Organize a recovery town hall with decision makers

  • This step-by-step HOW TO will help you in your effort to organize a Town Hall to survey local issues, understand public opinion, enlist advocates, and build relationships.

Defining a Town Hall Meeting

Recovery Town Hall Meetings are forums that allow advocates to have their voices heard on the issues and solutions most impacting their community. The purpose of the forum is to convene local decision makers in a way that allows them to listen to topic experts, people with lived experience, and advocates in order to better understand the needs of the community. 

Organizing Recovery Town Hall Meetings can translate to local policies, practices, and collaborations that help those directly impacted by addiction or those living lives in recovery.

Defining Decision Makers

Each community is unique, but the one thing that every community has is people who are responsible for making decisions for residents. 

When we think about local Decision Makers in communities around our issues, the list could look something like this

  • Elected Officials (Mayor, Town Council, State Representatives, School Board)
  • Elected Official’s Staff
  • Chief of Police (and other Law Enforcement)
  • Faith Leaders
  • Zoning Boards
  • Health Workers
  • Educators and School Boards
  • County Drug and Alcohol Administrators
  • Department of Health
  • Prosecutors
  • Department of Corrections leadership
  • Drug Court Teams

Why organize a Recovery Town Hall Meeting with your decision makers?

  • Organizing this type of event can build relationships in the community that otherwise would not have existed.
  • Many Decision Makers need feedback and ideas from the community to be able to do their jobs in the most effective way.
  • Creates a space for advocates to have their ideas and solutions listened to.
  • Keeps addiction issues and solutions front and center.
  • Shows an organized recovery constituency.
  • Provides an opportunity to get media attention around the issues you and other local advocates care for most.
  • Educates and raises awareness with the general public.
  • Shows a visible constituency that is organized around recovery.
  • As you organize the Recovery Town Hall, you can identify your organizing team as alcohol resource around addiction and recovery.

Recovery Advocates and Organizations from all over the country have benefited from organizing different versions of these local Recovery Town Hall Meetings. Here is a step by step guide and some best practices so you can work towards organizing your own Recovery Town Hall Meeting.

Step by Step Guide to Organizing a Recovery Town Hall Meeting

1. Put together an Organizing Committee that will help you plan your Recovery Town Hall Meeting.

Organizing a Recovery Town Hall Meeting will be much easier with a team of other advocates that care about the same issues you do and want to highlight solutions at an event.

You may already have some organizing committee members in mind if you have a local advocacy team (HOW TO Host a monthly recovery advocacy team meeting) or if you have worked to build your recovery advocacy base (HOW TO Build your Advocacy base and sustain it)

A good size committee for this project would be 6 -10 individuals.

  • Assemble a committee that is diverse. You may want to have a mix of recovery advocates, family members, addiction experts, people with lived experience on the potential topic (Step 2) your committee chooses, and other local leaders on the issue of addiction.
  • Ensure your committee best reflects the makeup of your community.
  • You may be in the early stages of your community organizing. If you have less than the 6 to 10 people recommended for your committee that is ok. A smaller group could be easier to manage.
  • Develop a schedule to communicate with your committee. The best planning meetings are when you can meet in person, however, you may want to also set up a conference call line www.freeconferencecall.com for check-in meetings with your team.
  • Once your committee is together, be sure to ask what people’s strengths are at your first planning meeting and their area of interest. This will help assign tasks as the organizing moves forward. The committee may even decide to split into sub-committees to play to individual strengths. For example, the committee could form a Promotion & Outreach Team, Media & Social Media Team, Event Logistics Team etc.
2. Pick a topic for your Recovery Town Hall Meeting

Step 1 and Step 2 could be interchangeable. You may have already identified an issue to focus on and assembled your committee based on that issue. If that is not the case, the first task for your organizing committee is to choose a topic that will draw interest to your Recovery Town Hall Meeting.

Choosing a topic will also direct the type of community event you are convening. For example, the topic of “Understanding Addiction and Recovery” could be an educational forum, while a topic like “Solutions to the local Addiction Epidemic” sounds both educational and a call to action.

When choosing a topic, the committee should consider the type of Town Hall meeting you want to organize and ask if your topic has the following criteria:

  • Does our topic reflect the reality of what is happening in our community?
  • Does our topic have draw to a wider audience?
  • Will our topic inspire advocates to attend and volunteers to speak?
  • Is this topic one that our Decision Makers need to be educated on and take action on?
  • Is the topic vague enough that it can address multiple issues in the community?
  • Is the topic direct enough that the community will understand what the event is?
  • Is there an urgency expressed in the topic that will encourage the public or media to attend?
  • Do we need to bring in an expert to dive deeper into our topic?

Some example topics for your Recovery Town Hall Meeting may include:

  • Addressing the Addiction Epidemic
  • Addiction Recovery Support Services
  • Naloxone (Narcan) Saves Lives
  • Many Pathways to Recovery
  • Addiction as a Public Health Issue
  • Understanding Harm Reduction
  • Recovery from Addiction is a Reality
  • Reducing Stigma around Addiction and Recovery
  • Families for Addiction Recovery
  • Medication Assisted Recovery
  • Addiction Recovery and Reentry Services
  • Science of Addiction and Recovery
  • Recovery and Young People
  • We are in Recovery, and We Vote
  • Be sure that everyone on the committee has a chance to be heard at the initial planning meeting. This may also provide ideas for future event topics.
  • There are advantages to choosing a topic that is vague. It may be possible to have speakers address multiple issues in the community under a broad theme. For example, the topic could be “Access to Recovery Support Services” which would allow for many different speakers. You could end up addressing a number of different community issues under that topic including Medication Assisted Recovery, recovery coaching, lack of community resources, recovery housing, or access to care.
  • There are also advantages to having topics that are direct. For example, choosing a topic like “Access to Naloxone for All” would let people know exactly what type of event your committee is planning and you could highlight many speakers with different backgrounds around the same topic to get your point across to Decision Makers.
  • Pick a topic that could potentially draw in some special guests. For example, you may want to choose a topic you know there is a local elected official that champions that particular issue.
  • Be sure to research your Decision Makers as much as you can to understand where they stand on the issues.
3. Plan the Recovery Town Hall location and date of event details

Location:  Location is key to putting on a successful event. With your committee, identify potential community buildings in the area that could host the amount of people you would expect to attend the event. Members of the committee may have existing relationships with people that work at facilities that could host the Recovery Town Hall.

Some potential ideas for facilities could include:

  • Recreation Centers
  • Community Centers
  • Recovery Community Centers
  • Library Event Rooms
  • University Classrooms or Student Centers
  • High School Auditoriums
  • Church Auditoriums

Date/Time of Event: Based on the many events that have been organized all over the country by recovery advocates and organizations, it is recommended that your committee takes 3-4 months to plan an impactful event.

It may be easier to schedule the event after people generally are out of work, like 6-8PM on a Wednesday. You may want to offer food or snacks, if possible.

Be sure to schedule the event with enough time in advance to promote the event, gain media attention, and secure the invitees and selected advocate speakers.

  • It is important to look at spaces that potentially have public transportation in your area.
  • If your committee plans to host an event that, for example, runs 6-8PM, be sure to ask if the space can be reserved from 5PM- 9PM for the room set up before the event, and also leaving some time if the event goes over 2 hours.
  • While looking for potential spaces, it is best to find a room that could hold 30-120 people, depending on the goals of the organizing committee.
  • Work to secure a date that you know your special guests can commit to. For example, you could have a State Representative that can agree to attend if it is held on a specific date.
  • You may want to pick a space that already has audio hookup. (Microphone and Speakers)
  • Pick a space that is well known in your area.
  • Assign someone from the organizing committee to be the point of contact for the event with the facility your team chooses.
  • Be sure to have a main contact at the facility you reserve for your event. This will be the point person as your committee continues to plan the Recovery Town Hall Meeting, and may be useful if something should change in the organizing process.
4. Pick a format for your Recovery Town Hall Meeting

There are a number of different formats to Town Hall Meetings that can accomplish what the committee is working to do. When deciding on a format, it is important to not only think about the end result and purpose of the Recovery Town Hall meeting, but also consider the message and who will be most impactful in delivering that message to the attendees and even potential media.

Here are three formats that will shape how your committee proceeds in organizing the Recovery Town Hall event. Your committee may find that they could use a format that combines two or all of these styles.

  1. Speaker Forum
  2. Educational/Awareness Forum
  3. Decision Maker Forum

A Speaker Forum is a Recovery Town Hall that highlights a number of pre-selected speakers and stories around the same topic. This format would be ideal if you want to highlight the stories of those with lived experience that are directly impacted.
For example, your committee may want to plan a Recovery Town Hall with the topic of “Many Pathways to Recovery” in which the event has 6 individuals speaking about their own pathway to recovery. Or the committee may want to plan an event around Recovery Support Services in which six different speakers highlight a Recovery Support that has helped them.

Benefits of potentially using this format:

  • Allows for speakers to be selected (and trained) based on the message of the Recovery Town Hall. This allows for a pre-planned and consistent message to Decision Makers.
  • Strong impact through storytelling.
  • Humanizes the issues. Makes recovery and solutions a reality for the community.
  • Often has an impact on the Decision Makers in attendance.

Things you will need for a successful Recovery Town Hall using the Speaker Forum format

  • 5-6 speakers with lived experience on the topic. (It will help to have speakers that are familiar with Recovery Messaging) The planning committee can encourage potential speakers to review HOW TO: Use Recovery Messaging to organize and reduce stigma in your community.
  • A panel of community Decision Makers at the front of the room to listen to the 5-6 speakers that are pre-selected by the committee to share their stories around the chosen topic.
  • Audio (Microphone and Speakers) depending on the facility.
  • A facilitator for the Recovery Town Hall (more on this in Step 10 )
  • An audience to listen to the discussion.

An Educational/Awareness Forum is a Recovery Town Hall that is primarily meant to feature an expert on a particular topic. This format would be ideal if the goal of your Recovery Town Hall is tackle an issue that requires a specialist to explain.

For example, your committee may want to plan a Town Hall with the topic of “The Science of Addiction and Recovery” where there is a presentation by an Addiction expert, followed by a short conversation with the community Decision Makers.

This format also works to highlight Motivational Speakers.

Benefits of potentially using this format:

  • Allows your topic’s message to be delivered by an expert.
  • Has potential to draw a wider audience.
  • Can lead to informative Question and Answer sessions.
  • Choosing an expert may add instant credibility to your event.

Things you will need for a successful Recovery Town Hall using the Educational/Awareness Forum format

  • An expert on the chosen topic. Ideally, the expert will be a draw for a large audience and should be from the local community, if possible.
  • Audio/Visual set up. Your expert on the topic may request use for a Powerpoint presentation. (This could potentially open up a beneficial partnership with local schools or Universities)

A Decision Maker Forum is a Recovery Town Hall format that focuses a majority of the discussion between the decision makers on the selected topic, and then often leaves room for questions from audience members.

This type of format usually features some sort of panel in the front of the room, and a facilitator to guide the conversation of the panel of Decision Makers, and Question and Answer Session after the panel discussion.

This format would be ideal if the committee wanted to highlight some successful programs and solutions that may already be happening in the community. For example, your committee may want to plan a Recovery Town Hall with the topic of “Addressing the Addiction Crisis: A community response” and feature an Elected Official, a Law Enforcement Officer, a Health Care worker, a Program Director for Peer Recovery Support, and an Educator.

Benefits of potentially using this format:

  • Allows the Organizing Committee to build relationships with Community Leaders prior to the Recovery Town Hall event. The confirmed Decision Makers on the panel may even agree to do a press release for the event to highlight their involvement.
  • The general public may be more apt to come to an event that features known community leaders.
  • The Organizing Committee could always work with a few audience members ahead of time to initiate the Question and Answer portion of this style of Recovery Town Hall.

Things you will need for a successful Recovery Town Hall using the Decision Maker Forum format

  • Diverse Panel of Decision Makers
  • Audio Support (Microphone and Speakers)
  • A skilled facilitator for the event
5. Create a promotional tool for the event.

One of the most effective promotional tools will be a flyer for the Recovery Town Hall but your promotion shouldn’t stop there. If you’re a Recovery Advocacy Project Leader you have access to creating online event registration pages using Action Network. This should be the standard practice for all community events to capture people who’ve registered so you can send reminders and thank you emails for the event. All RAP Leaders have access to RAP assets for your flyer design in the files section of your Action Network group (like logos, banner images, photos, etc.), plus, the RAP Organizing team is always available to help answer any questions you have.

This step will make other organizing steps a lot easier. Keep in mind, this promotional tool can change as your committee organizes (For example: In the event you confirm Decision Makers or additional partners, you may need to add logos for non-profit or local businesses to the promotional flyer and online event page) The tools could begin with a simple “Save the Date” to a version with more details, logos, and confirmed Decision Makers.

The promotional tools can serve many purposes for your Recovery Town Hall including:

  • Promote the Recovery Town Hall in local business or community spaces (Coffee Shops, Main Street Businesses, College Campuses etc)
  • Promote on social media
  • Invite people through email
  • Build the Audience
  • Create excitement and word of mouth on the Recovery Town Hall.
  • Gain additional community partnerships (Step 6)
  • Attract local Decision Makers. (Step 7)

The promotional tool should include the following:

  • Topic of Recovery Town Hall (and any special guests) should be displayed in bold.
  • Recovery Town Hall Details: Location including Address, Day/Date, Time event begins.
  • Include if food/refreshments will be included at the event.
  • Include any logos of local businesses or non-profits that you are partnering with.
  • Have a contact email to answer questions about the Recovery Town Hall.
  • Short description of the event including target audience
  • You may have someone on your committee that is good with graphic design or event promotion already. Chances are, someone on the committee will know someone that is good with promotional tasks. Invite that person to join the committee or see if they will assist.
  • Your promotional tool may go through a few versions in the event your committee confirms Decision Makers/finds more community partners for the Recovery Town Hall.
  • Include images on your promotional tool to catch people’s attention.
  • Use brighter colors on the Flyer to catch people’s eye.
  • Let people know if there will be resource tables at the event.
  • Resources
    • CANVA is an web-based design software full of templates for you to use. You can easily create flyers and posters for free, although some features require a paid account. (If you have a nonprofit you can register to use the PRO version for free!)
    • Pikto Chart is a free online design website that will allow you to create flyers and infographics with ease. Some features are paid.
    • Adobe Spark gives you access to a library of templates and design inspiration. You can quickly create a professional-looking flyer with this online resource.

Sample Description on Flyer

“Addiction affects many families in our community. This Recovery Town Hall Meeting will bring together people in recovery from addiction, their loved ones and allies, with our local elected officials and decision makers to work towards community solutions to the addiction crisis. All are welcome to attend.”

6. Outreach to partner with other community groups

Many recovery advocates and organizations across the country have partnered with their local business and non-profits to show strength as a community, as well as increase the word of mouth and audience of the Recovery Town Hall.
Organizing a Recovery Town Hall can accomplish more than educating decision makers or the public, raising awareness, or creating a call to action around an issue. It is important for your committee to look at this project as a way to potentially create new partnerships, allies, and connections. You and your committee will find allies just waiting to support your goals.

Many local business owners or non-profits will partner with your committee if asked. Use the Promotional Tool from Step 3 to approach these potential partners.

  • In one of the committee meetings, come up with a list of local businesses and non-profits to approach. Some of the people on the committee may have existing connections with business owners of staff at the non-profit organizations. Leverage existing relationships as you organize the event.
  • Come up with specific asks for the business owners or non-profits including food/coffee donations, putting up a Flyer in the business, or helping to promote the event. This is an opportunity for each business to give back to the community and be a part of something.
  • Talk to your committee about having resource tables at the event. You can provide a local business owner or non-profit with a resource table at the event and ask them to agree to promote the event in return.
7. Create the Recovery Town Hall invitation for Decision Makers

Once you have established the date, time, location and topic of the Recovery Town Hall it is time to put together your list of Decision Makers to invite.

Your committee should use the list below to come up with the names and contact information to invite your community Decision Makers. Many of your invitees can be invited by email or phone, but some of your committee members may know them personally, so they should deliver the invite or make the ask.

  • Elected Officials (Mayor, Town Council, State Representatives, School Board)
  • Elected Official’s Staff
  • Chief of Police (and other Law Enforcement)
  • Faith Leaders
  • Zoning Boards
  • Health Workers
  • Educators and School Boards
  • County Drug and Alcohol Administrators
  • Department of Health
  • Prosecutors
  • Department of Corrections leadership
  • Drug Court Teams
  • Be specific in what you are inviting the decision maker to do. (Ex. Be on a panel, Welcome the Community, Be a speaker, Honored Guest.)
  • If you do not get the preferred invitee on your list, you can always ask the invitee that declined to send someone from their staff like an elected official’s staff member, or another Law Enforcement Officer. Many elected officials or law enforcement will have someone designated as a community or constituent liaison.
  • Be persistent. Be sure to send an invitation and periodically follow up to relay how important this Recovery Town Hall is for the community via a telephone call.
  • Invite 20 people to get between 5-10 YES’s.
  • Don’t let invitation declines stall your efforts in assembling a good attendance form other Decision Makers. Expect some NO replies.
  • Use confirmed YES’s to build on the Recovery Town Hall and get other Decision Makers to come along. For example, “Representative Hernandez will be in attendance for this event, and we would like to get other elected officials like yourself to attend.”
8. Explore other ways to promote your event and build your audience.

The most effective way to build your audience and mobilize people to your event is through strong outreach to local recovery non-profits, treatment centers, mental health groups, recovery and family groups, recovery houses, prevention and harm reduction groups, and working to get commitments of how many people each group can deliver to the Recovery Town Hall.

In addition to word of mouth and using the promotional flyer, there are many tools available online your committee may opt to use to reach more audiences and increase attendance to the Recovery Town Hall.
Here are a few tools Recovery Advocates and Recovery Organizations have found helpful.

Action Network Events

www.actionnetwork.org

If you are a Recovery Advocacy Project State or Regional Leader, you have access to a suite of advocacy and community organizing tools at no cost through your Action Network account. This pallet of tools gives you everything you need to plan and promote a successful Town Hall. The standard for all Recovery Advocacy Project Leaders should be to create an event action in Action Network and share this event page online and through email once it’s created.

If you’re not a Recovery Advocacy Project Leader, you can easily contact your state lead and collaborate on your Town Hall event. Utilizing your State Leader will greatly benefit the attendance and success of your event.

Eventbrite

www.eventbrite.com

Eventbrite is a free tool that allows people to RSVP to an event.

Having an Eventbrite link associated with the promotional tool for the Recovery Town Hall has many advantages that includes

  • Managing RSVPs to the event.
  • You can upload the promotional tool (flyer) your team has created.
  • The event also becomes locally searchable on the Eventbrite website.
  • Allows the organizer to be notified when an attendee RSVPs.
  • Automatic email reminder for anyone who RSVPs a day before the event.
  • If capacity is limited at the event, Eventbrite allows the organizer to cap how many RSVPs are allowed.
  • Gives your committee a rough idea of how many people to expect. Keep in mind there will be some people that did not RSVP on Eventbrite that will attend, and there will also be people that RSVP on Eventbrite that do not end up attending the event.
  • You can easily link your Eventbrite event to Facebook Events and manage all attendees in a single place while promoting through Facebook and online. Doing this allows people on Facebook to easily register without leaving Facebook.

Create a Facebook Event Page

Click here for a step by step guide with pictures on how to set up a Facebook Event.

Creating a Facebook Event Page has many advantages including

  • Uploading the Promotional Tool (Flyer) your team created for the event
  • Creates buzz on social media.
  • Allows those you invite to RSVP YES, NO, or MAYBE to attending the event
  • Will remind the MAYBE and YES invitees prior to the event.
  • When someone RSVPs yes if will show that individuals FaceBook friends that they are attending.
  • You can invite selected or entire friend lists to the Recovery Town Hall, or create a larger list by allowing invites to ‘friends of friends’
  • Allows organizers to answer any questions about the event.
  • Allows organizers to highlight any special guests or confirmed speakers at the event.
  • Builds a network and interest for future events you may organize.

The entire Organizing Committee should all work to invite locals on their Facebook Friends list. You can also add multiple hosts to your Facebook Events and ask other organizations to list your event on their organization’s Facebook page so it will display under their upcoming events too.

Use Recovery Advocacy Project’s Social Media Toolkit

The Recovery Advocacy Project has developed a Social Media Toolkit that could help raise the profile of your event across many social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogs and others.

The Social Media Toolkit has suggestions for hashtags and graphics that could assist you in reaching a larger audience while promoting your Recovery Town Hall.

The Recovery Advocacy Project’s Social Media Toolkit can be found here.

9. Outreach to Traditional Media

Building relationships with local media can take time. Getting local media to cover your event reaches an audience outside the event itself.

Here are a few steps to take that will increase the potential of media turnout.

Create a list of local media outlets – (Be sure to update this list as much as possible moving forward, as outlets change. List should include:

  • Local TV
  • Radio ( www.radio-locator.com is searchable by area and genre like news, public radio, talk etc)
  • Local News Websites
  • Blogs (Health, Current Events, Criminal Justice)
  • Newspapers (County/city/town) www.usnpl.com is searchable by location.

1. Identify appropriate contact for each media outlet.

Journalists are often assigned an area of expertise. You should be able to find the right media contact by searching for past articles on addiction, health, or community events.

2. Pitch a human interest story

Contact your list of journalists with event information with a human interest story. Personalize each greeting to attempt to build a relationship with that media contact.

A good human interest story could potentially be one of your speakers for the event, a local advocacy effort, or a response to something the journalist covered in a past media piece.

Your correspondence should cover why they should cover the Recovery Town Hall, the human interest story, and a contact for more information. You, or someone on your committee should be a designated contact for media.

Be sure to have a media sign in sheet at the Recovery Town Hall.

Your Organizing Team may option to offer a trusted media contact the Facilitator role.

Here are a few articles to read that have additional pointers on getting local media.

https://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog/2016/05/12/5-ways-to-get-the-media-to-cover-your-next-event/

https://fitsmallbusiness.com/how-to-get-local-press-coverage/

https://www.marketingdonut.co.uk/pr/building-relationships-with-the-media/ten-ways-to-get-coverage-in-your-local-media

10. Choose a Recovery Town Hall facilitator for the event

The format of the Recovery Town Hall most likely will require someone that can facilitate the event.

The role of the Facilitator is to welcome the Town Hall participants, keep the program moving and focused, introduce guests and speakers, and make sure the event is running on time.

Ideally, the Facilitator should:

  • Be considered a Leader in their respective community.
  • Believe in the work the committee is doing.
  • Have a personal connection to the topic.
  • Be a recognizable face and/or voice of the community
  • Be able to lead discussions and transition from one part of the event schedule to the next

Suggestions for Facilitator:

  • Local News Anchor
  • Chamber of Commerce President
  • Well-known local Recovery Advocate
  • Organizing Committee Member
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