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Tips on How to Host Your First Community Meeting

You have the ideas, you have the drive. But do you serve food and drinks, or not?

October 15, 2018

Leah Fabel

So you have some ideas about how to make your community better and you just drove for miles behind a “Be the change you wish to see in the world” bumper sticker. So you’re doing it: you’re organizing a meetup, and people are coming. Now what? We asked two alumni with organizing chops to share some advice for beginners.

Meet the Expert Organizers

Aditya Voleti (Kansas City ’12) is a special advisor to Pennsylvania’s secretary of education. Previously, he worked as the director of community for Lean Lab Education, where he organized monthly meetups focused on education innovation.

Melissa Miller (Houston ’08) is a data analyst in Boise, Idaho, and active in the grassroots organizing scene. While living in Chicago, she joined E4E’s Teacher Policy Team and worked as a fellow with the Illinois chapter of Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).

How do you get a good mix of people to show up (and keep returning)?

Voleti: Don’t be afraid to cold-email people or groups that might be interested in your meeting. If you want a parent-focused event, reach out to every parent coordinator you can find and ask them to spread the word. Choose a space that feels accessible. If you can afford to provide childcare, then do. And watch your language. Don’t use jargon that only the experts understand. Make sure that someone who goes through the lived experience of an issue—but who doesn’t have the jargon—can still contribute.

How do you manage the outpouring of ideas?

Miller: You may need to break into smaller committees. A big meeting, with leaders talking about big ideas and goals, can feel too big. When there are committees to join, it helps people feel more invested because people are counting on you in a more specific way.

What’s one of the most common pitfalls for newbies to avoid?

Miller: Not enough clarity around the purpose of the meeting. I’m on a committee for a women’s group at work, and we brought in a speaker who talked about the importance of women in the workplace. All the women who showed up were like, “Duh.” It would’ve helped if we had invited our mostly male management to that meeting. Or if we had been clearer about our goals so she could address our specific concerns.

Pro tip?

Voleti: Treat your attendees as equals. Kansas’s commissioner of education started to show up at our events in part because we didn’t point him out. He liked to come and participate as an attendee, not as a featured speaker.

Miller: Go to other local meetings and events, too. It’ll connect you to more people who are trying to get stuff done. Then, follow up. Those connections start a whole chain of events.

Interested in the ABCs of organizing? All Teach For America alumni and corps members are eligible to join the nonpartisan organization LEE (Leadership for Educational Equity), which supports members in engaging civically with their communities.