How To Organize Functional Meetings And Start a Local Group

1. Figure out what you want to hold a meeting for.  

What outcomes do you want?  Is it for a specific campaign?  Do you want to form a group that focuses on creating a stronger local food system that will collectively decide what that looks like? Or is it simply a networking group?   This will be essential as it sets the tone and impacts everything you do before and after the meeting.

Pick a date at least two weeks out so people have time to hear about it/find the posters and spread the news on social media.

Location-

Find a location- Although convenient, people are often nervous attending a meeting at a home so it helps to find a public place that has enough seating and isn’t too loud.  A coffee shop or wine bar will work for at least the first meeting. 

 If you anticipate a larger crowd, try to find another no cost venue- church, community hall, meeting room, or extra room at a restaurant or coffee shop etc.  Let the owner know you will be having a small organizational meeting to start a group in the area to create a stronger local food supply, or to get a school to stop using RoundUp, or whatever your cause is. Why?  To know if the space is available and so they know this is just an organizational meeting and that you will not be collecting signatures or bothering other patrons.

Time-

Day and time is flexible. FYI- We have found late afternoons on weekends to be good times for folks.  Other than that, sometimes evening meetings work best, sometimes morning.  Pick a good time for you and a few others you know will show up and then get the word out.

 

2- Get the word out.

Create a snappy title for the event and a fun tagline. 

Examples:

Group forming to create a strong local food system- Local food creates a better local economy, creates community, makes us more food secure and… it’s tasty.  Come find out more and join us as we create our county to celebrate our region’s food!!

Care about your kid playing on lawns sprayed with poisons?  Schools around California and the country are switching to organic alternatives to make schools safe for kids.  Let’s make sure Rosedale School does the same.

How to get the word out there for free:

 Ask people to spread the word via personal contact, Facebook, twitter, announcements at groups, events

Put the meeting info and your local contact info on a basic flyer you can easily create from using WORD or any other program..OR just writing it out if you aren’t computer savvy. It all works.  Then print them out and post them around town at natural food stores, schools, businesses,  everywhere your community allows them.  Make sure you check them periodically to make sure they are still up as they have a habit of disappearing. It’s best if you feel comfortable to add some sort of contact information to the poster/tabs so they can contact you directly with any questions.  

If your local paper has a free community events section, register it at least two weeks before to make sure you meet printing deadlines which are sometimes two weeks ahead of publication.  

If you are on Facebook, create an event page. This makes it easy for the word to spread via social media.  If you aren’t on Facebook, maybe a friend is and will do it for you.  

 

3- Prior to all meetings, even a first one, Make an Agenda 

Suggestions: intros; what this is all about, what folks would like to see happen. With subsequent meetings: organizing the group, project/event ideas, committees to be on, reports on events or committee work, what’s next

Print from 7-20 agendas (depending on your community and any feedback you’ve gotten about attendance) and bring to the meeting.  Other handouts to bring:  sign in sheet with a space for email and phone, any new project info, etc.  Most of life is pretty digital right now, but many still like paper to take home. Think of the age group attending. 

 

4- Meeting Structure

  • Unless there is a mix-up of some sort as to place or time, be sure to start no later than two or three minutes after the advertised schedule.  Start with stuff that’s not vital for the 3-5 minute latecomers, but then start in with the meat of the meeting after that timeframe.  Don’t penalize those who arrived on time. We are looking for responsible volunteers.   

  • Start by first asking if anyone will take notes. If yes, then thank them and move on. If no, you’ll have to sort of reconstruct the meeting as best you can so you can send out a report after the meeting.  A facilitator cannot do both at the same time. The most important thing you can do is be present to the group, not focused on taking notes. 

  • Important first step that builds trust and can make or break a group-  Say that you value everyone’s time and that you want their permission to keep the meeting on track so that we end on time. Get that permission by looking into each person’s eyes and getting a nod. Tell them you’ll give a time out signal when they have about a minute left.  Remind them that you value all their time and energy and there will be time at the end of the meeting to socialize and talk about issues.   

  • Ask everyone to introduce themselves and share briefly what brought them here, why they want to work on food issues and what calls them.   Go first and take under two minutes to model for the group.  Keep an eye on rambling and politely ask that folks move things along if they get too wordy as intros often do. 

  • Be sure to pass out the handouts and get their contact information at the beginning of the meeting in case they leave early.  Be sure to ask if folks are OK with sharing their contact info with the others there.

  • Follow the agenda, making time for questions and clarification but don’t get off track.  

  • If you are clear on a specific project or direction you advertised for, be sure to have thought it through and what working groups will be needed to put on the event so that folks can sign up if they have an area of interest or if not ready to commit yet, they at least know what’s going on.

  • If you are just forming a general group that wants to work on food issues and you don’t have a clear idea of a specific project yet, have a discussion to find out what folks might want to do most as a starting project.  It is most helpful to group longevity that you have a mission statement.  They provide structure and allows everyone in the group to be clear on what they are investing their time in. It also helps those outside the group understand what you are doing and decide more easily if they want to join in or not.  Suggest that be the first order of business for the next meeting and to come up with ideas for the group to consider. 

  • See if anyone has an idea for a great first community event.  See what folks want to talk about at the next meeting.  

  • Keep an eye on the time.  Don’t go over the scheduled meeting’s advertised end.  If there is simply way too much more to discuss, stop at the specified time to give a pause so those who have to leave can do so.

  • Set a date for the next meeting.  Encourage the group to all make the commitment to find a minimum of one more activist to bring to the next meeting.  Encourage folks to think about the direction they want the group to take so you can all talk about it at the next meeting. 

Important note and a very tricksy aspect of leading meetings:  We have found that some people need a place to talk about their horror stories regarding their health, the government, GMOs, Big Ag, chemicals and all sorts of ancillary issues that can veer the meeting way off track and lose good volunteers.  

 It’s important to give a place and space for that conversation, especially when the group is forming.   Often folks don’t get much support from their immediate circle of friends and family and feel like they finally have a place where they will be understood.  But if you are in a meeting, always keep an eye on that ineffable point where it turns from info into getting lost in the weeds and people starting to twitch.  If you are feeling it, most likely the rest of the group is, too.  Gently bring the conversation back to the agenda. Be completely respectful and gently remind folks that we have lots to cover and that some can only be there for the posted meeting time.  Invite those who want to continue the conversation to stay after meetings and discuss more.   

About 5 minutes before the meeting ends, ask if there’s anything that needs a discussion.  Figure out a next meeting place and time. Thank everyone then open it up and let everyone know the meeting is now over and those who want to network are welcome to continue the discussion if the venue allows for it. If not, they can meet up elsewhere or continue the discussion outside.

5- Post-Meeting

Input the emails into your personal email list so you can keep in contact. Building a list of like- minded folks is your most important task and tool.  Send out a short update of what went on at the meetings to everyone there and those who indicated interest but could not make that meeting. 

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.