The Activist Training Lab
Biodiversity loss is so dire that an international panel of 145 scientists has estimated that 1 million plant and animal species face extinction. We need bold policies, transformative institutional shifts, and systemic change to meet the extinction crisis at the scale of the crisis. We need our elected officials, government agencies, corporations, and powerful institutions to take action to protect biodiversity and ensure that its benefits are shared equitably by all communities.
One of the most powerful tools we have in our toolbox for advancing this change is grassroots organizing. Grassroots organizing is defined as building and using people power to address problems at their roots and create systemic change. The Activist Training Lab is a set of training programs, resources, and coaching and mentoring services for organizations and individuals who want to build the fundamental skills of grassroots organizing. The Activist Training Lab helps organizations and individuals launch strategic grassroots campaigns and win those campaigns. The Activist Training Lab is building power within and increasing the effectiveness of the movement for conservation and biodiversity justice — and we want you to join us in that mission.
Check out what the Activist Training Lab has to offer for our member groups, non-member organizations, and individual activists below.
Programs & Resources
Activist Training Lab Leadership
Sarah Starman has been directing the Activist Training Lab since 2020. Sarah attended the University of Pennsylvania; she majored in Urban Studies and within that focused on the history and theory of grassroots organizing. She built field experience while in school by working on a nonpartisan voter registration and mobilization drive, a campaign to increase affordable housing in Philadelphia, and a campaign to pressure Penn to divest from fossil fuels. Since graduating in 2018, she completed Green Corps’ one-year fellowship program for environmental organizers and has led or worked on grassroots campaigns with organizations such as Oceana, Mighty Earth, PennEnvironment, Sunrise Movement, and Endangered Species Coalition on diverse issues including climate justice, plastic pollution, and wildlife habitat conservation. While she still does some campaigning, she focuses now on bringing her wealth of experience to the Activist Training Lab and supporting individuals and organizations who want to build grassroots organizing skills and experience. She directs the Activist Training Lab; creates and facilitates many of the trainings; provides coaching; and brings in other experienced trainers and coaches as needed. She is always excited to connect with individuals and organizations who are passionate about biodiversity or the power of grassroots organizing.
The best candidates for 6-week capacity-building course are staff, interns, or volunteers at conservation organizations or community groups who have a particular biodiversity issue they are hoping to address. For example, a good candidate might be currently working or intending to work on passing an important wildlife bill, banning a harmful pesticide, stopping a local developer from destroying critical habitat, updating a state agency’s wildlife management plan, or expanding access to green space in their region for communities of color. Whether they have previous experience with grassroots organizing or are totally new to it, good candidates are excited to refine or build skills.
We give priority for this course to staff, interns, and volunteers with Endangered Species Coalition member groups but also happily accept staff, interns, and volunteers with non-member organizations and community groups.
The 6-week capacity-building course is short but intensive and requires participants to commit two to three hours per week for six weeks.
This includes one hour of class each week, one hour of “homework” (such as readings and exercises) to do outside of class, and one hour of individual coaching every other week. Participants who commit to setting aside the necessary time to complete the course will see their skills of grassroots organizing grow immensely in six weeks and will bring this valuable perspective, knowledge, and capacity to their campaigns and home organizations.
We provide coaching and mentoring services for individuals who are actively working on campaigns to protect biodiversity and want support, advice, and resources from a coach.
Often, but not always, these individuals are graduates of our 6-week capacity-building course, who are seeking continued guidance and support as they implement the strategic campaign plan they crafted during the course.
Coaching arrangements are determined on a case-by-case basis and if you want to explore the possibility please reach out to Sarah at [email protected].
Coaching looks different depending on the needs of the individual or organization receiving the coaching.
Typically, it includes regular phone or video calls with a coach, who will help you diagnose and solve problems, identify new skills you want to build, and offer encouragement and advice. Your coach might also be able to provide helpful resources or connect you to other organizations and individuals in the Endangered Species Coalition network who can support your campaign.
The Activist Training Lab has limited capacity, but for campaigns we are especially excited about and most closely align with our mission, we may be able to offer site visits. During a site visit, your coach will travel to your area and spend a few days with you in order to evaluate your campaign more closely, provide on-the-ground support with key campaign events, and offer in-person training for you and other members of your campaign. Additionally, for campaigns we are especially excited about and most closely align with our mission, the Activist Training Lab may be able to offer small grants to fund your campaign’s key tactics and activities.
At the Endangered Species Coalition, we believe that biodiversity loss and environmental degradation disproportionately impacts women, youth, people of color, and Indigenous communities. We believe that ensuring biodiversity’s benefits are shared equitably by all communities needs to be at the front and center of the movement for conservation, and we believe that movement should be inclusive and representative of the diversity of our country.
The Activist Training Lab in particular has prioritized diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in our programs over the past three years. We especially encourage people who identify with traditionally marginalized communities, including people of color, Indigenous peoples, youth, seniors, and LGBTQIA+, low-income, and immigrant communities to reach out to us about our programs or apply for our capacity-building course. We are particularly excited to work with organizations and individuals who work at the intersection of biodiversity conservation and environmental justice, and we may prioritize creating space in our programs or delegating funding to those organizations and individuals.
Here are some of the skills we cover between our on-demand trainings, capacity-building course, and upcoming video course:
- History and theory of grassroots organizing
- Strategic campaign planning
- Setting campaign goals
- Campaign strategy
- Strategic & creative tactics
- Campaign messaging & narratives
- Leadership development
- Training & coaching volunteers
- Retaining volunteers
- Movement-building & movement structure
- Act, Recruit, Train cycle
- Grassroots tactics
- Petitioning 101
- Canvassing 101
- Phonebanking 101
- Art actions
- Building and managing coalitions
- Earned media
- Opinion media
- Distributed organizing
- Grassroots fundraising
- Event planning
- Facilitating meetings
- Fostering a feedback culture in campaigns
All of our programs are provided by the Endangered Species Coalition as a free service to our member groups and allied organizations who are fighting to protect biodiversity and advance biodiversity justice.
The Activist Training Lab is a relatively new program and our funding model and structure is subject to change. However, for the foreseeable future, it is free for all participants.
Yes! The Activist Training Lab used to have a yearlong grassroots organizing training fellowship. Three cohorts graduated from the yearlong program, and our awesome alumni from those cohorts are still out in the world making a positive impact for the environment and justice.
After much thought and consideration, we decided to end the yearlong fellowship program in 2023, replacing it with our current programs. We made this choice in response to feedback from alumni, needs expressed by our member groups in our annual survey, and our own vision for the future of the Activist Training Lab program. While the end of the yearlong program is bittersweet, we are excited for the future of the Activist Training Lab.
The best way you can support our work is to spread the word. Share this webpage with your organizational partners, friends, family, colleagues, and community so we can reach as many people as possible. We hope that people and organizations all over the country who are passionate about biodiversity will know that this resource exists and be able to access the programs when they need them. We especially hope to share our YouTube video course (launching summer 2023) far and wide, and you can help us do that by subscribing to our channel and sharing our videos.
The Activist Training Lab exists because of the generosity of donors who believe in our mission of protecting biodiversity through grassroots organizing. If this mission resonates with you, too, please consider making a donation the program. Your donation will help us provide training and coaching to greater numbers of organizations and individuals who are fighting to conserve our most precious resources.