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But What About the Media and Mailing?

Many organizations successfully use the media and the mall to recruit members. Some organizations, particularly when an issue is "hot," can effectively use the media to recruit large number of members. The National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Police (SANE) recruited thousands of members in the 1950's from one full page ad in the New York Times.

Many successfully use mail solicit members but I am focusing on face relationships because evidence is that strong lasting organizations are more likely be built by to person rather than through the media or direct mail recruiting.

Flyers, announcements and mailing can often help to remind people of an up-coming event. But generally from one thousand flyers you will get one person to a meeting.

A young organizer found this out painfully. He was organizing a city wide hearing on increased water and sewer rates. He passed out thousands of flyers. He put the announcement on cable T.V. He called lots of people on lists of people who had signed a petition on a door to door canvas and who said they would come to the hearing. He was expecting hundreds of people. Only a dozen people showed up at the hearing--mostly the people he had contacted personally. He was disappointed, forgetting that flyers and media won't bring people. People bring people.

The media and the mail have a place in a recruiting strategy and can be used effectively. It is helpful to copy any newspaper or magazine articles about your group. The media coverage lends legitimacy to your organization.

SOME people--a small minority--will "self-recruit." So announcements in the media (public service announcements, ads in the media, etc.) may result in your getting members. And, in fact, they may be very self-motivated and hard- working people. But the main lesson here is: don't make media and mailing your main recruiting strategy.

The Importance of Numbers

Most of this manual describes how to get people actively involved in an organization. But many organizations need people who will loin, pay their dues, but not do much else. That is O.K. The strength of an organization can be measured not only by its active members, but by the number of its members. If people are willing to pay for membership it indicates they value the organization and what it stands for.

Depending on your organization, you may want to put some emphasis on getting large numbers of people to join. Sometimes someone who loins, but who does not intend to get actively involved, can be a good prospect for active involvement later. People in organizations come and go. They move away, change their life situation. their needs, etc. At one time, someone may be happy lust to support the organization with their check Later they may be willing to do a little more.

If your organization is trying to show the support it enjoys in the community, one of the best ways is to show how many dues paying members you have. So, although the emphasis here is on methods of gaining active involvement, don't forget the need to have people who join and show their support by their dues alone. There may be times in your organization's life that you are looking for more members--not necessarily more active members. That's O.K. As long as you know what you want and why you want them. For this kind of recruitment, you will use more of the shorter visits ("door-knocking"), or media or direct mail. You can make it clear that you are looking for financial and moral support, not necessarily active involvement.

Recognizing and Rewarding

Successful organizations recognize and reward people. One winning political campaign took instant photos of all the volunteers and plastered the walls of the campaign office with the photos. People liked seeing their faces on the wall. They felt important, recognized, and appreciated. It helped people know each others names. If they saw someone they wanted to get to know, they could easily find their name on the wall.

People like to be appreciated. Verbal thank you's are always welcome. Gifts and other tangible also motivate people. Awards, even the simplest paper certificates, build organizations and keep volunteers. Notice how a meeting sparks up when someone is given an award. It not only helps the individual getting the award, but it builds the morale of everyone else. Since people like to be appreciated, when they see someone receiving an award, they might think of doing the organization's work themselves--so next time they might be up at the front receiving the award and applause of the group.

Building Membership Ownership

If you want your organization to be in the business of empowering people, it can not rely on what I call the "McDonald's" method--"We do it all for you." Instead, it must follow the "iron rule of organizing" never do for people what they can do for themselves.

In building an organization, it helps to have this rule enshrined in letters of gold (or whatever you can afford) over your door. NEVER DO FOR PEOPLE WHAT THEY CAN DO FOR THEMSELVES (More importantly, have it enshrined in your heart.)

You can apply the iron rule to the smallest things. When you hold a meeting, don't bring all the food and drinks yourself. Ask others to bring what you need.

When I first started building an organization, I would ask several people to bring the refreshments: one person the coffee, another the cups, another the sugar, another the spoons, another the milk, another the cookies, another the napkins, another the donuts, etc. It took longer at the beginning, and sometimes I wondered if I was nuts. It was so much quicker and easier for me to go to the supermarket myself and get it done. (Plus, that way I knew it would get done, instead of worrying whether people would show up with the things they said they would bring.) But it gave everyone the idea that this was THEIR organization, not mine. If they wanted refreshments, it was THEIR responsibility. If you want the members to own the organization, then they bring the coffee and donuts--as well as do every other thing they can do by themselves. An organization that empowers people is not like McDonalds. It does not "do it all for you." It uses the "iron rule." "Never do for people what they can do for themselves."

Of course, there will be some times when you will want to do some tasks for others they can do for themselves--to free them up to do more significant tasks. Don't take the "iron rule" to ridiculous extremes. You may want to get the coffee yourself, so someone else can call their friends for the meeting, prepare a speech, or visit a potential large contributor. The iron rule is meant to empower people not bog them down in busy work.


Organizations are effective celebrate. They know that people join for more than the issues. They loin to develop community, a sense of belonging. Recognize that organizations working for people's interests are made up of people- -with all their complex wishes, hopes and dreams. Effective organizations recognize that putting people first taking time out to resolve conflicts, to say thank you, to celebrate, to listen to "personal" problems--is not a ""frill"- -but an essential part of building an effective organization for the long haul. Celebrations parties, music, dancing, and food (don't forget the food--organizations like armies march on their stomachs)--are part of any recruiting effort.

Now Do It!

None of this is useful if it keeps you on the couch. This is meant to be used. So use it. Take is easy, but take it.