VOICE’s organizing is perhaps best understood from the bottom up. The base of the organization is the hundreds of leaders building and maintaining strong relationships with each other, and with their neighbors through the institutions important in their lives: church, mosque, synagogue, school, union, business association, athletic club, community health center, or other voluntary association. These relationships are developed through one-on-one conversations, where two people share their stories, values, and interests—things that they would like to see changed.
Out of these one-on-ones and larger “house” or small group meetings, VOICE leaders identify priority issues and the leaders with enough passion to work hard to resolve them. An issue might be addressed by a small group of institutions or, if the concern and passion is more widespread, by the entire VOICE organization. Each VOICE institution has a Core Team of 5 to 25 leaders that do the work of local organizing and represent VOICE to their institution. The core teams of all member institutions form the VOICE-Wide Team—the central decision making body for VOICE. The VOICE-Wide Team meets several times each year for teaching/learning about public issues and to ratify all major decisions for the organization.
Typically, the VOICE-Wide Team receives recommendations from the Strategy Team. The Strategy Team is a group of the most experienced leaders, who do the strategic thinking and plan the actions for VOICE. There are also two Co-Chairs, the most senior leaders, who identify leaders, recruit new organizations, and develop strategic power relationships. The only paid positions in VOICE are the Lead Organizer, Senior Organizer, Associate Organizer, and three part-time administrators. The organizers are teachers and talent scouts. Their job is to identify and train talented leaders; to help them organize with others for power; to teach leaders how to use that power consistent with their values and how to exercise power strategically to make change on issues that affect their lives.
Training is an important part of VOICE. The organizers and senior leaders provide training in one-on-ones, house meetings, how to research and act on an issue, how to do a power analysis, how to develop allies, fundraising and other skills as necessary to be effective in the public arena. Leaders are also encouraged to participate in the Industrial Areas Foundation’s National Leadership Training, which is offered four times per year.
Teaching and evaluation are also important elements of VOICE’s organizing. Each action is carefully planned, with specific objectives and roles assigned to leaders. If individuals outside of VOICE are to be part of an action, VOICE leaders will brief them on what to expect, and what will be expected of them. After every action, VOICE leaders conduct evaluations to determine which goals were achieved, which were not, and why. These lessons help VOICE volunteers grow as public leaders and ensure more successful actions in the future.