Organizing to effect change at the community level is one of the best ways you can help improve cats’ lives. There is great legal, political, and moral strength in our standing together to say that killing cats must stop. And it isn’t only organizations that can take the lead: YOU can organize your community for strategic change for cats!
1) The Community Cat Movement: An Overview
Then and now
Thirty years ago, trapping outdoor cats in a neighborhood to have them spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and returned was an eccentric, even suspect, activity that few knew how to undertake. The earliest advocates of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) were reluctant to even talk about it, for fear of local governments and animal organizations alike impeding their efforts and threatening the cats. Finding a veterinary clinic willing and competent to treat feral cats was next to impossible and the costs, borne by caregivers alone, were staggering. In those early days, TNR was an expensive, solitary endeavor practiced carefully and discreetly.
But still, the movement slowly began to flourish. Early caregivers and TNR advocates found each other and started working together. Small groups grew, sometimes becoming 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations with structure and funding. Organizing as a group provided shared resources, a safety net for both the cats and caregivers, and a protected legal identity. Learn more about starting your own organization.
Slowly at first, but with growing momentum, members of the veterinary profession began recognizing that community cats were an underserved population. Volunteers organized community cat spay days and full-time, subsidized clinics in an outpouring of community service.
Humans have a compassionate nature and it was inevitable that caregivers would respond to help outdoor cats–a legacy that continues now.
Alley Cat Allies formed and organized to make Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) possible and mainstream. Through our work, advocates could finally step into the light, open and proud about their work to protect community cats. But though so much has changed, cats’ lives are still under constant threat. That is why people like YOU must be the next to take a stand.
Building the movement: Understanding the issues
There are two sources of power in the political process: money and people. Since we will never be able to match the financial resources of our opponents, cat advocates must come together and garner power through recruiting, training, and mobilizing citizens to say “no” to killing cats and “yes” to improving their lives.
Grassroots organizing is an American tradition that lives on today in communities across the country. It’s in hometown newspapers all the time–residents working together to improve their neighborhood or draw attention to a worthy cause. And it works for cats too: it’s the most effective approach you can use to help improve the lives of cats and stop the killing in your local shelters.
An overwhelming majority of U.S. animal control pounds and shelters continue to implement and enforce antiquated laws and species-inappropriate policies that result in the killing of many cats who enter their facilities. The danger is double for community cats, who are generally not socialized to people and therefore unadoptable.
Ill-conceived ordinances like feeding bans and limit laws punish the very people who, at their own expense, are working to improve conditions for both cats and community. Even while community cat groups have organized and grown, many individual caregivers have been harassed and cited for their community service. These ordinances ignore the true problem–the lack of subsidized spay and neuter and TNR programs–and create a harmful environment where compassionate people feel the need to hide in the shadows just to care for cats. Learn more about understanding your local ordinances.
The good news is that you can help change these dangerous ordinances and lead the way to lifesaving, effective policies in your community and local shelter. Learn more about Feral Friendly Shelter Practices. Grassroots organizing can be done effectively with minimal resources. Email and the internet make it cheaper and easier than ever to reach out to others who want to help animals.
Everyone in this movement makes a valuable contribution to the goal of ending the unnecessary killing in shelters and providing humane care to cats. No matter what role you fill–whether you are hands-on with cats or not–you make a difference when you stand up and say “no” to the killing. You can spread the word and build the movement by getting your friends, family, and neighbors involved.
Changing community policies and ordinances that impact animals will ultimately give cats far greater protection than any grassroots organization or individual can provide alone. Our government agencies must reform their policies to disallow the killing, removal, and harm of cats. We must let them know that we, as voters and taxpayers, demand this.
Decide which issues you want to focus on
You and your group may be bursting with enthusiasm, energy, knowledge, and experience, but still take the time to narrow your focus. If you commit to tackling a great variety of animal issues, you may find yourselves spread too thin to be effective. Instead, organize around one issue, defined broadly enough to allow for sustainability. When deciding on your issue, use your organization’s mission and goals as a guide. Learn more about writing your organization’s mission statement and goals.
Gather the facts and do your research
Time spent on research and planning will form a solid foundation for your program and future campaigns, save time, and prevent mistakes. One of the most critical success factors for any campaign is well-informed leadership who can communicate information clearly and effectively to volunteers, media, and public officials. Take the time to educate yourself and your organization’s leaders by reading and sharing pertinent information, and highlighting key points for future reference.
Make connections. Network with other people who have done similar campaigns or undertakings. Check out the Feral Friends Network to find and network with other groups and people in your area. You might also approach leaders of successful local groups that DON’T focus on animal issues and ask them about the best ways to get things done in your community. They may also be able to help you set up appointments with the decision makers whose minds you will need to change.
Before you talk with other groups’ leaders, it is important that you get your thoughts organized and prepare a list of questions like:
- What programs have worked well for your group?
- What difficulties have you encountered and how have you handled them?
- How have you successfully raised money for your program?
- How have you engaged volunteers to help your organization?
- What is your strategy for approaching our decision makers and getting their attention?
In addition to getting to know people who can help, you will gain valuable insight into your community. You may learn who really holds the power, who you should absolutely not approach on animal issues, or why you should never ask for a meeting with the mayor on a Monday. Also, you may be able to preemptively influence officials and avoid any potential crises.
Track your work. If you have been doing hands-on work for any amount of time, it’s important to maintain a tracking sheet on the colonies you manage. Public officials may be particularly interested in your statistics and how well you can show local community involvement. If you are not tracking your work, now is the time to start. Use Alley Cat Allies’ Colony Tracking Sheet.
Ample research and networking at the very start of your organization will give you baselines to measure your progress and the knowledge to act swiftly and effectively. There’s no need to waste time reinventing the wheel when you can leverage the wisdom of those who came before you and immediately have a positive impact for cats.
Consider forming or joining a coalition
A coalition is a formal or informal group that is organized around a particular goal or issue. Coalitions can be temporary (i.e. formed around a special event) or permanent. Gather information about like-minded, local, state, and national groups. Even if you decide not to participate in a coalition, you now have an excellent list of groups that you may refer to in the future. For a list of local Feral Friends that could include groups in your area, fill out our Email Assistance Form.
How do you know if you should join a coalition? Consider these pros and cons:
Pros: Partners working together toward a common goal can lead to: combined resources, increased momentum, and a larger group of supporters to activate for events and campaigns.
Cons: Increased resources and people can lead to: infighting, delays, disagreement about tactics and increased bureaucracy. Be aware of these potential factors and maintain a positive attitude. Remember you are all working toward a common and worthy goal.
Identify the talents of your organization’s members and supporters
Find out what each person can bring to the cause. Members may be willing to speak publicly, design a website, provide accounting services, or even bake brownies to draw people to a public showcase. Also, talk to members about their connections in the community. Sometimes a simple phone call to one of your well-connected members or supporters could be your “in” to that local celebrity or government official.
Create a spreadsheet or database to keep track of what each member, volunteer, and supporter can offer your organization. When it comes to connections especially, don’t be shy about taking advantage of every possible “in” you have. Remember that it’s all to save cats’ lives.
Identify and access free resources in the community
- Local low-cost veterinary clinics. For those providing direct care to cats, veterinary services can be extremely expensive. We’ve compiled a state-by-state directory of low-cost veterinary clinics to help you find critical resources.
- Local no-cost animal food banks. You may have access to free food for indoor and community cats right in your own city or town. Our state-by-state animal food bank directory will help you find support.
- Local businesses. Connections in the community may be willing to provide free or low-cost copying, office supplies, or other resources you may need.
- Neighborhood social media groups. For example, your neighborhood may have its own Facebook group, which is a great way to meet those in your community who are dedicated to service and action. From manpower to resources, these connections can be invaluable.
- Neighborhood email lists. Social media groups are both excellent places to look for local email lists and build your outreach efforts.
- Local CraigsList.org. Post your needs and check the “free” section. People are always looking for good places to donate items.
- Local FreeCycle.org group. Find items you need through this grassroots group helping people network with others who are interested in their usable items.
- A classified ad in the local paper or penny saver. Publicize the help or items you need. This is a great way to solicit donations–both financial and in-kind items–as well as volunteers. Also consider building relationships with reporters or editors: they may be interested in stories about local groups, their successes, and their needs. Learn more about how to work with the media.
Gather expert endorsements and support
It is helpful to have local veterinarians, animal control, and other prominent people in your community support your organization and its campaigns. They may become members, agree to write letters on your behalf, or speak to others in their profession. Be careful not to demand too much of them and use their voice strategically to garner the greatest support.
Have a response network in place
Whatever form your organization ultimately takes, you will need to have accurate contact information for your members and supporters as well as like-minded groups. It is essential to have internet access, and your group should have a presence on the internet including a webpage and a Facebook, Twitter (X), or Instagram page (preferably all three and more, like a YouTube or TikTok account). Once you have those set up, you will want to have a public email address that can be used to send action alerts, updates, and requests.
Setting up a private email list will help you maintain information about your members and supporters and make it even easier to contact them as a group. You should also set up a phone tree for your members in case a fast response is necessary.
Start a media contact list
Gather names, phone numbers, and email addresses for local and national newspapers and radio and television stations. Highlight known animal-friendly journalists and editors. Find out how your organization can publish meetings and announcements in your local paper.
Take the time to ask your supporters and members if they have connections with the media. You simply never know who might know “someone.” Learn more about working with the media.
3) Campaign Planning
The backbone of any well-run campaign is the leader’s ability to create a strategic campaign plan for the organization to follow. Take the time to write down the steps you intend to take and create a clearly-defined plan to help you make difficult decisions as they arise.
Determine the issue focus
You will notice that the process of planning for a campaign is similar to that of long term-planning for your organization. As with long-term planning, each campaign you undertake should have a clear focus. Some questions to consider in determining your focus:
- What is the main issue of your campaign?
- What shelter or animal control issue are you trying to address?
- How does it relate to your organization’s overall priorities?
Establish campaign goals
Each campaign should have two types of goals. One set will detail what you aim to achieve in terms of animal protection outcomes and the other set will specify what you hope to gain as an organization by taking on this campaign. Be sure to make your goals quantifiable.
Animal protection goals
What are the short-term, interim, and long-term goals of your campaign? What exactly do you want the public to demand and what do you want the decision makers to deliver? What will you consider a victory? How will you quantify your success?
What are the overall organizational goals you seek to fulfill by undertaking this campaign? How will this campaign help you recruit and educate more advocates? How will you involve them in the work that your organization does? How will you quantify your success? How will you draw in more donors to make your work possible?
Assess your organization, its allies, and its opponents
This step is often called “looking at the lay of the land.” It is critical that you take an honest look at yourself and those around you to determine the best, most strategic plan.
Organizational strengths and weaknesses
Be honest and determine your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. What resources do you have already and what resources do you need? Think in terms of people, money, time, and connections. This step will be considerably easier if your organization has the time to do its long-term planning.
Allies and opponents
Identify your friends. Which special-interest groups or community organizations are likely to be allies? Who shares the goals of your campaign? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
Also determine the groups and organizations that are likely to be opponents of your efforts. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What will they do or spend to oppose your efforts? What does each opponent have that you do not?
From the list of allies you have created, choose four or five of them who you believe can deliver on a request when you have one. These allies will the first ones you contact about the campaign once you get it going and the first ones you call upon for help should you need it.
Determine the strategy
Much like writing your own rules to a board game, you have to determine how you will win your campaign. First, determine the political venue where you will accomplish your animal protection goals. For example, you may be interested in passing a bill or changing a regulation or policy, or you may be interested in getting your local city council to create an animal protection committee.
Second, whatever your vehicle for success, determine what it is and stick with it. Bureaucratic changes do not happen overnight, and it will take a lot of diligence to reach your goals.
If your campaign is education-based, you may find that the best strategic vehicle is the media. In this case your goals might describe how many media hits you hope to have over a certain time period. Another strategic vehicle may be events where you can educate the public, and event attendance and number of new constituents might be your measure of success.
- Decision makers (primary targets)
These are the people or group of individuals who have the power to deliver your animal protection goal.
- Secondary targets
These are those in your community who can help you influence the decision makers. Think about who best can provide this service and how their involvement will impact your initiative.
- Public audiences
There are members of the general public, outside your own membership and supporters, who you need to reach with your message through this campaign. Who are your most likely supporters among the community at large? Who will help you create a demand for what you are asking? Think in terms of geography (counties, towns, neighborhoods), demography (age, gender, socio-economic levels), and constituencies (indoor animal owners, veterinarians, cat lovers, caregivers).
Clarify campaign communications
Ensuring your message is clear and concise will help people understand what it is you want to change and why, and improve your chances of positive media coverage. Speak positively and with conviction or passion, though be careful not to be too saccharine, negative, or over-emotional.
Define the central message you plan to deliver throughout the campaign. Draft one, clear, concise, and compelling phrase which is ten words or less that can be reiterated to summarize your position or what you are demanding.
Write a brief “story” that communicates your campaign’s messages and goals to your targets. Clearly state the bad actor and the heroes. Make sure to spell out the issues you want changed and your proposed resolution.
Make a list of the specific media outlets which would be most effective in communicating your message and story to your targets and public audience(s), using your organizational list and supporter local contacts. Learn more about creating a media list and working with the media.
Set tactics and timeline – Know the difference between a goal and a tactic. The goal you choose will determine which tactics you use. For example, if your goal is to influence the mayor to increase the budget for your local shelter, one tactic might be to have a resident letter-writing action directed to the mayor. A tactic that would not make sense would be spending time and resources to teach a 3rd grade class about cats and their care. While impactful in its own way, it does not further your goal of changing the mind of your mayor.
Think about these questions:
- What tactics can you take that will put pressure on your targets and get them to grant your goals/demands?
- What specific activities will you complete to get you closer to your goals?
- What will you do to ensure that the media covers your issue?
- Is there a specific order of tactics you must follow in order for your work to make sense?
Be sure to use a variety of tactics so that you can create demand from a wide audience and establish credibility. Pay close attention to milestones so you can proclaim a victory when decision makers meet your goal/demand. When your community and supporters know you are effective in saving cats’ lives, they will rally around you.
Place dates next to when you intend to execute each tactic. If you have a target for when you hope to meet your goals, work backward and place tactics along the way, thinking carefully about the strategy in timing each one. Once you have the tactics on the calendar, you will want to make mini-timelines for each tactic so you know what you need to do to execute each tactic. This is especially true for actions like a rally or other large public events.
For example: think carefully about what sort of materials you want to have on hand and be sure to order or create them early. If you’re trying to order t-shirts for 200 people a week out from your event, it’s probably not going to happen.
Manage your resources
Create a working budget for your campaign. While it may take some time, knowing what you have to spend and having a good account of your resources will make decisions much easier.
Determine how much the campaign will cost. Once you have an estimate, assess your organizational resources and that of your allies and determine if you can afford the tactics you have established. You may find that you need to scale back your efforts to match your resources, or alternatively, that you have more resources available and can ramp up your efforts.
If your expenses are greater than your financial resources and you do not feel like you can pare anything down, think about how you intend to raise the additional revenue you need. As you fundraise, be sure to thank, inform, and involve each donor. They also can help influence decision makers to help you meet your goals.
Do not over-extend
It is important that in every initiative, you are certain not to take on too much at a time–both personally and organizationally. Quality is definitely better than quantity and it will make you feel better about the work you do.
4) Responding to Local Crises
The following information will help you respond to a variety of situations that might arise in your area. The key to any response is to remain calm at all times and to make sure your words and actions are rooted in truth, fact, and good faith. Look for the positive angle.
Gather the facts again
When you hear that there is a crisis in your area for cats, gather all of the information you possibly can, using this classic model. You need basic information, but do not get bogged down in the details while the animals are being harmed or killed.
- Who? Who, if anyone, takes care of the cats? Who decided the cats should be removed and does it involve law enforcement? How many cats are involved? Are any other groups already involved with this situation?
- What? What exactly happened? Is there anything available in writing (a citation, order, contract, etc.)? Have any cats been removed? Killed?
- When? Prepare a timeline of the situation, making it as specific as possible. This will not only help you stay organized, but it may allow you to connect events as you find out more. For example, a new head lifeguard was hired on June 10, and on June 13, an announcement was made that all cats would be trapped and removed from the beach. Take note of the information and investigate, but do not act rashly based on assumptions. Perhaps a trap and remove policy had been discussed by beach management for months before the lifeguard started work and the new policy was announced.
- Where? Where is the crisis occurring and who will it impact? A neighborhood? A state? This will help you determine who to alert about the crisis.
- Why? You may never figure out why people do the things they do, but you may be able to find a little insight into a particular decision. Was the landlord’s daughter scratched by a cat? Was the neighbor, a landscaper, unhappy with the cats in her garden? Did an opposing group meet with the city council? Did a cat walk across the hood of a car and was the last straw for someone in the community?
Know your enemy (and that they probably are not really your enemy)
People often make decisions based on missing or false information or even current stress in their lives. Remember that the neighbor asking animal control to remove cats from her yard may not really be against nonlethal cat management, but instead has never heard of it. Or perhaps a friend or family member shared part of a negative cat story without revealing all of the details.
Find out what your opponent knows and how she or he defined their stance on the issue before trying to rectify the situation. The solution may be as simple providing accurate information to help your opponent make a well-informed decision, or ensuring them that you hear their concerns and you’ll help them find a humane solution.
Identify the decision makers
Determine who is involved in the decision making process over this crisis so you can go directly to them to protect the cats. This may include animal control, elected officials, public health officials, etc. Before contacting them, research the agency structure, responsibilities, and previous policy decisions.
Request a meeting
Send a letter, preferably by certified mail or signature receipt, asking to meet with the key decision maker. Ask for a response by a specific date and give time to respond. If there is no response, always follow up with a phone call.
If the situation merits it, you may also ask for a moratorium on the action that you are trying to stop or an extension on the deadline to remove cats if there was one given.
Send the letter on organizational letterhead. Make sure you have a few people read your letter to ensure that it reads well, remains positive, and is free of grammatical errors.
Document your efforts
When trying to set up a meeting or make contact with decision makers, document your efforts. Keep copies of letters and write down the dates and times that you leave telephone messages. If you write an email, if possible, send it with a read receipt and delivery confirmation. If you still have not received a response or the decision maker refuses to meet with you, the situation may require confrontation.
Do not let anyone minimize your concerns
You may be passed from one person to the next or told you can meet with a lower level official. Do not agree to meet with someone who does not have decision making power. Be persistent.
Develop your written campaign plan
You already have most of the information you need to develop your plan. Learn more about creating a strategic campaign plan.
Once you are granted a meeting, you will enter into negotiations with the decision makers. Negotiation is when two or more parties find common ground on issues and each gives something up in the process. Your goal is to minimize what you “give away” without risking the lives of any animals.
Before the meeting…
- Summarize the facts – Do not go into the meeting with hundreds of pages of information. Rather, bring a one page summary of the most important items. You may also bring a limited amount of organized, factual materials that the official can read after your meeting. This could include letters which are pertinent, Alley Cat Allies materials, photos, or statistics.
- Appearance matters – You may think your “Cats are Cool” sweatshirt is really cute, but if you wear it, you will not be taken seriously. Dress professionally.
- Know what you want – Are you asking for a moratorium on trapping cats in a park? Are you seeking to start a pilot program in the city? Money for a spay and neuter clinic? Don’t dance around the issue: Be specific about what you want and have a written plan for how you will implement your proposal. Knowing what you want will help you stay within your boundaries when you are in the heat of the moment.
- Choose representatives – Choose two well-spoken, credible people from your group to attend the meeting. One will take primary responsibility for speaking and one will take detailed notes. Do not send someone who will become overly emotional (for example if a caregiver recently had many of the cats in her colony killed by a horrible policy decision, she should consider not attending the meeting or seriously assessing if she can represent herself, the cats, and the stated goal effectively). If you will be meeting with several stakeholders, it is appropriate to send more than two people. Each person should have a designated role (one person will give an overview of the program, another will share recent statistics, etc).
During the meeting…
- Do not demonize the other side – She is not evil. She is probably not an “animal hater.” She may be ignorant about the facts, but that doesn’t make her a bad person. Even if you suspect someone IS a bad person, resorting to personal attacks and speaking with disdain lowers your credibility.
- Listen! Listen! Listen! – The decision maker may have some legitimate concerns or may agree with you on many points. Listen carefully to what she has to say. Listen for key words or phrases which can help clue you into underlying issues that may be affecting her decision and politely comment on those items. She may be assuming something that is incorrect or may need more information. She may also be subtly telling you how the issue surfaced in the first place. Focus on resolving the root issue. For example, she may be sharing that the cats are the issue, but instead she is describing a situation that is really a disagreement between neighbors. The argument over cats may just be one symptom of a larger problem. Gain further credibility by politely pointing out the root issue and working with the decision maker and the parties involved to solve it.
- Ask for what you want – We’re human, and we can sometimes be so afraid of rejection that we offer a watered-down version of what we really want. Unfortunately, this does not leave any room for compromise. Be bold: after being presented with the facts underlying what you want, decision-makers may be so impressed that they immediately accept your proposal. You won’t know until you ask. Telling them what you want from the outset sets the stage for the negotiating process.
- Point out common goals – Use phrases such as “we share your goal to…” or “we agree that…” Common goals could include reduced calls about cats being in areas they are not wanted or increased adoption rates.
- Explain the program’s benefits in terms that are important to them – Your main (or only) goal may be to save animals’ lives. To decision makers, the most important issue may be money. If it is an election year, they may be concerned about their image among constituents. If you are working with the public health department, their focus may be rabies and other diseases. Point out the facts that matter to them: this program is less expensive in the long run; this program will generate positive media coverage; this program improves the health of cats and all of them will be vaccinated.
- Be prepared to compromise – Remember, negotiation involves “giving something up”. Your proposal may be for a city-subsidized Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. The official may like the idea, but she tells you that their contract with animal control does not leave money in the budget to fund your proposal. One response would be to tell her that your group will perform the service and pay the spay and neuter bills for the first fiscal year. At the end of the year, armed with statistics on reduced kittens, community support, and limited reallocation of funds required, go back to your contact and renegotiate your plan. Another response could be suggestions on where they might find the funding.
- Don’t get emotional – You may feel angry, sad, or frustrated, but be careful about expressing those emotions because you may destroy your credibility. Be equally careful about expressing extreme joy (“I am so happy, I thought you would never accept this proposal!”). Remain even- tempered and calm. Ask for a break or a drink of water if you need to.
- Be realistic – Don’t agree to something you cannot do. If you are asked to provide a 24-hour response team to all incoming cat calls and you know this isn’t necessary or possible, don’t agree. You may be asked to do something as part of a compromise (“We will pay for all spay and neuter services, if your organization will agree to provide a 24-hour response team”). In this case, it is acceptable to ask for time to talk to reach a decision with the rest of the group. If your city budgets for animal control and they are asking you to do part of their job, it is reasonable for your group to receive funding for your work. Always remember that the goal of your program should not be to replace animal control, but to work with them and help them help protect your community’s animals. It’s more important to have a quality project than a lot of mediocre projects. You can always agree to do more at a later time or to grow the program once results and involvement is clear.
- Don’t fall for diversionary tactics – The official may offer to “study” the proposal or say she needs more information. She may set you up for failure by agreeing to your proposal if you agree to a set of impossible guidelines. The meeting could turn into a long discussion about peripheral issues. Do not let this happen. Redirect the conversation and stay focused on what you want and what you need to do to get it.
- Use sound bites – Repeat brief, memorable statements in response to questions and at other times as appropriate. Learn more about campaigns sound bites in the Campaign Planning section. Also, our media section suggests some key talking points.
- Be prepared to address tough questions – It is not important, or even possible, to have answers to every question. It is ok to say that you do not know the answer to a question, but that you will find out and get back to them with more information. Do not pretend to know the answer to a question when you don’t. Do not respond to every part of every question. Stick to the most important parts.
- Remain optimistic – Focus on what you want to happen. Use positive words such as “clearly,” “obviously,” and “evidently.” Establish credibility by using phrases like “according to…” and “the fact is…”
- Get it in writing – If an agreement is reached on implementing your proposal, or any part of it, get it in writing. If you agree to continue the conversation at another time, get it in writing. If the official tells you that she is not the right person to make this decision, get it in writing. If it is important, get it in writing. Email is a great option for this and is an easy way to have important information in writing.
- Ask for another meeting – This is particularly important if no agreement is reached or there are still major areas of contention. Even if all of the details are resolved in your favor, it is important to continue the relationship.
After the meeting…
- Continue contact – Whether or not another meeting is scheduled, it is important to continue communicating with your contact person. The first and most important task you have is to send a thank you note. Also, send a thank you note to anyone who may have been particularly helpful in setting up the meeting (i.e., an assistant).The decision maker is probably very busy and may be annoyed by frequent contact. If you agreed upon a plan, you may want to send written monthly or bimonthly updates or reports via regular mail or email, followed by occasional phone calls.
- Publicize your outcome – Consider sending a press release, a letter to the editor, or other publicity of your agreement. This can be framed as a thank you to the public official or as a victory announcement. It may also be an announcement that negotiations were successful. Either way, it can serve to bring attention to the issue, mobilize new supporters, and energize current group members. It is also a great way to hold the decision maker accountable for the decisions he or she makes and the negotiation she had with you.
Actions can be positive and subtle (a community walk) or loud and confrontational (demonstrations). The primary goal of an action is to encourage a decision maker to meet with you to engage in negotiations. Other goals of your action may be to draw attention to your group and the work you are doing, and get more people interested in volunteering or donating.
- Stay focused on your goal. If you need to meet with Senator Smith, plan actions that move your group toward that meeting.
- Know your limits. Only plan on taking actions that your group has the resources (including time, money, and energy) to sustain until the stated goal is reached.
- Keep track of media coverage. Keep your original media list updated by adding new media outlets and continuing to note animal-friendly reporters and publications. Remember that the media works by deadlines, so return their calls immediately. Prepare a press kit (press releases, factsheets, supporting documents, background information, and photos). Keep your press kit simple. Offering press kits electronically will help reporters meet their deadlines quicker and give them easy access to any photos you provide. Learn more about working with the media. View an example on the Alley Cat Allies website of appropriate press photos.
- Do not allow enthusiasm to destroy sound planning. Enthusiastic supporters may want to block the street that the mayor takes to work every day, but if this will only anger your mayor or if the mayor isn’t the decision maker on this issue, then don’t block the street. Take action that will be most likely to lead to the outcome you desire and take the time to think through the best strategy.
Overall, your grassroots campaign should have a logical and coherent plan to ensure its success. Begin with a well-planned public announcement of your campaign goals followed by a set of strategic activities that build upon each other and generate momentum leading to a climax and celebration. The effect should be that of gradually turning up the volume and building on your success.
First, create demand for what you want. Then, hold decision makers accountable to that demand. Finally, take delivery.
Engaging in a confrontational campaign is probably what most people think of when they imagine effective change, but it is not always necessary or successful. Confrontation can be difficult to maintain, tax resources, and result in a negative perception of your group. Nevertheless, if no one will meet with you, if meetings are unsuccessful, or if the issue needs to be broadcast to a larger audience, confrontation may be necessary.
Before developing a set of tactics, be sure you have defined your goals, strategy, and campaign communication plan. This foundation will help you determine the right tactics for accomplishing your goals.
Communicating a compelling message, explaining how individuals can become engaged in working toward a solution, and providing an easy vehicle for their engagement are all aspects of creating demand for what you want to change. Put another way, it’s about asking, thanking, informing, and involving the community and then doing it over and over and over again.
Some ways to create demand include:
- Informing as many people as possible what is at stake and how your proposal will improve the situation. Appeal to their emotions: people deeply care about cats.
- Involving people in the issue–they can learn how to do TNR, visit the shelters, volunteer in a clinic, or gain exposure to the issue first-hand in some other way.
- Engaging people by asking them to take the simplest, easiest possible action and then thanking them for their participation. Help them feel important.
- Connecting budding advocates and supporters with other people, help them feel empowered and a part of something larger.
- Creating media coverage which will encourage discussion.
- Continuing to ask people to help, thanking them when they do, and involving them to solidify that connection and bring them closer to holding the decision maker accountable.
Telling the world
So your decision maker has agreed to help you reach your intended goal. But how will you let the world know about your success? Take the time to think about how you want to make the announcement. A press conference where you can be partnered and visually aligned with the decision maker gives a different image than a court’s decision about your issue. No matter where or how you decide to let others know about the changes you have helped make happen, be sure you thank the decision makers who came through for you and will hopefully align with you in the future. Take the time to thank everyone who helped in the effort–it never hurts to bask in the sun for a moment to celebrate.
7) Specific Tactics and How to Implement Them
- Letters from your group to key decision makers
Generally, before you initiate tactics that will broaden the base of advocates chiming in on the issue, it is important to send a letter to the decision maker from your organization. Only when that letter does not get you in the door or get you to your goal should you implement most of the other available tactics. Think of this as the first step before escalating the campaign to the next level.
- Provide factual information. This letter is usually your first inquiry about the issue for which you are seeking change. This is your chance to tell the story and lay out the facts, as well as establish credibility with the decision maker.
- Keep it short and focused. Present compelling information that will change their minds, but keep it brief.
- Include an “ask.” Be sure you include a request in your first paragraph so that the decision maker knows why you are writing. The request could be as simple as asking for a meeting with them or a moratorium on the offending action (like trapping). Include a deadline for response and a promise to follow-up (and be sure to do so).
- Track your letter’s journey. Send your letter through any of the mail carrying services that offer return receipt, registered mail, or some other tracking service so that you can be certain your letter arrived.
- Letter Writing Campaign
If the letter your organization sent to the decision maker goes unanswered and your deadline has passed, often the next logical step is to ask your advocates to send their own letters, emails, or faxes.
- Demonstrate that people are paying attention. When many people send letters about the same issue, officials usually take notice. This is a great way for advocates to take action and share their personal experiences.
- Target the advocates who you want to take action. If the decision maker is an elected official, residents in his or her district or municipality will have the most swaying power. Targeting the action towards specific groups of advocates will help make your action even more powerful.
- Offer themes and main points. Sample letters might be repeated by supporters and might be disregarded. Consider writing a few main points to help advocates draft unique letters and encourage individual stories.
- Action alerts
To power a letter-writing campaign or other action, sending email messages to your supporters and local advocates to educate them about the issue and direct them to a specific action is a great way to make an impact and engage.
- Why? Action alerts increase enthusiasm among supporters by allowing individuals to have an active role in achieving your organization’s goals, overwhelm an individual or office with mail or phone calls, and demonstrate to officials that there are a large number of people supporting your goal(s).
- Write persuasively. Write in a positive way about the cats, communicate why taking action will protect them, what the stakes are if your goal is not met (the cats may be killed). Let them know how important their action is, and that they will be saving or improving cats’ lives. Give only the big, important details about the campaign and remind supporters that they DO have the right to demand change. In fact, their voice may be the only way change will happen.
- Keep it simple by directing recipients to more information. If there is an article or a place your supporters can get more information, give them a link or instructions regarding how they can learn more rather than writing it all out in your alert. Send your alert to those you think are most likely to take action and be sure that the information you send to them is accurate.
- Be specific. Request a specific action (i.e., telephone calls, letters, local meeting attendance), and be sure to give all the details about where to call or write, the person to direct the call or letter to, or the address of where the meeting will be held and when.
- Help your advocates get started. Include a few talking points to get people started or even include a sample letter they can edit and send.
Gathering supporters in one place for a rally can be an excellent visual tactic that can help your group achieve your goal and bring awareness to your issue through media attention.
- Why? Demonstrations bring advocates out into the public eye where they can help garner attention for the issue and also meet each other–a great way to encourage networking. Demonstrations are also excellent morale boosters for volunteers.
- Find a creative location. Not every rally to convince your city council has to be before their meetings or even staged at city hall or your town’s square. Think about upcoming events in your community and where crowds of people might be anyway.
- Make it official. Be sure to check on permit requirements and obtain them if necessary.
- Make it newsworthy. Consider holding a press conference during your demonstration, where you can make an announcement or host a speaker who will talk to the masses at your rally.
- Create visuals. Design and create eye-catching posters and signs with a concise, catchy message that advocates can use. Make sure they are readable from a distance; use colors which draw attention to the signs and show up easily on television. Dark lettering on a light colored background works best. Include your organization’s logo. Other tactics to create compelling images include advocates all dressing in a specific color or wearing a specific t-shirt, pin, or ribbon. Strong visuals help get your event on the press’ radar screen.
- Prepare leaflets. Have factsheets or brochures available for advocates to pass out.
- Don’t argue with counter-protesters and expect some negative responses. Remain professional and remind advocates you are working with to do the same. Your group’s image is on the line. Never act rudely toward opponents or the general public.
- Identify your spokespeople. It is important that the public and your opponents get the exact message you want them to, with no confusion or contradiction. Have one predetermined spokesperson. Instruct your group to point reporters to that one person. This person should be articulate and familiar with the campaign and the most important points to get across. He or she should practice the points and respond to any question with predetermined “answers,” but also be able to think on their feet to answer unexpected questions. Statements should be brief and to the point. Having points written down and on hand often helps, and you should practice with the spokesperson to ensure they’re ready for questions they may find challenging.
- Disruptive tactics
There are a wide array of tactics which fall into this category: flooding phone lines with calls, attempting to crash servers with mass emails, organizing boycotts or sit-ins, and even demonstrating without a permit.
- Why? Disrupting business as usual and forcing people to meet your demands in order to stop their pending action draws attention to your issue and can help move you closer to achieving your goal(s).
- Critical masses are necessary. In order to sustain the disruption as long as necessary, it’s important that you involve as many people as possible.
- Maintain your reputation. Disruptive tactics can lead to negative attention to your issue. They should be used as last resorts to reaching your goals. Make sure you are completely prepared for the potential fallout–think about what they might be and how they might impact your organization in the short- and long-term. Be very outright about reminding people that you’re trying to save cats’ lives.
- Door-to-Door canvassing
Speaking with your neighbors and fellow residents is a great, personal approach to direct contact.
- Enlist volunteers to canvas targeted areas. Identify a neighborhood to target by thinking about where you might be able to enlist the most support. Do they have outdoor cats in their community? Are there notable animal lovers living there? Has this community come together to help animals before?
- Prepare volunteers with a script and materials. Volunteers should have a script and feel comfortable interacting in a conversation with residents. The script should be no longer than a minute and should conversationally tell the story of your campaign and end with an “ask.”
- Make your “ask” clear. People do not have a lot of time and their attention spans are short. Clearly state what you are asking them to do and why it matters (protecting cats, who many people deeply care about)–sign a petition, donate, come to a workshop, etc.
- Make it easy: Do a “lit drop.” Not enough volunteers or time to canvas your neighborhood? Consider doing a lit drop where volunteers do not ring doorbells, but rather leave literature at each designated house within the targeted area.
- Letters to the editor
Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper can help get the word out to even more people in your community. Read sample letters to the editor and learn how to write a letter to the editor.
- Keep it short and focused. Check with the local paper for their guidelines, including word count, deadlines, and where to send it–and follow them. Focus on the issues that really matter and the compelling information that might change minds.
- Stay positive and not overly emotional. A short letter is meant to give basic information and generate interest in the issue.
- Meetings or Workshops
In the height of social action in the United States, these events were known as “teach-ins.” Meetings and workshops present a way to educate and rally supporters.
- Choose a convenient location. Schedule the meeting at a place that is handicap-accessible and centrally located if possible. Choose a time when you think the most people can come (evenings, weekends). Consider having child care available if possible. If you plan to show a video or will need the internet, confirm that the facility offers the necessary equipment before you schedule the event.
- Educate your supporters. Create and stick to an agenda. Choose speakers who are compelling and comfortable with public speaking. Use this opportunity to get the facts out to supporters and put an end to any potential rumors or myths (about the situation or the cats in general) before they begin.
- Empower the attendees. Have a plan for next steps beyond your meeting. These plans will take advantage and harness the energy generated by a meeting or rally. Empower attendees to take on various roles in the next steps of the campaign.
- Spread the word! Consider asking attendees to talk to at least two people about what they learned and ask them to come to the next event.
- Ask attendees to sign in. Tracking supporters will not only help grow your supporter list, but also help identify leaders of the pack. If you have a supporter who regularly comes to meetings and events but doesn’t speak up to help, take the time to ask them personally. Not everyone is comfortable in a crowd and many need the personal touch of being asked in order to get further engaged.
- Petition drives
Signing a petition is a great way to grow your list of supporters with very little effort. While a supporter writing a letter or making a phone call is a more powerful gesture of support, this is a great way to quickly show a decision maker how many people support your goals. .
- Keep it short and focused. Write important details first. Fact check your information before you include it in the petition. Use a catchy headline to draw people into the text that follows.
- Prepare a brochure with more detailed information. Since your petition will be short and not overly detailed, it is helpful to offer supporters a brochure or factsheet which can help them learn more about the issue and your organization. Remember, you will likely be obtaining signatures from passersby who may be in a rush.
- Consider using an online petition website. There are several online petition websites which offer advocates the ability to sign petitions electronically and allow organizers the ability to download the list of supporters so it can be presented to decision makers.
- Collect contact information. Signatures are great, but asking supporters to give not just their full name but also mailing and email addresses will make their signature more powerful. Public officials like to see that the people signing a petition are local residents and real people. Further, by collecting this information you will be building your organization’s supporters, which can mean increased donations and participation.
- Press releases
Writing a press release alerts the media to the presence of your campaign and may lead to newspaper, television, radio, or other media stories. Save this tactic for when you have an event or major announcement to better your chances of success. Depending on the size of your city or town, even small demonstrations can make front page news. Learn more about how to write a press release.
- Keep it short and focused. Write important details first. Fact check your information before you include it. Use a catchy headline to draw people into the text that follows.
- Who, What, Where, When, Why. Make sure to include the basic information. Create a template description about your organization (i.e., boilerplate) and insert the text into the press release. Make sure to include a contact person who is well-spoken and can articulate the issue well.
- Don’t bombard the media. Reporters receive tens, if not hundreds, of press releases a day. Make sure yours is newsworthy and stands out, but do not send the same announcement over and over again.
- Press conference
Generating events for the media to experience is a great way to not only get into your local paper, but also draw in supporters.
- Choose your time and location wisely. Be mindful of reporters’ deadlines. Consider holding your press conference in the mid- to late-morning when they can attend the event and still have time to make an afternoon deadline. Pick a convenient location that has easy parking or is walkable from major media offices. Consider a location that is associated with the issue or is otherwise compelling.
- Gather impressive speakers. Invite local celebrities or issue experts who can speak passionately, but briefly, about the issue.
- Alert the media one week in advance. Give reporters at least a week of notice so that they can add it to their calendars. A single reminder the day before is also a good idea.
- Public hearings
If your local government is holding a hearing or other meeting where your issue is expected to arise, it’s best to be there and ready to speak up. With a little bit of planning, you can even have a group of advocates there showing support.
- Sign up to speak. Some government meetings require sign up in advance if you want a chance to make your points.
- Present a united image. Make or purchase pins or t-shirts that all of your advocates can wear at public meetings or other gatherings. Uniting the group shows that you are all together and will help decision makers get a visual of how many people support the campaign. Signs, buttons, ribbons, etc. can all display your central message.
- Speak with conviction in a positive, passionate way. Stay focused on the facts if you choose to speak. Prepare your notes ahead of time, and while it is helpful to add personal anecdotes, keep them short and make sure they have a clear point. Most public hearings give speakers time limits.
- Arrive well-prepared. Dress professionally. Representing your organization at public hearings will help you gain credibility with government officials. Remain calm when responding to questions and try not to get emotional.
- Anticipate the opposition. Prepare statements to diffuse their arguments, but only address them if they arise. Don’t feel the need to respond to every single jab thrown at you or your organization.
- Special events
Hosting vigils, walks, educational meetings, and other similar events are creative ways to gather supporters and generate attention to your issues.
- Be mindful of resources. Before deciding to host a special event, determine if you can afford it. Consider financial costs as well as the amount of human resources necessary to create a quality event.
- Think big. Think about large events you have been to or heard of for inspiration. You can always scale ideas back or make the event your own.
- Work backwards. Think about the event you have in mind and be sure that it is a step that truly will help you reach your goals. Further, when planning your event, work backwards to create a calendar of to-dos starting from the date the event is planned.
- Yard signs
Visual notes around town about your campaign will keep people talking and wanting to know more.
- Keep it simple. Signs should have no more than 7-10 words and use a font that is bold and easily readable from a distance of at least 10 feet. Use pleasant colors which catch the eye but do not distract from your message and consider using a photo of a cat.
- Show personal commitment. Yard signs communicate to people throughout the neighborhood that someone they know is committed enough to publicize his or her support.