyone just to “build a crowd”. You’ll end up going in ten different directions at once, get nowhere fast and frustrate everyone. The bigger this type of group gets, the more unwieldy it will become. Keep it smaller and more personal. Be selective.

You’re looking for key people who are committed to the cause – all with unity of purpose and clarity about what to do and how to go about it. People with different strengths that benefit the whole. In other words, think of it as a recruiting process for a team.

After You Start a Small Group:

  • Meet Regularly – Not meeting defeats a key reason for having a small group to begin with, so set up a schedule. Maybe you decide to meet for breakfast once a week…or on a certain Saturday every month. Just make sure it’s as often as you need to in order to accomplish your goals, and that it’s something regular (and with time limits) that everyone can plan around.
  • Meet Conveniently – Meet somewhere that allows the group to have the kind of interaction that it needs in order to get things done.
  • Meet with a Purpose – Share information, brainstorm ideas, create projects, make plans and set action items, and hold each other accountable

You’re looking to have regular meetings with a group of people with common goals in order to facilitate organized thought, which leads to thoughtfully organized activity.

If other side projects or even a larger organization is born out of it, fine. In fact that’s part of the point of small groups, to give rise to other projects and opportunities that relate to your goals. But keep the group itself smaller, manageable and focused.

Remember, there really is no replacement for organized, collective thought and action. As Sam Adams put it, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority…”

So start a small group and BE that “tireless minority”!

Issues Win Campaigns

Whether you’re running a grassroots organization, a lobbying campaign or an election campaign, issues matter.

As legendary South Carolina political consultant Lee Atwater used to say “Issues win campaigns”, and he was exactly right. Issues win campaigns because campaigns are about people…and people are moved by issues.

Issues can be used to unite voters behind a cause or candidate, or divide them away from a cause or candidate that they may currently support. They can also be used to compliment a candidate or group’s image, if they’re consistent with the image that you want to portray.

Choose the Right Issues

Most people hate politics. They don’t typically get involved because they’ve got too much spare time on their hands. Something motivates them. They care about something. Find out what that is.

Find issues that are relevant to the people whose support you need and that are important enough to move them to take action. The kind that not only motivate people, but that sometimes may even divide your supporters from your opponents – passionately.

In many cases it can even work to your advantage to make an election, a vote you’re lobbying, or even a PR campaign, into a “referendum” on a specific issue or group of issues. In other words, you can piggy-back on public support for an issue that people care about by equating support for your cause or campaign with support for that issue.

Highlight Your Issues

Don’t try to talk about every issue under the sun. It’s one thing to have a lot of issue positions as part of a platform, but that doesn’t mean that you spend all of your time and resources talking about all of them. Focus on YOUR issues.

Remember that in order for issues to have an impact, people must be aware of the differences between you and the opposition. They have to be highlighted aggressively and repeatedly.

Zoom in on the few issues that will do your cause or campaign the most good…and then wear them out like a rented mule.

Tips for Running Meetings

You can’t really have much of a political organization without meetings, which means that you need to make sure that the kind of meetings that you have serve the needs and purposes of your group or campaign.

But when it comes to typical “meetings”, (whether official group meetings, or project meetings), take time to do the things to make them more useful, (and not boring or a waste of time).

Here are some good tips for running meetings:

Have the Right Leader

Without having the right person to “run” a meeting, things can get off the rails pretty quickly and stay there. You need someone who can politely (but firmly) facilitate discussion to make things productive, and yet still keep it moving along. It’s not a job for just anybody who wants to “run” things.

Start on Time

Starting on time sets a professional tone and it’s respectful of those who show up on time. Meetings that are always starting late (because you’re late, or others are late), just encourages bad habits, and everyone will get used to never starting on time. And starting late usually means “finishing late”.

Have an Agenda

An agenda is the “plan” for the meeting, and you gotta’ have a plan. Make sure that there is an agenda, and that everyone has a copy – and that you follow it! Otherwise things will probably get off track, or you’ll spend too much time on one thing and not get everything done. Know what action items need to be resolved, (who, what, when, where). Repeat them to the group for clarification. Otherwise, you’re just meeting to meet, and what’s the point of that?

Don’t Over-stuff it

Don’t be so ambitious with how much goes into an agenda that it never gets done, or the meetings always run long and frustrate people. Remember, people like to talk, and most items usually take longer to cover than you may think. Make sure that you have enough time to do the things that need to get done.

Have Ground Rules

The most useful meetings are those where everyone participates but things stay focused, which is rare. Having some general ground rules that everyone agrees on can make things more productive. Things like: how much time you’ll spend talking about any issue; what subjects should comments be limited to; what’s off limits; and is what’s said supposed to be confidential? Try to get everyone to agree to whatever ground rules work for your group. You could even print them on the top of the agenda to keep them fresh in everyone’s mind.

Facilitate, Don’t Dictate

Part of the job of running a meeting is making sure that you involve and get good feedback from the people that are there. Otherwise you’re wasting an opportunity to get everyone’s collective minds focused on the job at hand. And how else can you know if people are getting what they want from the meetings or the group? Nobody has the market cornered on good ideas. Take advantage of the chance to do some brainstorming – just don’t let it drag on too long.

Review Action-items

It’s not very productive to meet and then have the people who are there not really know what was decided or what’s expected of them after the fact. Summarize and review what was decided and note any action items, (who, what, when, where).

End on Time

Ending on time goes hand in hand with starting on time. People have other things to do and plan their lives around, so respect their plans. If you think that a meeting will need to go long, let people know ahead of time. Just remember, “long” usually means “boring”. And boring kills!

Follow Up

Be sure to follow-up with people who need to be followed up on. Don’t let things go undone between meetings, or you miss one of the main points of having a meeting to begin with.

Remember, volunteers are at a premium.  If you’re going to take the time to meet, then you should take the time to get the most out of it.  Keep these tips in mind and meetings will be more productive – and the group will appreciate it.