2. Why Organize?


Total Length: 60 minutes
Why Organize? 30 minutes
Build Your Team 30 minutes

Session Materials

Participant guide: .doc .pdf
Powerpoint: .ppt

Host Materials

Facilitator notes: .pdf

Hello, and thanks for being here!

The science is clear: global warming is happening faster than ever and humans are responsible. Many of the activities we do every day like turn the lights on, cook food, or heat or cool our homes or travel rely on the combustion of fossil fuels like coal and oil, which emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases when burned. Global warming destabilizes the delicate balance that makes life on this planet possible. Just a few degrees in temperature can completely change the world as we know it, and threaten the lives of millions of people around the world.

350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in “Parts Per Million” in our atmosphere. 350 PPM—it’s the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.

Over the past few years, thanks to many of you, we built up enormous momentum for climate solutions. With over 15,000 public rallies, we’ve collectively organized “the most widespread [movement for] political action in the planet’s history,” according to CNN, with 5200 actions in 181 countries. And in Copenhagen, at the United Nations climate talks in December, 2009, that translated into 117 countries–most of the world’s nations–supporting a tough 350 target.

Despite all our success, the movement power we built didn’t immediately translate into political victory. The biggest polluters wouldn’t go along. So we still have work to do! If this global movement succeeds, we can get the world on track to get back to 350 and back to climate safety. It won’t be easy, that’s why all of us need to lend a hand.

The goal of this workshop is for you to become better organizers and activists, and turn those skills into sustained community action to solve the climate crisis. The sessions will focus on a few main themes – by the end of the workshop, you will:

  • Understand recent climate science and policy.
  • Be able to present your own stories through the lens of Public Narrative.
  • Know how to communicate effectively about climate change and local organizing.
  • Be able to identify strategic targets and goals.
  • Understand campaign nuts and bolts.
  • Develop a campaign plan.

Good organizing requires the investment of our hearts (motivation), our heads (strategy) and our hands and feet (action). Learning how to organize is like learning how to ride a bike – the more you do it, the more you learn, and the better you become. The skills you learn here will stay with you through life, and are critical for making change in your community and in the world.

Organizing requires three things:

  1. Leaders who recruit and develop other leaders and coordinate them in leadership teams.
  2. Building relationships, community and commitment around that leadership.
  3. Building power from the resources of that community and using that power strategically to achieve clear goals and outcomes.

What is Leadership?

Leaders are those who do the work of helping others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty.

One of your jobs as a climate organizer is to identify and recruit volunteer leaders to work with you to build a campaign to win policies and actions that match the challenge we face. But what type of leader should you be, and what are you looking for in others? Sometimes we think the leader is the person everyone goes to, like this (see left):

But what does it feel like to be the “leader” in the middle? What does it feel like to be the arrow that can’t get through? What happens if the “leader” in the middle drops out?

Sometimes we go to the other extreme and think we don’t need a “leader,” because we can all lead which looks like this (see right):

Sometimes this works. But who’s responsible for coordinating everyone? And who’s responsible for pushing the whole group forward when you can’t reach a decision? Who takes ultimate responsibility for the outcome?

Organizers are those who can ultimately be held accountable for meeting campaign goals. However, organizers are also responsible for coordinating and empowering others to take leadership, which requires delegating responsibility (rather than tasks) and holding others accountable for carrying out that responsibility.

Remember, we don’t yet have all the volunteers and leaders we need in order to win the scale of solutions we need. A good organizer’s job is to reach out and find leaders in your community who can help you recruit and coordinate others well. These leaders will be the backbone of your local campaign and you must be able to trust them to delegate responsibility to other dedicated reliable people, and to follow through on commitments. You may be the leader in the middle, or part of a leadership team in the middle, guiding volunteer efforts and being held accountable for outcomes, but you will be deeply reliant on your relationships with others for success.

What makes for effective organizing?

Organizing is rooted in shared values expressed as public narrative. Stories help to bring alive motivation that is rooted in values, highlighting each person’s own calling, our calling as a people, and the urgent challenges to that calling we must face. Values-based organizing – in contrast to issue based organizing – invites people to escape their “issue silos” and come together so that their diversity becomes an asset, rather than an obstacle. And because values are experienced emotionally, people can access the moral resources – the courage, hope, and solidarity – that it takes to risk learning new things and explore new ways. Each person who learns how to tell their own story, a practice that enhances their own efficacy, creates trust and solidarity within their campaign, equipping them to engage others far more effectively.

Organizing is based on relationships creating mutual commitments to work together. It is the process of association – not simply aggregation – that makes a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Through association we can learn to recast our individual interests as common interests, an objective we can use our combined resources to achieve. And because we are more likely to act to assert those interests, relationship building goes far beyond delivering a message, extracting a contribution, or soliciting a vote. Relationships built as a result of one on one meetings and small group meetings create the foundation of local campaign teams, rooted in commitments people made to each other, not simply an idea, task, or issue – relationships create a source of new power.

A team leadership structure leads to effective local organizing that integrates local action with national purpose. Volunteer efforts often flounder due to a failure to develop reliable, consistent, and creative individual local leaders. Structured leadership teams encourage stability, motivation, creativity, and accountability – and use volunteer time, skills, and effort for effectively. They create the structure within which energized volunteers can actually accomplish real work. Teams strive to achieve three criteria of effectiveness – meeting the standards of those they serve, learning how to be more effective at meeting outcomes over time and enhancing the learning and growth of individuals on the team. Team members work to put in place five conditions that will lead to effectiveness – real team, (bounded, stable and interdependent), engaging direction (clear, consequential and challenging), enabling structure (work that is interdependent), clear group norms, and a diverse team with the skills and talents needed to do the work.

Although based on broad values, effective organizing campaigns learn to focus on a clear strategic objective, a way to turn those values into action. National campaigns locate responsibility for national strategy at the top (or at the center), but are able to “chunk out’ strategic objectives in time (deadlines) and space (local areas) as a campaign, allowing significant local responsibility for figuring out how to achieve those objectives. Responsibility for strategizing local objectives empowers, motivates and invests local teams. This dual structure allows the movement as a whole to be relentlessly well oriented and the personal motivation of volunteers to be fully engaged.

Organizing outcomes must be clear, measurable, and specific if progress is to be evaluated, accountability practiced, and strategy adapted based on experience. Such measures include volunteers recruited, money raised, people at a meeting, voters contacted, pledge cards signed, laws passed, etc. Although electoral campaigns enjoy the advantage of very clear outcome measures, any effective organizing drive must come up with the equivalent. Regular reporting of progress to goal creates opportunity for feedback, learning, and adaptation. Training is provided for all skills (e.g., holding house meetings, door knocking, etc.) to carry out the program. New media may help enable reporting, feedback, coordination. Transparency exists as to how individuals, groups, and the campaign as a whole are doing on progress to goal.


Build Your Team

Why do organizing teams matter?

The most effective leaders have always created teams to work with them and to lead with them. Take for example Moses, Aaron and Miriam in the story of Exodus, or Jesus and the twelve disciples in the New Testament, or Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, and the Indian National Congress Working Committee of the Salt Satyagraha.

Leadership teams offer a structural model for working together that fosters interdependent leadership, where individuals can work toward an outcome together, with each person taking leadership on part of the team’s activity. At their best leadership teams recognize and put to productive use the unique talents of the individuals who make up the team.

Team structures also help create strategic capacity—the ability to strategize creatively together in ways that produce more vibrant, engaging strategy than any individual could create alone. During the Salt March, the field structure created multiple layers of leadership teams to engage people creatively and strategically at all levels of the campaign. Each town they passed through had a leadership team that coordinated local neighborhood leadership teams of volunteer leaders. At every level the people on leadership teams had a clear mission and the ability to strategize creatively together about how to carry out their mission. This structure created multiple points of entry for volunteers, and multiple opportunities to learn and exercise leadership.

So why don’t people always work in teams?

We have all been part of volunteer teams that have not worked well. They fall into factions, they alienate each other, or all the work falls on one person. Some aim to keep the pond small so they can feel like big fish. So many of us come to the conclusion: I’ll just do it on my own; I hate meetings, just tell me what to do; I don’t want any responsibility; just give me stamps to lick. There’s just one problem: we can’t become powerful enough to do what we need to do if we can’t even work together to build campaigns we can take action on.

The challenge is to create conditions for our leadership teams that are more likely to generate successful collaboration and strategic action.

The criteria for team effectiveness.

A great deal of research on teams has shown that three things help to make a team more effective:

  1. The output of your team matches the goals you need to meet to win on your campaign.
  2. The team is learning over time how to work together better.
  3. Teamwork supports individual growth and learning.

In short, the team is meeting the campaign’s interests by meeting goals, while at the same time meeting each participant’s interests by giving them room to learn and grow.

The conditions that can get your team off to a good start:

Your team is stable, with clear boundaries. You can name the people on it and they meet regularly. It’s not a different, random group of people every time.

Your mission points you in an engaging direction. The work you have to do is clear, it’s challenging, it matters to the campaign you’re working on and you know why it matters.

Your team works interdependently. Everyone should have a roughly equal share of the work, understanding that each part is necessary to adequately reach the ultimate goal. Thus, the success or failure of one will have an effect on all. One way to encourage interdependence is to have clear roles based on the work that the team needs to do to succeed.

Good team members will communicate well when they need assistance. No one is carrying out activity that’s secretive to others. A good team will have a diversity of identities, experiences and opinions, ensuring that everyone is bringing the most possible to the table.

You have clear rules. Your team sets clear expectations for how you will respect and empower each other during your work together.

Here are a few roles you might think about for your team: (don’t worry–you don’t have to decide on these right now!)


Responsibilities You would be good for this role if you… You would probably not be good for this role if you…
Team Coordinator 

Coordinate and support team members

Create agendas and facilitate meetings that follow an agenda

Serve as the resource coordinator for the team, making sure all events are well prepared with appropriate resources

Proactively lead your team in identifying opportunities to train others.

Can stay focused on the outcome 

Listen attentively to others and summarize well

Have the ability to identify talents in others and help others contribute their greatest talent to the team

Try to do everything yourself 

Try to set the team’s mission by yourself without listening to others

Get distracted easily

Are shy and reluctant to speak up in order to keep discussion moving

Are too equivocal and have difficulty helping the team move through conflict toward a decision when necessary.

Media Coordinator 

Put extra effort in learning how to create a story

Prepare the story, part of your team’s training on public narrative so you can teach this skill when you return home.

Are willing to invest effort in learning how to tell a good story 

Enjoy storytelling

Can tell vivid, detailed stories that are carefully selected

Are interested in people—who they are, where they come from, how they became who they are.

Are curious about community stories and willing to spend time developing them.

Can help others choose strategic action and articulate it.

Can listen carefully and ask thoughtful questions of others


Are not willing or able to invest time in  listening carefully to those you are coaching and asking careful, probative questions of them

Tend to try to do everything.  You’re reluctant to make strategic choices about what to do—and what not to do.

Struggle to imagine in vivid detail what a different future could look like if we all act together.

Online Organizer 

Tell the story of your team and your actions online.

Upload photos to hosting site or website

Use twitter, facebook or a social network of your choice to tell your team story online.

Are familiar with online tools 

Have an a twitter/facebook account or would be willing to create one

Good writing skills

You are uncomfortable working with social media tools 

You do not have access to a computer

Partnerships / Outreach


Continue to Step 3. Telling Your Story…or go back to 1. Getting Started