How to Start a Chapter
Interested in starting a state chapter of the NWPC? Here are some steps to help you get started!
Contact the NWPC office at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
What is the National Women's Political Caucus?
First Step: Contact Your State Caucus
Finding new members
Hold an organizing meeting
Planning Your First Meeting
When Does Your New Chapter Become Official?
How Does Membership Work?
Partisan and Affirmative Action Task Forces
Candidate Endorsement Policy
Setting Up An Efficient Operation
Incorporating for Tax Purposes
What is the National Women's Political Caucus?
The National Women's Political Caucus (know as the Caucus or NWPC) was founded in 1971 to increase the number of progressive women in government at all levels, regardless of party affiliation. As a grassroots organization, the Caucus consists of hundreds of local and state chapters working across the country to improve the status of women in politics. As you start a local chapter in your area, keep in mind the primary goal of achieving political equality for women.
This guide, based on what other chapters have found to be successful, is designed to help you get started. You may want to do things differently to suit your particular needs and resources.
The following flow chart may help give you an idea of how the Caucus is structured.
Members elect officers to serve on a Steering Committee to plan local activities.
Elected leaders from each local Caucus within the state serve on a State Board of Directors
National Board of Directors
NWPC’s Board of Directors includes 7 Vice Presidents, State Representatives, Secretary, and Treasurer, Affirmative Actions & Special Interest Caucus Chairs
The National Caucus Office (NWPC) staff are based in Washington, DC
The first step to organizing a new local chapter is to contact the head of your state Caucus. Each state has developed its own bylaw requirements that must be followed to become a chartered Caucus chapter.
Talk with the state Chair or President about other local chapters and the geographical area a new chapter could cover. Take time to learn a little about the history of the state Caucus and find out the dates of the state’s next annual meeting and other events you may wish to attend. Most importantly, get a copy of the state bylaws, a list of state Caucus officers, and the names, addresses and phone numbers of any Caucus members or other women in your area who may help you establish a local chapter.
If there is no state Caucus in your state, contact the National Office for assistance in starting a local Caucus.
Recruit everyone you know! Don't forget friends, neighbors, co-workers, Facebook friends, email lists, colleagues from previous political activities, people concerned about the protection of reproductive rights, and anyone else you can think of who would be dedicated to electing more women to public office. The goal is to find a good balance of Republicans and Democrats and a cross-section of women from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, occupations and economic levels. Diversity in the early stages of planning will strengthen your group.
- Ask for the membership e-mail list for each organization to which you belong.
- Check out facebook and websites of local women’s groups and find contact information for their officers.
- Contact Republican and Democratic headquarters or local election officials for a list of all female officers and committeewomen. Sometimes these are available on their websites.
- Ask about e-mail lists for female members of professional groups or feminist organizations who are interested in obtaining more power through increased political involvement.
- Reach out to women who work for public officials or who volunteer in political campaigns.
- Contact your local female elected and appointed officials. If you have worked hard for a candidate – don’t be afraid to ask for their lists. NWPC can only help them in their future efforts for public office.
- Set a date, time, and location and ask women to join you to help get more feminist women elected in your state! Decide which day and time work best for your group and do not conflict with other scheduled meetings, and then determine how often you want to meet. For example, you may decide to meet the first Wednesday of each month at 7pm. Some chapters meet once or twice monthly while others meet quarterly, but you should try to stick to your announced meeting schedule.
- Decide where to hold your meetings. The best location is convenient, free and not linked to a political party. Possibilities include the YWCA, a public library, a college campus, a school, a government office, a bank or corporation meeting room, a community room at a shopping center or an apartment clubhouse. You might try rotating meeting sites to attract members from different parts of your membership area. Check parking and access for people with disabilities. You may want to make arrangements for child care during each meeting.
- Ask influential women and elected leaders to join you on the "host committee" of the inaugural meeting of your Caucus chapter. See if you can host the meeting at a respected woman elected's home. Ask your host committee to help with some donated appetizers and beverages.
- Discuss potential topics and speakers for an interesting program that will attract the media and prospective members to your first meeting. You might invite a top political woman to speak at your first meeting to give the media and attendees a good idea of what your new group is all about. Women are not looking for just another meeting to attend, so you need to convince them that becoming more active in politics by joining your group could make a difference in their personal or professional lives, as well as help the community.
- Speak to like-minded organizations in your community. When speaking to other organizations, have copies of a flyer available with the date, time, and place for your next meeting to give to all prospective members. Bring NWPC brochures and be prepared to answer questions about the organization, its mission and goals. Keep a list of names or business cards of everyone who expresses interest in the Caucus.
- Create an electronic email invitation, a flyer, and a facebook event and start inviting people.
- Sketch out a structure for the proposed new chapter. This discussion will help you draft your initial chapter bylaws.
- Determine what you want to charge for membership dues based on your state Caucus policy and your chapter’s anticipated needs. Most local chapters charge a total of $65 or $70 to cover local, state, and national dues. Some chapters subsidize lower dues for students, senior citizens or others with limited income. The National Caucus keeps $40 of each Governing Member’s dues and gives the remainder of the total dues to the state, who then distributes the appropriate portion to each local chapter. You cannot start collecting dues until you have been chartered as a local chapter, but you should urge everyone on your list to join through the state or National Caucus. Many states require a minimum number of paid members before a new chapter can be chartered. Once a member has joined, some states ask the National Caucus handle renewals. Check with your state Caucus to determine what process is used.
- Appoint temporary leaders who are willing to run for election at your first official meeting and serve for one year. Following are brief descriptions of the key positions.
•Chair or Co-Chairs: Sometimes called President, this job is easily big enough for two. The Chair has primary responsibility for all chapter activities, presiding at meetings, speaking for the group, and serving as a link to the state chapter and National Caucus.
• Vice Chair (s): Often considered Chair-elect, the Vice Chair or Vice Chairs assist the Chair(s) and often take charge of special projects.
• Secretary/Recorder: Keep all records related to the chapter, including minutes of each meeting. Serves as chapter historian, which is very important during the formative years.
• Treasurer: This individual is the key financial officer for the local chapter. She prepares the budget, keeps financial records, pay bills, forwards dues to the state Caucus, and makes regular reports on the financial status of the chapter.
- Make sure you assign clear responsibility for each of the immediate functions to be done, including drafting initial bylaws based on your planning session discussion, preparing a preliminary budget, collecting donations to cover initial expenses, making arrangements for your first meeting, recruiting members and generating publicity. You may want to set-up standing or special committees and assign temporary Chairs for each area.
Common standing committees include:
Take great care in planning your first meeting to attract both prospective members and the media. You will need to invite at least three times as many women as you hope will attend. A few weeks before the meeting, send an enthusiastic letter to every woman on your list.
You may want to divide your list among your planning committee so each woman on the list gets a personal telephone call inviting her to the meeting and offering to answer any questions about the Caucus. Invite state Caucus officers and other local chapter Chairs in the area. Call other organizations in the area to ask them to send one or more representatives to the meeting.
Once you have a confirmed speaker, location, date, and time, the Publicity Chair should send a news release to local newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and television stations. She should try to reach all political reporters in the area to let them know that you are forming a new multi-partisan group to increase the number of women in state and local government.
What to have available at the first meeting:
- A sign-in sheet to get names, address, and telephone numbers for all attendees,
- A media sign-in sheet,
- Name tags and pens
- Caucus brochures (call NWPC if your state Caucus doesn’t have extra brochures),
- A list of the proposed slate of officers or ballots for the election of officers,
- Copies of your proposed bylaws, and
- A calendar of events, including a meeting schedule for new officers and standing committee Chairs (known as your Steering Committee) and the date, time place, and proposed topic of discussion for the next general meeting.
Each temporary officer should be available at the meeting to greet attendees. The temporary Chair should give a general welcome, explaining the goals of the Caucus and introducing members of the planning committee. The business meeting can be held either before or after your scheduled program, but plan to have at least an hour for each. When it’s time for the program, have someone introduce the speaker(s) and facilitate discussion.
The first item of the agenda for the business meeting is to approve your initial bylaws. Use standard procedural guidelines to have the bylaws amended or approved. Many chapters like to have a copy of Point of Order by Marjorie Mitchell Cann or Robert’s Rules of Order on hand at business meetings to use as a reference.
You may also need to elect officers. Again, use proper procedure to nominate your slate of officers. Accept additional nominations from the floor and give each candidate a few minutes to outline her qualifications and explain why she’s interested in that office.
After the officers are elected, move on the elect or appoint committee Chairs according to your bylaws. Once the committee Chairs have been decided, sign-up volunteers to serve on each committee.
Be prepared to seek out people and find the best place to use their skills. Many people are more comfortable being asked rather than volunteer, so follow up with each attendee and try to get everyone involved.
- Become a visible part of your community. This will let people see that your local Caucus is an important and involved group. If people see your group as influential, they will want to join in and have a voice.
- Be accessible. Be available and easy to find through e-mail, a website, Facebook, and Twitter, and put this information on all your flyers and announcements. Talk to the NWPC about a free page for your chapter on the national website.
- Become known to the Press. Make the Caucus a local authority about women in politics. Become a "go-to" source of information for them so they will include a quote from you and/or info about the Caucus in any articles they write about women in politics.
- Tabling. Take advantage of pro-choice activities, college fairs, women's events, or street fairs to set up a table with information about the Caucus. Have brochures and flyers with current events and meetings available (don't forget to include your website, Facebook info, and your e-mail address). Take time to answer any questions. Have a sign-up sheet for all interested people so you can gather their contact information, and follow up with them.
- Use Social Media. Since our inception in 1971 the NWPC has never had a better opportunity to connect with people, old and new members, who believe in our mission. Take advantage of these tools to promote your Caucus! A Caucus Facebook Page is a great way to build a community of like-minded people, let everyone know about Caucus events, build membership, and highlight endorsed candidates. And it's free! Here are a few tips on getting started with facebook. The North Carolina Caucus and the Washington State Caucus are two examples of states who make effective use of Facebook.
State bylaw requirements determine when your new chapter is officially chartered. These requirements may include one or more organizational meetings, a democratic election of officers, adoption of acceptable bylaws and an affirmative action program, a minimum of paid members, and submission of an action plan.
After you are chartered at the state level, the state Caucus will notify NWPC that you have been credentialed as a fully operational chapter of the Caucus and will assign a new chapter code. The local chapter Chair will start receiving leadership mailings and your chapter may start offering Caucus memberships and collecting dues.
Most chapters schedule a special business meeting once a year to elect officers. Check with the state Caucus for information on its annual meeting and NWPC’s biennial national convention.
Most local chapters send membership information and the state and national portion of dues to their state Caucus, which adds the proper chapter code and forwards completed membership reports (membership information and National’s portion of dues) to NWPC. Each membership expires one year after the state Caucus mails the membership report to the National office.
Within two weeks of receiving the membership report, NWPC staff adds new members to the database and subscribes them to the NWPC e-Newsletter. At the end of the month, NWPC staff sends each state Caucus a report. Each state Caucus is responsible for sending the appropriate report to the local chapter. Besides adding new members to their mailing list, many chapters send an information packet or call to welcome each new member.
NWPC has two partisan task forces, and many local and state chapters also have Democratic and Republican Task Forces. Affirmative Action task forces within the Caucus include: Black, Disability, Hispanic, Lesbian, Older Women, and Young Women. The Caucus also has a special interest caucus for labor women. Local and state chapters can form these or other special task forces. These internal groups work within and through the Caucus.
One of the most exciting tasks for a new Caucus (and will attract new members) is endorsing local candidates for office. To be endorsed by the Caucus, candidates must support reproductive choice, the Equal Rights Amendment, and access to quality child and dependent care. These are the bottom-line issues for the Caucus.
The National Caucus endorses women running for federal office. In addition, at the request of any state Caucus, NWPC will endorse a woman running for governor, statewide office or mayor of a city that has a population of at least 30,000.
Local or state chapters may endorse women running for non-federal races. Check with the state Caucus for information on its candidate endorsement policy.
A Caucus Chair, Vice Chair, Political Chair, or designated spokesperson may not publicly endorse or support an opponent of a Caucus-endorsed candidate. Under no circumstances may any Caucus officer or member use the Caucus name, even for identification purposes, in support of a candidate who has not been endorsed.
Your group will need to develop criteria for endorsement, questionnaires, and an endorsement policy and process. The NWPC can help with that!
Other related endorsement activities include: events to introduce your endorsed/supported candidates and help them raise money, candidate training, panels and discussions, etc.
Equally important is to establish a telephone number to contact your Caucus Chair. Initially, this may be a home telephone number, but NWPC encourages each chapter to have a separate telephone line for the Caucus with the number listed in the telephone book and printed in all materials. Many chapters have a voice message service with a recorded to provide regularly updated information on Caucus activities. Many free or inexpensive online services are available.
Many chapters have designed their own brochures, as well as letterhead using the NWPC logo, and some chapter leaders have Caucus business cards printed. You may be able to find a local print shop, union, or other organization to donate printing services.
Newsletters and other mailings are important to keep your members and donors up-to-date. Your mailing list should include members, donors, the state Caucus Chair, other local chapter chairs in your state, and the National office.
Local and state Caucus chapters are independent legal entities and cannot use NWPC’s federal employer identification number for any purpose. Each Caucus chapter is responsible for filing any needed paperwork with the IRS. NWPC is not financially or legally responsible for any affiliate, but it does encourage local and state chapters to consider incorporating as a non-profit organization.
Incorporating an organization involves substantial paperwork. Many Caucus chapters recommend talking with a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or attorney with non-profit experience. Try to find a Caucus member or someone willing to donate her/his time and advice.
Check your state law for the proper procedure to be incorporated as a tax-exempt organization under 501(c)(4) of the IRS Code. This section allows “action” organizations such as the Caucus to influence legislation as long as such activities are directed towards improving the social welfare of the community.
Although 501(c)(4) organizations are tax-exempt, contributions are not tax-deductible. An organization qualifies for 501(c)(4) status if:
1. It is not organized for profit, and
2. It is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.
To be eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions, an organization must incorporate a separate organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. To qualify for 501(c)(3) status, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for education and research purposes and cannot lobby or participate in any activity on behalf of candidates for public office.
Since the Caucus is a political organization, and a 501(c)(3) organization cannot engage in political activities, a chapter should not incorporate exclusively as a 501(c)(3) organization. A chapter can form a separate educational and research arm that is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization with its own budget, letterhead, etc., but it is not required.
The National Caucus has two basic components for tax purposes: NWPC, Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization, and the NWPC Leadership Development, Education and Research Fund (LDERF), a 501(c)(3) organization.
Contributing to Candidates
What You Can’t Do
Because the Federal Election Commission (FEC) considers local and state chapters "connected” to the National Caucus that has a federal PAC, a local or state Caucus (or local or state Caucus PAC) cannot make contributions to any candidate for federal office, including candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Local and state chapters cannot establish a federal PAC. Chapters cannot host a fundraiser, provide contribution envelopes or stamps, deliver checks, or otherwise facilitate the making of a contribution to a federal candidate.
What You Can Do
A local or state Caucus may communicate information to its members regarding a candidate for federal office. A chapter can also encourage its members to attend a fundraising event or give money to a candidate, but each individual writing a check for a federal race should send it directly to the candidate. A Caucus chapter can provide the correct address for sending contributions and distribute postcards or stickers that can be sent with each check to alert a candidate that the Caucus encouraged the contribution.
A local or state chapter can establish a local or state (non-federal) PAC to contribute to candidates for state or local office according to their state bylaws and/or endorsement policies. Check with your state Caucus Chair for information about contributing to state or local candidates through a state Caucus PAC.
Not all chapters can provide financial assistance to candidates, and NWPC encourages all chapters to provide non-financial support to women candidates. For example, many chapters provide volunteers to make phone calls and deliver campaign literature.
Starting a new Caucus chapter can be rewarding to both you and your community, and help is never far away. The Caucus has hundreds of chapters and thousands of members across the country working toward the same goal of improving the status of women. As you start a chapter in your area, work closely with your state Caucus leaders and feel free to call NWPC’s National Office at 202-785-1100 whenever you have questions or need assistance.
The Caucus is proud of the dramatic political gains women have made at all levels of government since 1971. With your help, we can achieve political equality for women.
Examples of Local Chapter Activities
Everything a local chapter does should be designed to increase the number of women involved in politics. Ideally, each Caucus activity should help achieve several objectives: political outreach, publicity, fundraising, and membership growth.
Organizational Activities for a New Chapter
• Soliciting new members, contacting everyone who attends each event and widely distributing membership brochures.
• Providing regular mailings to all members, including a newsletter that can be used to solicit new members and donors.
• Offering interesting programs and sponsoring special events.
• Producing a membership directory that can be used for networking with women officeholders and other political women.
• Holding fundraisers that can range from small house parties to a large reception with live music or a silent auction.
Common Activities to Meet Our Mission
• Volunteering for campaigns and linking campaign workers with candidates.
• Starting a candidate recruitment or women’s appointments project.
• Sponsoring campaign trainings or other public education workshops.
• Providing candidate endorsements and ratings, and supporting your candidates.
• Organizing political activities such as a candidate forum or voter registration drive.
• Preparing legislative summaries and alerts.
• Giving awards to those who have contributed to women’s advancement in politics. For example, NWPC offers “Good Guy” awards, Ohio has a banquet to honor “First Women” and Capitol Hill gives a monthly “Woman’s Choice” award.
• Presenting awards such as NWPC’s Exceptional Merit Media Awards (EMMAs) to recognize the best local print or broadcast coverage of women in politics.
• Providing a job bank for those seeking employment or new career opportunities.