Local Groups - Guidelines
Local Groups – Guidelines
There are currently thirty-six local groups covering the United States. These local groups are in various stages of development. Some are little more than an email list, lacking even a group leader. Some have regular meetings. And a few are actively working to ensure the success of the FSP.
The goal of this article is to provide guidance for local groups, their leaders and members, in moving through these developmental stages, allowing them to quickly reach their full potential.
The thirty-six current groups vary greatly in size. Some cover single metropolitan areas, and some cover several rural states. It is entirely reasonable to expect that, as the membership of the FSP grows and more people step forward seeking to be active in their communities, new, smaller groups will break away from the old, larger ones. This is encouraged, as the more local the activism the more successful it will be.
To start a new local group, or to volunteer to lead any of the existing thirty-six that may have a vacant slot, email the Local Groups Coordinator. He will update the local group page with your contact information, make you the moderator of the appropriate email list, and provide assistance in getting your group off the ground.
In general, a fully active local group performs the following functions:
- Allows members to socialize
- Performs limited fundraising
- Takes advantage of the "matching funds" arrangement with HQ
- Builds beneficial relationships with the local media outlets
- Lines up speaking engagements for the Speaker's Bureau
- Implements activist efforts demonstrated by other local groups, as well as new ideas created within the group
Of course, it is to be recognized that no two groups are identical, and that it is not reasonable to expect regular meetings in Nebraska, for example. This is meant only as a rough guide, not as a book of regulations. Nevertheless, while every group may not be able to do everything on this page, every group should be able to perform at least some of these functions.
These functions will be further detailed below.
Calling a Meeting
Meetings fulfill three important functions. First, they allow area FSP members to socialize, building friendships that will last as they become neighbors and fellow liberty activists. Second, the face-to-face contact lets members brainstorm and discuss ideas and plans in a much more effective manner than possible over email or web forum. Third, meetings provide an excellent opportunity to allow prospective members to interact with current members, have their questions answered, and be reassured that signing up is a good decision.
Pick a location and time. The local group leader should choose a time and a place for a meeting. A member's home is fine for subsequent meetings, but the first should be held in a neutral location. Try to pick a time that most people are free. Wednesday afternoons are obviously a bad time for a meeting, as most people are at work. Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons work best. Restaurants make great meeting spaces, especially if they have rooms or areas set aside for private gatherings. The center of the dining room of TGI Friday's would be a bad place to meet on a Saturday night, but a neighborhood restaurant may have an upstairs room that gives you some degree of privacy. The meeting place should be centrally located, for the convenience of all members.
Send the details to the Local Groups Coordinator. He will have the appropriate page updated and send a message to all members in the area to make them aware of the upcoming event. The message distributed to the membership announcing the meeting will include a request for RSVPs to be sent to the local group leader. The number of RSVPs received will really mean very little. Sometimes he will receive ten RSVPs and twenty people will show up. Sometimes he will receive twenty RSVPs and get ten. The only real point of asking for them is to ensure he isn't sitting in a restaurant by himself, with very unhappy restaurant workers wondering why he wasted their time with the reservation. If he gets less than five RSVPs he should cancel the meeting and reschedule it another month away.
On the day of the meeting the group leader should do the following:
- Make it a point to introduce himself to all new members and offer to answer any questions about the FSP.
- Talk about recent developments within the FSP and New Hampshire.
- Pass around the sign in sheet.
- Provide an update on the local group's financial status.
- Offer the copies and stickers free to everyone, but ask for voluntary donations to offset the cost. Members are generous, and it will take little time to recoup any investment. The Mid-Atlantic local group paid for its bumper stickers in two meetings, and still has 84 of its original 100 left.
- Take pictures with the digital camera to share on the email list.
- Ask for input and ideas on how to grow the FSP locally. Many of these ideas will be included on this page.
- Try to find enthusiastic members willing to take on various responsibilities. The leader should not try to do everything himself. As the group grows, it will become overwhelming and lead to burnout, perhaps killing the local group. The leader should delegate as much as possible.
- Thank everyone for coming and announce the next meeting location and date.
Post a recap of the meeting, with photos if available, on the email list and on the forum. Include the time and place for the next meeting.
Soon after starting the local group the group leader should take steps to establish a bank account. The account should have two signers, one of which is the local leader. The other signer should be another local member. The following should be the factors considered when choosing a bank:
- Cost: The checking account should have no monthly fees.
- Minimum balance: The checking account should have no minimum balance, if at all possible.
- Transparency: Some banks offer free online account viewing. It's not worth paying a fee for, but having this option reassures members that their donations are actually being put to work for the FSP.
- Convenience: The more locations and hours of availability the better.
The account will have to be opened under the name of the two signers – unfortunately, the Patriot Act forbids banks from opening accounts for unincorporated clubs such as a local group. Even church groups and Boy Scout dens have been forced to seek incorporation or fly under the radar by using a leader's name, and FSP local groups are forced to do the same.
All donations from meetings, as well as money raised by any raffles or online appeals for mail contributions, should be deposited directly into this account. One of the signers should be responsible for maintaining a spreadsheet (sample) for the purpose of tracking all income and expenditures. This spreadsheet should be available for viewing at meetings and saved to the files section of the group's email list.
Withdrawals from the account should be made only to pay for expenses related to group operations, such as purchasing supplies or paying for advertising. At no time should the balance of the account exceed $1,000. If this happens, the group leader should consider forwarding some of the funds to HQ. If the group is properly active, it will be consuming money to further the FSP mission locally, so this should never happen.
To encourage local activism, FSP HQ has endorsed several programs which essentially provide matching funds, doubling the purchasing power of local groups. These programs are detailed below.
FSP HQ has agreed to support local group activism via the following methods:
Advertising: If a local group wishes to place an ad in any local pro-liberty or mainstream media, advertising an upcoming meeting or speaking engagement, it can qualify for matching funds by following these steps:
- Choose the media and target release date(s).
- Contact the media representative and request a rate card.
- Choose the appropriate dimensions based on cost and take note of the submission deadline.
- Design the ad (sample). The FSP Advertising Coordinator is available to render assistance with ad design upon request. Make sure to include the size of the ad and submission deadline in your correspondence.
- Upon receipt of the ad design, submit it to the FSP Vice-President via email, with your estimated total cost.
- Assuming the vice-president approves the ad, it should be forwarded to the media outlet. Initially, the group leader will have to pay for the ad with local group funds. He should make sure to get a receipt.
- The group leader should submit a copy of the receipt for the ad to the vice-president.
- The vice-president will return a check for 50% of the ad cost or $250, whichever is less, made payable to the local group leader. This check should be deposited into the group account.
Activism: If a local group wishes to implement an activist effort, whether one created within the group itself or borrowed from another group, it can qualify for matching funds on any related expenditure by following these steps:
- Send the vice-president a brief summary of the effort and an estimation of the cost it will require to implement.
- Assuming the vice-president approves, the local group should go ahead and implement the effort, putting all receipts aside.
- The group leader should submit copies of the receipts to the vice-president via the mail.
- The vice-president will return a check for 50% of the receipt totals or $250, whichever is less, made payable to the local group leader. This check should be deposited into the group account.
These programs are in place to help local groups do more to grow the FSP within their communities. They involve the decentralization of control and effort to the most local level possible. Take advantage of them!
Talking to Talking Heads
Despite spending thousands of dollars to advertise in liberty-oriented publications, most of our members have not been recruited from that method. Most members have signed up after hearing about the FSP through media articles. When Walter Williams mentioned the FSP in his column, our membership gained dozens of members. When the Baltimore Sun ran an article on a Mid-Atlantic group meeting addressed by Jason Sorens, it became an AP article carried by dozens of papers nationwide. This, our most effective recruiting tool, was free.
The following are recommended methods of involving local media in area outreach:
Invite them in – When a local group is having a meeting with a speaker, or is scheduling an event, the press should be invited. This shouldn't be done for just any local meeting, but if the group is having presidential candidate Aaron Russo, as the Alabama contingent did recently, it is very appropriate. A public relations stunt, such as protesting a tax raise, would also be newsworthy. A sample press release is available, and it can simply be modified to suit the event. This modified release can then be faxed or emailed to area newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. These fax numbers and email addresses can be found by going to the website of the news outlet. A few tips:
- Faxing usually gets better results than email.
- It helps if the release is sent to specific reporters. It's even better if it is sent to several reporters separately.
- Send the releases no more than a week and no less than three days before the event.
- Follow up with phone calls to the specific recipients a few days later to ensure they got the release, and ask if they will be attending.
- Offer to buy lunch for those that come – they will probably say, "No, thanks," but the offer will help build goodwill. If they should happen to take you up on it, use group funds to cover the cost.
Building that goodwill is very important. Eventually, a local group will have the phone numbers and email addresses of contacts at every media outlet in the region, and the media representatives will know that FSP messages are to be taken seriously. Whatever happens, stay on the good side of local media. In the words of my old Constitutional Law Professor, Dennis McGrath, "You can't fight a war of words with people who buy ink by the barrel."
Participate in Radio – When something relevant to the problems of big government happens in the area, call in to local talk radio shows. Explain briefly how things should be, and then mention that a bunch of people are actually going to move because they are really tired of the rampant government growth. I recently called into the Ron Smith Show, which draws a libertarian-leaning audience in the Baltimore area. The conversation went something like this:
keith: Hi, Ron. You mentioned a little while ago that a friend of yours was moving from Maryland to Virginia to escape the high taxes here.
Ron: Yes, he is.
Keith: I'm about to do something similar. Ron, have you heard of the Free State Project?
Ron: I think so. Did Walter Williams write a column about that?
Keith: Yes, he wrote about us. The basic goal of the group is to find 20,000 people who are so disgusted with big government they are willing to move to New Hampshire and work within the political system to make state government smaller.
Ron: Why New Hampshire?
Keith: Well, New Hampshire has no income tax, no sales tax, no adult seatbelt laws, no helmet laws, and you can carry a gun down the street without even needing a permit.
Ron: WOW! How many have signed up so far?
Keith: We have about 5400 members so far.
Ron: Is there a website? ***GETTING THIS OUT IS REALLY KEY***
Keith: Of course, Ron. www.freestateproject.com
Ron: OK, that's www.freestateproject.com. Thanks for calling in Keith ...
I followed up that call with an email to Ron extolling many more reasons New Hampshire is the freest state in the nation, and he read that email on the air the next day. I'm hoping to get some time on the show to discuss the FSP with call-in guests.
Participate in Newspapers – We've all picked up the newspaper, read an article about the latest escapades of our state legislature or Congress, and then sadly shaken our heads. Don't stop there; sit down and write a brief letter to the editor. Dedicate a few sentences to the stupidity of the news item, compare it with how things are in New Hampshire, and end with, "That's why I joined the Free State Project. I can't wait to get to New Hampshire," or something to that effect.
If a writer feels like being more verbose, instead of a simple letter he can write an opinion piece. Similar to a letter to the editor, opinion pieces are usually about four times longer and more detailed. This will of course take more time, but it will makes possible a more well-rounded explanation of the libertarian position and better explanation of the Free State Project.
It may make sense to assign specific regions or media to specific individuals within the local group, to ensure an efficient division of labor. When the local group has enough members, the leader should ask for volunteers to cover the media in this manner.
Speaking to the Masses
The Speaker's Bureau is made up of experienced speakers willing to travel to meetings and conventions of pro-liberty groups across the country and give a short presentation on the FSP. A local group interacts with the Speakers Bureau in two ways:
Finding Speakers – The Speaker's Bureau is always looking for experienced speakers who are willing to travel a reasonable distance and address meetings of people who are sympathetic to liberty. The FSP reimburses all related expenses, including mileage, for these engagements. Anyone willing to volunteer as a speaker should contact the Speaker's Bureau Coordinator, Phil Denisch. There is a sample PowerPoint presentation (Part 1 · Part 2) that can easily be modified to suit specific groups.
Finding Engagements – One of the simplest yet most effective methods of local group outreach is to assign one or more members the task of contacting area pro-liberty organizations to request a speaking date. Examples of suitable pro-liberty groups include county LP meetings, campus LP groups, gun-rights groups, smoker's rights groups, homeschooling groups, taxpayer groups, motorcyclists groups, gay-rights groups, and anti-planning groups.
Most of these groups have websites that are easily found with an online search. From there one can usually find a phone number or email address that can be used to initiate contact. Email is usually very effective. Simply send the following email to the group:
I represent the Free State Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding pro-liberty activists willing to move to New Hampshire in order to work within the political system to repeal burdensome taxes and restrictions on individual freedoms. Perhaps you've heard of us; we've received extensive mainstream media coverage from MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, BBC, the NY Times, the Washington Post, and dozens of other print dailies nationwide.
I am writing to you today to seek a speaking engagement at an upcoming meeting of your organization. After all, your members obviously care about individual liberty, and it's a fascinating idea that your members would be interested in hearing more about.
Our speakers typically perform a 15-20 minute presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period. We can arrange speakers for any date or place, and of course we ask no compensation for the privilege of addressing your membership.
Please contact our Speaking Coordinator, Phil Denisch who is cced above, to arrange a date and time. Thank you very much for your consideration.
(Your name here)
Phil should be copied on the emails so that he knows what groups have already been contacted. His email address is email@example.com
Like others, this function is performed best if delegated to a one or more reliable members, rather than simply left to chance.
Engaging in Real Activism
From signs on highways to protesting taxes to handing out flyers, there is much that local groups have done, and other local groups can learn from those experiences. Click here to see activist efforts implemented in the past by other local groups, as well as an evaluation of their effectiveness. To get feedback on an idea, go to the local groups section of the forum.
A Final Word
These guidelines have laid out the key functions of an FSP local group, in clear, concise language. Those functions are all concerned with helping the FSP reach the 20,000 member milestone. But there is a larger point to the local groups, and that is the fact that they are training grounds for our members. For many FSP members, the local groups are their first opportunity for the sort of activism that we will be doing in New Hampshire. Successful local groups are crucial to the success of the Free State Project, both in recruiting new members today and effecting political change tomorrow.
In order to develop members into activists, as well as avoid burnout, local group leaders are encouraged to take whatever steps are necessary to involve area members. Their job is not one of micro-management. They should delegate responsibility, ask for input, and keep the group moving forward.