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I copy this from democracy-europe, thank you very much. Many of us do not get to meetings and copies of the speeches is appreciated.

Start DD R.Huber

How to build a successful organization - the example of "Mehr Demokratie"

by Roman Huber - Nov. 17th, 2001 / Prague


I. How to build a successful organization - the example of "Mehr Demokratie"

0. In short: I&R in Germany
1. A brief history of Mehr Demokratie
2. Mehr Demokratie today




II. Conclusions - Suggestions for building an I&R organisation

Vision and strategy
Members & sponsors

III. Campaigning Experiences

IV. Criteria / checklist for organisations

I. How to build a successful organization - the example of "Mehr Demokratie"

0. In short: I&R in Germany

·         National Level: We have no I&R on national level (we had from 1919-1932), but the coalition of social democrats and green party promised in 1998 to change the constitution for introducing the popular initiative.

·         Regional Level: All the 16 Bundesländer have the popular initiative. Most improved this instruments after 1989. But the I&R instruments are quite impractical. Until today, in only 4 of the 16 Bundesländer popular initiatives qualified for the ballot. In the average, every Bundesland votes once in 45 years on an initiative. Reforms are necessary.

·         Local Level: Except Berlin, all the Bundesländer have the popular initiative on the local level. But its the same problem as on regional level - the instrument does not work. The only exceptions are Bavaria and Hamburg, where Mehr Demokratie introduced the initiative-rights. We have about 200-300 votes every year in the municipalities.

1. A brief history of Mehr Demokratie

·         Founded in 1988 in Bonn: one office in the cellar, one person who does the work steadily

·         First campaign "Volksabstimmung FCKW-Stop" (gas that destroys the ozone layer) - (283.000 Signatures till 1991), campaign referendum on nuclear power plants, in these times we connected our request for initiatives with other political issues.

·         "Mehr Demokratie in Bayern" 1993: A new idea was born: We tried to improve I&R by using the existing I&R instruments. We started this process in Bavaria because we have there the best regulations. The whole office went to Munich and we created the popular initiative "Mehr Demokratie in Bayern" that was successful in 1995.

o        In the first two years (1993/94), the campaign went on quite slowly and most of the time just one person worked in the office. Most people thought: "Good idea, but impossible to realize". But some people believed in it. They didn´t give up - that's why they were finally successful.

o        At the end (1995) about 200 local action groups and 5.000 people worked in the campaign

o        About fifty organisations supported the initiative (parties, environmental / political / religious groups etc.).

o        About 1.200.000 voters signed the petition within two weeks (February 1995)

o        On the ballot 60% voted for introducing local initiative-rights (October 1995).

o        The campaigns costs were about 1.500.000 German Marks

o        The people use their new rights: From 1995 to 2000 about 1.100 local popular initiatives were started. About 500 came to the ballot. Political culture in Bavaria is changing.

·         1996: Mehr Demokratie decided to grow the organisation. We started building regional groups ("Landesverbände") and getting more members o 1998: Campaign "Mehr Demokratie in Hamburg". 220.000 signed the petition in two weeks. 74% voted for local initiative rights.

·         1998-2000 Popular initiatives for I&R-reforms were stopped with juristical arguments in Baden-Württemberg, Bayern, Berlin, Bremen and Nordrhein-Westfalen.

·         2000: 390.000 voters signed our initiative for "Mehr Demokratie in Thüringen". We started another initiative process in Brandenburg

·         May 2001: We started our nation wide initiative "Menschen für Volksabstimmung". 79 organisation with 4,8 million members support this campaign.

2. Mehr Demokratie today


·         MD is a small organisation, based on competence & idealism. We do not have the structure to organize campaigns alone (we are not the I&R-copy of "Greenpeace"). But we can initiate and coordinate campaigns, if we are able to build strong alliances.

·         We only do campaigns on I&R itself. We don´t support or start campaigns with other political issues. We are political neutral, and that is why we are able to build broad alliances from the right to the left.


·         3.500 members (growth: about 500 a year), 10.000 donators

·         12 regional bodies ("Landesverbände"), about 50-100 local action groups (most small with 1 or 2 persons)

·         three offices (with 1-4 people working in), some temporary opened offices

·         12 employees (working for little money...)

·         Bord of trustees ("Kuratorium") with 40 scientists, politicians, jurists

·         The big decisions are decided in the membership-meetings and in the voted board ("Bundesvorstand", 13 persons)

·         Working groups exist for special issues ("I&R in Europe") or tasks (Coordination for our nation wide campaign "Menschen für Volksabstimmung")


·         Money: I&R is a quite abstract theme, that's is why fundraising for it it´s a hard job (we don´t have heartbreaking pictures of dying animals).

·         Manpower: It is also hard to find good people who work for little money. Most work is done by volunteers - most of them stay for only a short period

·         People: Although about 80% of the Germans want I&R, it was yet not possible to build a nation wide movement. In Swiss and the USA I&R movements were the result of a political and social crisis.

·         Courts, Governments: More I&R is unconstitutional. After we succeeded in Bavaria 1995 and in Hamburg 1998, all our initiatives were stopped by governments and courts. They say, I&R like the Swiss or the US-States model does not correspondent to the constitution...

·         Parliaments: If they introduce the right for I&R, we would have it suddenly, but they think, they will loose power. And indeed they will. (But in the long run, they will gain real power.)

·         Problems inside, Defeats: When you loose a project, frustration, internal quarrel starts.

Direct democracy is dangerous, because we ask the question: Who has the power? The powerful know this, they will fight against you.

II. Conclusions - Suggestions for building an I&R organisation

Vision and strategy

·         You need a clear political vision (write it down as a kind of organisations-philosophy), this is the foundation, that carries you and this is the goal in the future that gives you energy, the energy comes from the future.

·         We try to be an organisation that exists for the idea, not for itself (what sometimes seems to be hard), the goal determines the structure and the other way round. Structure (offices, people, Groups) also disappear, when the job is done.

·         Strategy / way: you need a credible and convincing way to get closer to your vision, than you can start.


·         Decentralisation: The regional and local bodies of MD do their own projects and fundraise their own money.

·         Responsibility: Everybody who does a project is responsible for it (idea, money, realization), no team responsibility.

·         Advice & Help: We help each other as much as possible. If, for example, an MD-Group in a Bundesland starts a popular initiative, activists from the whole country come an gather signatures ("action-holiday")

·         Communication:
outside: positive Communication / Message: we deliver solutions, not problems, we show a way that works.
inside: Communicate as much as you can, take care for your personal relationships and your friendship, that you can trust each other and rely on each other. If somebody says something bad over another who is absent, never believe it. Always insist on communication face to face. When there is a conflict inside, that do NOT end, be careful. Normal conflicts are solved by talking frankly about everything and finding a solution. Something´s going wrong, perhaps somebody outside or in your group is interested, that the conflict don´t stops. Perhaps he does this by order.


·         be competent, know everything about your topic

·         work together with scientists (interdisciplinary)

·         have the better arguments, educate yourself

·         make internal trainings: teach your activists in theory, rhetoric, fundraising.


·         You need communicative, convincing and inspired people that just do the work (one at the beginning is enough, two or more is better)

·         Vision: Take only people which have an own democratic vision, that´s the best test.


·         Build an organisation with clear responsibilities and efficient workflows.

·         The big decisions should be decided democratically. The basic principles must be agreed upon by everybody. But then start to work. The daily decisions have to be made by the people who do the work. Your organisation should work as a group of active people - not as a paper-making talking club (Of course, discussion is necessary. But before you discuss a project in details, ask yourself if there is anyone who will do it. If not, don`t waste your time with it.).

·         Look who always only talks and who does the work. I personally don´t listen much on critics from people who do nothing, if somebody is active and needs something or has critics, care for him. He want to enhance something. But look carefully. We are no kindergarten or social club for persons who want to solve their personal problems.

·         There is a tension in between efficiency and grassroots-democracy. You must find the golden mean. It works as long as there is confidence.


·         Money is a thing you need for every action and so you have to talk about and to work for. To build an organisation, fundraising (= raise a fund = make money) should take at least one third of the manpower you invest. From the beginning, start to build a system of decentralized financial responisibilty. Everybody who starts a project must do the financing himself. (Other example the membership fee: If a regional group acquires members without assistance they get 2/3 of the money, the 1/3 is for the federal organisation that delivers a service to the regional groups: administration, provide material / flyers, presswork etc...

·         Every contact, every action and every campaign should be used to grow the organisation.

·         The golden rule is: Don´t ask people about money, tell them the vision and when they get shining eyes ask for money. Money follows action!

·         "The working principle of fundraising is asking for money, asking again and asking for more".

·         You should build a database for qualifying addresses. This database is the most important tool for fundraising.

Members & sponsors

You should give people the choice whether they just want to be one-time sponsors, regular sponsors or active members. Get the permission that you may take it direct from their bank accounts. If somebody want´s to cancel the financial support, let him/her go, no clauses.


Direct Democracy needs time. You want to change the political systems. And you want the politicians to give power to the people. This surely is a project for more than one generation.

Be at the right time at the right place, feel where is energy in the society and use it, but never leave your principles and your main topic.

III. Campaigning Experiences

1.      a) Our successful campaign are run on official regulations. This was very important for the motivation of the activists. We could promise, when we gain the first step, we can enforce the the next step.

b) Proof where are a good regulations for direct democracy and motivate people to use it. Appetite comes from eating. The communal level is good for the beginning.

c) Then you can appeal to the people / citizens, not to the politicians.

2.      Decide: You can make campaigns where direct democracy is connected to a special issue (referendum on nuclear power) or a pure campaign (people for referenda). There are advantages and disadvantages for both strategies

3.      Make projects with a defined beginning and a defined end. People want to do something, but they also want to get out again.

4.      Build strong networks and coalitions.

5.      Work from inside to the outside, first train yourself, then your best activists, then care for next bigger circle and so on.

6.      Central Coordination (strategy, press, material, advertisements), but decentral organisation. Deliver a good service for the activist, care for people that want to do something. That costs time, but is worth it, you can´t do everything yourself. Delegate, don´t try to control everything yourself. Your task is, that other people can work.

7.      Motivation: Don´t forget to care for your activists when they are frustrated. Spread good news, the bad things they know themselves. They want to hear from you why their work has a value although you often can see little results. This is hard work for you, (specially when you are not in a good shape yourself) but it has to be done.

IV. Criteria / checklist for organisations

conformist liberal, democratic
how do you see man:

homo homini lupus, man eats man, man is bad, must be controlled

how do you see man:

at heart human being is good, capable, reasonable and free


1. own vision / own energy / own way
2. decentral
3. diversity / tolerance
4. self determinism / self responsibiliy
5. cooperation, help, advice
6. own knowledge / own information
7. free and open communication, transparency
8. confidence, loyalty to your friends, never believe something bad about
9. work hard and efficient, be successful
10. humour, laughing, easy
11. the end, the goal, NEVER justifies the means

The majority is on your side, you are not alone. Never doubt that a small group of engaged people can change the world indeed it is the only way the world has changed.



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