Lessons learned from the Southeastern Veterans Tour
By Sean Collins
CCL is bipartisan, and we all know that any policy to truly address climate change needs to be a two-party solution. To make that happen, it’s crucial to bring conservatives into the conversation.
We already have hundreds of conservatives in CCL, don’t get me wrong. Heck, I’m one of them. Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) really is the best policy when you look at it through conservative values. But how do we try and make that clear without getting preachy? How do we bring even more conservatives on board?
That was our goal with the Southeastern Veterans Tour.
We weren’t necessarily trying to grow CCL. We weren’t specifically trying to build new chapters. (Obviously, we’d be happy if either happened). We were focused on bringing conservatives and veterans into the conversation—about climate change, about energy policy, about CF&D.
Using the documentaries “The Burden” and “Tidewater” as the hook, we built panels and ran a series of events throughout the Southeast. We’d show one of the films (about 45 minutes) and then have each of the panelists give a short spiel followed up by Q&A. We hosted 10 of these events across Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
Looking back on this tour, here are three key lessons I’m walking away with, and that might help you as you plan your own outreach. (Warning, some of these may seem disastrously obvious, but they’re valuable.)
1. Local celebs offer credibility and interest
Big-name panelists were a draw. I use the “big-name” term loosely, because we never brought in world-renowned speakers—I’m talking people that are known locally. Consider: Who will lend credibility to the event? How can you get them on board?
Having a local champion to support the event as a sponsor, as a referral source, or whatever creative way you can, is big. A chance to hear the mayor talk? Awesome. Former CEO of insert-locally-significant-company? I’m there.
Are there other groups you can partner with? Of course there are! Reach out to them. Build relationships with them too.
2. If you don’t have a hook, you aren’t going to catch anything
If you’re trying to bring new people into the conversation, guess what isn’t going to draw them in? The topic of that conversation. If we’re trying to get conservatives and vets to care about climate change and energy policy, we can’t just assume they’ll come running to an event just because we’re passionate about it.
What would make you be willing to give up two hours of your free time? Free food? Hearing someone notable speak? A giveaway? An endorsement by a group you believe in/belong to/support? Think about adding these elements to your event, and you’ll have more success drawing people in.
3. It’s all about follow up
By the very nature of the mission (bring conservatives and vets into the conversation), we knew there wouldn’t be 50 new climate warriors walking out of each event. We just brought them to the conversation.
Well, that means the conversation can’t end there.
That’s true for events you plan, too. If you got contact info from people, guess what that means? They want you to reach out. So reach out! Don’t just send a generic “Thank you for coming” email. Have someone on the team reach out personally, and try to have a real conversation. Go get coffee or a beer, or just talk on the phone. But connect on a personal level.
Then, give them something they can do. The worst thing about a lot of “environmental” groups is that you feel like you really aren’t accomplishing anything. Give them a concrete task that they can work on, and that they can walk away from seeing the results. Then ramp it up. Ask bigger and bigger things of them, and get them more and more committed.
Thanks for bringing me in
So that’s it. That’s my wisdom. I shared a bit more of it on a Citizens’ Climate University episode, which you can check out here. I had a great time working on this project. It was fun, challenging, rewarding and frustrating, all at the same time. I’m proud to be a CCL volunteer, and proud of the work we’re doing.
I’d like to thank all the local volunteers that made the events happen—I know that was a lot of work, and hopefully everyone found it rewarding. Jim Tolbert and Don Addu, thank you for coaching me through this and for problem solving with me. Rick Devereaux, thank you for your invaluable counsel and for being the go-to speaker for these—almost every group asked me if I could get him to be on the panel! And to everyone else that I can’t just list out, both CCL staffers and volunteers, thank you so much for working with me and for all the hard work you do.
Sean Collins is a CCL volunteer from Nashville, TN. He is the co-founder of Revive Energy, an Army veteran, and a member of the CCL Conservative Caucus.