Well-executed events like team meetings, rallies, and canvasses are the backbone of community organizing. No two events are the same, but reviewing these general guidelines can help you avoid some common organizing pitfalls and fast-track any event for success.
Before you do anything else, decide what type of event you want to have and how many attendees you’re aiming for. Be as specific as possible in this step, because having a clear vision of your event will help you decide where and when it should take place and being able to articulate that vision to your team will get everyone on the same page from day one.
Next, nail down a location. Smaller events like team meetings can be held in coffee shops, living rooms, garages, and even backyards. Public libraries, union halls, and restaurant banquet rooms can accommodate larger crowds and are usually affordable options. Be creative—one of our most successful events was in a parking lot—but make sure your location has everything you need (restrooms, internet access, cell service, parking, etc.) and check local regulations before setting a spot for public events like rallies or canvasses.
After you pick a place, set a time. If most of your attendees work, evening or weekend events are the way to go. If you’re trying to attract the press, daytime events during the week are your best bet. Keep potential conflicts like rush-hour and mealtime in mind, and don’t try to compete with church services, important deadlines, or sporting events—God, bills, and the game win every time.
Start making invitations as soon as the details are set. Talk to neighbors, make announcements to local organizations, post flyers, make calls, and do whatever it takes to get the word out. It’s generally safe to assume that half of the people you invite aren’t going to make it, so if you want 10 people at your event, invite at least 20 and encourage everyone to bring a friend. Keep a list of everyone who is interested with a brief note about their RSVP and their contact details. (If you use Gmail, I recommend making a Google group for each event.) Send everyone who RSVP’s an email with event details and a contact phone number they can call with questions.
Call through the list of attendees the day before the event to confirm attendance and provide attendees with any additional information they may need. You’ll make two passes on this list, calling back attendees who don’t pick up the first time about an hour later. Leave voicemails with event details and a call back number for anyone who doesn’t answer the second call. Don’t forget to confirm with the host, too.
Mark each person on the list as “confirmed” if they say they’ll be there, “left message” if you leave a message, and “cancelled” if they tell you they can’t make it. When estimating the next day’s attendance, assume that most (90%) of confirmed people, some (50-75%) of people who received voicemails, and none (0%) of the people who cancelled will show up.
Finally, gather enough supplies for your estimated attendance, plus about 10% extra. Be sure to set up for the event 1.5 to 2 hours early so you’ll have enough time to send a runner for anything that’s missing and greet early-birds as they arrive.