The previous section of this guide provides an introduction to organizing events. Holding good events is a very educational and rewarding activity in itself, but is not all there is to organizing. How can you plan out your action each semester for maximum impact? Can you design your initial activities to prepare the campus for later events? Can you anticipate and respond to any backlash? Can you measure your success? You will be better able to do all of these things if your events are mapped out as part of a campaign.

A campaign is a series of activities (tactics) designed to achieve medium and long-term goals. Campaigns are more likely to be successful if your entire group has an opportunity to be involved in the planning process. To share ownership in the planning process, we must adopt some common terminology when talking about our campaign organizing.

A goal is something your group wants to achieve. An example of a goal is getting your school to freeze tuition, or getting 1,000 students to sign a petition. Short term goals are things which you can do within a month, like obtaining the petition signatures. Another example of a short-term goal is to be allowed to construct a shanty-town on campus without interference from your administration.

Tactics are the tools you use to meet your goals. Doing a petition drive is a tactic. Obtaining 1,000 signatures is a goal. Holding a band benefit is a tactic. Raising $500 is a goal.

Tactics can be very small things too, like postering, leafletting, showing a movie, or sending a letter to the school paper.

The distinction between goals and tactics can be confusing because you may need to achieve small goals in order to employ certain tactics. For example, you might choose the construction of a shantytown as a tactic toward achieving the goal of educating your campus about the conditions of poverty many people face each day. You can't just go out alone with a pile of lumber and start building however, because many people, including the campus police, might question or oppose what you are doing. So (unless there are 1,000 people in your group) you must first achive the goal of getting students and the administration to understand or accept your decision to build the shantytown.

So you might choose the tactic of sending a letter signed by 10 different student organizations to your college president urging that the shantytown construction be allowed. However, before you can send such a letter, you will need to meet a goal of getting 10 student organizations to sign on to it.

We could break this down even further (some important groups might be reluctant to sign on or would need to take a vote so you would use tactics to convince them or you would go ahead without their endorsement). But let's stop here.

The point is that social change is not instant and your organizing does not occur in a vacuum, so you have to come up with a plan that will build support for what you want over time. And you may need to be flexible, because hurdles may be placed in your path by your opponents. When you are figuring out this plan you are strategizing. Your strategy is the approach you take to meeting your medium and long-term goals. It is the blueprint for your campaign.

Ideas for Strategizing

You may wish to set aside a few hours to strategize at a time other than your regular meeting - perhaps a Saturday afternoon. Some ideas:
  • Using "butcher paper" (big sheets of brown paper) or large newsprint and some markers, conduct a brainstorming session to identify your medium and long-term goals. Then come up with a list of tactics for achieving those goals. You may wish to use a common brainstorming model, such as the Strategy Chart developed by the Midwest Academy (see Bibliography).
  • After you narrow down the list of goals to a few you can work on in the next semester or two, make a timeline, including events beyond your control (spring break, holidays, election day, etc.), actions and events you have planned, and all preparations and deadlines leading up to them. Adjust your timeline to make it realistic and to maximize your effectiveness.
  • With the timeline in front of your entire group, this is a perfect time to delegate tasks, projects, and responsibilities among your members. Make sure that someone records everything on paper so that people confirm what they signed up to do. During the campaign:
  • Periodically review timeline and revise if necessary.
After the campaign:
  • Look back at your goals, tactics, and timeline and do a thorough group evaluation. Get written comments from everyone who was involved and even from some observers. Save this evaluation and the charts. Review them when you plan a new campaign. An organization that doesn't learn from its past strategies keeps on making the same mistakes.
To anticipate the opposition's actions:
  • Pretend you are them and hold a strategy session from their perspective. How would you effectively counter your own campaign? Identify weaknesses and adjust your own strategy accordingly.
Thinking and planning strategically can make the difference between ho-hum campaigns that get no attention and dynamic, creative campaigns that excite people, build your organization, and create real change.