“Should be required reading in every classroom.”

Judith Malina, founder of Living Theater

Make new folks welcome

Contributed by

“You are invited. By anyone, to do anything. You are invited, for all time. You are so needed, by everyone, to do everything. You are invited, for all time.”

The Dismemberment Plan, You Are Invited
In Sum

Recruitment and retention go hand in hand. A few simple procedures for orienting new participants can go a long way to ensuring their ongoing involvement.

Bringing in new participants is essential to any activist group that wants to grow in size and capacity — but recruiting is only the first step. Integrating people into an established group can be a much bigger challenge, and it helps to be intentional about it. Getting good at involving people requires some deliberate attention and probably the establishment of some basic procedures to make new folks welcome.

For starters, when someone says they’re interested in finding out more or getting involved in your group, don’t just invite them to come to your next meeting and leave it at that. Even the most welcoming and inclusive groups tend to develop their own meeting culture that can unintentionally make new folks feel like outsiders. To increase your new member retention rates, schedule one-on-one intake interviews with new folks before they come to a group meeting. Get to know the person. Find out what attracted them to the group, what kinds of tasks they enjoy or are good at, and how much time they have. Then tell them more about the group and discuss what their involvement could look like. While this level of orientation requires more time up front, it saves time in the long run: people tend to plug into the work faster and stick around longer. It may make sense for one or two members of your group to take on this responsibility as an ongoing role.

Secondly, if you want to inspire people to stay involved, you need to make them feel valued and appreciated. People like to be around people who treat them well. Most of us have no shortage of things we can do with a finite amount of free time: if you expect people to prioritize your group over aikido classes, contra dancing or advanced origami, you gotta treat ‘em right. Notice and acknowledge new folks’ contributions, however small. Make time to check in with them outside of meetings. Ask their opinions often: What did they think about the meeting? the event? the action? Bounce your ideas off of them and ask for their feedback.


Jonathan Matthew Smucker served as the first Training Director for Beautiful Trouble. A long-time participant, organizer, trainer, and theorist in grassroots movements for social, economic and ecological justice, Smucker has trained thousands of change agents in campaign strategy, framing and messaging, direct action, and other grassroots organizing skills. He is co-founder and Director of Beyond the Choir, a strategy and training organization. He is also a doctoral student of sociology at UC Berkeley.


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