Dear small, local tea party groups:
I started with the Tea Party before it was what it is today – that is to say, when I started to think about being involved in a “tea party movement” there was no tea party movement. It was February of 2009, shortly after I heard of the first spontaneous ”tea party” event in Boston or Chicago. I can’t remember where the first one sprang up, but you get the idea. I’ve been in this since the beginning, and in April 2009 I organized and spoke at my town’s first little tea party protest. We had 500 people show up. All excited. All fired up and angry. All ready to get involved and do something - anything – to oppose higher taxes and government waste.
Since the beginning of this journey, I’ve learned many things. After trying to start an online group, I learned that people want to meet in person each month. I also learned that the old rule applies: active participants will be around 3-5% of the total membership. Additionally, I learned that motivating people takes “fire in the belly” and sometimes the “tough love” of a harsh word or two – a kind of “get off your ##$@%$ and do something!” plea. Some people know they want to help, but don’t know what they should do – and others, so used to the government telling them what to do, are waiting for tea party leaders to light a match under their feet. Still others think that just coming to the meetings is actually doing something. It is, but helping with a project, protest or even is more important!
When the tea party first got started, there was fire in the air – you could feel it. Lately though, even with work still being done by the 3-5% of core members, many tea party members are feeling a little worn down and a little apathetic. Many feel that coming to the monthly meetings is “doing something” – and it is, but it’s not the most important thing they can do. It also doesn’t fulfill their desire to “do something.” You may be experiencing little or no growth – or worse, you may actually be losing members. I can help you with that, but only if you let me…
You may not want to let me help you. You may be happy to just complain that you’re not growing – that there’s no fire. You may be sitting on your hands, wondering why no one is knocking your door down to help you. You may be refusing solid advice about how to increase membership and develop better marketing solutions. Like a business, if you want to get more customers you have to advertise the fact that you exist.
You can have the best tea party in America, and if no one knows you’re there – or what you’re doing to help them and their families, they won’t show up for anything. Not your meetings and certainly not your other projects.
Here are some things to consider:
1. Unity/PR in the Community: Nothing says “I represent” like a T-shirt. Surprised? Many seem to see this as folly. “We don’t need T-shirts.” Then those same people want to make a “good showing” at an event. I can’t tell you how much this baffles me! Here’s the thing – not everyone knows everyone else personally – not everyone was “born here” and therefore those people whom you want to notice your presence at meetings or events may only recognize 4 people out of your group of 20. You need T-shirts. You need bumper stickers. You need business cards. Whether these are purchased by the tea party group, or simply made available to members, you need this to happen. Additionally, a LOGO is a great idea – even if your group is part of a bigger “tea party” association – a logo will help to identify your members in a crowd. It can also have a positive effect on community outreach and help you gain legitimacy when doing projects or going door-to-door, etc. Most importantly, if you could organize 30 members to show up at a City Council meeting and EACH ONE could be identified by everyone in the room as a TEA PARTY MEMBER, what an impact that would have. As a government official, who would you be concerned with – a “tea party” showing of 3 members (*when there are actually 30 there) or a tea party showing where you know there are 30 members there, ready to hold you accountable? It’s so BASIC and so important. Think about your favorite sports teams. Think about the police. How about the high school cheerleaders? If your tea party doesn’t have T-shirts, get them now! They’re such an easy way to show unity, show your numbers and assure people that your members really do represent your tea party.
2. Get a dedicated Social Media Rep: Most local tea parties have members that know each other. It’s a great thing that can have major benefits too numerous to list. However, there can also be a downside to it when members are too afraid of “stepping on toes” to get things done. Every tea party group needs a dedicated Facebook/Twitter person. Someone who will faithfully represent the tea party message online. You can also give this person the control over answering emails if your daily email inbox isn’t too busy. Don’t be afraid to assign someone to this task that knows what he/she is doing and has experience growing followers on other FB pages/Twitter accounts. If they don’t work out, you can always find someone else to take control. Use people in the ways that they are most comfortable being used – play to each member’s strength and try to make sure that everyone knows that we’re all in this together and any “toe smashing” is unintentional. If your tea party group has FB and Twitter accounts that only get a few posts/tweets per week, it’s time to give that job to someone who can “Crush it!” Finally, FB and Twitter both offer a way for your members to contact each other if your tea party insists on using “BCC” (blind carbon copy) for most of it’s messages.
3. Business Cards: Every tea party should have business cards that they give to their members to hand out in the community. Each member should carry a few cards on them at all times. Drop them in business “free lunch” contest bowls or pin them to bulletin boards where allowed. The cost of basic business cards can normally easily be handled from your tea party’s general fund. Or, you can take up a special collection for this – business cards are very cheap right now if you get them online. There’s no excuse for your members not to have this resource for leaving your tea party’s info with people they meet everyday.
4. Parades/Events: You wonder why your membership isn’t growing? Maybe no one knows you’re there! Honestly, there should not be a parade, city event, county fair, craft fair, community event, etc. where your local tea party isn’t represented in some way. Even if you can’t get a booth or float into a parade, your members can walk the streets handing out business cards. Wearing those T-shirts we talked about. Are you getting the picture? Increasing your membership is ALL ABOUT PUBLIC RELATIONS AND MARKETING! If you can though, a float or truck in a parade or a booth at the local fair can make a big impact – and it’s a huge chance for your tea party to get more members.
5. PLAN AHEAD: I cannot stress this enough. Don’t wait until June to plan on a float in the July 4th parade. You need time to find people who will volunteer to run each project. Likewise, don’t announce meetings the day before they’re going to happen. Don’t just announce events the day they are going to happen. Don’t just post to FB and Twitter that something is going to happen today(unless you’ve given many announcements in weeks past). If you have the problem many tea party groups have with your FB and Twitter accounts, you’ll be talking to almost no one anyway – but it can only hurt to wait until the last minute to let people know something is going down. They can’t be there on short notice, so it makes them feel bad – they’ve missed another event – so it will be easier for them to justify missing the next one, too.
6. STOP WASTING MONEY: If we’re the tea party, we’ve got to live up to our own standards. (Sorry, this isn’t the DNC ) Your tea party should have a FREE place to meet. In my personal, humble opinion it is a waste of your membership’s money to pay someone for a place to meet. Paying to meet in a government owned building is EVEN WORSE. Here’s why: There are probably plenty of businesses who would LOVE to have tea party money in the form of lunch or dinner purchased at their restaurant. Honestly, a tea party giving $100 a month to rent a city building? Isn’t that a bit ironic? American business owners are begging for revenue. Your local tea party should help them out, and in return, get a FREE place to meet. That way, your members’ money can go to projects to defeat government waste and spending, and not to the government who wastes and spends. Make sense?
7. Create Leadership Positions: It’s a running theme of most tea party groups: “We’re ALL tea party leaders!” It’s true, we are all tea party leaders in the grass-roots sense of things – but every group needs direction from a group of dedicated leaders. If you haven’t taken the time or effort to elect leaders, you’re doing a disservice to your group and to the tea party. I know, I know, it’s just that you don’t want to offend anyone by leaving them out, etc. Then do this: After you elect the leadership, create councils for various projects – if you have the members! Remember, if you’re struggling with growth, you’ll have a limited number of people that will actually give more than just coming to the monthly meetings. You’ll have to feel your way through it – but here’s what I do know – letting anyone and everyone come to leadership meetings is a recipe for stagnation as the folks who are in charge by default (usually those who founded the group) may ignore or dismiss good ideas that don’t come from their original leader members. It’s understandable to want to control the group you created, but remember – it isn’t about you, is it? It’s about liberty, lower taxes, and less government. In that light, we need to remember to use people where they are most effective and feel they can be used. Max out their talents where they are the most talented and put personal ambition and politics aside. Your group will grow and be better for it – even if you do have to give up some control.
8. Get young people involved: Many tea party groups struggle with this and there’s a reason….they refuse to reach out to the community in non-traditional ways. Let’s face it, most tea party groups are made up of a majority of GOP or GOP-minded people. We can say the tea party is bi-partisan, but in reality there are far more conservatives involved than there will ever be liberals. So, what do we do to get more young people involved? Well, part of it goes back to Twitter and Facebook and other social media. Today’s social media is to our younger generations what color television was to most of some of our tea party membership. More than that though, you have to go where the target audience is likely to be – you have to be hip ( remember those Tshirts I suggested? How about some clever, biting bumper stickers?) If you’re a tea party leader and you don’t really connect with the youth demographic, why not find someone in your tea party who does – and put them in control of that part of your outreach to the community? Maybe you could have one person in charge of overall PR, and they could report to him/her? If you continue to use old school tactics to spread the word, you’ll continue to get “old school” members. There’s nothing wrong with “old school” members, but as the liberals are so fond of saying ” the children are the future.” It will pay to get them involved AND it will benefit THEM in the future! WIN-WIN!
9. Use your Tea Party Group Email Professionally: This is a tough one for me to write, because I really admire my own tea party’s email guru. Some of the very best emails I get come from our tea party’s account. However, I think it would be better if the tea party email account was only used for tea party business. You can bet, as the writer of this blog and a passionate conservative that I understand tea party people having the feeling that they need to let their voices be heard, but no matter how right they may be – one person’s voice shouldn’t act as the voice of the tea party group as a whole. Only offical tea party messages should be sent from the tea party’s email account. To do otherwise might be helpful, but it can also cause people to block your emails and may be a factor in a lack of growth. Even if your emails are stellar, important and very insightful – they should come from your own email account and not use the tea party’s email address book.
10. INVOLVE THE WHOLE MEMBERSHIP: This may be my most important point, so please read it carefully and consider applying it to your local group(s). Going to a meeting and listening to someone speak can be a wonderful thing. They can inspire us and motivate us (hopefully) and we can learn things from speakers. HOWEVER, allowing others to speak in regular meetings can be a great solution to a lackluster, ho-hum membership. I’m not saying you should let the general membership dictate policy or events. I’m saying that you should give everyone the chance to speak their mind about a topic. Open mic night works at the local bar, but not in a tea party meeting – so pic a topic each month and ask for member input during the meeting. I hear you – “But when will we tell them about X thing coming up?” Please see #2 – that’s exactly what a dedicated Social Media Rep does!
This list isn’t carved in stone. It’s just one tea party leader’s ideas on how to improve membership and exposure in your local community. If your tea party is 4000 members strong and you don’t need this advice, then great! Awesome job! But for the rest of you, it’s time to get serious about what we’re doing here – and get serious about how to grow the movement, increase membership and get people involved! You may disagree with some of these suggestions. If so, feel free to comment below. Who knows, I may even publish it?
pG being interviewed by local TV, April 15th, 2009