How to Start a Special Interest Group

by Charles L. Mason, Jr.

Special interest groups are organizations or entities that are seeking or receiving special advantages from government agencies or public officials through political lobbying. These groups include trade unions and identity-based advocacy groups, which focus on issues such as the environment, housing, global warming or small business. If someone has been motivated to start a new special interest group, taking some strong foundational steps will support success.

Identify Your Interest

Your first step in starting a special interest group is deciding what it is the group is trying to change. For example, your goal may be to increase funding for schools in your community. With your interest focus area defined, the group must determine whom it must influence to achieve the desired goal. This could include your local school board, city council, state legislature, the United States Congress, the local teachers union or parent teachers associations.

Develop a Plan

Once you have identified a clear interest area and target groups to influence, develop a mission statement -- one to three sentences that clearly state how and what the group will do and influence. Draft a one- to two-page overview of what your organization is, what it aims to do and who you are attempting to influence. This is the first marketing tool for your group and it should inspire others to support your cause while clearly articulating who you are.

Get to Know Your Landscape

Research and identify what other organizations are doing the same or similar work or are working against your position. Specifically identify what makes the things you are doing different than the similar groups. For example, your competition may be focused on influencing the state to appropriate more funds for schools, while you may be focused on passing a local property tax or bond to support school construction. Find the organizations that oppose your group’s stance and create a list of these organizations as well as who supports them. Identify and reach out to potential allies who may provide support or want to help your group’s efforts, and create a venue to bring together interested parties to give feedback for your plan and the opportunity to join your efforts.

Build Your Infrastructure

Identify your infrastructure needs to support the group and make efforts to secure resources. This includes an office, phones, legal and jurisdictional filings, computers and a website -- things that allow you to perform the group's daily work. Find individuals and entities that will support your cause with funding. Focus on the development of a two-year budget of your projected total financial cost and use the service of an accountant in this process.

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About the Author

Charles L. Mason, Jr. is a leader on environmental justice, land use and food access issues. Mr. Mason has worked for 25 years in public policy, politics and community-based advocacy. Author of the ProactiveSoul blog, he holds a BA in political science and a MPPA public policy and administration.