“Organizational visibility is intentional, not accidental”
(Peter Brinckerhoff, The Mission Based Management Newsletter, March-April 2009)
As we approach the end of the year and the preparation of taxes, my husband and I review our contributions to a list of organizations. A list detailing the last three years’ donations sits near the area where we pay our bills (Yep, we still write checks!) as a reference and a reminder. As I look through this I’m reminded of the amazing work these organizations do,and right in the mix is the Sierra Club.
It also brings to mind where I spend my volunteer time. There are a lot of groups on the list, and I cannot volunteer with all of them! Several years ago when I first ran for the Executive Committee, I made a deliberate decision to clear my plate and to put in some focused hours with the John Muir Chapter to ensure its success in the years to come. One of the questions we should all ask ourselves is how, in the crowded world of non-profits, can we help the Sierra Club stand out amongst the many worthwhile organizations in Wisconsin?
We cannot assume that just because the Sierra Club has been around a long time (we just celebrated our 50th year in Wisconsin!), or because the organization has a national arm, that the John Muir Chapter does not need our support. By support I mean donating, volunteering and being visible in the community. The reality is that the John Muir Chapter and the local Groups need members to vocally and visibly align themselves with the Sierra Club. Visibility and affiliation can help with building and strengthening the Sierra Club. It serves a role in drawing new people to the Club, engaging existing members, and building the Sierra Club’s name and recognition. As members, our goal should be to shrink the number of people in our circles who say they have never heard of the Sierra Club.
So what specifically can we do?
We can start by talking up the Sierra Club and being visible. I often wear a Sierra Club button on my jacket (in fact I have a few that I pull from the closet complete with a button). I may be going to an unrelated meeting or grocery shopping or to the bank, but I am proud of what the Club has achieved and I want others to know about the Sierra Club. When I head out on a hike or picnic on summer weekends, I grab my Sierra Club hat. Not just because it protects the tops of my head and face but because it lets people know I am a Sierran. Whether or not people we meet on the trail or at a picnic spot say anything, I know they read the Sierra Club label. And when they do ask, I often can talk about the trail or park and make a connection to the Club. Or if I attend a meeting around Madison, during introductions I do not mention all the affiliations I may have. I tend to narrow it down to two – First Unitarian Society and the Sierra Club.
When we work on issues there are so many opportunities for us to promote the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club has always relied on its members to be on the front line of any issue, especially at the local and state level. Both the Chapter and National levels provide positions on a range of issues that can be woven into personal statements or letters to the editor. Or maybe you get a call to action from the Chapter to attend a rally or a hearing. Don’t forget to put on that Sierra Club button, shirt or hat as you leave the door.
Of great importance is volunteer participation in other coalitions and networks. Volunteers serve on many bigger coalition efforts from mining, to water, to transportation and energy issues. As volunteer representatives of the Sierra Club, it is important to continue to associate our participation with the Sierra Club and to represent the Club’s position at these bigger tables. It doesn’t hurt to wear a button either! Within the constraints of the Club positions and the coalitions, we have a large Sierra Club tool box to bring to many of these efforts.
Consider our work on transportation. As volunteers, several of us from different areas of the state have participated with the broader coalition working to expand public transportation in Wisconsin. Within this coalition, volunteers have been free to develop a “Sierra Club” approach to the issue, working with labor to contest the Milwaukee County budget under then-County Executive Scott Walker, garnering support for rail service, and conducting community meetings to get people to talk about transportation and their neighborhoods. And now, volunteers are contesting the state transportation budget’s fixation on new road building to the detriment of road repair and transit development. These types of activities provide opportunities to hang out the Sierra Club banner, post things on the web and Facebook, show up at hearings, and canvass our peers and friends to join the Sierra Club in its vision for a multimodal, interconnected transportation system.
We also need to be visible when the Sierra Club endorses a candidate. When we make an endorsement at the local or state level, Sierra Club volunteers are the positive, tangible benefit for a candidate. Signing in on a volunteer sheet as a Sierra Club member and wearing a button are simple steps to draw the connection. And when volunteers canvass, a button, shirt or hat, lets folks know that the Sierra Club takes democracy and participation seriously. Being visible may draw other people or Sierra Club members to this work.
Promotion and visibility serve a lot of purposes depending on the context. Visibility on the trail may make someone consider joining an outing or getting involved in a conservation effort. Showing up at a meeting with a button or identifying one of your affiliations as the Sierra Club may prompt a conversation about membership and why you joined. Wearing Sierra Club gear while volunteering for a candidate creates a link in the mind of the campaign staff and the candidate to the organization and its endorsement. Testifying at a hearing wearing a Club button and using the Sierra Club’s positions on an issue broadens the reach of the Club. Liking on Facebook or posting creates the buzz to attract new faces to the Club.
Our job is to fuel the Sierra Club’s efforts by building its name and recognition. We have the legacy, the reputation and the tool kit to meet today’s environmental challenges. But we need to keep letting folks know we are here. For an anecdote highlighting the need to be visible, Peter Brinckerhoff writes: “…in the weeks and months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, more than 100 non-profits were formed in NYC to help families, and survivors. Nearly all of them duplicated existing services already in place in New York, but those organizations’ low visibility prevented the well intentioned founders of these organizations from knowing that there were already resources in place.” (The Mission Based Management Newsletter, March-April 2009)
In a crowded nonprofit world, Sierra Club has a lot to offer and people should know about it. So let’s help make it stand out amongst the crowd!
- For more information on volunteering: Visit the 4Lakes Volunteer Page and the John Muir Chapter Volunteer Page
- For Sierra Club gear: Contact us for what we have available locally or visit http://sierraclub.usptgear.com