Turn-out is about training people to build their power; it is some of the most valuable work we do in organising.

Women's march 2017. Loads of people and a poster with a fist in the air with pink nail polish
People gather for the Women’s March in Washington U.S., January 21, 2017. Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

On 21 January 2017, was the largest coordinated protest in U.S. history and one of the largest in the world ever. The Women’s March in Washington D.C., with its sister marches worldwide, brought together 4.6 million people in action. It was a demonstration of the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change. It woke up the world to the millions ready to fight for humanity.

The Women’s March was planned and coordinated for a response. If you want to change the world, you need the world acting. You don’t always need millions with you, but you always need a plan. Whether you’re organising twenty people or two million, turn-out is never left to hope; method and work gets people there.

Mapping turn-out

A target board

This is a turn-out board. In the middle is the bullseye. People centre of the issue, who we have relationship with, and have large following, go here. When a name goes in the middle, it means they get 80 percent of your time. Those in the middle get most of our energy, because they will turn-out the majority of people to the action. Without them we have no people power.

For example: if you have one month to bring people to an action, you have 22 working days; 154 hours. This month you are only working on turn-out. 123 of your working hours will go to those in the middle of the circle; 80 percent of your time.

Fifteen percent goes to the next ring; they have less following/influence, we have less relationships with them, or the relationship has taught us to give less time. They get 26 of your hours. The outer five percent have little following. They get 8 of your hours.


The method of turn-out

There is an action coming up and it needs 200 people. Below are people you work with, who have given you their target for how many people they will bring. Two names can go in the middle; who do you chose?

  • Promise Erin is from a church, holds no positional authority, has a following and is reliable. Target 20.
  • Alex Yusuf, Imam of a one thousand worshipping mosque. Has not shown up for the past few actions. Target 100.
  • Bill Lang is a local resident who turns up to everything. Sometimes he brings his wife and two kids. Target 5.
  • Nancy Lei is a director of a college. Has never taken action before. A small team of students want to support her. Target 100.
  • Issy Green, a trained activist, runs two refugee welcome groups. Her last action brought sixty people. Target 80.
  • Bushra Collins a professor to a class of 40 masters students. The action is a class trip. They’re confident with support, students can bring at least another 40. Target 80.
  • Kerry Smith is from a housing association of 100 residents. History of giving big targets but the most she has brought is five, despite training. Target 80.


Nancy and Bushra.

They have positional authority in their institutions, relationships and large potential turn-out. Nancy has a team willing to support her, and Bushra is guaranteed to bring at least 40 students. With training, together they could almost meet the turn-out target.

Why not the others?

A target board with names inside it

Promise is reliable and should bring 20 people. The number is too low to give more time.

Alex has relationships but has a reputation for not showing. His following and position gets 15 percent.

Bill is going to be there, maybe with family and no-one else.

Kerry does not have 100 people following her right now and has been given more time in the past. Focus energy elsewhere.

Issy has got this. 15 percent of time goes to coaching her to reach the impressive target. Focus on those who with training, can deliver like Issy.

How many people do you need?

The number of people depends on the action. Rule of thumb: the bigger the change, the bigger the number. If it is about votes, it is getting fifty one percent. If you have a venue, it is about making the venue full. Sometimes it is not about numbers. A negotiation is more about who is in the room, than how many.

People who do not show

Always add 20 percent to your target number for no-shows.

For example: if you need 200 people, you need to organise two hundred and forty; forty will likely drop off. Plan for the unexpected.

It not just numbers

You need diverse turn-out. If everyone is the same race, faith, age, we are not creating a movement of change. Always strive to demonstrate the world as it should be, and could be, in your turn-out.

Map the community

In your team, decide your turn-out figure. Now it is about prioritising.

  1. The team writes down who should be there, and who knows who. Those with big following and key to the issue go in the middle, and work your way outwards.
  2. Create a time line for engagement: who will speak to who for their numbers, by what deadline. If it is not in their diary, they are not showing up.
  3. Meet with the people you are looking to work with and confirm their soft (uncertain) and hard (confident) turn-out. Can you bring groups together to make their pledges? Have an assembly or gathering? Build a buzz about the action, a sense of solidarity and accountability to a shared purpose.
  4. Put turn-out training days in the diary for the groups you’re working with. It should be fun work, not gruelling. Teach them the target board. Brain-storm creative ways of getting people excited about the action. What responsibilities can people contribute on action day so they want to show up and bring people with them?
  5. Each week leading up to the action, contact your groups for how they are doing on turn-out.
  6. Two weeks before action, we focus on hard turn-out numbers.
  7. The night before action, pick up the phone and call the people to know they are showing up.

Hard and soft turn-out

Hard turn-out is close to certain numbers. They are people we know and trust; we have a relationship with them. Soft is less certain, but with training and support it could happen.

As we get closer to the action, soft numbers become stronger. Two weeks before we only want hard numbers; people you have spoken to, who have the date in their diary and have made arrangements to be there. That way we know if we have met our numbers.

Turn-out captains

A turn-out captain is in charge of bringing ten people. They should be people from the community/institution/groups you’re working with.

If someone wants to bring fifty people they need five turn-out captains. They ensure the ten people show up by doing the 1-to-1s. They also provide all information for the day and the behaviour that is expected.

For every 5 turn-out captains there must be one lead. This role is given to people who have experience in taking action. Issy in the example above, would be a great lead turn-out captain. The lead reports to the head of volunteer outreach.

For example: a turn-out of 100 would look like this.

A series of dots connected to each other to represent number of people

This creates a structure that is supportive rather than stressful. We want to be confident on numbers. By dividing up the job this way, people are less likely to forget who they need to be relating to.

Pick up the phone

Every week leading to action, contact your people; relationship builds commitment. The day before action pick up the phone; emails and texts will not do. You want to hear people say “I am showing up”. Numbers are fed into a shared spread-sheet. There is a workable copy for you in the resources section.

20 percent is taken off for drop off: now you have the final turn-out figure. If you have stuck to the method this should be pretty accurate to what you see on action day.

Recognise turn-out captains

Turn-out captains and groups that brought high, diverse numbers, get big recognition. This work is difficult and too often unrecognised. Think creatively about how you give credit to those who delivered. Maybe they lead the march, open the ceremony, fill-in-the-blank. What ever it is ensure their contribution is recognised. Without them we are nothing.