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Forming (and Reviving) a Country Committee: Step-by-Step Guidelines
Throughout this process, you must work hand-in-hand with your Regional Vice-Chair (RVC) (or another DA leader and contact person designated by the RVC to be your primary point of contact). Get in touch with them right away, RVC Contact details are listed below. Your first step will be to hold several organizing meetings with some core supporters to discuss how to find like-minded Americans. At these meetings, draft and implement a schedule of what you hope to achieve over the next six months. Provide your RVC with a written summary of the meeting along with a list of those participating.
To become a fully recognized voting country committee (CC), the committee must have 50 or more members on the membership list. A local group with less than 50 members may may still remain connected to DA but without full committee voting privileges. Fully recognized and compliant CCs will have met the election, publicity, and membership requirements, and will have adopted bylaws as defined in Article 5 of the DPCA Charter. All country and local DA membership lists must be maintained as part of the DPCA membership database. Your RVC (or a designated point of contact person) will assist you with mailing announcements to your local membership list. Once a CC is admitted and recognized as a fully compliant DPCA Country Committee, your committee leadership will be granted direct access to the membership database for your country.
Draft a set of local bylaws for your CC. Contact your RVC for a template of current recommended CC bylaws.
Schedule and announce a general meeting to vote on adopting your bylaws and call for nominations for candidates to fill the CC officer positions. This meeting must be publicized widely – at least 30-days in advance of your election meeting – in local media and via other relevant channels. With the assistance of your RVC (or designated contact person) this announcement must be sent to all DA members in your country and posted on the DA website: www.democratsabroad.org. You will need to submit copies of print and other publicity as part of your request for admission as a fully compliant DPCA Country Committee.
This will involve an independent Nominations and Elections Committee (NEC) to collect nominations and to oversee the election process. Keep in mind that in accordance with the rules of the Democratic National Committee: there must be gender balance between the Chair and Vice Chair must be of the opposite sex. Within the Democratic Party, all voting must be public – there is no secret ballot. Please review and understand the DA Country Committee Election Procedures.
The results of all local elections must be reported to your RVC and to the DPCA International Secretary within 15 days of the election. You must submit signed minutes of the meeting and a copy of the approved bylaws to your RVC and the International Secretary. The DPCA will then hold a vote to approve admission of the local committee based on the documents submitted.
Build momentum by scheduling regular meetings, interacting with your local committee members, and holding voter registration and informational events and forums of various kinds.
Participate in DPCA International and Regional meetings — you’ll leave with lots of great ideas and helpful contacts. It will give you a lot more impetus to keep going, knowing that you are not alone. CC leaders must regularly participate in DPCA meetings to remain in compliance.
Make sure you continue to maintain active compliance for your CC, such as certifying membership each year to the International Secretary.
Ensure your committee is always in compliance with DPCA and Democratic Party rules, and not engaging in any activity that would require registration with the US Federal Election Commission (FEC). Of course, your committee must never violate US or local laws.
Hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM) and officer elections every 2 years following the DA CC Election Procedures.
And, of course, let the DPCA officers and your RVC know if there is anything we can do to support your work and improve your efforts to turn out votes for Democrats. That, after all, is what we are here for.
Contact your Regional Vice-Chair:
Appendix 1: Jump-Start a Committee
CASE STUDY: BELGIUM by Kevin Prager, from 2007 DPCA Handbook
Democrats Abroad Belgium (DAB) got off to a very fast start by focusing on a few actions that were the most likely to yield quick results, and by taking advantage of every free or inexpensive resource and opportunity we could find. Within the space of a year, membership grew from nearly zero to 500!
The main pillars of its early success were:
- Finding a few committed volunteers (initially three) willing to help.
- Identifying communications vehicles (journalists oriented to foreign residents, websites, publications, clubs and e-mail discussion groups) that we could use to reach Americans and crafting brief written messages targeted at them.
- Forcing prospective members and event attendees to contact us or register via email, so that we could track and maintain their contact information.
- Using the tools and resources provided by DPCA.
A Few Good People
First, the core start-up volunteer located two other volunteers willing to commit some time and effort to launching the organization. Each was asked to check among the Americans they knew who could supply email addresses of potential members. They were also asked to get email addresses or websites of clubs for foreign residents, websites, e-mail discussion groups, and publications used by Americans. Lists were created. As people joined up, we also surveyed them on what their capabilities and areas of interest were, with a view to identifying a lawyer for counsel work, a journalist to edit a newsletter, a web-savvy person to edit the website, a PR person to work external communications, a financial person or accountant to be treasurer, a sales person to run fundraising, competent and organized people to be in charge of membership growth and voter registration, an events organizer to run events, and so forth.
Publicity, Publicity, Publicity
External communications were the top priority in the beginning. Getting and using a comprehensive publicity email list allowed DAB to multiply its force in terms of encouraging attendance at events, interest by journalists, and brand association by other groups of American citizens resident overseas. When advertising an event, we never gave out the address of the venue—rather, just the time, date and city, along with an email address to contact for more information. This rule has allowed DAB to reduce concerns about security while ensuring that we gathered e-mail contact information for every interested American. Bear in mind that one article covering your organization in a foreign-resident-oriented publication or club newsletter is worth 1,000 posters hanging in supermarkets and bars!
We also designed our messages (postings, press releases) for external communications to minimize the fact that we were the Democratic Party in the beginning, and focused more on bringing in Americans opposed to the Bush administration, as many people are reluctant to join a party until they see real local value (i.e. come to events or get help with voter registration). Later, once you are established, your communications power gives you a service to trade for cross-branding opportunities with other organizations for American citizens residing abroad (i.e. a chip at the negotiating table when they want you to participate in an event). Never give your publicity list to anyone!
The New Frontier
This is most important for the reason stated in the last paragraph—getting and keeping prospective members’ email addresses for future events. But it also means that you have less strict legal requirements as on paper communications. And the cost is nothing compared to mail-shots, posters and advertisement. Also, email communications and posting to websites are easier and faster to create, and web-postings can usually be changed or corrected after posting. If you use www.evite.com (or a similar event management tool) you can easily manage your events, track attendance, change or add to the agenda and selectively email attendees.
DAB used the two very good tools offered by DPCA to its advantage, since we had no funds—the membership database and the DPCA website. We also joined DPCA conference calls with the Democratic presidential candidates (advertising them as members-only DAB events), which gave us an interesting hook with the local press and credibility with prospective members. Lastly, we obtained the email addresses of the chairs of neighboring DA countries and started inviting those chairs to every event in Belgium. This created a virtuous circle of invitations, and sometimes we were able to offer/publicize neighboring-country events to our own members, adding to our credibility. We also identified local restaurants, cafes, and bars where we could hold our meetings without any rental fees.
Appendix 2: First Step, the Organizational Meeting
The first step to starting a Democrats Abroad Country Committee is to call a preliminary organizing meeting and then an official organizational meeting. Click on the materials below to download and adapt for local use – all highlighted text needs replacing. Don’t hesitate to contact your fellow Democrats Abroad for more help – especially your Regional Vice-Chair.
1. The Preliminary Meeting Invitation: Choosing a Date
2. Follow-up to Preliminary Meeting Invitation: Choosing a Date
3. Meeting Invitation
4. Meeting Agenda
5. Official Organizational General Meeting of Members
After a preliminary meeting, the start-up must hold an official organizational General Meeting of DA members during which local bylaws are adopted and local officers are elected in order to be admitted to Democrats Abroad as a fully compliant Country Committee. The organizational meeting must be advertised to all members and widely to the public and follow the DA Country Committee Election Procedures.