Reaching Out: How to Do Local Grassroots Outreach and Fundraising 

"Good things come to those who wait; everything comes to those who hustle while they wait." 

—Anonymous

Elephant's Head amaranth seeds

Making Connections

Ecology is about relationships, and the integrity of any ecological community depends upon the health and abundance of its diverse, interconnected relationships—from the smallest microorganisms to you and your neighbors. Making friends with the people who live nearby will improve your garden and community projects by expanding bioregional cash and resource networks and improving the scope and quality of local awareness. Knowing the neighbors increases economic and emotional support networks and decreases crime and violence.


Most of us know at least a few folks in the neighborhood. But think of the macrocosm that is the larger ecological niche you share with the other people in your town, in your bioregion. What percentage of those people can you call friends? How many of their names do you know? How many of them will be watching your back if and when disaster strikes? How many of them might be interested in doing projects with you but don’t know you exist?


When you start organizing community projects like the ones in the preceding chapter, you will need to use a diversity of strategies for finding people who want and need to participate, and who have something to contribute. Whether it’s a small garden or a large community event, the success of any project depends upon successful outreach and fundraising efforts, and that’s what this chapter is about

Who to Connect With

Before you start doing outreach, think about the types of people you would like to work with. Remember to strive for diversity wherever possible. This means reaching out to people from cultures other than your own, of diverse lifestyles and sexual preferences, from a wide age range, and from all economic situations. Offer flyers and brochures in multiple languages. Work in ethnic and low income neighborhoods, and make your events physically and financially accessible for a broad range of people.


Try to think of as many diverse groups as you can, while considering what types of people might be interested in your work. For example, if you are doing garden projects, reach out to students, children, teachers, parents, environmental groups, outdoor education programs, basket weavers, other gardeners, and anyone else who likes and uses plants. If you’re working in peace and politics, you might want to communicate with lawyers, lobbyists, journalists, gun control groups, and anti-military organizations. For wilderness restoration contact hikers, bird watchers, native plant societies, botanists, geologists, cross country skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Look for people who love nature, such as hikers, fisher people, mountain bikers, pagans, tribal communities, and primitive skills enthusiasts.


Brainstorm a list and write it down to use as a starting point on your outreach campaign. Then use the methods and materials in this chapter to launch a simple, low cost publicity campaign that will help you find volunteers, publicize events, educate your community, and build support for your projects.


This campaign should include establishing a presence in the community, developing outreach materials, and putting out the word through a diversity of media strategies, from spoken word to print and broadcast media. We’ll look at all of these in the next few pages.

How to Do Local Grassroots Outreach and Fundraising

Many of these strategies double as fundraising schemes, and there is no harm in always keeping a donation jar handy. There are also several good ways to raise larger sums of money for community projects. You will find an overview of fundraising at the end of this chapter. 

Establishing a Presence in the Community 

The first step to finding like minded people in your community is to establish yourself and your project as a competent, beneficial force in the neighborhood. Set up a free box and give away quality surplus. Smile at the people you see on the street and introduce yourself. Talk about your gardens and other projects, and invite your new friends to share their passions too. Then, as you move into a more formal outreach phase to find volunteers and build support for a specific project, use the ideas below to help shape your approach.


Name Your Project and Write a Mission Statement

If you are starting an organization or ongoing project such as a community garden or tool library, you should give it a good name and write a short mission statement. Consider your goals and your purpose, and come up with a name and a sentence or two that tells people what you are doing and why. 


Acronyms, puns, people’s names, plants—there is no limit to the sources of inspiration when it comes to finding names for your projects. Be clever, but do not confuse people with a name that is too cryptic or militant.

When reaching out to the community, start with your next-door neighbors and spiral outward.

Choose a name that makes sense for you and stick with it. It takes time to build up name recognition for a project, and it can be confusing when the same people do a bunch of projects under several different names, so be clear and distinct. Food Not Lawns was a name that started as a joke and just stuck. People loved the concept so we kept the name, but it was also a bit limiting—folks assumed that we were interested only in growing food, not other beneficial plants, or that our work was entirely focused on converting lawns to gardens. Some people even thought we were a lawn mowing service! Still, for our purposes it made sense to keep the name and go with the momentum we had built.


Once you have a name, write your mission statement. This can be up to 150 words long, but it should be clear, succinct, and easy to understand. The mission statement, or a synopsis of it, will be on your business cards and brochures, in your press releases and funding proposals, and on the home page of your website. It is what you will use to communicate with new participants about what you are trying to accomplish.


When writing the mission statement, try to combine visionary ideas with realistic options. Find a balance between idealism and achievable, measurable goals, and write a statement that reflects both. Outline the problem and your proposed solution, and include a description of your activities. Have others look it over and edit it down to a tight, concise statement of purpose.


Talk about Your Project

Tap into the power of everyday conversation. As your project progresses, whether it is your own garden or a full-scale community project, you will undoubtedly have much to talk about. So talk about it. Tell your friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers what you are up to. Ask them what their interests are, and look for ways to connect.


Many people will want to know what you are doing, and you don’t want to sound like a broken record, but you should develop a succinct, two-minute “rap” about your work. New people need to know what they are getting involved in, and you need to be able to tell them.


It helps to jot down a few paragraphs using a basic problem–solution scenario. Have fun with it, trying a few different versions to see what people understand the best. As you become more comfortable your rap will change and evolve, depending on whom you are talking with and the depth of the interaction.

Once you have a good rap you can expand it into a longer workshop or presentation and offer it to local schools and community groups. If you are nervous about talking to people, refer back to the section on amateur teaching in chapter 9, and see the sidebar below for tips on speaking in public.

If people are interested in your work, invite them to get involved and ask them to tell their friends, neighbors, family, and coworkers about it. This type of outreach has exponential benefits, and you will soon see the excellent results as new people volunteer and/or donate money and materials.

Choose a Spokesperson

​If you are working with a group of people, consider choosing a spokesperson. Media, individuals, and other organizers want a main person to contact or refer to. If there is no one who can talk to them, you will lose prospective volunteers and miss out on valuable publicity opportunities.


If you do not choose a spokesperson, the media may just interview anyone standing around. Sometimes this can be fine, but you may end up with a quote about your project from someone who doesn’t really know what you are trying to do or how you want to represent your work to the world.


The spokesperson does not have to be the leader of your group, just someone who is informed and articulate and who understands the goals and activities of the project. It makes sense to rotate spokespeople, in order to maintain a balance of power in the project. See the next chapter for more on shared leadership. In the meantime do what makes sense to you, but make sure at least one person is ready to talk to the media and field questions at all times.


Set Up a Mailing List

Bring a notebook to every meeting, event, and social function you attend and invite people to write down their name, phone number, and/or e-mail address. Later, you can call them about upcoming events or set up an Internet mailing list. Many websites offer mailing list hosting for free—try tribe.net or mutualaid.org, or go through a local Internet provider.


You can also do it the old-fashioned way, using snail mail and sending postcards for each new project, but this can get very expensive and is much more time consuming than just setting up a simple e-mail list.

Keeping a record of contacts is essential to maintaining a good ongoing outreach campaign. Every person who attends a workshop or garden tour, or who calls or e-mails you asking about your project, should go on your list for future reference.


Throw a Party

Don’t underestimate the power of an informal garden party to bring the community together. Invite the neighbors over for an afternoon of organic food and conversation. Ask a few local musicians to sit in and you’ve got yourself an excellent opportunity for community organizing. At the party conduct garden tours, display photos of projects, and invite local activist groups to set up tables. Pass around a guest book so you can invite participants to future events.


Plant Flowers

As you establish your project be sure to use the tried-and-true gap bridging method of planting beautiful flowers along the border between your garden and the neighbor’s land. The flowers will bear your good tidings and provide a conversation piece to help break the ice.

Better Public Speaking

Speaking in public is a major phobia for many millions of people, but it needn’t be. If you have an opportunity to talk about your project and the issues around it, it is a waste to let a fear of speaking in front of others inhibit the opportunity for building support. The tips below will help you get a grip on your fear and share your ideas effectively and comfortably. Even if you are already a confident public speaker, you can always sharpen your skills. Use these concepts to develop your talk, and jot down some basic notes to bring along.


Know your purpose. Be clear about your goals, and make sure your talk reinforces those goals.


Know your audience. Do the necessary research and tailor what you say to the needs of your listeners. Relate your topic to their daily lives.


Establish credibility. Give a brief explanation of why you are qualified to talk on your subject and how you are involved in the project at hand.


Be deliberate. Speak slowly and enunciate carefully. Repeat key phrases. Repeat key phrases. This seems weird in a regular conversation but is very effective in a presentation.


Make your point. Choose up to three main points and use supporting arguments to make them. Keep your talk clear and succinct, but provide enough information to make a strong impression.


Stick to the facts. Opinions and emotions are good ways to punctuate a point, but be sure to provide plenty of tangible backup for what you want people to believe.


Ask for action. A presentation without a request for action is a lost opportunity. Tell listeners what they can do to help.


Use visual aids. Slides, photos, and/or charts make a more memorable presentation and can help make your point. Keep things relatively simple, however, so your visual aids don’t upstage you.


Answer questions. This can be the most terrifying part, but it is always a good idea to leave room in your talk for questions. If you don’t know the answer, say so; people will appreciate your honesty. Make a note of these things and find out before your next talk.


Finish with flair. Save the most shocking statistic or tantalizing tidbit for the very end. Leave them hungry to learn more, and tell them how they can do it.


Practice your talk in front of a mirror. This will help you relax and will show you your body language. When you give your talk, stand up straight, breathe deeply, and speak from the diaphragm.

​Be sure to drink plenty of water beforehand— you don’t want to have a coughing fit or a headache in the middle of a presentation. Smile, use eye contact, and maintain open body language. Have fun and good luck! 

Developing Outreach Materials

The next step is to develop informative outreach materials. These range from business cards to periodical newsletters to books like this one. Get creative and try to create items with plenty of useful information— these will have a longer shelf life than a vague flyer that people will just throw away. Here are some examples.


Make a Business Card

This is so simple, yet many activists do not use business cards. A business card is very important. Not only does it save you from a lot of scribbling your number, e-mail, or website on scraps of paper whenever you meet a potential volunteer, but a business card is your own tiny billboard as well.


Business cards can be made out of recycled paper and printed either at home, with a personal computer, or through a professional service. (Vistaprint.com offers free business cards—you pay just for shipping.) A business card informs people about what you have to offer and what you need and presents your work in a way over which you have complete creative control.


Make a Scrapbook

Put together a big scrapbook from recycled art materials and paste in articles, flyers, brochures, photos, volunteer sign-up sheets, letters, and other keepsakes from your projects. Put this out whenever you set up an information table or have an event; people will love looking through and seeing exactly what you’ve been up to.


The Food Not Lawns scrapbook has become a living history of our personal transformations as well as our gardens; it is one of my most prized possessions. I only wish I had started it a decade earlier!


Make a Brochure, Fact Sheet, or Newsletter

These are three different forms of what could be generally termed a leaflet. Use recycled paper and keep it simple. There are many formats for brochures, fact sheets, and newsletters, and most word-processing programs have templates. Generally newsletters are more in-depth than fact sheets or brochures, and they usually include articles, photographs, and advertisements from members and project participants.


​Go to the office of a local nonprofit and look at the literature it has available. Printing can be expensive, so consider your resources before getting too deep into a full-color brochure or thirty-page newsletter. But don’t just duplicate what others do—create something unique. 

The goal should be to produce a basic document that explains the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your work in a format that is innovative and engaging. Do some research and include interesting graphics and statistics, alluring photos, and informative charts.


Tell people how they will benefit from getting involved, and give them some specific options for doing so. Include contact information and relevant websites, and tell people how to sign up on your mailing list.


Make a Flyer

What I am calling a flyer is different from a leaflet, in that a leaflet advertises an ongoing project or organization while a flyer informs people about a specific event or string of events. This information may also be included in a newsletter or brochure, but it is important to advertise individual events for a few weeks before they occur.


Flyers can be any size, from a large poster on a billboard to a small handbill passed out to a large crowd of people. A good flyer is like a display ad: It has the name of your project; tells people what they will gain from being involved; and gives the date, place, and cost of the event.

An array of outreach methods will help you reach a diverse audience.

Pay careful attention to the wording in your flyers, brochures, press releases, and especially your mission statement, and make sure that language does not reflect any unconscious racism, sexism, ageism, classism, or other prejudices. Ask feminists, alter-abled people, and people of color to help you create materials that are welcoming, inclusive, and culturally sensitive.


I always try to include fun graphics to catch people’s eye and communicate my project’s emphasis on beauty and creativity—a picture speaks a thousand words, right? For posting on bulletin boards, it is usually wise to make flyers eight and a half by eleven inches or larger. Put the upcoming event on the front and a general message about your project on the back, to lengthen the shelf life of flyers.

Sometimes I will make posters that are five and a half by seventeen inches by cutting an eleven-by-seventeen sheet lengthwise. This is a less common shape on bulletin boards and lends itself to an eclectic, old-fashioned style. Try different shapes, colors, and graphics. I prefer typed text on flyers, while others like to handwrite theirs. Have fun with it, and always save one of each flyer for your scrapbook.

Make a Banner

Make a large fabric banner, like a flag, with the name of your project, a graphic, and a short slogan. This is especially helpful at indoor events to hang outside for passersby. Many people will see the banner and stop to find out what is going on. Others who are looking for your event will be glad for the extra information, directing them in.


If you don’t have time to sew something together, just paint a nice sign on a piece of plywood. We have a two-and-a-half by five-foot plywood sign like this that shows a big head of garlic behind the words FOOD NOT LAWNS EVENT TODAY. We’ve used it for years and have met hundreds of new people thanks to the extra effort.


Bumper Stickers

Bumper stickers are a mixed blessing. The materials used to make them can be quite toxic, from the plasticized paper to the glue that makes them stick. Still, there are recycled-paper options available, and stickers are an inexpensive and excellent way to spread the word (widely) about your work. Come up with a catchy slogan, put it and your project name on a batch of stickers, and give them away. Now watch as the name recognition for your project skyrockets.


Stickers are cheap to have printed at any screen printing shop. Or you can make your own: Silk screening is relatively easy, and perhaps a local student can help you. Linoleum block prints make great stickers just remember to carve the words in backward, and print on sticker paper. Once you have a master, you can photocopy as many stickers as you want on sticker paper, available at any stationery store.

Distributing Flyers

Distributing Flyers ​Many businesses have bulletin boards for people to post announcements and advertisements. Spend a day on a bicycle riding around your town and stopping at every coffee shop, grocery and health food store, patisserie, deli, school, church, and garden center, and ask if they have a place to post flyers for local projects. Make a list, in geographic order, of all of the places that allow flyers. Make copies of this list and you will then have a flyer route that is easy for you or another volunteer to follow or share.

Another great way to get out the word is to pass out handbills (small flyers—say, five and a half inches by four and a quarter inches) to large crowds of people coming out of a concert, museum, garden show, or other community event.

Come up with a five word “sound bite” about the project to tell people as you hand them the flyer— this will help them to determine whether or not they want the information, and you will find fewer of your expensive flyers on the ground after the crowd has cleared.

This works especially well within twenty-four hours of the event. Once, for a benefit show, we dressed up like clowns and went to a big art opening downtown that was happening just two hours before our show was scheduled to start.

We passed out two hundred flyers and had a fantastic time clowning around. We packed the house later that night, and I saw dozens of the same faces from the art opening; our show was just the thing they were looking for to top off their night. 

Putting the Word Out

Once you’ve assembled some basic outreach materials you are ready for the fun part—getting out into the community and promoting your project. Use as many methods as possible, from word-of-mouth techniques such as canvassing and tabling to do-it-yourself media tactics like writing articles, putting out press releases, and giving radio interviews. I’ll cover several good options below.


Alert the Media

​Sometimes local media will catch wind of an interesting project and come sniffing around for the scoop. This is a mixed blessing, because while news stories can bring in tons of new support, the mainstream media often discolors projects and presents them in ways that we might not like or want. The media can be your enemy or your best friend, and your interactions with the media will be much more likely to succeed if you engage its representatives directly, proactively, rather than waiting for a surprise visit from a reporter. To this end I encourage everyone to learn the fine art of the press release. 

Use a press release to alert media—radio, print, TV, and online—of your upcoming events and to offer interviews and expert opinions. Write your press releases well and you will soon have a host of allies in both mainstream and alternative media.


Before I get into the art of writing a press release, let’s look at the reality of the mainstream media. In 1977 more than fifty corporations composed the bulk of the international media. In 1999 fewer than twelve companies owned every major television and radio station in the world.(1) What’s more, the boards of directors for these twelve corporations contained a grand total of only 155 individuals, including many who sat on boards for several media corporations. All these people also own large shares of other corporate and political organizations, from weapons contractors to pesticide companies.(2) 


In short, the mainstream media is controlled by a handful of people who represent the politically conservative, privately educated, and economically privileged power elite. No wonder it is so difficult to get good media coverage of grassroots topics such as food security, ecological sustainability, and mutual aid.

seed circus

Public art and performances are excellent ways to bring ecological ideals to large, diverse audiences.

But do not get discouraged. There are hundreds of independent media organizations making their own alternative news opportunities and telling the other side of the story. You can find independent and alternative media through the Internet, cable access programs, and university radio stations and newspapers. Start with indymedia.org, ask other gardeners and activists, and look at local newsstands for independent and progressive publications.


Identify an assortment of media targets and send a compact, two- or three-page media kit. This should include the press release plus a few photographs, and perhaps a copy of your brochure or fact sheet. A press release is a business letter with specific information geared toward the needs of the media. There are several key points you need to cover in every press release. First, provide a succinct who, what, where, when, why, and how of your event, but more importantly give them a good hook to hang the story on.


What most editors are looking for is conflict, freshness, relevance, and timeliness.(3) Provide a clear picture as to why the topic is news now, and why their readers/viewers/listeners will want to know about it. Tie in your work to a local environmental dilemma or social issue and define how you are finding solutions. Be imaginative and provide quotes, testimonials, and/or interesting statistics to back up your opinions. This is the heart of your press release.


Be sure to mention any photo or interview opportunities that will be available at the event, and provide the name of your spokesperson and how and when she can be contacted. If you are charging admission to your event, include two or three free passes with each media kit in case a reporter and photographer want to cover the event. Your spelling and grammar throughout should be immaculate.


Send the concise, easy to understand packet to the city editor, assistant editor, or department editor—not to the executive editor, because it may be tossed out. Call ahead and ask to whom to address the packet.

Lay It All on the Table

Sometimes performers will allow local groups to set up an informational table at their show. Check with local venues as well as bookstores, grocery stores, schools, malls—anywhere that you can find a good flow of people. Farmer’s markets are another great place to do outreach.


Set up a small table—anything from a TV tray to a card table or a whole booth, depending upon the circumstances with the host. Put out your scrapbook, newsletters, and any other outreach materials, with extra copies of some things for people to take, and offer a volunteer sign-up sheet or a mailing list.


Most places will also allow you to put out a jar for cash donations— we’ve raised up to five hundred dollars in a few hours this way. Always set up a table like this at your own events and staff it with a knowledgeable volunteer so people can sign up, ask questions, and give donations.


Organize an Info-Share

Host an evening of info swapping, with presentations, games, and/or workshops. Some groups have an annual or biannual event in which members invite new people to come and see members give a talk or show slides about their projects.


Alternatively, invite a guest speaker. Many large cities sponsor humanitarian organizations. These organizations often keep lists of scholars in the area who offer presentations. You can ask a local writer, college professor, designer, school garden coordinator, or political activist. Well-known speakers will bring in more people and generate press for your project. Some guest speakers will offer a lecture or do hands-on activities, while others will show slides or a film and discuss their work.


​Host the event at a local home or campus and advertise well in advance. At the info-share set up a table with information about your project and upcoming events, and invite people to sign up to be on your mailing list. 

Canvassing

Door-to-door canvassing is still a reliable method of getting out the word about a local project. From vacuum cleaner salespeople to Jehovah’s Witnesses to Greenpeace environmentalists, canvassers have been knocking on doors to gain support for their work for centuries. Most often used as a form of sales or fundraising, canvassing is a great way to generate small amounts of money for a project.


However, it can be exhausting and disenchanting, as many people these days do not appreciate folks on their doorstep asking for money, even for a cause they believe in. Some people are very receptive, while others are downright abusive. Still, I see canvassing as perhaps the best way to connect with a group of people in a specific geographic area and inform them about a project or event nearby.

outreach for events

Set up information tables at local stores, schools, and events.

Most cities offer tax lot maps to the public, either free of charge or for a nominal fee. You can use these maps to keep track of where you have been and go back to see people who were not home the first time around. Give them contact information and a small flyer, and bring a clipboard to sign people up for your mailing list. If you are not trying to raise money, tell people right when they open the door that you are not fund-raising. Use your rap to inform them and determine their interest level, then invite them to get involved.

Canvassing

Door-to-door canvassing is still a reliable method of getting out the word about a local project. From vacuum cleaner salespeople to Jehovah’s Witnesses to Greenpeace environmentalists, canvassers have been knocking on doors to gain support for their work for centuries. Most often used as a form of sales or fundraising, canvassing is a great way to generate small amounts of money for a project.


However, it can be exhausting and disenchanting, as many people these days do not appreciate folks on their doorstep asking for money, even for a cause they believe in. Some people are very receptive, while others are downright abusive. Still, I see canvassing as perhaps the best way to connect with a group of people in a specific geographic area and inform them about a project or event nearby.


Most cities offer tax lot maps to the public, either free of charge or for a nominal fee. You can use these maps to keep track of where you have been and go back to see people who were not home the first time around. Give them contact information and a small flyer, and bring a clipboard to sign people up for your mailing list. If you are not trying to raise money, tell people right when they open the door that you are not fund-raising. Use your rap to inform them and determine their interest level, then invite them to get involved.


Don’t take it personally if some people are rude. Just move on. Chances are, the next person will be friendlier. An evening of canvassing can result in as many as fifty new contacts, and a week of work can inform an entire neighborhood.


Sound terrifying? It can be. Canvassing is not for everyone, but it boosts confidence and spreads the word—and you might surprise yourself with your newfound skill at fundraising!


Use the Internet

I’ve already discussed Internet mailing lists, but there are several other ways to use the Internet to promote your projects. The first is to set up your own website, either with your own domain or through a public host. Most Internet providers offer a small amount of free web space with your subscription, and there are dozens if not hundreds of resources online for public hosting space. Try tribe.net, myspace.com, friendster.com, and craigslist.org for starters.


Building the page can be relatively simple if you just want to post some basic information and a few photos. Most of the free online hosting services offer templates that you can just plug your photos and information into. If you want a more extensive site, however, with lots of links, articles, and contact forms, then you will need to put in a more significant effort. Try sitebuildernow.net for an inexpensive, easy to use tool, or find a local computer geek to help you.


Aside from having your own website, you can also post your events to the calendar and announcement pages of other organizations’ pages. 


A list of websites with calendars of ecological design oriented events can be found in the resources section. Most of these need your information several months in advance to give them time to get it up and published on the web, so plan ahead.


You can also post announcements to one or several of the literally thousands of public bulletin boards and mailing lists on the web. Most have an open membership. There are groups on every subject from astrophysics to zoology. Once you are a member you can post articles, calendar events, and whatever else anytime.


Write an Article

While you’re using the Internet look for good places to publish articles. Writing articles about your work and related topics is a great way to build credibility and share information. With a little research and some good photos, you can create an article for a local publication that both educates the public and provides free advertising for your project.


Check around for local magazines and newspapers that run articles by freelance writers. Most publications have writer’s guidelines that you will need to follow, but the average article is usually around fifteen hundred words long, or about six pages, double-spaced.


​Be sure to include information about how readers can get involved. Some publications will even pay for your article and photos, adding funds to your project and experience to your résumé!



Publish a ’Zine

I used to produce a ’zine called Weed Lover: A Sustainable Horticulture Reader. The first issue was just twenty pages and offered a basic introduction to seed saving, ecological living, and biodynamic agriculture. I ran a first printing of a hundred stapled photocopies and sold them at conferences and workshops. Over the next two years I published five more issues, with a wide array of garden tips, plant lists, artwork, resources, and references for grassroots gardeners. I always sold as many copies as I made and years later am still meeting avid readers of the Weed Lover.


Some ’zines are periodicals, others onetime publications. You can write the articles yourself, get submissions from others, or photocopy interesting tidbits out of other publications and compile a verbal mosaic of ideas and sources. In all cases be sure to note your sources well, giving credit where credit is due. Print them yourself with a basic computer setup and a photocopier, or find a responsible press to publish your ’zine for you.


Give an Interview or Host a Radio Show

If there is a community radio station or local news show that broadcasts from your area, offer to give an interview. Or see what it takes to become a volunteer host. Many stations provide training and airtime in exchange for volunteer work. Most universities and some city colleges also have a radio station that allows the public to broadcast live and pre- recorded shows.


Make a Video or Television Show

Just as with radio, sometimes you can find training and access to equipment through a local college or television station, many of which offer free or low cost classes. Some stations will also broadcast your films, either through an established program or by giving you your own slot on the schedule. Take a field trip to the local stations and see what type of resources they offer.


An educational video is a great way to share and distribute information to large and diverse groups of people. Videos can be distributed to schools, libraries, community centers, activist groups, and independent media networks. I have seen excellent amateur and independent films about bicycle transportation, homeless garden projects, ancient forest defense, and so much more.


Place a Classified Ad

Line advertising is inexpensive and can be quite effective. Many publications have sections for advertising workshops and classes, and some offer free or discounted rates for nonprofit events.


The personals are another great place to advertise, and personal ads are usually free. For example, if you have organized a seed swap and want to get the word out, you could place something like “Avid organic gardener seeks kindred spirit. Meet me at the Seed Swap, City Park, next Saturday at noon.” 

Making Ends Meet

I’ve talked at length about making the best use of available resources, but as you organize and publicize your projects, you will inevitably need to come up with some cash. Here are a few strategies to help meet needs with resources.


The Magic Hat

Make a brief announcement and pass around an interesting looking hat during or after a workshop or event. Borrow the hat from a workshop participant or just put a donation jar out in an obvious spot with a little sign noting what the money is for. A variation on this strategy includes putting multiple jars at locations around town at local businesses that support your work.


Benefit Shows and Special Events

Often a local band or two will play for free to raise money for a project. Depending on the popularity of the band (and the project), these shows can raise anything from two hundred to twenty thousand dollars, or even more. I have organized house parties, movie screenings, puppet shows, dinner theater, and forty-performer community variety shows to raise money.

Here’s a good one: Some local forest activists organize an annual Trek for the Trees in which activists ride bikes out to a forest action camp and supporters pledge anywhere from one to twenty dollars per mile. The ride lasts two days and ends with a big party where riders and supporters can meet, mingle, and collect pledges. 


Retail and Wholesale Sales

Make or grow stuff to sell at local farmer’s markets or to stores and restaurants. Seeds can be sold to seed companies, herbs to herb distributors, and so on. Or host a sale of your own in a yard or parking lot. Ask people to donate things to sell or auction off, make refreshments, and perhaps get some musicians to provide ambience. Don’t forget to set up an information table with materials that explain where the money is going.


Memberships and Pledge Drives

Some programs, such as community radio, host regular pledge drives where they put extra effort into asking for donations from individuals and businesses who support the programming. Many projects and organizations have paying members—people who regularly fund and participate in the project. Some membership organizations have a 501(c)3 federal nonprofit infrastructure (see the sidebar below); others operate below government radar. Look to organizations near you for a wide variety of models. 

Don’t forget to pass the magic hat at all of your events to generate some extra cash flow.

Retail and Wholesale Sales

Make or grow stuff to sell at local farmer’s markets or to stores and restaurants. Seeds can be sold to seed companies, herbs to herb distributors, and so on. Or host a sale of your own in a yard or parking lot. Ask people to donate things to sell or auction off, make refreshments, and perhaps get some musicians to provide ambience. Don’t forget to set up an information table with materials that explain where the money is going.


Memberships and Pledge Drives

Some programs, such as community radio, host regular pledge drives where they put extra effort into asking for donations from individuals and businesses who support the programming. Many projects and organizations have paying members—people who regularly fund and participate in the project. Some membership organizations have a 501(c)3 federal nonprofit infrastructure (see the sidebar below); others operate below government radar. Look to organizations near you for a wide variety of models. 

Grant Writing

Though most large grants require the above-mentioned nonprofit infrastructure, it is sometimes possible to get small grants for grassroots work. A list of some good opportunities can be found in the resources section. Alternatively, some nonprofits are willing to offer smaller local groups “umbrella” status, where the small group channels funding through the nonprofit. Ask around locally if you need umbrella status—find an organization that does similar work and write a succinct, well-organized proposal asking the group for fiscal support in the form of tax-deductible status.


When writing a grant proposal, read the application very carefully, and follow the directions to the letter. Use a basic problem–solution pro- posal, with measurable goals and explicit objectives. Be clear, brief, and specific as to the guidelines outlined by the funder. You will probably need to attach a realistic, detailed budget and a timeline and include a little (but not too much) supporting data, media clips, and brochures.


Most funders will be very specific about what they want you to provide, and many require a short letter of inquiry before they will accept a full application. The letter of inquiry should be flawlessly written, with a succinct overview of your goals, objectives, plan of action, and expected outcomes. Note how much funding you want, what you will spend it on, and why this group should be the one to pay for it.


Grant writing is a learned skill, and a bigger topic than I have room for here. Most community colleges offer short grant writing seminars, and there are several free and inexpensive ones online—if you want to write grant proposals, take one of these workshops. It’s fun and empowering to gain access to the millions of dollars out there for projects like yours. Or bite the bullet and hire a qualified professional grant writer. This might sound like a risky investment, but a good grant writer will generate funds to pay for herself and much more, while you are free to focus on the work you enjoy.


Donations

Individuals, businesses, and other organizations often have surplus goods that they are happy to donate to a community project. I have received donations of food, seeds, plants, soil, tools, paper, furniture, greenhouse materials, and much more over the years. Just start asking around and see what comes up.


I covered donations in chapter 2, when discussing urban waste resources and how to get them. Here are some more tips for getting local businesses and individuals to direct surplus goods and cash toward your project.


It helps to have a well written request to give to potential donors so they can show it to the necessary decision makers and keep your contact information on file. Then send it or take it around to the businesses that seem like they would have access to what you need.

For example, if you want organic seeds, make a list of as many organic seed companies as you can find and send the letter to all of them.Include a brochure, a newspaper clipping, or some photos about your work, and follow up a few weeks later with a phone call or short e-mail.

The Corporate Nonprofit versus the Grassroots Collective 

​Many community projects go the way of setting up an independent tax-exempt nonprofit corporation. Much like a regular corporation, it usually has a board of directors and administrative staff and is subject to all the laws and exemptions enjoyed by corporations.

A nonprofit corporation is not responsible for paying certain taxes, however, and is eligible for large amounts of funding from other nonprofit entities such as grant foundations and government agencies. Those grants can enable you to do large projects such as setting up a community center, co-op, or education project with a paid staff and other resources.

You will need at least one full time person to administer the paperwork that comes with being a nonprofit. Mountains of paperwork are required to meet government requirements, and sometimes the infrastructure of the nonprofit itself seems to consume the original vision and ideals of the work; be cautious if you go down this road.​

Another option is to apply for umbrella status through another non- profit, channeling funds through it. Most umbrella organizations charge an administrative fee for this, but the expense ends up being far less than it would be to maintain an independent nonprofit.

This classic hobo symbol represents people coming together to share ideas and then going apart to spread them further.

Places to look for donations include nurseries and garden centers, schools and universities, bookstores, food stores, other stores, and restaurants. Most independently owned local businesses will be willing to either give a material donation or offer a discount. Larger chain establishments usually yield less favorable results but are still worth a try. In general, the more people you ask, the more support you will get.


Other organizations and community projects often have surplus from donations they have gathered. To make best use of the community surplus as a whole, tap into the work of fellow activists, coordinate fundraising and donation efforts, and let resources flow among related projects.


Be careful not to spend so much time fundraising and dealing with organizational logistics that you are too burned out to do the fun stuff— the projects that the funds support. Creating more corporate nonprofit office jobs will not save the world. A well planned project should be able to work with minimal funding. Take pride in your frugality and innovations rather than your ability to raise and spend large amounts of money.


​As your projects begin to succeed you will soon find yourself surrounded by groups of people who want to work with you. Interacting with these people, educating them, and directing their energy toward autonomous, integrated ecological community is no small task.  


You will need to hone your communication and conflict resolution skills and may need to unlearn some bad habits. The next chapters will explore the ways and means of making these interactions as functional, productive, and mutually beneficial as possible.

Notes for Chapter 10

1. Greg Ruggiero and Stuart Sahulka, Project Censored: The Progressive Guide to Alternative Media and Activism (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999), 7–10.

​2. Ibid.

3. David Alexander, Ways You Can Manipulate the Media (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1993).