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Forming a Country Committee: Step-by-Step Guidelines
Throughout this process, you should work hand-in-hand with your Regional Vice Chair, so make contact immediately. Your first step will be to hold a meeting with some core supporters to discuss how to find like-minded Americans. At this meeting, draft a schedule of what you hope to achieve over the next six months. Notify the DPCA Executive Director, so that the lead organizer can be added to the relevant contact lists for members of the DPCA. You will need to complete the Contact Information Form (see Appendix B1). The core organizers should be added to the DPCA-Leadership e-mail discussion group (see Section 2.2 and Appendix E5).
There are two different types of committees: full committees (50 or more members) and non-voting committees (less than 50 members). Full committees have met their election, publicity, and membership requirements, and have adopted bylaws. See Article 5 of the DPCA Charter (available online) for the details of those requirements. All membership lists must be maintained in the DPCA database; a member of your committee should have access to the database for your country at some point in this process.
Draw up your bylaws. The model bylaws approved by the DPCA Executive Committee can be found in Appendix B4.
Schedule a general meeting to vote on bylaws and to elect officers. Publicize this event. Request via the International Chair that details of this meeting be posted on the Democrats Abroad website (www.democratsabroad.org). Copies of print and other publicity must also be sent to the International Chair.
Elect officers. Remember that there must be gender balance in accordance with the bylaws of the Democratic National Committee: the Chair and Vice Chair must be of the opposite sex. Within the Democratic Party, all voting must be public rather than secret: this means voting by show of hands, voice vote or signed ballot. (These are Party rules!) See the model election guidelines in Appendix E1.
Report the results of the election to the International Secretary. You must submit signed minutes of the meeting. A copy of the approved bylaws must also be forwarded to the International Secretary. The DPCA will then have to vote to approve admission of the local committee based on the documents submitted by it.
Assign database administration rights to appropriate officers, and have them sign data confidentiality agreements.
Build momentum by scheduling regular meetings, communicating with oneanother, and holding voter registration and informational events and forums of various kinds.
Come join us at 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.
Make sure you meet certain compliance requirements, such as certifying membership as of December 31 each year to the International Chair. (See Section 1.3: Maintaining Country Committee Compliance, below.)
Ensure your committee is always in compliance with party rules and not conducting activity that would require it to register with the US Federal Election Commission (FEC). Of course, your committee must never violate US or local law.
Hold elections every 2 years following Model Election Guidelines, available in the appendices.
And, of course, let the DPCA officers, your Regional Vice Chair, and the Executive Director know if there is anything we can do to help make all of this any easier. That, after all, is what we are here for.
See also Appendix B2: Jump-Start a Committee and Appendix B3: First Step, The Organizational Meeting.
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 it 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 it 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 keep their contact information.
- Using the tools and resources provided by DPCA when we could.
A Few Good People
First, the acting chairman 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, you can easily manage your events, track attendance, change or add to the agenda and selectively email attendees. If you use skype, you can call or conference call your super-volunteers or officers for free.
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 (which can give you a country page). 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 organizations (restaurant, law firm) that would let us hold our meetings in their space for free or the ability to charge individual attendees for their drinks and food. We always accept donations (watching out for cash donation limits and U.S. citizenship requirements).
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. The materials below can be adapted 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 Meeting
After a preliminary meeting, the start-up must hold an official organizational meeting at which it elects officers and adopts bylaws in order to be admitted to Democrats Abroad as a full Country Committee. The organizational meeting must be advertised publicly.
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