Our curriculum prioritizes teaching you how to:

  • Tell your story to persuade and motivate others
  • Recruit and retain volunteers
  • Structure your team of leaders for growth
  • Strategize and choose tactics that build power and move decision makers
  • Fundraise, go viral on social media, and more!

This model comes from Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who codified much of this relationship-building organizational framework after years of organizing with and researching social movements. He began organizing with the Civil Rights movement, worked with the United Farm Workers in the 1960s and 70s, and advised many unions, non-profits, and political organizations for decades. He was a key trainer and organizing strategist behind the Obama U.S. presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012.

It was during the Obama campaigns that Ganz and literally millions of fellow organizers built on best practices and techniques of community organizing. Ganz codified these practices based on past movements, and the training programme he developed was critical to Obama’s victory in the 2008 election. Our lead trainers have taken Professor Ganz’s course and continue working with him to continually improve how we teach the curriculum.

Our 7 Key Practices 

Community organizing is all about people, power, and change – it starts with people and relationships, is focused on shifting power, and aims to create lasting change.

Organizing people to build the power to make change is based on the mastery of five key leadership practices:

1. Telling stories that connect to the heart

To break habits, you need to tap into sources of hope and empathy, and tell stories that show how people overcome a challenge they are facing. Storytelling communicates emotional content. We teach story-telling so people can know why you are doing what you are doing; we teach this by coaching students to tell their stories of self, us, and now. Students leave able to communicate what drove them to work on a cause, why their people must come together, and why their community must act now.

2. Building relationships

To sustain a movement you need relationships, and that takes commitment. Moreover, relationships allow you to coach new volunteers until they become leaders and are recruiting new members to your cause as well. We teach how to effectively recruit volunteers, maintain deepening relationships with them to secure commitment, and give them the courage to take on increasingly important roles in supporting your work. We teach a coaching model so new members are not just supported, but learn how to reflect on their contributions and continually grow their capacity.

3. Strategizing

How can I use what I have, to do what I need, to get what I want? Everyone strategizes every day. But there are proven ways to implement campaigns that increase engagement, continually build capacity, and choose tactics that best accomplish your goals - and that’s what we teach. Furthermore, our curriculum teaches you how to scan the social environment of your cause and plan how to move the most important actors to support you.

4. Creating a structure that cultivates leadership

Leadership is no longer about the ‘alpha’ leader, but about being part of a team where we are all leaders. But without structure, there is no space for creativity and imagination. A distributed leadership structure is like a snowflake— you need to ask how people will honour commitments, and who is responsible for providing leadership for the different parts. Then you create opportunities for people to grow their leadership skills within the work.

5. Moving your people to action

The capstone component of our curriculum is moving people to take action after you have told your story, fostered relationships, and have structured your team so that it’s ready to grow. We teach what techniques catapult your community to do specific tasks, and feel they are supported and growing in the process.

6. Communicating Effectively for Social Change

We were thrilled to partner with veteran communications specialist Patrick Gossage to offer a new course that teaches organizers how to communicate effectively with key audiences. The good work done by too many NGOs is simply not known outside their client base, affecting fundraising, recruitment of volunteers and the impact of campaigns. Our first workshop in May showed participants how to improve their communications abilities and make effective use of the abundance of vehicles available to them to accomplish campaign goals.

7. Art & Social Transformative Change

We are excited to welcome Lorraine Segato, a creator, musician and filmmaker, to add artistic and cultural training and practices into the Institute’s curriculum in the new year. Lorraine will draw on her extensive experience as an arts ambassador to teach organizers to utilize artistic expressions—including music, film, art, and performances—to tell their stories and motivate others to action.

The Institute for Change Leaders is brought to you by Ryerson University
and the generous support from USW, UNIFOR, CUPE and Birchhill Equity.

  • Ryerson University
  • USW
  • Unifor
  • CUPE