There are many ways to start a vegetarian group. Do what makes you and others feel most comfortable. Building a group is a matter of testing what works and what does not in your area. Following are some suggested steps and details.
Have an initial meeting in your home with interested individuals. Plan a few activities right away so you can build upon the interest.
Rent a box at the local post office. This way, if the original members move, you still retain the same address.
Choose who will answer the group phone. It is wise to purchase an answering machine so you will not lose messages.
This is a great way to obtain free publicity for your group. Send a press release out announcing the formation of your group and any public activities you may sponsor. Write us for a sample press release if you have not done one before.
Free meeting space includes potlucks in members homes, restaurant meetings where you only pay for the meal, and picnics in the park. Generally churches, libraries, and community centers offer inexpensive rooms. If you want to give a cooking demonstration, you can offer to do it for free in a health food, kitchen items, or other store, in exchange for their paying for the food and donating space.
Most individuals are too busy to attend activities, but will join for a newsletter. This can be one or more pages. The newsletter can be typed or desktop published. If access to a computer is needed most local libraries now offer that service. The simplest method is to print information on a piece of paper and photocopy it. There are many types of copy centers, both large and small. You might want to call around for prices. National chains that offer coping services include Kinkos, Staples, and Office Depot. There are also many independently owned stores. Once you are printing over 500-2011 copies of an item, it may be cheaper to offset the piece. Look in the Yellow Pages for offset printers. If you are computer savvy you can also create e-mail newsletters. Should you have specific questions, please drop us a note or give a call. There are many books in the library about producing newsletters.
This is a good method of outreach as well as a social activity for members. We can supply free handouts, as well as books, post cards, and bumper stickers for resale. You may want to have a display of books from your personal library for people to look at, samples of common and unusual foods, and a list of local places to eat vegetarian.
Generally, vegetarian groups have two classes of membership. Voting members are vegetarians (do not eat meat, fish, and fowl). Associate members includes all others. Decide how much you want to charge and compose a membership application. Decide who will take care of the money. Eventually you will want to have a separate bank account for the group. You can call the IRS to obtain the short application for a federal identification number, which you will use to set up a group bank account.
Never throw away a name in the beginning. You never know when someone may join or come to an event. You can maintain names on a computer, index cards, or sticky labels. If the names are on labels, you can Xerox them each time you want to mail. Ask for labels at your local stationery or business supplies store.
Usually you need to call people to remind them about events.
Good days to build events around are World Vegetarian Day every October 1, Meat-Out Day in March, and Thanksgiving. You can have potlucks, try to obtain discounts in restaurants, have a conference, fly a giant vegetable balloon, obtain a proclamation from the Mayor or Governor for World Vegetarian Day, participate in a Thanksgiving parade, fly a banner with a vegetarian saying over a crowded area, put up bus signs, etc.
Your group may want to officially obtain non-profit status. The main advantage is that when you mail 200 or more pieces of mail, you can obtain a large discount. However, you have to put the mail in zip code order and bundle it in a certain fashion. Ask at your local post office about bulk mailing permits. Another advantage of non-profit status is that donations above the cost of your newsletter or services are tax deductible. Filling out non-profit forms is like doing your income tax. If you have the time, you can do it without a lawyer. Ask at your local IRS office for forms and information concerning filing for 501c3 status. There used to be no charge, but now there is a fee for filing the forms.
Ask us if we know speakers in your area. Contact your local library, dietetic association, or animal rights group to see if they can recommend speakers. Remember that individuals are drawn to vegetarianism through nutrition, health, ecology, world hunger, non-violence, religion, and a host of other reasons. Everybody has different interests. Think about what your target audience is. For example, if you are trying to attract both people interested in animal rights and those interested in scientific nutrition, you may need to have different kinds of speakers and events.
Good luck! For more ideas, read the Vegetarian Journal, visit our website at www.vrg.org, or give us a call at 410-366-VEGE.