Working with the Community: Activist Milestone #6
Create, Manage, and Activate a Community Action Network of Grassroots and Grasstops Activists
What is a Community Action Network?
A Community Action Network is a local collection of connected individuals who have an interest in a common issue or goal, and through their established relationships with each other, are prepared to mobilize when an opportunity arises to move their work forward. For example, if RESULTS offers an action that seems particularly relevant to/powerful for people in your town, such as phone calls to Congress about an important vote, your Community Action Network could mobilize to act. Speaking with your Community Action Networks is also a great way to start planning a community forum or other local event designed to generate the political will to end poverty. People in your network don’t have to see each other every day or be in contact a prescribed way or amount of time. But the network feels a common alliance due to 1) a passion about a topic and 2) a quick, efficient way of communicating.
Who is in a Community Action Network?
Community Action Networks are exciting because they are filled with both grasstops and grassroots activists. Grassroots are all of us. They are the heart of any community, the ordinary people who make up the fabric of a neighborhood, a town, city, state, or nation. Grasstops are leaders and organizers in your community who are connected to or with difference constituencies in the community. They have lots of resources at their disposal, are in a position to make a pivotal change happen through their positions in the community, and/or can organize large groups around a common cause. Using the term articulated by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, grasstops are “connectors”; people who simply have a social reach several times larger than the average persons’. In fact, established and connected RESULTS groups could be considered grasstops in their communities. Both grassroots and grasstops are valuable assets to your network.
The size and range of your network is up to you. It can be as local as a neighborhood or as large as a state. In can be socially-based (faith community, social justice group, work colleagues, or all of the above). Most RESULTS groups start at the local level and build out from there. In some cases, particularly in states where more than one RESULTS group exists, networks can connect city-to-city and even statewide.
How do I Create a Community Action Network?
- There is no magic formula to creating a Community Action Network, but a great first start is to figure out how you will contact and keep track of your network even before you find people to join it. Will you use an Excel spreadsheet to catalogue contact information and contact people by phone? Do you prefer Facebook? Do you like sending tweets? Figure out the method that works best for you and your network, and keep your list current and easy to reach. And our standard sign-up forms, available on our website, might be a helpful way to capture information.
- Choose the best method to communicate with your network. Does e-mail work best? Facebook, Twitter or other social media? In some cases, a phone network is appropriate.
- Think about how often you expect to activate your network. Realistically, if an individual would like to take actions quite often, it makes sense for them simply to sign up for our national RESULTS Action Network. However, if they prefer only to be contacted for particularly important actions or actions that relate to your local RESULTS group, participating in your local Community Action Network could be perfect for them.
- Think carefully about who to include. Begin with your own RESULTS group and make sure your method of communication, as well as your contact details, are up to date and running smoothly. Then think about your relationships and affiliations and coalition partners. Ask yourself, which individuals and groups might be interested in joining an action network that will be activated when there is an immediate, important advocacy action that can be taken? Then craft your invitation which clearly explains that you are not placing anyone on a formal database kept in the DC office, but that you are keeping a current list of people who may want to be notified of local opportunities in the fight against hunger and poverty.
- Don’t overuse your network. By definition, people in your network are not wanting to take action as full-fledged RESULTS activist, so they are likely to tire of a relentless series of e-mails or calls each week. Instead, use your discretion in activating your network at key times with actions or information.
- Consider how you are cultivating your network along what we call the Ladder of Engagement. Just like members of Congress, advocates can become champions, too! (Check out this handy graphic which helps you visualize the Ladder of Engagement.)
- Be strategic. If the right local opportunities to reach out haven’t surfaced for your network in a few weeks, consider sending a link to a powerful article, an invitation to have coffee, or a thank you for being willing to stand at the ready. This allows people to also give you feedback, contact detail updates, etc. Just like you don’t want to overuse your network, you also do not want it to get stagnant.
- Don’t be the only keeper of the network. In your absence, the network may need to be activated. By sharing the responsibility with another trusted activist, you increase your ability to be nimble and timely in your management of the network.
- Keep the RESULTS door open. Many in your network may not yet have chosen to be a RESULTS activist in any capacity. When the time comes for your group to engage in outreach, invite your entire network. By persistently keeping the welcome mat out for your entire network, you increase the chances of someone taking you up on the invitation to become a RESULTS partner and/or donor.
For more great tips, check out Building a Community Coalition, and a quick tips sheet related to this milestone titled "Bringing Them Into the RESULTS Story," and our own RESULTS blog.