It has come up a handful of times recently about how to go about starting a local poly group, or what to do now that you have one, or how to stimulate a flagging community, and other similar situations. I thought it was past time to put together a publicly accessible commentary on the answer to those questions.
First of all, if you are a community leader, or want to become one, get in touch with the Polyamory Leadership Network (http://www.polyamoryleadershipnetwork.org/
. As a community leader veteran, I can tell you that, in spite of your belief that nothing will get done without you to personally get it done, community leaders really can't do it all alone. Connect with other organizers and share ideas, and rants, and get support from those who know what you're going through.
Second, get some sort of feel for your community. Every community is different. Pepper Mint (aka inki
) talks about his San Francisco area community being incredibly large and diverse, including a large contingent of "been there, done that" experienced polys who have no interest in the usual supply of newbie instructionals and workshops, and who were not being reached out to. So Pepper's community looks very different from my own local community here in Florida, where two of the biggest cities are really more like small towns with delusions of grandeur. Another organizer I met from Las Vegas says that nothing happened in that town (community-organizing-wise) that didn't happen on Meetup.com. Again, that's very different from my community. Oh, we have Meetup.com, but only a handful of people and/or groups seem to use it because it is not a free service. We get far more mileage out of Facebook and Fetlife around here. So get to know what your community wants and is like.
As for specific activities, depending on what your community is interested in, here are some of the events that I have seen be most successful in different locations:
- Discussion Meetings: You have to decide what kind of discussion meetings, because there are all sorts. Your community may even be large enough to host a variety of meetings. Will your meetings be 18+ or all ages? Will they be round table discussions or more workshop/lecture/guest-speaker focused? Will they be specifically themed, such as "The Poly Parenting Group" and discuss a more narrow range of topics, or will your group be more generic? Will the meetings have a specific format to them?
For instance, when I started the OrlandoPoly group, it was open to all poly discussion and people interested in talking about polyamory. This means that poly-curious, poly-friendly, and friends or family of poly members can all attend. Consequently, we often talk about newbie poly issues more often than experienced poly issues, but the topic is chosen by those who attend the meeting in question. So if we have a meeting with a bunch of experienced polys who want to talk about Poly 201 or 311 issues, we can do that. We start off by going around the circle and introducing ourselves, and returning members usually say something about what they've been up to since the last meeting. Then we discuss the topic, suggested by the attendees. Afterwards, we move to a nearby restaurant and just socialize.
Other groups, like Poly Tampa combine their discussion meeting with their restaurant socialization by holding their meetings at a restaurant (at the time of this post, it is in a private room at TGIFridays). Still other groups prefer to have guest speakers and workshops, rather than discussion meetings, or to have the topic decided ahead of time. People more familiar with the kink community might refer to a meeting like this as a "munch", which is typically a non-sexual, non-kinky meet-and-greet of other kinksters, usually at a restaurant or other public location. Substitute "polys" for "kinksters" and it's more or less the same thing.
- Poly Movie Night: You can play movies with polyamorous content. I used to host a Poly Movie Night for OrlandoPoly where I would show these movies at a private clubhouse in the gated community of one of our members, and we all gather around the projector screen and watch a movie, eating popcorn, snuggling with our loved ones on blankets and pillows. We allow some time for the group to discuss the movie afterwards, and then we move to Denny's nearby, since it's open 24 hours. An exhaustive list of poly movies can be found at www.theinnbetween.net/polymovies.html and many of those movies can be rented from Netflix or purchased through Amazon. Just rent one of the movies, show it at the movie night, then return it. If you live outside the US or otherwise are unable to obtain these movies through Netflix or Amazon or another movie rental house or retailer, let me know and we can discuss ways for building a poly movie library to use for your groups.
- Polys At The Pitcher Show: This is a non-poly-specific social event. Our local indie theater, The Enzian, offers free movies outside on the lawn every Wednesday night (weather permitting). When a member of our group sees a movie that's showing that they want to attend, it gets posted to the group & added to the group calendar. Then we all arrive en masse to take up giant sections of lawn and watch classic movies and cult favorites, like Weird Science or Die Hard or Stand By Me.
Check your local theaters to see if they offer any free or low-cost movie events and invite your poly group out. If you can make it a regular event, like the same day of the week or month, that seems to work out better for organizing and being dependable, but moving the day around gives everyone a chance to attend no matter what their personal schedules are. The Enzian calls their Wednesday night movies "The Pitcher Show" because they also have an outdoor bar & they're trying to sell us beer, which is where we get the name for our event. I like illiteration, so it works. You can call your event whatever you want, but Polys At The Picture Show is a cute, non-specific title that gets the point across, I think. I'd love to see this catch on in poly events around the world!
- Polys In The Pub: This is an event I
stole, er, borrowed from the skeptic community. We get together at a restaurant location that also has a full bar. It is open to members of all ages, but the focus of the event is drinking and socializing. Just like Polys At The Pitcher Show, it is not a poly-themed event, but it is an opportunity to socialize publicly with others who understand our relationship structures. There is no cost to attend, but generally some kind of food or drink purchase is expected.
You can make your event 21+ if you want, because of the drinking. Maybe your community wants more grown-up activities, so hold this event in a bar. But if your community wants more kid-friendly activities, there are plenty of restaurants with bars and actual pubs that can make this event deserving of its name. Some of the skeptic communities actually hold their guest speakers & lectures at their Skeptics In The Pub events, so you can make this a more formal meeting if you want, or you can make it an informal social event to just get together, eat, drink, and talk with other polys. When I hosted Polys In The Pub for OrlandoPoly, it was on the 2nd Monday of every month at the same location. Your community may prefer a predictable schedule, or it may prefer to roam around town, sampling the various pubs, bars, and restaurants and trying out different nights, like we did in order to choose our now-regular location.
I was once part of a motorcycle group that had a coffee-shop-crawl, where we met at a different coffee shop every week, had a drink, rode our bikes to another coffee shop somewhere interesting, had another drink, and usually rode to at least a third coffee shop before the night was over. Since we were bikers, kind of the point was to ride around, and a poly group probably won't want to do that, but checking out a different location every week or month might be something that appeals to your community.
- Dance Nights: I'm big on ballroom dancing, so that was the general theme of the dance events in Orlando when I was hosting. I scoured the internet and grilled dance instructors to find out where the open-to-the-public ballroom and swing dance events were being held, and when my schedule permits, I would post a notice to the OrlandoPoly group that I was going dancing and invite others to join me. Sometimes I would go to regular clubs, but I have a tendency to prefer smoke-free and light-alcohol environments, and since Florida is not smoke-free in bars and nightclubs, that limits me to ballroom dancing and Disney nightclubs. Every once in a while I will go line dancing or to a goth club too, and just brave the smoke and the obnoxious men.
We do not have a big enough interest in dancing of any kind to host the kinds of events that Pepper has been hosting. He was interviewed recently, for a podcast, where he talked about taking over or renting out entire nightclubs for the poly community for their Love Triangle dance club. I would love it if our community was that big! If your community is large, or maybe your community is particularly into music or has members who are audiophiles and can mix a good DJ set, you might want to look into working out a deal with some local nightclubs about using their facilities on their off-nights and go cut a rug with other polys.
- Fetish Events: Some poly communities have a very strong overlap with their kink communities. Here in Orlando, we have a dungeon called The Woodshed, owned and operated by a former member of the poly community, and, as such, has a very "poly" feel to it. Many dungeons I have attended in the past felt a lot like swinger clubs, which is fine if you're interested in swinging. But The Woodshed feels like family and I'm more interested in family than recreational sex. The owner greets his patrons with a hug and a smile, the cashier desk is staffed by people who know your name, and the DMs are always ready to give demos or point you towards the local expert for whatever questions you may have. The Woodshed also hosts a variety of workshops and group meetings, including many cross-over topics. A couple of years ago, I was on a panel at the Woodshed, talking about poly and kink, and OrlandoPoly used to get a lot of its new members from people that the owner points in our direction.
If your community has an overlap with the kink community, you may want to look into your local dungeons and other fetish events and coordinate things. You can have joint panels and workshops, like we did with the poly & kink panel, or you can just invite members of your community to come to a non-poly-specific event that is being hosted by the kink community. For instance, last year The Woodshed held a workshop on the book The Five Love Languages to discuss communication techniques. One of our poly members heard about it and invited the OP group. I'm pretty sure about half of the audience were members from OP and heard about the event through that one member's invitation. All of this could also apply for swinger events if your local community has more ties to the swinger community.
- Poly Speed Dating: This is another specialty of Pepper's. He worked out some kind of computer algorithm to turn the regular monogamous, heterosexual speed dating fad into one that accommodates different sexual orientations and poly relationships. I'm told it's quite popular and it's a regular event. The San Francisco area had an abundance of experienced polys who now just wanted to know how to meet people, since there were pockets of polys who weren't attending any meetings. So Pepper set up his poly nightclub and poly speed dating to help get polys to meet each other. If this sounds like something your community might be interested in, I recommend visiting the Poly Speed Dating website for assistance in setting one up.
- Holiday Events: Holidays are a great way to bring the community together, especially if you can do so in a non-denominational sort of way. OP meetings were the first Sunday of every month, and that tends to conflict or come too close to a lot of holidays, which are often the beginning or the end of the month. For the US Independence Day (July 4th), we decided not to hold our usual discussion meeting, but to hold a family-friendly BBQ at a local park instead. This was such a popular event, that it became an annual tradition. I located a city park that had a playground, a dog park, shaded picnic benches, and BBQ pits, and that did not require a monetary rental of said facilities. Then I showed up as soon as the park opened and camped out on our preferred benches, with a radio and box fan (the mini-pavillion I horded had an electrical outlet!). It was a pot luck, so we had plenty of food, a poly music playlist, someone brought a guitar, and everyone had a good time.
For the US Thanksgiving one year, since our meeting fell very shortly afterwards, we held a potluck at our meeting, instead of having a formal discussion. This year, on the meeting immediately following New Year's Eve, we invited everyone to bring all their leftover holiday food and we held another potluck of sorts. For the meeting immediately following Halloween, we had a candy swap & invited the attendees to bring all their leftover candy to share, swap, and get rid of. While scouting restaurants to have our Polys In The Pub night, we discovered a really interesting location that we wanted to do something with. So this year I and another member are hosting a non-denominational Winter Holiday Party at this restaurant. It isn't any particular style of food - it has dishes from all over the world, and it has seating that can accommodate really large groups. Plus, it has a stage and audio equipment that we can use for no charge, so we are putting on a dance performance for our party (and any other restaurant patrons that happen to be there).
Parties that are potluck or that don't require a cover charge are great for communities that are struggling with the economy or who have perhaps exhausted their budgets on their own personal holiday celebrations. No single individual has to bear the full brunt of the cost of the party, and people can contribute only as much as they are able. At a restaurant, people can choose to only order a drink or water or dessert and just be there to socialize.
- Game Night: If you have a home that accommodates parties or groups, or you know of a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop that has a "game center" or a back room or a corner where a group can get together and play board games, this is a great event to host! Some bars have Bingo or trivia nights, where you can actually win prizes from the establishment. Bring your own Bingo set and use poly terminology when calling out the squares! B7 - Bisexual 7! N32 - NRE 32! O46 - One Penis Policy 46!
- Family-Friendly Nude Beach: PolyWinnipeg has hosted a few outings to the family-friendly nude beach that was very informal. Like our dance events, they just posted the date, time, and location that the hosts would be there & let people show up (which I'm told, several did). Like the Fetish or the Swinger events, crossing over with the nudist community (if there's a connection between them and your local poly community) to organize or coordinate social events is another good idea.
- Cuddle Parties™ or Snuggle Parties: Cuddle Parties are a trademarked event that you can have come to your area to host or you can learn to be an official Cuddle Party facilitator yourself. Basically, it's an event where people come together to experience non-sexual touching, to meet new people, to practice asking for what you want, and to practice saying "no" to what you don't want. Again, know your local community. These events are very popular in some locations, and less popular in others.
- Winery Trips: As a non-alcohol-drinker, I don't have much to say about this type of event, except that groups in areas with wineries seem to really enjoy it. There is a social club in Tampa that visits a winery regularly, and the Baltimore Poly group hosts regular trips to their local wineries. For the Baltimore group, the hosts get some kind of wine-club package that they use to get groups in with them. Apparently it's free for anyone who is part of their group because of the wine-club that they belong to. They hit 2-3 wineries, go to dinner somewhere nice, then go back to the hosts' house for hot-tubbing.
- Poly Potlucks: This is sometimes what people do for their monthly discussion meeting, where the attendees of the discussion meeting are asked to bring a dish with them and a potluck dinner happens at the same time (or in the break, or just after) the discussion meeting. Other groups have potluck dinners with no formal meeting - just food and socializing. These usually happen in someone's house, and, depending on the group, it could be the same person's house every month or it could rotate and people could take turns hosting. When OP was trying to start up, none of our community members were able or willing to host large groups in their home, so we had to turn to a public venue. This means that we are one of the few poly communities in the US that doesn't host Poly Potlucks at all, but it is quite a popular event in general.
- [Food item] and Porn: cunningminx used to host Brownies and Porn and the Baltimore group hosts Porn and Popcorn nights. This is pretty much what it sounds like - people gather together, usually at someone's house, to watch porn and eat food. I am under the understanding that it is only watching, and it is not a sex or masturbation party. The last porn party I went to, it was more like a riftrax events (think Mystery Science Theater 3000, with the audience throwing snarky responses to the TV in response to what is happening on screen). These can be a lot of fun, especially if there is a theme to the event, like '70s porn, or classic silent porn from the turn of the last century, or the Pirate porn movie (or its sequel), or musical porn! Like most of the events here, this is also not poly specific, but there are actually a handful of poly-ish pornos out there, like the first couple of Emmanuelle movies (softcore), that mix in with the sex the idea of freedom and independence and individuality and lack of jealousy.
- Poly Pool: If one of your community members has a pool table in their house, or you know of a local pool hall, you can organize a regular event for playing pool or billiards. I used to have a group of friends back home that met almost nightly at a local pool hall, and everyone just sat around playing pool, drinking beer, and hanging out. Sometimes pool halls are found in conjunction with other types of establishments, like bars or bowling alleys, which leads me to the next suggestion...
- Poly Bowling: A couple of years ago, I put my business card in a fishbowl somewhere and won a free "company" bowling party. Being a freelancer, I don't have a company, so I invited the OP group. We were a big enough group to take up two lanes, using up the total number of bowlers per lane, plus a handful of people who didn't come to bowl but wanted to watch and hang out. None of us were particularly good bowlers, but it was fun anyway. Your community may enjoy some of these more "traditional Americana" type events. cunningminx recently had an episode of Poly Weekly where she talked about lawn-mowing, football-watching polys and how not all polys are SCAdians or con' geeks. So if your community likes some good ol' "regular" types of events, playing pool and bowling as a group are good suggestions.
- Poly Roller Skating: Another event that I've found to be surprisingly popular is roller skating. Many roller rinks, faced with competition from more exciting venues like laser tag and arcades, and a waning interest in roller skates, often offer themed nights and discount nights where your poly community can enjoy some music and exercise that doesn't feel like exercise at a good price. The roller rink closest to my house has something like $3 Wednesdays, where admission is only a few dollars if you bring your own skates, and skate rentals are also discounted those nights. This is a great low-cost option where people can enjoy a fun activity with their poly community for a fairly low price or they can occupy the tables that are usually provided at these rinks, listen to music, watch the skaters, and socialize with others who are not skating or taking a break.
- Pool Parties: During the summer, if any of your community members has a pool, they can host a pool party. If no one has a pool (or no one wants to host a party), many large towns have community pools, such as the YMCA. I grew up in a neighborhood with a community pool that we paid for membership with our HOA dues. We could host parties there or bring in guests (if I recall correctly, it was $2 per guest). We had a competition-size pool, a kiddie pool, a diving pool, a basketball court, a volleyball court, and BBQ pits, as well as plenty of lawn and benches, both shaded and not. I find that pool parties are very popular among polys, but especially if the party has either a hot tub, or is on private property (or both).
- Miscellaneous: Pretty much any activity that you can think to do with friends or on a date is also available for your poly community to do as a group. Rather than list a separate bullet point for every specific activity that I can think of, I'm just going to list them here, because most of them are self-explanatory - you invite your community to do this thing, and people show up, and you either do it as a one-off or you schedule it as a regularly occurring event: rock climbing, theme parks, trampoline gyms, laser tag, paintball, basketball games, poker nights, hiking, picnics, travelling carnivals, costume and/or themed parties, Superbowl parties, Monday Night Football, a trip to the theatre / opera / ballet / concert / performance, Sunday Afternoon Tea, going to the beach, Snowball War (followed by hot chocolate by the fireplace), ice skating, roller blading in the park, taking the pets to the dog park, baby play dates, Food Truck Bazaars (remember food trucks? Apparently the new thing is for a whole bunch of them to gather together in one location and have sort of like a mobile food court / tailgate party combo), a jogging group, sewing circles or arts & crafts get-togethers, book club meetings (poly or not), trips to the aquarium or museum or other science or educational venues. Basically, any type of activity that several people in your community might have an interest in can be turned into a poly event just by inviting other polys to it. You can even make your own support groups like a weight-loss club or a work-out club to help motivate each other to counteract all those extra calories from all the poly potlucks!
- Drum Circles: Polyamory and the various pagan groups often overlap quite a bit, so your community might be interested in hosting social drum circles, where someone builds a big bonfire and everyone sits around it playing on lap drums or other instruments, dancing, poi or fire-spinning, and generally cavorting and frolicking. Not being very much into the whole spirituality aspect of drum circles, every time I attended one, I was in the group on one side of the bonfire making S'mores and dodging dancers. Make sure you have someone well versed in fire safety at these events! Some areas have beaches or campsites that are very favorable to these sorts of events, and others might require hosting in someone's backyard. This could be a regular event (like every full moon), or only for special pagan or naturalist celebrations like Summer Solstice.
- Poly Prom: Apparently, some communities host an actual, honest-to-goodness, formal "prom", like in a hotel ballroom with catering and music and everything! I know that the Gay & Lesbian Prom is A Thing in many cities, so that's my reference point at the moment for what these look like. I'd love to create one in Florida. One organizer told me they are planning theirs in early May, so near enough to prom season to have all the dresses & stuff being sold and rented, but not actually during prom season, so as to not conflict with everyone else trying to have a prom (or the poly folk's own kids' proms). They plan to have a cash bar, since it's 18+, which I think is a good idea too.
If you have any experience with organizing big events that require renting ballroom space, catering, and, especially, how to pay for it all, let me know!
- Poly Pride: Another popular event is for the poly community to rally together and join the Gay Pride festivities. Several groups have marched or had floats in their local Pride Parades. Others (like OP did for a couple of years) have had informational booths set up around the parade route or where vendors have their tents and hawk their wares. This does double duty of bringing a community together based on shared pride in who they are and also gives your community the opportunity to grow by introducing yourselves to new people - people who might otherwise not have heard of you.
Some cities have even created their own Poly Pride, completely separate from the LGBT events. If your community is not large enough, or organized enough, to host your own festival of pride, you can, as a community, celebrate Poly Pride in spirit with other large cities, such as finding out the date of a Poly Pride near you (we use New York's Pride day), and having a party or a meeting, encouraging your members to change their profile picture on their social networking sites to a poly symbol, or tint it purple or something, wearing a particular color shirt that day or wearing a poly shirt, and generally being public about their support of polyamory (where appropriate) in solidarity.
So, that's all I have for now. Hopefully this helps people in generating ideas for your own local communities. If you host poly events in your community, let me know what you do and how it works out. I left out the major events like conferences, because that takes a whole other set of planning and organizing skills to pull off, and there are other people who have experience in doing those things who can explain and guide people better than I can.
Eventually, I'm planning to turn this into a "How To Organize Poly Events" page on my website. This list was primarily built from discussion on the PLN email list, so if you do
host poly events and aren't a part of the PLN, I suggest checking them out!
I should add, however, that sometimes it takes a while to get attendance up for social events. If you are starting a new group, or you are trying to stimulate activity in an old, quiet group, you may find yourself sitting alone at restaurants or going to nightclubs by yourself for a while. That's OK, that's all part of community organizing. Not every event is an instant hit, and even organizing veterans plan a bomb once in a while. Just keep posting the events and keep showing up.
I should also add that the most active and successful communities are the ones that have a variety of events, to appeal to a variety of people. It doesn't seem to be enough to just have discussion meetings, or just have a monthly potluck. What keeps the poly communities cohesive and thriving seems to be having a discussion meeting for those who want one, and BBQs for those who prefer to socialize, and parties and dances and game nights, all spread around the month to give people the opportunity to attend *something* no matter what their personal schedules are.Advertising:
First, your group needs a website of some sort, even if it's just a free Google site. You need a place to post all the relevant information, and something that offers an online calendar is an incredibly important benefit. I can't recommend strongly enough the need for a website that is not your Yahoo! or Fetlife group page or Facebook page. If you want anyone to find your group, you will have much better luck with having a public signpost that does not require anyone to have a membership to a specific social networking site. Google offers free website hosting and tons of templates that don't require any web coding experience. And the benefit to a Google site is that it integrates seamlessly with Google Calendars, so you can post all your events right on your site. Set up a group gmail account, calendar, and website all on Google (or any other service you prefer, but if you don't have a preferred service or don't know anything about websites, use Google) to start out.
Next, join every social networking site you can. You may want to create a profile just for your group, so that notices come from the group and not an individual person (especially if you also use that networking site as yourself) and so that others can assist or take over the job of hosting if you ever want to step down. I also very strongly recommend creating a group profile for your advertising purposes and not using your own personal profile for these sorts of things. If you team up with others to organize your group, then everyone can have the login information for the group profile, and that way all announcements concerning your group can come from the same account, instead of confusing people with several personal accounts. It also makes it really easy to tell when you are posting in your official capacity as group moderator and when you are posting as yourself.
Join Fetlife, Facebook, G+, Twitter, LiveJournal, Meetup, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, whatever, and post notices to all the relevant groups there (preferably under your new group profile). There are a dozen LJ poly groups you can post to, and even more Yahoo! Groups and Facebook groups. Remember to read every group's posting rules, though, to make sure you aren't violating any spamming rules. Post about your events and keep posting. Find those cross-over groups I mentioned above and ask to cross-post in their groups. Make up business cards with your local poly group's information on them and hand them out any time the subject comes up in person. In fact, you can just download and print the Poly Reference Cards
(it's 2-sided), which have a blank line on the back to add your group's URL to the list of important poly URLs, and just hand that out. Ask the local LGBT center if you can leave flyers. Some poly groups even put ads in Craigslist in the relationship sections. OP used to have ads in our free LGBT publications and independent news rags, like Orlando Weekly. You have to advertise and you have to be patient.
As a reminder, there are two really good resources for where to find local poly groups. There is Poly Groups (www.polygroups.com
), a database of sorts where you can input your own group or search for groups. And there is also Poly Events All Over (https://sites.google.com/site/polyeventsallover/
), a website that collects events calendars from poly groups that post their calendars online. For large events like conferences, there's Alan's List of Poly Events (http://polyevents.blogspot.com/
) - all of which I posted previously in my LJ entry on Poly Collection Sites (http://joreth.livejournal.com/248377.html