A Guide To Organising Your Own Feminist Events!

LaDIYfest Sheffield have put together a collection of ideas and advice to help you organise your own feminist event. This is by no means an exhaustive or absolute guide, but is based on what we’ve learnt over the last two years of LaDIYfest Sheffield, as well as on questions we’ve been asked by other individuals and groups.

DECIDING ON YOUR EVENT

  • What: Great events can be anything from spoken word performances, to gigs with live music, to discussion workshops, to practical activity sessions.
  • Aims: Consider want you want to achieve – is your emphasis on education, skill sharing, political activism, or just having some fun?
  • Inspiration: Don’t be afraid to look into what other groups have done.
  • Reach Out: Contact other groups directly to see if they’ve worked with anyone exciting that they could suggest. Swapping ideas or contacts can be a fun way to build events.
  • Be Realistic: Think about what is possible given your constraints: the main ones are time, money, and the number of people who can commit to being involved.

PRACTICALITIES

  • Costs: Think about how you’ll cover any money you will need to spend. The largest expenses tend to be venue hire and costs or fees for performers and bands. We’ve written more advice on this in the ‘Fudraising and Budgeting’ and ‘Finance’ sections.
  • Entry: Ideally this will help cover your costs, but free events are great to do where viable. Our paid events usually have a ‘suggested donation’ but no one will be turned away for lack of money.
  • Venues: Think about how accessible you want your event to be. Will you want a PA for a gig or a bar or somewhere more intimate or serving food? See the ‘Venues’ section for more things to consider.
  • Equipment: Workshops and spoken word events can be very low-tech, but bands require more planning. Find out each band’s technical set-up and who will bring what equipment. Someone local with a PA can be a godsend; as can a helpful soundperson. The ‘Gig Terminology’ section has more info and tips on understanding technical requirements.
  • Ask Questions: Ask bands or venues or friends if you’re unsure about anything. Or us!

DATES AND TIMINGS

  • Plan Ahead: The longer you give yourself, the easier it will be to organise and promote your event. Things are likely to get hectic as you reach deadlines closer to the event!
  • Timelines: For a gig, other performance, or workshop, we’d suggest allowing 2-3 months. For a bigger event, like a festival, you might want to allow at least 6 months.
  • Avoid Clashes: Check local listings for similar gigs. If you’re hoping to attract attendees from nearby cities, it’s worth trying to find out if there are other events you need to work around. Ask local Ladyfests and queer/feminist collectives to see what they’re planning. This is also a great way to get chatting to activists, so you can work together and support each other.

GROUP ETHOS

  • Identity: Writing an ethos is a great way to tell people what you stand for and what you are planning that will help people understand your group. Ours is on our blog if you need any ideas.
  • Be Clear: Think about this carefully and collectively. Try and be sure of your reasons and be prepared to answer questions in case people want to know more or you get challenged. You could consider:
    • Who’s Included: Do you want to include all defining sexualities and genders, or will you restrict who’s welcome or able to take on leadership roles? Where do men fit into your group?
    • Accessibility: What issues might stop people that you want to attract from participating in organising meetings or events? How might you try to overcome these?
    • Take Your Time: A group ethos is something that is likely to change over time as you develop as a collective and that’s fine. Think of it as an evolving document that can be regularly updated.

COLLECTIVE LIFE

  • Avoiding Stress: Feminist organising can be amazing fun, but it can also be stressful at times, with the risk of individuals feeling overburdened. Communicating is really important, as is considering the structure of your group and how you will work together most effectively.
  • How To Be Involved: We tend to take on different roles according to how busy group members are with personal commitments, as well as according to our individual strengths and interests. There are some ‘core’ people who go to everything, and others who appear from time to time to join in with meetings, or to help with events on the day. Every one of these people is equally important and needed to make things happen! Think about asking for people to volunteer and advertise to get involved.
  • Differences: Expect at some point to disagree. This is just part of working in a collective! Try to think in advance how you might deal with differences of opinion and continue to work together without upsetting or alienating anyone. Make sure you keep discussions open and respect each other. A safe spaces policy can help here both in collective meetings and online discussions.
  • Structure: Will people choose or be assigned roles with specific duties, or will you be a more fluid, autonomous collective? How open will your structure be for new people to get involved?

ORGANISATION

  • DIY or Die: Just because a collective is DIY doesn’t mean it needs to be shambolic or badly run, but if you’re organising a big event then you need to be aware that admin can take up a lot of time. Meetings: We meet at least once a month, increasing to twice a month and more frequently as the big annual event approaches and there’s more to do. Think about how public you want these meetings to be. Will they be open for anyone or for collective members only?
  • Minutes: We keep minutes for our meetings and publish them online afterwards as a record of what’s been discussed. This is helpful for reminding people of things they need to do! It also allows people who couldn’t attend to keep up-to-date, and (we hope) makes coming to meetings for the first time less daunting for new people.
  • Emails and Social Media: If you’re doing a big event, think about setting up an email account and Facebook page that all members can use. You can sync these to personal accounts, or set up an individual or group routine for checking every couple of days so you don’t miss important messages.
  • Mailing list: Consider setting up a mailing list for discussion between meetings. We use a Google Group which has options for receiving every email or having a digests or viewing online.
  • Shared Documents: Consider setting up a shared drive where people can access important information, or save ideas for discussion at meetings. We use Google Drive quite extensively; it’s handy because it allows you to set different editing and access privileges for particular folders and files.
  • Public or Private: Discuss how public you want your minutes, meetings, documents and discussion list to be. We operate with a fairly high level of transparency including posting spreadsheets of our annual finances. Sometimes we forget that there are lots of people on our mailing list who don’t contribute, and it can be easy to get the false impression you’re chatting among friends. It’s important to be clear about privacy levels if you might be discussing personal or sensitive topics.

FUNDRAISING AND BUDGETING

  • Smaller Events: Do you have time to spend a few months fundraising through smaller events? This is what we have done in previous years. Gigs are good, but can require more work and more money; open mic nights (we do a ‘Bring Your Own Band’) and film nights are easy, cheap and fun, and a great way to socialise and meet people. Try to space these events out, so people don’t get fed up with you just before the main event.
  • Grants and Sponsors: Are there local or national grants you could apply for, or local businesses you could approach for sponsorship? Consider how this fits in with your ethos first. In 2013 we worked with Sheffield University on a project and were paid for our time; we wrote about our experience for The F Word. There may be projects you could get involved with on a similar basis, but think carefully beforehand about what you are committing to, in case it’s more trouble than it’s worth!
  • Profits: Will your event be a fundraiser for a local charity or project? Will the profits be reinvested into future events? Or will you just use profits to cover the event costs? We always support local women’s projects and aim to raise enough money to cover the costs of the venues and performers in advance of the festival event so that all of the money raised at the festival goes direct to our chosen charities.
  • Openness: Be clear and precise in your publicity about where the money from any ticket prices is going, what is being spent where and how much raised is donated. Be precise to the penny! Groups that run on donations rely on people trusting that their money will be spent carefully, so it’s important to maintain that trust.

 FINANCES

  • A Spreadsheet: A simple Excel spreadsheet can be incredibly useful to keep a good record of all money spent and received. It is important for transparency as well as seeing how things may change.
    • A Bank Account: If you’re organising a big event, or multiple events, you can set up a community account – we use the Co-Operative. Consider the ethics involved and how this fits with your ethos. Consider who might act as a signatory, ideally someone who will be able to commit to the collective for a while and who is trustworthy!

 VENUES

  • Start Small: Be realistic about the numbers you could attract. It’s best to start small and grow bigger – a little event in a packed room will be much more memorable. You also don’t want to overstretch yourselves by committing to more than you can cope with.
  • Supportive Owners: Try to find venues with owners or managers who understand your aims.
  • Charity: If your event is ‘not for profit’, mention this. Some venues may offer reductions on hire prices.
  • Negotiation: The venue wants the event to be a success as much as you do, so help each other out!
  • Accessibility: Does the venue have a quiet space? Flat access? Disabled toilets? A hearing loop? It’s worth looking into these things beforehand and providing lots of information in advance so people can make informed choices. An accessibility policy can be useful to write.
  • Location: A squatted space on the edge of the city might be cheap and fun, but it might not appeal to everyone. When choosing a venue, think about the kind of people you’re hoping to attract and the variety of needs and preferences that they may have.

GIG TERMINOLOGY AND TIPS

  • PA: Will your gig be acoustic, or need additional amplification? Check with the venue to see if they have an in house PA system and equipment included with your hire, and if a soundperson is available.
  • Technical Set Up: A venue will often want to know each band’s technical set-up in advance. Ask your bands how many guitars and vocals they use, if there are drums or other instruments that will need amplifying, and if any DI boxes will be needed for keyboards or some other instruments.
  • Backline: Most bands will expect a ‘backline’ to be provided at the venue. This means a bass amp and the main bulk of the drum kit (bass drum, floor tom, rack toms and cymbal stands). Sometimes venues provide the backline; otherwise one band or you as organisers may have to arrange this.
  • Breakables: The rest of the drum kit is referred to as ‘breakables’. This typically means the kick pedal, snare drum, hi hat cymbals, a ride cymbal and a crash cymbal, although this may vary and can be a larger or smaller set up. Bands usually bring their own, so just check.
  • Guitar Amp: Bands will often be able to bring a guitar amp, but again, check, depending on what each band needs and if bands are prepared to share equipment.

ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES

  • 101: There are a lot of accessibility issues to consider if you’re organising a feminist event. It is a legal issue as well as something you need to do in order to create an inclusive event. Accessibility can feel like a bit of a minefield, but if you’re criticised, take it as a chance to learn rather than an insult. Philippa Willetts wrote a helpful article on The F Word blog that we’ve used as a source of ideas for increasing accessibility at our events.
  • Clarity: Be clear about what you’re able to provide at the event on your publicity. If you don’t say that the event is accessible in particular ways, then people might just assume that it’s not.
  • Physical Impairments: There are various physical issues that may need accommodating, including hearing loops, wheelchair accessible doors and toilets, and ramps.
  • Mental And Emotional Needs: You should also think about the mental and emotional needs of people who might attend, especially if you’re organising workshops that could touch on sensitive issues. The ideal is a designated quiet space, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to this then you might like to have a member of the collective who is aware and available to offer a bit of extra personal support if needed – and to make attendees aware of who this member is.
  • Trigger Warnings: If you’re putting on workshops, it’s worth thinking in advance about which might upset attendees, and then labelling them appropriately. It’s not always possible to anticipate which topics might cause distress, so just do your best as a group to figure it out.
  • Childcare: Think about what childcare provisions you are able to include at your event. Be clear about this in advance so that people know what’s available. Taking consent forms and details from parents can be a good idea. Will you require helpers to have CRB checks? What activities can you provide?
  • Meetings: Think about using alcohol-free spaces. Ask people which times and dates would suit them, and change these occasionally to allow a range of people to attend. Announcing meeting dates in advance can help people who have children or other commitments to plan ahead.

PROGRAMME

  • Space: Think about how to use the space you have. If you are running workshops or activities will it just be one at a time, or will the schedule allow overlaps and parallel sessions?
  • Curfews: Find out about the live music curfew if you are putting on bands and work the timings backwards to fit in all the bands. Be careful about this, as venues could either pull the plug on a late-running gig, or you could even get fined. You don’t want to spoil your chance of being invited back.
  • Breaks: If you have an afternoon or full day of things happening make sure you factor in breaks between things, even if only 5-10 minutes – it’s an accessibility issue. Consider serving drinks and snacks or arranging food – will this be vegan or vegetarian? Will you offer free refreshments, or have a small charge or donation to cover costs?

PUBLICITY

  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter and blogs are very useful tools for free publicity, and are easy to set up and maintain. The more active you are with them the more likely they are to catch people’s attention, so it’s worth investing time frequently. You might find other bloggers who are willing to write about your event, or friends and supporters on Twitter to retweet your posts. Be careful though, as there are downsides and dangers to social media; for instance, if there are several of you using a group account anonymously, then you should think about how the account is to be used (probably not for getting into Twitter wars!).
  • Identity: Try and unify your image by using the same name and logo and icons as much as possible. This will help to build up a strong and recognisable identity that people will remember. Artwork and design doesn’t have to be expensive and can be set up fairly quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask talented friends for help, or do shout outs if you are stuck with something. You might know an artist or illustrator who is sympathetic to your aims and willing to help out.
  • Flyers and Posters: This is a great way to create attention and get your style of things out there, especially if you can access free or cheap photocopying. If there are places to stick up posters then go for it, but be aware that these can get taken down or covered up quite quickly. If you’re putting on a big event, think about getting groups to put up posters in different areas of the city.
  • Local Media: Newspapers, radio, community magazines, online forums: if you’re likely to put on a few events, you could keep a list of these (for instance, in a Google doc) so that you don’t have to think each time about who to contact.
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