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Monday, October 16, 2006


How not to get people to join your organization

On Saturday, I attended a book fair and noticed a table run by the local chapter of a well-known animal welfare organization. I'm not going to name the organization, because I don't want to believe that the Volunteer I spoke to represented the best they had to offer. I might have joined, but I got turned off by the way the Volunteer addressed me. Here's how the conversation went:

Vol (handing me a brochure): Hi, do you know about [our organization]?

Me: Yes, I'm interested in your work. Actually, I have a blog that's about cats and sometimes we write about animal rights. Here's my card.

Vol (depositing card in a bowl without reading it): We're working right now on legislation to outlaw puppy mills, but we also work on cat issues.

Me: I'm against puppy mills. I always adopt cats from shelters or from friends who can't keep them.

Vol: Oh, you should never buy a kitten from a breeder.

Me: No, from a friend who had to give up his cat . . . .

Vol: Well, people shouldn't breed their cats and then try to get rid of the kittens.

Me: No, our cat was already four years old when we adopted him, and his owner got sick and couldn't keep him.

Vol: Oh.

By now, the Volunteer had me on the defensive. Wanting to prove that I was not an animal abuser, I proceeded to explain how my sister and my niece, who live in the country, have taken in stray cats and dogs over the years, and how this was something our family just did naturally. I guess the Volunteer thought I was okay after that, but I still felt dissed. She seemed to assume that I was just one of those people who might encourage the breeding of unwanted kittens.

Here's some advice for those of you who want to recruit me to your cause:

Organizing isn't about you. Don't just talk about what your group is doing. Don't just explain what the issues are that you are working on. They may be worthwhile issues, but if I'm going to join you, I need to relate to you on a personal level. Ask me what I'm interested in. Ask me what my blog is about. Try to find out what issues I consider important, and then tell me how your program relates to them.

My advice may seem elementary, but when I think about how many people are out there trying to get me to support their causes, their candidates, their political agendas, and their self-interests, I think it bears repeating: Organizing is not about you.


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