This is the manual you have always wanted to consult. Have a look at the table of contents to whet your appetite:
Fundraising, putting on an event, writing proposals, talking to lenders and donors, media/public relations, press release, letters to the editor, bringing television to your event, getting an interview in the media, politicking the politicians, community organizing, starting a small group, creating coalitions, educating the community, and much more.
If people are going too support your causes, they must know you exist. The quickest and most effective way to advertise your cause is by using the media. Could you imagine the manufacturer of a new product putting it out on the market without publicity? For the sake of editorial clarity, we are separating a discussion of media and its uses from the section in this manual on community outreach. In the real world, no such distinction can be made. If a supporter of your cause appears on television, they are going into people's living rooms. It's different than if s/he were there in the flesh, but media is community outreach, and in the modern world of satellites that outreach is global.
The purpose is:
Form of a press release. Neatness counts. Editors and reporters are bombarded with press releases, and a simple method of elimination is to discard those that are sloppy and unprofessional. No typos, no misspellings or crossouts.
Press releases should neither be mailed too early nor too late. If you send it in too early, it will be forgotten, and if you send it in too late, the results are obvious. Releases should arrive three to five days before an event.
Two days before the event, call the person to whom you sent the press release. Update your press release, adding any new information that would be of interest. Don't browbeat reporters or editors; give them the impression you have a solid story which will make good copy. Call again the morning of the event, but be very brief.
To whom do you send press releases? Find out who has been covering similar stories in the past. Send them a press release. Work at developing a friendly first-name relationship with this individual. Never send a release to more than one person at the same newspaper.
Some cities have media guides, often published by the local public relations association, that tell you what publications exist and who are the editors, reporters and feature writers. You can get information about this guide by calling a local public relations association or a local public relations firm.
More people learn about the world through watching television than reading newspapers. What television likes to show. Television news people would rather cover a fire than a press conference. Have you ever noticed how much of the six o'clock news is devoted to fires, explosions, oil spills and other natural and human-created catastrophes? All of these events have one thing in common: they are visually interesting. When you are planning an event and intending to invite the television cameras, ask yourself if the event will be exciting to look at, not simply to hear or read about.
Making it visual. If you are organizing a public hearing on the Justice Department's proposed guideline changes you might do the following:
The television press release should put a special emphasis on describing activities in an evocative and exciting way. Suggest that your event will present opportunities for lively television footage. Remember, you are competing with fires.
Street theater which is performed in advocacy of your cause is great fun. Fun for the performers and the onlookers. It's a free show. Street plays are brief, 3-5 minutes, involving anywhere from one to six people or a few more. Dialogue is simple and brief; sometimes it is shouted. Costumes are colorful, faces can be painted and most of the message is conveyed through movement, facial expressions, mime and various exaggerated forms. The best street theater makes one point. You do not need a professional playwright or performers. Any group of people who like to have a good time can get together and develop a street play.
Street plays present good opportunities to give out leaflets, sell buttons, distribute bumperstickers and raise money. Take along someone just for fundraising.
Very few politicians would risk having the reputation of being rude and mean to disabled citizens. Use that to your advantage.Read the Paper. A good way to find out what politicians are doing on the city, county, state and federal level, is by reading the newspapers, including features, columns, editorials and letters to the editor. Find out what battles are going on in the various legislatures, what issues are being debated, what bills are being presented, what amendments are being offered. What is being said on the floors of assemblies, and in the cloakrooms? What individual seems most likely to be sympathetic to your cause?
You will find the press coverage insufficient. Use your personal ties--and you should develop these--with reporters and editors to fill in the gaps. Learn to trade information with them.
When planning an approach to an elected official, learn something about them. Read the press, the weekly magazines, obtain from their office any public position papers they have issued on relevant material, consult the relevant congressional and legislative records. Know their voting record and the legislation they have sponsored or actively opposed. Go to the library, consult the various "Who's Who" volumes for any reference to your official. If you are doing your research in depth, check the tax and property records of the city s/he lives in.
Need: Go to an elected official when you want support for your cause, when you want them to back or oppose something, or when you need personal aid in dealing with a government agency. But don't go too often or you will eventually be dismissed as a nuisance.
Timing: If you want an official to take a public position on an issue, either by speaking, voting or writing a letter, approach them at a time that is relevant. If you write a letter six months before the matter is coming up, your letter will be filed and forgotten. Pick a time in which the official you are contacting is likely to be thinking about what is on your mind, e.g., a time when s/he is determining how to vote on a pending piece of legislation, or when an issue has become a matter of public debate.
In order to meet an elected official:
If you have ever met the public official you can personalize your letter, saying Dear Joe or Dear Betty. A personalized letter will get special attention in the office.
Don't send a pre-printed or form letter that hundreds of other people are going to copy and send to the same official. An obviously orchestrated campaign is not attractive. Orchestrate your campaign with subtlety. Don't use cliches.
Don't write about your problem. Write about what you want the official to do about your problem. Here is a successful example:
Face to face. When you meet with an official or a staff member, be very prepared. You are meeting busy people, individuals who think fast and are impressed by those who do likewise. When you talk with an official, you should:
Source: Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund, Preserving disability civil rights: a step-by-step guide to taking action.
Address: Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund, 2212 Sixth St, Berkeley, CA 94710, United States
Brager, George and Specht, Harry. Community Organizing. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
Caulkins, Phil. Building Coalitions. Raleigh, North Carolina: Barrier Free Environment, 1981. (Watergarden Highway 70 West, Raleigh, North Carolina 27622).
Coover, Virginia; Deacon, Ellis; Esser, Charles; Moore, Christopher. Resource Manual for a Living Revolution. Philidelphia: New Society Press, 1978.
Foundation for Community Organization. Handbook for Community Organization. Durham, North Carolina: Foundation for Community Organization, 1969.
Midwest Academy. Organizing Handbook. Chicago: Midwest Academy (600 W. Fullerton Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60614).