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Structuring Chaos to Create Action

Novice volunteers got 100 people to Bikes and Brewvies - despite snow

Novice volunteers got 100 people to Bikes and Brewvies – despite snow

All-volunteer organizations are tough.  There is often a small core of volunteers ABSOLUTELY committed to the project, wanting help, and wondering where the help is.  That certainly applied (and still applies) to the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition where I volunteer.

We’re working to engage more people, and we ARE engaging lots more people.  Of course, with more people we are more ambitious so we still want more help.

Last winter, the Coalition wanted to organize more events — rides, happy hours, tabling — places where we could connect with new people and engage potential supporters and members in new ways.  Of course, none of our existing volunteers had the time to make things happen, so I decided to try and Make Something Happen.

I sent out a call for volunteers and posted an event on the Coalition website, giving a taste of what we’d talk about.

Then, I carefully designed the agenda to try out some of the Network Weaver Handbook activities, provide just enough context, and delegate lots of responsibility.

  • 16 volunteers showed up, most of them new to the Coalition.
  • We began with some speed networking — I wanted to build some relationships as quickly as possible, and to give everyone a chance to show off their listening skills.
  • I immediately asked for four volunteers for tiny responsibilities (time keeper, meeting photographer, and 2 meeting reporters to take notes). This gave folks a chance to step up and be responsible, but in a bite-sized way.
  • I gave a little context about the Coalition, our goals, and the (publicly accessible) brainstormed idea list of events we might host in 2013.  This seeded some ideas (and set some limits) for the next item.
  • We broke into four smaller groups to answer a few questions, including what THEY wanted to plan, HOW they wanted to organize, and WHAT resources they needed to succeed.
  • When we got back together, we set next steps, made a list of resources we needed (like planning checklists, or table talking points), assigned who would do what, AND set a next meeting.
  • I assigned someone to set up a google group so we could all communicate easily.

I posted a meeting report somewhere public to show transparency along with some next steps, and trusted that they’d make things happen.

We had a follow-up meeting a month later, and since then, we’ve been meeting to check in every other month and keep ourselves on track.  We’ve got a meeting reporter who posts notes (it’s no longer my job!), we’ve hosted the Bikes and Brewvies ride attended by 100 people is one of four rides they’ve since planned including one that highlighted our primary advocacy issues.  We’ve hosted one two three four five six happy hours with another scheduled — and we’ve recruited a volunteer to post on each one.  Our volunteers organized a fantastic member party and are planning three more parties, and someone who is running with tabling from organizing people to stand there to getting materials that make it engaging.

Finally, a few of the people who jumped in here have stepped up to take on leadership positions elsewhere in the Coalition.  While that makes life a bit harder for this group, it’s great for the organization.

Unqualified success!

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