Persevering in the Pandemic: Advice from Activists
Vegan advocates share their top tips on resilient activism
Posted on May 17, 2022 by Estella Ramirez
Are you planning in-person vegan outreach for the first time since COVID restrictions began? You are not alone! We’ve asked our grantees who’ve recently returned to in-person events about their experiences. Thanks to their input, this blog post features valuable lessons learned and best practices so that your next in-person event can be successful in this time of flux.
Depending on the local COVID cases and regulations in your part of the world, and your personal goals as a vegan advocate, your situation is certainly unique. But, one thing we have in common is that moving forward, our activism must be flexible and resilient as well as effective! Read on to learn about:
Emerging challenges you may encounter
Our grantees have shared some of their most challenging obstacles.
Catskill Animal Sanctuary notes that their neighboring organizations shifted to a stronger online presence during COVID, adding significant competition for visibility. Social media algorithms also continue to shift, making it less likely that their audience will see their posts.
Thrive Plant Life encountered a demand for prepackaged food, which is challenging when feeding large numbers of people. Distancing criteria can get complicated. People are more comfortable in large spaces, which are not always available.
ACTAsia remarked that inflation is a major factor at this time. Events that had been postponed are now more expensive to carry out and therefore no longer fully funded. Their work in Asia also continues to be affected by lockdowns.
COVID continues to affect public desire to venture out. This factor may be an obstacle especially if you’re planning an educational event on a topic that the public isn’t yet fully invested in.
Choosing your event type
After a few years of online-only events, you may be considering what sort of in-person event you should host now. Our grantees are currently focusing on outdoor events, small indoor gatherings, and hybrid (in-person/online) events.
Our focus has been on hosting in-person events outdoors whenever possible. For the first time in its 21-year history, we opted to move our largest event, VegFest, from an indoor-only venue to a mostly outdoor space at Eastern Market in Detroit and moved the date from April to June to allow attendees to enjoy warmer weather for an outdoor event.
People are eager to get out and about again, and outdoor events have a lot of appeal. After all, outdoor spaces have better air circulation than indoor ones, and some regions enjoy lovely weather this time of year. Events with yummy food and engaging information and activities, such as festivals and food sampling, are especially attractive. Many people are still limiting their outings, so organizers are wise to give attendees a compelling reason to come!
Reassure your audience that their safety is your priority and that you will follow the CDC guidelines at all costs. Outdoor events seem safer to the general public and they are more likely to show up and maintain safe distances as well.
You need to be creative. Small events and small attendance are better than none.
—Lisa Rothwell, Executive Assistant to Pei. F. Su, CEO & Founder ACTAsia
Many indoor gatherings are still practicing social distancing and limiting capacity. So, if you’d like to host an indoor event, small can be great! Smaller gatherings invite longer conversations, which open the door to more meaningful behavior change. In-person dinners or classes featuring vegan food are a welcome change after two years of Zoom sessions! People are eager for hands-on sensory experiences with delicious food, which are so effective in vegan outreach.
Over the past few months, we hosted an in-person presentation at a local library for the first time since 2020. During the pandemic, these presentations moved to a virtual-only format, and now we are offering a mix of each! At our in-person presentation, chairs were spaced apart, and all samples were pre-packaged and ready for attendees to enjoy at home.
—Noelle Grain, Operations Manager, VegMichigan
One positive outcome of switching to online events in 2020 was the increased accessibility and capacity they afforded. Many small organizers working locally were suddenly able to reach more of their local community and even larger audiences all over the world with their vegan message! Accordingly, virtual events continue to be popular.
Audiences have become accustomed to easier access to information and socialization, and some folks may not yet feel comfortable enough or have the resources to rejoin in-person gatherings. So, organizers transitioning to in-person events might want to plan for hybrid components, such as live streams of panel discussions.
Our Vegan Pledge Program organizers are thinking about how to make hybrid options possible. For our vegfest, we are planning a virtual panel discussion about large event planning to help others know what it takes and how to be prepared when they are ready. In addition, for the in-person Vegan Pledge Program, we will be emphasizing our recommendation that all involved be vaccinated for COVID-19 before attending.
How to engage your audience, volunteers, and vendors
It helps to have a strong dedicated passionate core of volunteers/board members who work hard to further your mission. It’s not the quantity of volunteers/board members that matters, but the quality of them. Small but mighty works for us!
Animal Defenders Greater Lehigh Valley benefits from having gathered email addresses at all previous events. Their email list allows them to send information about upcoming events, including requests for volunteers.
They also use social media to engage volunteers, vendors, and audience members. Their Facebook and Instagram accounts share information about upcoming events, and ad boosts help them reach more people.
Animal Defender Greater Lehigh Valley events include street outreach, a vegan festival, a vegan food pantry, and a volunteer day at an animal sanctuary. In their experience, volunteers have gravitated towards the animal sanctuary event over street outreach. As you plan your own events, consider pairing your outreach efforts with a fun activity that will attract your audience as well as your volunteers!
To recruit volunteers, Amy Linnell of E-Love-Ate offers incentives such as a free VIP tote, t-shirt, and meal ticket for the festival.
During this time, organizers have also found that providing remote opportunities for volunteers, such as planning meetings on Zoom, is helpful.
For our vegfest, we attended other vegfests in 2021 to understand how they were addressing the pandemic and their popularity. Although it would be great to have pre-pandemic attendance numbers, we are preparing to reach about 75% of our former numbers.
To continue to share a vegan message during COVID restrictions, Ronnie Lee of Wyre Forest Vegans used social media advertising.
When COVID first hit and there was a very strict lockdown, we looked into social media advertising and started to do this (on Facebook and Instagram) to continue to spread the vegan message in our area. We are so pleased with the results that we are continuing with it, in addition to outside activities, even though there are now no COVID restrictions here in England. Such advertising would be a great contingency plan for any vegan outreach group in the event of COVID restrictions occurring again, and we’d be very happy to give help and advice on it. Just message our Facebook page.
—Ronnie Lee, Wyre Forest Vegans
Doe K.S. Nyamadi, aka Tivai, of Vibrant Vegan Society of Ghana has a wise and fundamental tip for increasing your attendance — plan ahead! If you start planning your event at least two months in advance, you’ll have more time to distribute the pertinent details to a wider audience via flyers and other media. And more time to apply for a VegFund grant!
Another tip is to reach your audience via the platform they use most, whether it’s text, email, Whatsapp or phone calls, and send reminders in the week before the event.
If you’re using multiple platforms, keep in mind that each audience is unique.
In an increasingly digital world, we have found it helpful to engage with our various audiences differently, meaning we have implemented differentiation in content and language between social media platforms. It’s critical for online reach and engagement to understand the type of content that each specific audience desires.
—Heather Decker, Social Media Specialist at Catskill Animal Sanctuary
Our vendor response has been overwhelming, with many small businesses grateful for the opportunity to showcase their items to large crowds. We continue to have a waitlist for vendors since we are out of space!
—Noelle Grain, Operations Manager, VegMichigan
We hope your experience is similar to VegMichigan’s! But if not, look for creative alternatives. Laurel Mauldin of A Table in the Wilderness found a clever solution through a unique partnership with their local grocers.
Our vendors have halted with donations, but we have been able to secure free samples from the grocery stores we work with. We collaborate with two grocers in the area and have one-hour tours on Sundays to educate consumers on the benefits of a plant-based, vegan lifestyle, and we highlight the vegan options in the stores.
Innocent Nabaasa of Uganda Vegan Society is hosting their annual vegan restaurant week and also notes that vendors in the area have had setbacks. Restaurants don’t have the resources to invest in a vegan event yet. So, they’ve made restaurant participation free of charge and chosen venues that are easy to access. However, organizers are considering allowing some restaurants to participate by adding vegan items to their menu at their location instead and save costs associated with additional transportation, staff, and branding materials.
How to plan for the unexpected and prevent worst-case scenarios
Depending on where you are in the world, COVID cases may be rising and restrictions could resume. Will you be ready if your event needs to go with the flow? We’ve gathered some solid advice from our grantees and learned about their clever solutions!
Save for a reserve fund and have a contingency plan ready to go.
Read cancellation policies before you book with your venue just in case you need to postpone your event. Some contracts may require that you still pay fees even if the event isn’t realized.
Eric C. Lindstrom, Executive Director of Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) and Planet Bethesda, plans to follow any government restrictions that should arise and has an additional backup plan for his event: convert the Planet Bethesda vegan festival to a vegan restaurant day, allowing customers to visit the vendors’ locations directly to sample the plant-based options.
For some, such as CompassionWorks International, the cost of COVID has been significant, and going through with a donation-based event with a smaller audience is not worth the investment required. Sometimes, canceling is the wisest choice to prevent a loss.
Top tips for your in-person event
Our creative grantees have seen it all! And they have been generous with sharing their experiences with us. Here are their top tips.
Know and follow current local guidelines. Overwhelmed? Here’s a tip.
Follow the lead of your local public library — they will be monitoring local conditions closely and responding appropriately in terms of mask mandates, indoor vs outdoor events, etc.
Engage your audience. Several grantees recommend putting yourself in your audience’s shoes. Ask yourself, Why would they want to attend? And give them a compelling reason!
Set realistic goals and be patient! Some of your audience may not be ready to join you in person…
We are setting realistic goals for in-person opportunities. We are also being patient with ourselves, our volunteers, and venues. As one place or person reveals they are not ready, we emphasize our gratitude for their consideration and look forward to our next opportunity. In the meantime, we are keeping our online programming robust to continue our presence and meet the needs of our communities.
Don’t be too concerned about the size of your audience for now.
Focus on the participants you currently have, assist them in growth and consistency and making lasting changes.
—Laurel Mauldin, A Table in the Wilderness
Explore new forms of communication and new partnerships.
This year, for Earth Day, we worked with a technology company that already had a system in place with the schools we work with. So, choosing new partners to collaborate with is very important. We were successful in this instance as we had strong work content, so partners were keen to work with us.
—Lisa Rothwell, Executive Assistant to Pei. F. Su – CEO & Founder ACTAsia
Carrie LeBlanc, Executive Director of CompassionWorks International says, “Be as nimble as you can be! Flexibility is key. It likely always has been, but with COVID we’ve all had a new awareness of it.”
You can do it!
Don’t focus on what you CAN’T do, focus on what you CAN do in any given situation and embrace it, strive to be the best in that field. When the world went into lockdown, we weren’t fazed at all because our team were completely accustomed and acclimatised to not being able to do things in person due to our multiple health issues and mobility restrictions. We saw others struggling and realised we had an opportunity to help them, so we threw ourselves into doing just that and it has been the best thing we could have done. Where there is a will, there is a way, always!
Our grantees have taught us so much about resilient advocacy in these past two years, and we hope that your own outreach benefits from their generous insights! There’s always more to improve, and we all become stronger when we learn from each other.