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A young African-American man fresh out of law school took a job in Chicago. He also had political ambitions, so he began to get involved in his neighborhood as a community organizer. That was the first step taken by Barack Obama on a path that would lead him to become the 44th President of the United States.

Community groups often affect lasting change and make cities and local neighborhoods better places to live. They enjoy a long tradition in America. That means others can learn from many existing examples on the best way to start a new community action group.


Action Based Community Development (ABCD) denotes an approach that involves leveraging resources that already exist within a local area. These are things like public libraries, churches, sidewalk areas where people can legally assemble and open city lots. Community groups are made from people and they need a base of operation. Scoping out the ABCD resources addresses this start-up need.

Inform Local People

One of the biggest mistakes new community organizers make is swooping into an area and jumping in to take action before actually asking the local people who live there if they want, need or understand what you are attempting to do. You may think you are bringing a benefit to a community — but others simply may not see it that way.

Thus, a first step should be to get involved in numerous dialogues with local citizens. Explain your plan and goals. See if enough people think it’s a promising idea. Don’t’ forget to ask directly: “Is this something that is needed here, and would you support it?”

Learn Volunteer Management Skills

Volunteers are the lifeblood and oxygen of community action groups. As the leader of a community organizing/planning project, you are like the CEO and your volunteers are like your employees — except you’re not paying them. That means you must provide other incentives, but also a ton of inspiration and motivation.

Barack Obama was a naturally charismatic, empathetic and inspirational leader. That’s why he was a successful community organizer. He knew how to motivate volunteers to work a specific program that had concrete and measurable goals.

Learning to praise and express gratitude helps volunteers feel proud about what they are doing. Doing so often keeps everyone moving forward.