Starting a group
If you live in an area where there is no animal advocacy organization
or you feel the existing organization does not focus on the same
priorities as you would like to - or maybe you are a high school
or college student and want to have a group at school - you might
consider beginning your own organization. Starting your own local
or student group is one of the most effective ways to educate the
public about animal exploitation. A community organization gives
you recognition with the media, government officials and the public.
It also shows that you and your group are a strong, committed force
for the animals.
The size of the group does not matter; two motivated people can
really make a difference. However, the more people you reach in
your area, the more people will want to get involved.
Choosing a name is important. Take time and care to pick a name
that conveys your group’s mission. Do you want to run an animal
rights group, welfare group, or do rescue work? Unfortunately, it
is almost impossible to have a group that does all three. Limited
time, money and energy make it difficult to do them all thoroughly.
In most communities, there are usually designated agencies that
handle cruelty cases and rescue groups that deal with adoptions
to which you can refer individuals.
It is especially important for a new group to have a phone number,
mailing and e-mail address and even a web site, if possible, so
that you can be reached by potential members, the media, the public
and other animal groups.
Get an answering machine or a voice mail box. You do not need an
actual phone to have a voice mail box. Record a brief message about
your group on the message (for example: “While we do not handle
animal rescue or adoptions, we do have information that can help
you. If you are witnessing animal cruelty, please call your local
sheriff’s department. The number is..”). Also, be sure
to announce the date, time and location of your next meeting, as
well as what you will be discussing. If there are any other events
coming up, make sure to mention them too. When returning calls,
make a point to sound enthusiastic that people have called - the
more interested you sound to them, the more likely people will be
to participate - and remember - another voice for the animals!
Get a post office box at a local post office or a place like Mailboxes,
Etc. These boxes are usually reasonably priced and allow you to
protect your privacy at home.
Have letterhead made with your group’s name, address, phone
number and logo. It can be easily printed off your computer!
There are different ways to reach out to your members.
E-mail List: You might want to have 2 e-mail
lists, one for people who are involved in making the decisions about
the organization, deciding events, etc., and another for people
who attend events and who are generally more interested in participating.
Obviously, if an individual is taking on real responsibility with
the group they can easily be added on to the smaller list. This
just helps keep the general membership getting information that
is relevant to them.
Phone tree: Yes, phones are still useful and
can be a helpful way to give people some personal contact and to
hear a friendly voice. If you develop a phone tree - be sure to
create one where one person is not left making all the calls for
meetings or important actions. (A phone tree is a system in which
you call one person and that person then makes several calls, and
Avoid feeling compelled to produce newsletters. While they can be
a great fundraising tool and help keep members informed and motivated
to participate in events, they often take away limited time and
money from actual activism. Do a newsletter only if you feel it
will not be a drain on your time and resources.
A simple and inexpensive way to inform people about your meetings
is to distribute flyers. A flyer might say something
like, “Do You Want to Help Stop Animal Suffering? If so, join
Action for Animals at 7p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month
at Oak Brook Library. For more information call.” Copy your
flyers onto brightly colored paper and post them at universities,
health food stores, and other stores likely to attract a sympathetic
audience. (Suggestion: To help save paper and copy costs, you can
design your flyer to fit two on a sheet.)
Some weekly papers have an area where you can have your group listed
weekly and others where you can submit information to their calendar
section about events. Also, check sites like Craigslist that allows
you to post information for free.
Decide how often you want to meet. Will it be once a month or only
when planning an action? Again, core members of you organization
might need to meet more frequently. Try to meet on a regular day
and time and, if possible, at the same location. This will make
it easier for people to remember the meetings.
Libraries can provide meeting rooms that are usually free or fairly
inexpensive - also try local universities. If these don’t
work, try to find a public space that is cheap. Sometimes if you
pass the hat at the meeting you might be able to cover the cost
of the meeting room (say for $20). Avoid meeting at a restaurant
or someone’s house. These places are great for social events,
but tend to be distracting when used for public meetings.
It is essential to have an agenda for your meeting. If meetings
are too disorganized or not well planned, people will become irritated
and leave early or not come back. Though some of us don’t
mind spending 24 hours a day working for the animals - some people
only set aside a few hours for interests outside of their jobs or
One way to come up with an agenda is to have a summary of your group’s
activities in the past month. This will get new and existing members
excited by what the group is doing and motivate them to brainstorm
for “next time.” Next, list upcoming events and pass
around a sign-up sheet to solicit those who are interested in working
on that project or event. At the end of the meeting, distribute
information about calls that need to be made or letters that need
to be written and provide background information on topics covered.
It is important to have something for people to do after they leave
the meeting because it makes them feel like a valuable part of the
team. This can be as simple as making a phone call or writing a
The moderator of the group does not need to be the group organizer.
However, the person running the meeting must understand what the
group represents, be familiar with what the group does and comfortable
deferring questions that he or she is not the most familiar with.
You do not want your moderator to say something like, “Some
animal research is necessary” or “fish don’t really
It is up to the moderator to keep the meetings on track. During
a meeting is not the time for people to tell stories about their
companion animals. The moderator should politely remind the “storyteller”
that while everyone would love to hear the story, there is a lot
to cover in the meeting. It is also not the time for long-time activists
to discuss sensitive issues.
Make sure your meetings are friendly and positive. No one wants
the moderator at a meeting to simply preach and complain; they want
someone motivated to make changes for the animals. So keep an upbeat
tone! More than likely your group is doing exciting things for the
animals and that needs to come through in your meetings.
Videos are useful if you find there are some members of a group
who are new to the movement or who don’t completely understand
the concepts of what happens to animals in a factory farm, slaughterhouse
or animal experiments. Videos can coincide with an upcoming event
or simply be used to educate your members. Videos help to remind
people why it is important to keep fighting so hard.
For longstanding activists, or those who don’t need to see
graphic images to fully comprehend animal exploitation, you might
want to show videos at the beginning or end of your meeting, so
that people can choose whether or not to watch them and not miss
Videos are also an excellent way to educate the general public.
This can be done either in the form of street education or a public
Many groups now have a TV/VCR combination that they can use at tabling
events, protests or even just leafleting. This provides a perfect
way to show people exactly what we are talking about. It also draws
people over where you can answer questions and hand them information.
Some groups are also lucky enough to have large vans that can be
driven around that show these images. These are more costly.
You may consider having a public event where you show videos, such
as “The Witness” or “A Cow At My Table”
(and you can even combine a shorter animal rights video). Both of
these films have won documentary awards and promoting your event
that way is an excellent way to draw in many people. Serving some
delicious vegan desserts at the end is a great way to add to their
It is really important to keep your group busy! Members will come
and go, but you want to use everyone’s talents where they
will be most effective. Artistic people can help with making posters;
writers can help develop brochures or write letters to the editor;
students can help recruit new members (maybe have their student
group join in on local events); and activists in video or photography
classes can help get a show on cable access or document your group’s
activities with photos.
Make a point of finding out what skills your members have and when
they are available to help. Not only do people generally enjoy doing
things that they are good at, but you may find a talented graphic
artist in your group who can help with flyers, banners or brochures.
Some groups may want to form small committees that focus on specific
issues (animals killed for food, research, etc), while others may
choose to create committees based on upcoming events. This way,
people are working on issues that interest them and all of the responsibility
is not left to one person.
TACKLING SPECIAL PROBLEMS
Some people may complain that there are not enough social events.
What is your focus? If it is just activism, remind them that when
there is a limited amount of time and resources, we need to focus
on what we are here to accomplish.
This is not to say that groups should not get together and enjoy
each other’ s company, but you do not want meetings to turn
into social gatherings. If someone wants to have a party or a potluck
dinner, let her or him organize it, but keep it separate from your
meetings. Instead, try to have focused parties (e.g., poster making)
that provide food and time for people to get to know each other.
Sometimes having video showings or even a meeting (with snacks)
can encourage people to come who might be intimidated to just show
up to a protest without knowing anyone.
Beware of those who always feel you are not doing enough. Constructive
criticism is important, and every group should constantly try to
improve. However, some people are never satisfied. Listen to these
people, remind them about all you are doing as a volunteer and ask
them if they are interested in taking on the issue they feel the
group should be addressing.
Also, beware of people who want to make decisions but are not there
when the time comes to do the work. Usually it is unwise to make
serious organizational or planning decisions at public meetings.
This may not be very popular, but you don’t want to have a
group of people vote on work that only a few people must carry out.
Always brainstorm with other group members about what you can do
regarding a certain event or campaign to ensure a broad spectrum
Most groups focus on seasonal or upcoming events, public education
and long-term campaigns.
Seasonal and upcoming events will include leafleting, tabling and
protests in response to a certain issue, such as a circus coming
to town or World Farmed Animals Day.
Public Education includes disseminating informational literature,
working with the media or any other way in which you can educate
the public about animal issues and at the same time promote your
organization. This may include general outreach on a particular
issue such as veganism and doing general outreach & events.
Long-term campaigns usually address a local issue that the group
has chosen to focus on until a victory is achieved. For example,
you may want to stop factory farms from coming into your area or
you might want to protest a particular vivisector at a local university.