Onboarding and retaining members in climate groups

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Written by Alison Page

Getting people to join climate groups is difficult and retaining members can also be a struggle. Here is a list of suggestions about onboarding and retaining members based on the experiences of activists who have worked in a variety of climate groups:

How can groups effectively onboard new members?

  1. Be welcoming and inclusive. Make sure new members feel like they are part of the group, that their ideas and feelings matter, and that their contribution is important. 
  2. Educate. Offer education about the climate and ecological crises, why we need urgent action, and what your group does. It might be helpful to have reading material available about the climate emergency and exactly what your group does to push for individual and/or system change.
  3. Offer hope. It’s easy for activists to give up when they hear about the severity of our planetary emergency and how little governments and big business have done to address it. Make sure they understand that climate scientists report that there is still time to act, and that all of our actions count to make things “less bad” for ourselves, our children, and all forms of life on earth. 
  4. Create a team environment. Activists need to understand that solving the climate and ecological crises is about collective responsibility and that we are in this together. It’s easy, with so much being online these days, for activists to feel disconnected from the group. It’s important to check in through email, text, and offer in person gatherings to maintain a sense of connectedness and maintain a community of support and mutual care. 
  5. Have a clear first project. Help new members feel involved and like they have a purpose that makes a difference. Try to avoid feelings of “what should I be doing?” and “what’s the point of this?” from arising in new activists. 
  6. Contact person for support. New members having a contact person, knowing at least knowing one person in the group well, helps them feel like they have support and a good place to start. 
  7. Assign tasks with written or visual instructions. Give new members instructions and procedure docs for tasks and be available to answer questions until they ‘learn the ropes’ and can confidently branch off on their own. 

How can groups maintain solidarity and retain active members?

  1. Supportive community. Since most activists don’t get paid, it’s important to aim for a supportive working environment and express gratitude for each other's time, energy, and work. Holding gatherings where members can casually check in, outside of the stress of work/activism, and sending thank you notes are two ways that groups can maintain a healthy work environment.
  2. Check in. Stay in touch with each other to be sure that no one is taking on too much work and responsibility, and that everyone is feeling heard and supported.
  3. Transparency and accountability. Any conflicts that arise should be handled with with respect and consideration for everyone involved. Consider offering training in nonviolent communication so members learn how to communicate in ways that consider everyone’s point of view and end with a compromise or a solution that feels comfortable for all. 
  4. Maintain equity. Be aware of maintaining equity when it comes to gender, race, class, etc. and including the voices of people who tend to “step back” so more dominating personalities who are accustomed to taking charge, making decisions, and leading don’t take up too much, or all of, the space.
  5. Clear decision making procedures. Let new members know how decisions are made. Is your group a hierarchy or is it a democracy? If you make decisions by majority, can one member block the decision if they are very strongly against it? Make sure it’s easy for members to feel that their voice is both being heard and has the power to affect decision making. 
  6. Off-boarding. Hold a quick exit interview when members leave to figure out why they are leaving - whether it’s for personal reasons or has to do with how the group is operating.

Have other ideas? What has worked well in your experience? We would love to hear from you!

Otherwise, check out the Become a Climate Activist website to learn more and find other helpful related resources.

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