How to keep everyone on the same page for community projects
Let’s say a new climate change bill is circulating in your state legislature and you are organizing a rally in support. You posted on several social media channels, went to your town hall, and even handed out flyers on the street. You informed constituents of the date and time of the rally, its purpose, and the intended outcome. Everyone seems to be on board, but the turnout is not what you expected, and the legislature rejects the bill.
What was the issue here? After all, people did seem interested. One problem may have been timing. If you didn’t clearly communicate when the vote would take place, the like-minded citizens in your target audience may not have understood the urgent need to show their support. Organizing a rally is no easy feat. The hardest part of community organizing is often keeping everyone on the same page. With a clear proposal, regular communication, accessible documents, and the right collaboration tools, organizers can make the process manageable and achieve their intended outcome.
Create a clear proposal
A strong proposal — one that clearly defines goals and milestones and the process for achieving them — can make a whole community project flow smoothly. Whether you’re organizing a rally or fundraising for a community garden, make the effort to write a clear proposal.
Let’s continue with the idea that you are throwing a rally. All the people involved, including both the organizers and the attendees, need to understand its purpose, why it matters, how they can participate, and what is expected of them. For example, should everyone wear a certain color of clothes?
If the end goal, as in the example, is to pass a certain legislative initiative on climate change, then you will need to explain how the bill will make a difference and why people should care about it. If the end goal is to spread environmental awareness in a more general way, you still must describe the purpose of the event and why the issue matters at that moment in time.
The more clearly you explain what you are trying to accomplish in your proposal, the easier it will be for all of the organizers to communicate the purpose of the event or project — and all the relevant details about it — to potential supporters.
Set SMART goals
For community organizers, setting goals and executing them coherently can be the hardest part of the job. Using the SMART framework — defining goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound — can help you structure projects for success.
The S of the SMART goals template is perhaps the most important element for organizers to take note of. When it comes to community projects, your goal needs to be as specific as possible. Often, these kinds of events can come together outside of an established organization, making specifics difficult to articulate once the movement or campaign is in process. Setting clear goals before launch can better ensure that everyone working on the project is on the same page.
The four other elements of the SMART acronym are still crucial. When you position a goal as being both achievable and relevant to your constituents, they are more likely to engage. And when the goal is measurable and time-bound, they are more likely to stay engaged until the goal has been reached. Legislative initiatives, for instance, don’t stay on the floor of the state legislature or U.S. Congress forever. Use external deadlines — or create your own — to build a sense of urgency.
Communicate often with regular, scheduled check-ins
The more you communicate, the more likely it is that everyone will stay on the same page. Without clear guidelines, expectations, and regular check-ins, the opposite could easily occur. Team members may be left scrambling to figure out the details, or worse, they may completely disengage because they don’t know how to help with your community project.
Make sure that doesn’t happen by following these best practices:
- Provide regular updates: Make sure your constituents don’t miss anything important. You can do this by updating calendars, shared documents, or group chats. For instance, if you have recently found out that the mayor has heard of your event, then you should let the group know.
- Keep the messaging the same: Across all the mediums you use and all the people you talk to, you must convey the same message. Moreover, if you update the calendar, update the group chat as well. This consistency helps you avoid any confusion when disseminating important information.
- Have a centralized location: Having one physical location makes it easier to promote in-person communication. This approach can help organizers provide more comprehensive and personalized information to constituents who need it.
- Have a designated email or phone number: While you may not be able to have a physical group location immediately, you must have an email address or phone number that people can use to ask questions.
- Use apps: For large groups, apps can be a helpful coordination tool. There are many options available, such as GroupMe and WhatsApp, to keep your community on the same page.
Make documents accessible to all
Documents about the community project should always be accessible to the whole group, and constituents. You can do this by using electronic documents (e-docs), which are safe and secure digital files. E-docs make it easy to share and access information as well as provide signatures when needed.
Of course, not every document should be shared. Sensitive documents, for instance, may need their own security measures and protections to ensure they do not get into the wrong hands. It is important to know which documents need to be shared with the entire group, and which should only be shared with the immediate organizing group.
Volunteer information, on one hand, should only be shared with the organizers, as this information may contain phone numbers or home addresses. Documents discussing details of the event or legislative information, on the other hand, should be widely accessible to the entire group.
Constituents, for instance, need to be kept up-to-date on the legislature’s actions and responses to the climate change initiative. But they do not need other supporters’ private information.
Resolve differences quickly and proactively
Conflicts happen. They may be especially common in community projects, where multiple voices are coming together to work on an issue that evokes strong feelings. Clear planning and communication can prevent some of these differences and also mitigate them if they do occur — and odds are, they will.
If you do run into creative differences, there are a few best practices you can follow. First, be objective. Revisit the goals of the project. At the end of the day, everyone should be serving the project at hand, and not their own vision. Focusing on the objectives of the project may help get people back on track.
Second, ask questions. Try to understand where these creative differences are coming from and how they fit into the bigger picture. You do not have to treat this as a confrontation, but rather just a conversation about getting everyone on the same page. Be careful not to discount others’ thoughts and ideas. They are more likely to be receptive to your advice if you at least hear them out. For bigger community projects, you may consider appointing a mediator to resolve differences.
Follow-up after events
After the community project is completed, the work is not yet done. You need to measure your success and determine whether you achieved the intended outcome. Once you have done that, you will need to follow up with your group. Update them on your collective progress and give a timeline for when they should expect to hear more about the results.
This may also be a good time to deliver thank you cards or gifts to participants, sponsors, or community organizers. These gestures can help build relationships and create incentives for people to volunteer for the next community project.