How to Host a Community Event

Basics

Community events—house parties, video screenings, presentations, and dialogues—are great ways to strengthen a group working to end corruption. A community event may serve to provide information, motivate activists, bring allies together, increase awareness of the RepresentUs Campaign in your community, announce a campaign launch, or celebrate victories.

Goals

 A community event, just like tabling or canvassing, must have goals in order to measure success. It should have numeric goals (i.e. audience turnout, funds raised, co-sponsor sign ons)  as well as non-numeric goals (i.e. to educate the community about the issue, to raise awareness about the campaign, to celebrate a victory).

Before planning an event, you should be able to state your goal clearly:  “Gain 40 new cosponsors” or “Produce 35 hand-written letters to our elected representative.” All other decisions about your event should be made with this goal in mind.

Step-By-Step: How to organize a community event

1. Logistics 

  • Type of event: There are many different formats for a successful event. The choice of format depends, in part, whether your goal is to educate or motivate. If your goal is to educate, a debate or a panel discussion is an engaging way to provide information.  A single focused speaker or a screening of an anti-corruption video allows for an emotionally resonant presentation that will motivate your audience. If you decide on a speaker(s), possibilities include chapter members with expertise in a given subject area, local or community leaders, local college or university professors, elected officials, or individuals who have been personally affected by this issue. If you are looking to screen a movie, check out our youtube channel for ideas. If you are interested in doing more creative events like holding a direct action, speak with your staffer to brainstorm ideas.
  • Co-hosts/co-sponsors: Working with another organization to co-host or co-sponsor your forum offers several advantages. Collaboration provides a bigger pool for resources and potential attendees. It can result in a more balanced or diverse perspective, which is especially important for a debate. Furthermore, working with other organizations represents a great opportunity to build and maintain coalitions, presenting a united front. The Event Co-Sponsors section below includes suggestions for possible co-host organizations. If you do cosponsor the event – make sure that you have the same goals, or that their vision of the event does not conflict with yours
  • Location: Choosing the right location for your event depends on who you’d like to attend and the particular environment you want to create. Where do people in your community already gather? If you are promoting the event to the public, think about a place where people of any race, religion, or sexual identity would feel comfortable. If you want to encourage your local public officials or other community leaders to attend, select a location that would be appropriate and convenient for them. Find a space that is big enough for your guests to be comfortable, but not so large that it is difficult for people to see the presentation or participate in a group discussion. Other factors to consider when selecting a space include parking, access to public transportation, and the distance your guests must travel to get there. It is a good idea to select a space that is wheelchair accessible. Here are some good potential locations for your event:
    •  Reserve a room in your local library or community center
    • Incorporate the forum into the regularly scheduled meeting of a local club or organization
    • Use space available at your church, mosque, synagogue, or temple
    • Ask a local coffee shop, pub, restaurant or other business if you can use their space
    • Hold the forum on a school or university campus–in a classroom, student center or dorm lobby
    • If you are showing a film or video, find out if a local independent movie theater will host your forum
    • If the event will be small and you feel comfortable, you can always host the event at a committee member’s home

2. Recruit Your Volunteers

  • Planning and running a successful event takes time and energy. You will need volunteers to make the event run smoothly. The number of volunteers you will need depends on the size and scope of your forum. The following tasks are usually managed by volunteers:
    • Publicity: For this key task, volunteers must create and send advisory notices to local media venues, create and post flyers, make copies, send emails, place phone calls, and generally coordinate event publicity. This is a big role and may require a small committee with a leader. (See Publicizing Your Event)
    • Set-up and clean-up: There will be tables and chairs to set up, food to arrange, copies to make, name-tags to prepare, and a multitude of other logistical details to address before, during, and after your event.
    • Greeting and registration:Station one or two volunteers at the door to greet guests and route them to the appropriate area. Have one or two other people handle registration, asking people to sign in and answering any questions attendees may have.
    • Technical set-up: Are you showing a DVD or other audio-visual material? You may need assistance locating and setting up the appropriate equipment for your presentation. Find someone who is skilled at operating electronic equipment and troubleshooting technical problems. Make sure the AV equipment works properly before the event begins!
    • Photographer: Have someone take pictures at your event. Be sure they capture one overview of the room to show how many people attended your event! Let your guests know that photos from the event may be posted on a RepresentUs website, and allow them not to be in a photo if they so choose.

Once you have your volunteers, make sure you clearly explain each of their tasks to them. Allow them to ask questions before the event so that they know what to do on the day of your forum. At the event, if you notice that they don’t have enough to do, give them another job. If your volunteers become overwhelmed with too many tasks, try to quickly locate a sympathetic guest willing to help out. Most importantly, don’t forget to thank your volunteers after the event is over!

3. Publicizing Your Event

  • Know Your AudienceNot every event is of interest to every audience.Before you develop your publicity plan, decide who you want to attend your event.
  • Personal or public:  If you are hosting a small house party, personal invitations are the only “publicity” you will need.These can take the form of phone calls, e-invites, or written notes. If you are seeking a large audience, many of the techniques listed below could be appropriate.
  • Paid advertisingIf your committee has funds at its disposal, paid advertising could be an option.  Knowing your intended audience will ensure that resources are targeted and well spent. Even if a publication has a huge readership, if only a small percentage of readers are among your intended audience, it’s not worth the cost. A smaller publication with a high percentage of readers in your target audience represents a better value.
  • Know Your Event: If you are hosting a large public event, make sure you have planned it to be of interest to the general public. What is unique about your event? Is your event linked to a national news story? Linked to a larger event or day of action? Different “angles” will give you a “hook” to catch the interest of potential attendees and the media, who can help raise awareness about your event.
  • Make Your Plan: Having focused on your audience and your event, you are now ready to make your publicity plan. This should include a calendar listing all relevant deadlines, e.g., for publications (newspapers, magazines, events listings, etc.), as well as “lead times” required for printing and distributions of flyers, posters, invitations, and programs.
  • Decide on your “look”All your materials should have a consistent theme and share similar design elements that highlight the message of your event. 
  • Put someone in charge: Publicity by committee is rarely successful. Although several volunteers may assist in accomplishing tasks, make sure that one person is responsible overall for execution of your plan.
  • The Five W’sIn everything you produce—flyers, posters, e-invites, news alerts, event listings—you must have the correct 5 W’s: 
    • Who will be speaking
    • What will they be addressing
    • When will it happen
    • Where will it take place
    • Why your committee is sponsoring the event

Every publicity piece must have this information. You can be brief, but make sure it is accurate and exact—time, address, directions, etc. In addition, most publicity should have contact information where people can get additional information.

Publicity Tactics

The most typically used publicity pieces include:

  • Flyers: Often simple 8 x 11 reproductions, flyers can be posted in high-traffic locations distributed at booths at fairs or farmers’ markets, given to passersby. Some good targets include:
    • Campuses
    • Shopping centers
    • Libraries
    • Local businesses
    • Movie theaters
    • Sports stadiums

Make sure to pay attention to local rules on posting. Flyers posted in restricted areas will likely get taken down quickly. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t see any other flyers posted in an area, you probably can’t hang your poster there. Stick to community bulletin boards and kiosks

  • Newsletters: You might advertise your event in publications from local organizations and neighborhood associations, merchants’ groups, PTAs, or local chapters of national nonprofits.
  • Phone Calls: Phone calls, personally inviting individuals, is far-and-away the best way to guarantee a turnout at your event. You can ensure that 50% of people that say they will come to your event over the phone, will show up. The downside of this tactic is that it can be very time consuming, so plan accordingly. Start with the people you know are most-likely to show (volunteers, friends and family, etc) then reach out to other community members (i.e. presidents or chairs of local community organizations, religious institutions, libraries or schools, etc.) Because this tactic can be time consuming, you can try getting some volunteers together to hold a phone bank. 
  • Email:
    • A well designed email announcement will not only be read by your address list, it will also be passed along to their contacts.
  • Web sites:
    • Find local online calendars (these will often exist on the town website, and/or the website of the local paper)
    • Make a Facebook event and post the event on the pages of local groups and schools
  • Paid Advertisements:
    • Contact your local newspaper and the publications of nearby schools and colleges; they often have reasonable rates.
  • Community Events Calendars:
    • Most large regional newspapers and many local radio stations have community events listings.
    • You might be able to have your event featured in several of these venues.
    • If you have developed your message, and focused on your “local angle” or “hook,” these media will be more likely to select your event for publication.
    • Many campuses have student-produced radio or TV shows, and public access stations often appreciate notice of events in their local area.
  • Collaborate: Having partners in your publicity effort expands the reach of your message. 
    • Ask local friends and collaborators to make announcements at their meetings, send out an email about the event, or commit to bring a certain number of people to the event. Offer to do the same for them when they have their events. This helps to reach a larger audience as well as foster relationships amongst organizations and communities.
  • Follow Up:  If your event is worth publicizing, it’s also worth reporting on. Prepare a brief news story about the event for publication in the local press. It doesn’t hurt to write a brief thank-you note to those publications or media that featured your event in their community events calendars. Let them know how many people showed up and how well the event went. The benefit of establishing good, professional relationships with media gatekeepers will pay dividends well into the future.
  • Debrief: What worked, and what didn’t? Ask attendees how they heard about your event. The more you know about which publicity techniques worked in your area, the larger crowd you’ll be able to attract to your next event. Publicity is a key step to planning a successful event and an effective tool in spreading the word, about both your event and the importance of getting money out of politics.

4. The Event –  Careful preparation on the day of your Community Forum will result in a smooth-running event.

  • Registration: At your registration table you should have the following things that one or two volunteers are in charge of:
    • Sign-in sheets with space for attendees name, address, phone numbers, and email
    • Cosponsor sheets for the AACA at the registration table so people can become cosponsors if they aren’t already
    • RepresentUs educational materials, bumper stickers, pamphlets, etc. Contact RepresentUs and we may be able to send you materials.
    • Name tags and markers
    • Extra pens
  • Refreshments: While not absolutely necessary, guests always appreciate refreshmentsYou can keep it as simple as coffee and sodas, with store-bought cookies or pastries. If you hold your event at a local coffee shop or restaurant, owners may donate some drinks and snacks.
  • Introductions and opening remarks:As your guests get settled, before the presentation begins, take the opportunity to welcome them. 
    • Introduce yourself—who RepresentUs is and why you are holding an event— with a few brief comments reminding attendees of the importance getting money out of politics. If the group is small enough, you might go around the room and invite each person to say their name and what brings them to the event. If you notice any local elected officials, community leaders or other key individuals in the room, introduce them and thank them for their attendance.
    • In your opening remarks, briefly explain the format of the event so that people know what to expect and how long they might be there. Take this opportunity to mention the photographer and the opportunity to request to not be in photos. Also, suggest that your guests write down questions, comments, or ideas they have during the presentation to bring up during group discussion.

Sample Programs: To give you some ideas on how to structure your presentation, we’ve included two sample agendas: one for a one-hour event and another for a two-hour event.

  • 1-hour program:
    • 8:00 – 8:10 Welcome and introductions
    • 8:10 – 8:40 Panel presentation, debate, speaker, or screening of video
    • 8:40 – 9:00 Take individual action (letter writing, phone banking, etc.) and planning
    • for continued action
  • 2-hour program
    • 7:30 – 7:45 Guests arrive, sign in, enjoy refreshments
    • 7:45 – 8:00 Host welcomes guests, makes introductions, explains agenda for event
    • 8:00 – 8:30 Panel presentation, debate, speaker, or screening of video
    • 8:30 – 9:00 Group discussion, comments, and individual action—letter writing, phone banking, etc.
    • 9:00 – 9:30 Plans for next meeting and continuing actions
  • Group DiscussionAn important part of the evening will be the time when individuals can share ideas and actually take action, such as writing letters, sending emails, making phone calls and organizing for continuing activities. Leave ample time for group discussion and suggestions for individual action to follow the screening.
    • Have a few pre-planned topics or questions. If everyone in the room seems to have something to contribute, you can scale back their ambitions to focus on a few central points and one or two urgent actions. On the other hand, you can use a question or idea as a way to elicit a response.
    • Call on people. Give each person a chance to speak and graciously limit the length of their comments.
    • Stick to a time limit. If you hit your time limit and the group is still talking, ask for one last question. If people wish to continue the discussion, they can do so outside or after other people have the chance to leave.
  •  Wrapping Up: At the end of your forum, it is a good idea to give a short concluding address. Thank everyone for coming and be sure to remind them to sign up as citizen cosponsors (sending around a clipboard with cosponsor sheets works well.)  This could be a good time to let people know about all the great work your committee has been doing and what is coming in the future.  Announce the time and location of your next chapter meeting and invite everyone to come.  Also, offer cosponsor sheets and other materials to anyone who is interested in spreading the word about the campaign.

5. Debrief: After the event pull together your volunteers. Evaluate whether you achieved your goals or not and what you would do the same/differently next time. Celebrate a job well done with the volunteers.

After Your Forum:

  •  Sustain and utilize your activist base. The sign-in sheet from your forum becomes one of your most valuable organizing tools. Enter it into an electronic database the night of the event. That list contains the names of people you already knew were inspired to become activists, or someone you met whom you had not worked with before, or a key leader in your community or an organization who you can ally with in the future. The next time you plan an action in your community, the people on your sign-in sheet will be the first people you invite. For your next event, invite them and ask them to bring a friend!
  • Follow up with your guests in some way before too much time passes. If it was a small event, give everyone on your list a call or send an email or note. If you had a large event, choose a select number of people to contact, or ask volunteers to help contact people on the list.  Tell attendees how glad you are that they participated. Ask for feedback on the event. (Be ready for constructive criticism or tips for next time.) If you already have plans for another event or chapter meeting, give them a heads-up now and ask if they will commit to being there. Ask for names and contact information for any friends they think might like to be added to your list.
  • Share your news: Your forum is powerful because it inspires people in your community. You can share news about your event with your community. Draft an article about your forum, including the number of people who attended and any plans for future action. Suggest ways that people can get involved and provide a way for them to get in touch with you. Send your article as a letter-to the-editor to your local or neighborhood newspaper or submit it for publication in a community newsletter.
  • RepresentUs would love to see pictures from your event! Send photos to grassroots@represent.us. Please identify the name of the photographer and the names of the individuals pictured. Please let your guests know that photos from the event may be posted on RepresentUs website. If you did not have a chance to let your guests know that photos may be posted, please let us know.

Sample Planning Timeline

  • 2-4 weeks before the event:
    • Plot your general program timeline
    • Select location, make necessary arrangements, set event date and time
    • Decide on intended audience and ideal number of guests
    • Secure event co-sponsor/s
    • Announce the event to your friends, neighbors, and associates
    • Seek out volunteers
    • Determine appropriate promotion strategies
    • Contact RepresentUs to get materials for your event 1 – 2 weeks ahead of time.
    • Submit advisory notices and information to local media and community event listings
    • Send emails and place phone calls
    • Post flyers
    • Prepare checklist of items necessary (refreshments, handouts, sign-in sheet, nametags, etc.) and begin gathering them
    • Refresh yourself on the issues surrounding campaign finance reform and the provisions of the Anti-Corruption Act.
  •  2 days before your event:
    • Send follow-up emails to media and attendees
    • Make follow-up phone calls to media and attendees
    • Finish gathering all necessary items, including food and supplies
    • Confirm the date and time of your event with outside venue
    • Draft and practice your opening remarks
    • Plan a few items for the group discussion
    • Confirm final tasks with volunteers
    • Test your technology, especially if showing a video
    • Print handouts and materials for guests
  •  1 day before your event:
    • Send second advisory notice to local daily media venues
  •  Two hours before your event:
    • Set up all technical devices and test your technology!
    • Set up chairs and tables
    • Set out handouts, sign-in sheet, pens, and name-tags
    • Arrange refreshments
    • Answer last-minute questions from volunteers