by Frank Welte
The strength of the American Council of the Blind is our individual members, organized for mutual support and advocacy in our local communities and in our states. As we move beyond the pandemic, we need to work to build up ACB in our local communities. Here’s how we can do it.
1. Decide right now that you’re going to take part in starting a chapter in your community or a special-interest affiliate in your state. There’s no need to wait around for someone else to get the ball rolling. Just finish reading this article, and then go right to work. Don’t worry about duplicating someone else’s efforts. You’ll find out about each other soon enough, and then you can start collaborating.
2. Make a list of other people in your area who may be interested in starting your group or in joining it once it is up and running. If there’s someone you’re not sure about, go ahead and put them on your list. While you will need a certain minimum number of people to get your group affiliated with your state’s ACB affiliate, there’s no minimum number for starting the process. The list will grow as you continue your activities.
3. Now call or write to each person on your list, tell them something about ACB and about the purpose of the group you are starting, and invite them to join your organizing effort.
4. Once you’ve received a positive response from a few people, schedule and publicize an in-person meeting, a conference call or Zoom meeting where interested people can get better acquainted, express their concerns and discuss ideas for starting your group. The goal of this informal get-together is to share information and to identify the people who are willing to serve on a steering committee.
5. After the first informal meeting, spread the word that a committee is being formed to set up your new local chapter or statewide special-interest affiliate. Schedule your first formal steering committee meeting, notify your ACB state affiliate leadership about your activities, and invite them to help. If you are starting a special-interest group, remember to also contact the relevant national ACB special-interest affiliate.
6. At your first steering committee meeting, you’ll start by selecting a meeting chair and a notetaker. Then you will elect your steering committee chairperson, vice chair and secretary, and you will invite others to join the committee. The size of your steering committee is up to you. Finish the meeting by assigning tasks and setting a schedule for your regular committee meetings.
7. Once your steering committee is up and running, the committee will need to work on the following tasks, as well as others specific to your circumstances.
- Pick a name for the group.
- Gather contact information for potential group members and other interested people. This list will become your member roster when the group is formally established. You’ll want the following information for each person: name, home or mailing address, preferred telephone number, preferred email address, vision status (totally blind, legally blind, low vision or fully sighted), alternate media preference (email, audio, braille or large print). You can also collect information about the gender and racial identity of those who wish to share this information.
- Set up a means for your group to communicate with each other: an email list, a Facebook group, a telephone tree, etc.
- Set up a phone number and an email address where people can contact your group. This can be someone’s personal phone number or email address, or a separate phone number and email address, such as a Gmail account and a Google Voice phone number.
- Draft your group’s bylaws.
- Begin publicizing your group through email list and Facebook group postings, articles to appropriate newsletters and through word of mouth.
- Contact your state’s ACB affiliate to find out what their requirements are for affiliation. For a special-interest affiliate, you’ll also want to contact the corresponding national ACB special-interest affiliate. Typically, you will need to submit your bylaws, your member roster and your affiliate dues to the respective organizations prior to receiving formal affiliation.
8. As you work on the tasks listed above, you will decide it’s time to schedule your first organizational meeting. This is the point at which your steering committee will be transformed into a formal organization. First, you will adopt your bylaws. Then you will hold elections for your officers and directors. Then you will conduct other business, such as setting up committees, authorizing your treasurer to open a bank account for the group, adopting a formal motion to affiliate with your state’s ACB affiliate, and possibly with a national ACB special-interest affiliate, etc.
9. Once your organization is established, you’ll have several more tasks to do.
- Select your organization’s mailing address. This could be someone’s personal mailing address, or it could be a P.O. box or other type of mailbox.
- Open your organization’s checking account. This is probably the most difficult task you’ll need to do during the first year. Don’t be surprised if your bank takes several months to approve your account application. The days are past when you could stroll into a bank branch with your photo ID and a checkbook in your purse and then walk out a half-hour later with your new checkbook. You’ll probably need to schedule an appointment with your banker, and your bank will need certain information from your organization to open the account, such as a signed copy of your organizational meeting minutes, including a motion authorizing the opening of a bank account and specifying who will be authorized to make deposits and sign checks; a copy of your bylaws, a copy of your state ACB affiliate’s IRS letter of tax exemption and a document certifying that your state ACB affiliate is authorizing your group to operate under its tax exemption, the initial deposit for the account, and other things that the government or your bank’s management may decide they need.
- Until your bank account is opened, you’ll probably need to authorize your treasurer to use a personal account to deposit dues and to make payments on behalf of the organization.
- Sign up members, and collect dues.
- Activate committees.
- Start projects.
- Publicize the organization.
- Start a newsletter.
- Apply for affiliation with your state’s ACB affiliate, and possibly with a national ACB special-interest affiliate.
While this list of meetings and tasks may seem overwhelming, remember that you don’t have to do everything at once, and you don’t have to do it alone. Those of us who have been through the process can assist you. I am happy to share copies of documents that you can use as models, and I am willing to provide advice. You can write to me at [email protected], or you can call me at (510) 541-1442. You can also reach out to ACB’s membership committee and to their counterparts in your state or special-interest affiliates.