The Community Organizer’s Cookbook

By Ruby Reid

This book is for you if: • You care about an issue or candidate and you want to take action • You want to implement a successful grassroots campaign with a new or existing group • You want to change the world What This Book Is This book is a basic primer on the core elements of community organizing for the purpose of achieving a legislative or electoral victory. It synthesizes theory, methodology and personal experience to provide a framework for ordinary folks like you and me to take action on the issues that matter most to us. This book is a collection of Ingredients, Recipes and Tools that you can use as a basic structure to develop your own grassroots field plan. There are no silver bullets, but this book guides you to create a customized campaign to meet your goals. You can use the recipes in this book to create and manage various types of campaigns. I offer examples from real and fictional campaigns to illustrate key points. If I offered an example from every type of campaign for each of the topics, this would be a very long book, so I picked examples that fit the content. I hope that you will use the stories from different campaigns as a launching point to explore how you might use these models, tools and strategies. Reading this book is an active process, not a passive experience. This is a practical “Do-ItYourself” guidebook to be carried around in your backpack, highlighted, scrawled in and dogeared. Completing the interactive exercises will help you identify and articulate your goals, then map out a plan to achieve them. The first section, Ingredients, describes three key elements of successful grassroots organizing: You, your Community, and your Theory of Change. The first chapter, You are a Community Organizer, focuses on who you are and why you are motivated to organize your community. The exercises will help you articulate your reasons for organizing so you can engage others to support your cause. You will learn to express your core values through your personal story. Your Organizing Community demonstrates how to express shared values through your story and establish powerful working relationships with fellow organizers through your actions. Using the exercises provided, your group can create healthy group norms and develop a mission statement to guide your efforts. Theory of Change presents a model you can use to develop concrete goals and identify the tangible steps you will take to achieve them. The second section, Recipes, focuses on building your organizing team(s), developing your strategy, planning your campaign and implementing your field plan. Local Organizing Teams describes the steps to developing a single organizing team or a larger grassroots structure. Leadership Development provides a model for cultivating leadership among community members and volunteers. Goals, Metrics & Winning demonstrates how you can calculate your

2 win number and establish your most important campaign goals and metrics. Strategy outlines a process of assessing the power players, leveraging grassroots strength and maximizing allied support in order to overcome opposition. Capacity Building teaches you how to estimate your current productivity and suggests strategies to build towards your specific goals. Messaging demonstrates how to refine your core ideas into a compelling phrase that defines your campaign. Your core message can be tailored for select audiences while maintaining fidelity to the core message. Targeting shows you how to identify specific populations to receive tailored messages. The third section, Campaigns, focuses on the “meat and potatoes” of organizing work. A campaign is a specific, time-limited set of actions performed in service of a specific goal or outcome. Campaigns take many different forms, such as legislative, electoral, issue-based, community, media etc. but they share certain common elements and phases, which are explored in this section. Pre-Campaign Assessment and Strategic Development outlines the analysis to complete before initiating a grassroots field campaign. Campaign Activities and Timeline describes the trajectory of a field campaign, with suggestions to customize the template to suit your purposes. Post-Campaign Celebration and Evaluation demonstrates how to take full advantage of lessons learned through a post-campaign debrief process. The fourth section, Tools, introduces community organizer’s toolkit, so you can incorporate advanced tools for communication, technology and social media into your campaign. Meeting with Individuals and Groups describes the qualities of fruitful 1-on-1 conversations, small group meetings and large group presentations. Telephone Conversations describes how to maximize the power of your phone for 1-on-1 conversations, while Conference Calls teaches you how to host an efficient teleconference with multiple people. The Written Word explores how to engage people through email, text messaging and direct mail. Social Media and Online Engagement describes how to use online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, and blogs for grassroots organizing. Data Management provides a basic introduction to campaign data (for all organizers), while Life Cycle of Campaign Data describes a model you can use to track your field contacts (for data managers). Press, Blogs and Earned Media explains how to leverage commercial news media and blogging move your message and how to stay “on message” when you engage with reporters and bloggers. The final section is unwritten, because you are going to write it. Your Field Template allows you to create a customized field plan. The framework provides a space for you to calculate your current capacity, anticipate your future productivity, evaluate potential strategies, proliferate your core message and develop a grassroots field program. The lessons you learned through the exercises in this book and the new skills you learned culminate in the creation of your field plan. After reading the book and completing the interactive exercises, you can launch a powerful grassroots field campaign tailored to your issue and your community. What This Book Isn’t This book isn’t perfect. It’s grassroots, like me. I wrote this book the way I talk. I use contractions, slang, acronyms and jargon (which I’ve tried to define for folks who may not be familiar with certain terms). I included my goofy sketches (affectionately dubbed “Ruby doodles” by my colleagues). So my words and pictures may not be perfectly polished, but they

3 reflect my real experience. I hope the imperfections inspire you to improve upon the content and make it your own. This book isn’t complete as is. To get the most out of it, you have to put yourself into it. This is not meant to be a scholarly work to be studied and quoted in the academic echo chamber. It is a practical guide for the new organizer who wants to take action. This book synthesizes information, resources and strategies for organizing gathered from multiple sources including my own training and field experiences. When referring to a particular theory, term, or methodology I tried to cite the source(s); however some ideas are more challenging to trace back to the initiator because best practices, theories of organizing and useful structures are often informally shared. I noted some specific things I learned from particular people, but I have learned so much from so many teachers, I couldn’t possibly name them all. I apologize for any unintentional omissions. I feature technologies, platforms and free services marked with an asterisk (*). These mentions are not meant to be an endorsement or guarantee of any kind. I merely found these services to be useful and I wanted to share them with you as examples of what is available. Community organizing has a rich and diverse history, which is a fascinating topic for study. This book is not meant to detail that history, profile the major figures, or summarize the various theories. On the website ( you can access recommended resources including videos, syllabi, articles and books to inform your practice. There are only a few references in this book (included as endnotes) because I wanted to avoid bogging you down with too much “homework.” I hope you will spend your time engaging with your community rather than constantly checking with an “expert” source to see if you are doing it right. YOU are the expert on your own community – nobody knows more than you do. Throughout the book, I offer examples to illustrate key points. These examples are drawn from fictionalized campaigns (unless otherwise noted as a “true story”). I tried to pick stories that exemplify the specific content and I tried to vary the type of campaigns that I featured in the examples. If I gave an example of how every type of campaign specifically implemented each of the topics presented, this would be a very long book. So I hope that you will apply the lessons from the stories to explore how to use these models, tools and strategies even if your campaign isn’t exactly the same as the example. A Note for Experienced Community Organizers I hope that you will use this book as a resource to engage new organizers, since the exercises are designed for beginners. If the concepts in this book are familiar to you, perhaps you know a less experienced organizer whom you could mentor. There is nothing more valuable for a new organizer than the opportunity to learn from an experienced guide. This book provides an outline that you can personalize to fit your style and the new organizer’s needs. Experienced organizers can use this book to encourage others to get active. Use your experience to glean maximum benefit from the templates and exercises, which you can embellish to fit your specific situation.


4 The section about Tools focuses on advanced skills for communication, social media and data management. You may be tempted to skip directly to those chapters. I hope that you will read through the earlier sections because the content will serve to remind you of the core values and practices of community organizing. The early chapters provide a foundation for the more advanced tools presented later. This is More Than Just a Book Organizing is about connecting with other people who share your values and your vision. It is impossible to develop these practical skills simply by reading a book. The interactive exercises in this book are designed for you to practice with others. I encourage you to read a little, then meet with friends and do the exercises together, then read a little more and continue to work through the process together. If you are reading by yourself, make sure to pause in order to complete the written reflection exercises or at least make a mental note of your reflections as you read. Try to find a partner or friend with whom you can share your progress, or reach out to our online community if you can’t find someone in your network to work through the exercises with you. I invite you to share your experiences and best practices with our online community of organizers at, where activists who are using this model of community organizing can connect with one another directly. The book and the website work in concert with one another to provide a complete set of resources:
• • • •

The book briefly references various theories, methods and tactics of organizing; the website has more detailed background information and suggested reading lists. The book features interactive exercises; on the website you can print out editable “worksheet” versions to use with your group. Both the book and the website are designed to increase the organizer’s flexibility when engaging with the material through customizable templates. The book provides you with exercises for developing a community of organizers; the website provides you with access to other organizers who are working on the same exercises so you can connect with each other.

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. But this book is for YOU, the organizer of TODAY! So let’s get started…


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