If you sit on the fence, you get splinters in your ass. – Julia Bonds, Coal River Mountain Watch
Back in 1994, we organized our first Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference. We invited a handful of seasoned activists to help us train members of some of the environmental groups we support. We asked them to share their experiences and their knowledge to help our grantees become more effective advocates for the natural world.
The tools environmental activists need to attract members, publicize issues, communicate to donors and inspire citizens to take action are, in essence, very similar to those we use every day at Patagonia to sell clothing and gear. To be effective in today’s fast-paced, technology-charged, competitive world, we need to develop strategies, clarify our messages and find useful and affordable methods of advertising. One can’t be effective without the right tools in one’s toolbox.
Patagonia covered all conference expenses – training, lodging and meals – and asked participants to bring their stories, passion and ideas. Those who attended this first conference appreciated the training so much, we have repeated the event every 18 months since. (We recently changed that to every other year.) To date, more than 1,000 activists have joined us.
In September 2011, we held our 12th Tools Conference at Stanford Sierra Camp in South Lake Tahoe. Experienced trainers from the nonprofit world and from Patagonia shared their inspiring stories, knowledge and expertise. We covered campaign strategies, fund-raising techniques, grassroots lobbying and how to get your message out.
Over the years, we’ve heard from Tools participants that the conference not only provides essential tools, but also the motivation and encouragement so often absent in their day-to-day activities. Some said they gained a greater sense of community with the network of activists. One recent participant wrote, “I am conference averse, but I thought this was one of the best I’ve ever attended – great energy and pertinent information. Clearly, a lot of thought was put into each workshop to cover not only the issue but also technique!”
Though the Tools Conference is intended to help environmental activists become more effective, those of us at Patagonia who participate also leave exhilarated and more excited about our own work. We don’t profess to have all the answers. But we hope to share, through our speakers and each other, some of the tricks we’ve been lucky enough to learn through the years.