Developing the Advocacy Group to do the Work
Advocacy work is hard. The rewards are often too few and the setbacks too many.
Good advocates are, by and large, pretty incredible people. They are hard-working, self-sacrificing and driven. They have to be.
There are certain characteristics that you should be looking for when recruiting people for an advocacy group. And it's always important to remember that those closest to you are not necessarily the best people for the job. Many a great leader has had limited success simply because they work poorly in a group.
Trust is probably the biggest factor to consider. You are going to be reliant on the people in your group for a lot of things. Trust implies that there is some sort of prior relationship. In other words, don't just choose someone you have come across that shares a similar interest. Make sure that you know and trust the person or that they come recommended from someone you trust.
Advocates are often busy people, so it's important to make sure that anyone you are getting involved in the cause has the time to give. Advocates often find it hard to say 'no', as they care about the cause and want to help out, but they - and you - need to make a realistic assessment of whether they have enough to give to the cause at this point. It can be very tough to find out when the going gets tough that someone you counted on isn't available. A campaign can easily falter if resources become scarce at critical times.
You also need to find people who are like-minded. Disagreement is fine, as long as you agree on the basic premise of the campaign. You don't want to be half way through a campaign and have the organisation split over a fundamental point. Don't just assume people feel the same way you do. Take the time to have a deep discussion about the issues before you invite people on board.
Amidst all the hard work and tension of an advocacy campaign, it's important that you can have a laugh. You don't want your group dominated by people who lack a sense of humour. You're going to have to get your hands dirty with these people, so it's important to be able to share a joke together.
Once you've established your team you need to designate the roles.
Leadership can take two forms. There are organisers, and there are ideas people. Often both coincide in the same person; sometimes they don't. Some people are better suited to one role than the other, and some organisations will have a non-hierarchical structure limiting the role of leadership. Usually the key initiator takes on the leadership role, but this isn't always the case.
For more detailed discussion on leadership, visit the Community Leadership Centre at www.ourcommunity.com.au/leadership.
Your group will almost certainly have some financial dealings. It's important, therefore, to have a designated treasurer to provide a single point of contact for financial matters. The treasurer will need to be present at all meetings that involve financial matters. There is no need for this role to be filled by a qualified accountant (although it can't hurt), but the person concerned should have a reasonable head for numbers.
For everything you need to know about being a treasurer visit the Community Financial Centre.
If you go down the incorporation route, tour organisation will also need a contact for legal matters. This person is known as the Public Officer and is the contact for the appropriate regulatory bodies.
In today's media-savvy world your public image has never been more important, so you need someone to take responsibility for media. This person's role is twofold - firstly to ensure there is some form of publicity about your organisation's work, secondly to ensure that your group communicates one consistent message. Your Media Coordinator does not have to take sole responsibility for all the organisation's media matters, but they should be aware of them all. It's important that your Media Coordinator is accessible, articulate, able to think quickly on their feet, and has a good grasp of the issues. The Coordinator may not necessarily be the same person for each issue, either. Some people may be better at fielding questions on one topic, while someone else may be better at fielding them on another. Click here for more help sheets on media matters.
Finally, it's important to be clear on your organisational structure. Assigning the above positions is a good starting point.
Once you have a good idea of what it is you're trying to achieve and your methods for achieving it, you will need to establish, with your core group, the various means for decision-making and resolving disputes. If you're clear on this from the start you'll help to ensure your organisation's survival and increase the chances of success in your campaign.
For more information on starting a community group in general, view our help sheet here.