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How to Start or Rebuild Your State or Local Council

Preliminary Steps

  1. Conduct preliminary research: Contact NCSS to see if an affiliate exists for your state or locality.

    • If a council used to exist in your area, how long has it been inactive?
    • If the council has been dwindling, try to get a sense of the reason for the decline, when the last conference was held, and who you can contact to get more background information.
    • Contact NCSS and your State Social Studies Specialist to put together an e-mail or postal mail list of possible members in your state or locality.

  2. Find leaders ready to step forward and take action. Locate a core group to to help you expand. Assemble a range of people to increase the reach of the organization:

    • K-12 teachers
    • Post-secondary and administrative professionals
    • Representatives from your state department of education
    • Retired educators/administrators
    • Tech-savvy people

    Be sure to include a spectrum of ages and experiences so that your group includes pre-service and early career teachers, mid-career and master teachers, retired educators, and as diverse a geographic representation of your state as possible.

  3. Organize your core group:

    • Establish a meeting place in a central location to invite people interested in playing an active role to a meeting.
    • Write and send out a communication introducing the project that will bring everyone together to begin a new council or revitalize an existing one. Be sure to ask them to RSVP so you can have a sense of attendance going into the meeting.

  4. Establish a concrete agenda. Be sure to include:

    • An overview of the vision for the new or revitalized council.
    • Volunteer sign-up/commitment for key responsibilities (web administrator, membership officer, newsletter editor, legislative liaison, conference coordinator, awards coordinator) and working groups.
    • A process and timeline to select key board members (president, president-elect, secretary, treasurer). Centralized decision-making will be important in your first year. Consider waiting until your second meeting to select key board positions. By that time you will have a better sense of active board members and group dynamics.
    • A schedule for 3-4 board meetings in the next year.

Next Steps—Goals in Your First Year

Once you have a core group of leaders, turn your collective attention to developing a strategic plan with long-term goals, interim goals, and action steps. Setting a timeline and establishing committees or working groups to whom responsibility for specific projects can be delegated will be key.

  1. Forge Connections with NCSS and its Affiliated Council Network.

    • Affiliation–Designate an officer responsible for completing NCSS affiliation paperwork.
    • Summer Leadership Institute–Select two officers (ideally the president and president-elect) to attend the NCSS Summer Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. This is a “professional development for council leaders” event where you can connect with representatives from NCSS and the affiliate network and bring back useful ideas about the operation of your council.
    • NCSS Annual Conference–Designate two council representatives to attend the annual NCSS Annual Conference, participate in the House of Delegates, and the Affiliated Council Presidents’ meeting.
    • Connect with a mentor from a state or local council. While national guidance is important, pairing up with seasoned affiliate leaders who have direct experience running a smaller state or local organization can be even more useful. Contact NCSS to be connected with an affiliate leader who is willing to serve as a mentor and has faced similar circumstances in terms of state size, population density, region etc.

  2. Market your Product.

    • Establish a council listserv for potential members. Use the email/mailing list of active NCSS members in your area to invite interested members to join a council listserv. This way you can start sharing regular updates and information even before you have had an opportunity to create a website, formal newsletter or e-newsletter. As your vision of the specific benefits you will provide becomes clearer, you can begin to articulate it using the listserv.
    • Develop a council brochure or one-page flyer to communicate the value of state council membership, describe upcoming activities and invite people to join. Mail out to NCSS member mailing list and the list of schools from state department of education.
    • Find a web master to create a council webpage. Create a simple web space where you can market member benefits and council events. For links to examples of affiliate websites visit
    • Develop an electronic council newsletter—This can become a more formal extension of messages sent out to the council listserv. It is a simple, cost-effective member benefit that could ultimately develop into a printed newsletter.
      • Designate an e-newsletter editor.
      • Contact NCSS for examples and information about other affiliate e-newsletters/newsletters.
      • Determine a frequency of publication and any other specifics (themes for specific issues, monthly columns, address from council president etc.)

  3. Focus on First Conference/Opening Council Event Your inaugural conference may be your most important recruiting tool. A successful first conference will grab the attention of your audience and convince them that you have something to offer. It will also boost morale among board members and volunteers.

    • Delegate specific responsibilities (venue, exhibits, speakers, registration) surrounding the conference to board members and or work/groups.
    • Consider cost-effective venue options such as an area high school or partnership with your state archives.
    • Consider cosponsoring your first conference with another social studies organization in your state (see likeminded organizations listed under #7 “Building Alliances”). This is a mutually beneficial way for both parties to conserve resources and increase their reach.
    • Be sure that updates on conference details are the focal point of promotional communications in listserv, e-newsletter, mailings and website.
    • Consider starting small with a one-day, centrally located event instead of a 2-3 day conference requiring hotel accommodations. Contact NCSS to be connected with councils that follow this format.
    • Contact NCSS to see if an officer or board member can attend and speak at your conference.
    • Develop a state conference-planning manual to ensure success on a sustainable basis.

  4. Develop Council Awards Program Setting up an awards program to honor outstanding educators and friends of social studies is a great way to assert yourself as a voice for innovative social studies instruction.

    • Designate an awards coordinator and create a committee to set up the criteria and review process.
    • Contact NCSS for examples of NCSS award criteria and contact information for other affiliate award coordinators. Consider starting small, with one straightforward Outstanding Social Studies Teacher of the Year Award, for example.
    • Seek sponsorship for award cash incentives, grants or receptions.
    • Send out call for nominations on council listserv, mailing list, e-newsletter and website.
    • Announce and feature award winner(s) in listserv, e-newsletter and newsletter.
    • Hold awards reception and award-winner session during conference.
    • Clearly codify awards process so that it can be followed and expanded on in future years.

  5. Find the Money and Institutionalize Council Finances.

    • Seek potential financial sponsorship for council activities through corporations or partnerships with other organizations.
    • Determine amount for membership dues. Some new/rebuilding councils have decided to waive membership dues altogether in their first year, thinking that people will be unlikely to pay to join until the benefits of membership have been proved. Doing this depends, of course, on your ability to minimize expenses and receive additional financial support.
    • Consider NCSS Membership Brokering. Contact NCSS for information about the financial advantages of NCSS membership brokering.
    • Designate a person or group of people to apply for incorporation as a non-profit in your state. There are major advantages to incorporation. It transfers liability from individual officers to the incorporated entity so that, for instance, a bank account can be created and managed in the name of the council despite changes in leadership.
    • Apply for a tax ID– After incorporating, apply for a tax identification number from the IRS.
    • Open a bank account for the organization upon receipt of a tax ID # and have at least two individuals authorized to access the account.
    • Establish clear authority for expenditure of council funds. Set guidelines in the constitution and bylaws, including reporting and audits.
    • Develop an annual financial plan that guides the council’s spending and prioritizing of projects and related activities. Contact NCSS for useful examples from a range of other affiliates. Be sure to include both short range and long range financial planning.

  6. Draft or Revise a Constitution and Bylaws Creating a concrete governance and procedural structure will be important for the long-term well being of the organization.

    • Select a committee and establish a timeline (within the year) for the writing of a formal Constitution and Bylaws.
    • Contact NCSS for useful examples from other affiliates.

  7. Build Alliances

    • Make an effort to forge positive relationships and alliances with likeminded organizations that you can benefit from and cooperate with (especially surrounding your first conference!), such as:
      • State Councils on Economic Education
      • Councils on Civic Education
      • State Geographic Alliances
      • State Archives
      • State Jump$tart State Coalitions

      Mutual support can be provided and many teachers will be members of more than one organization. They are not your competition!

    • Establish collaborative relationships with social studies leaders at your state department of education and within the education departments of local universities. A directory of State Social Studies Specialists (CS4) is available at:
    • Keep it Moving! Be sure to revisit your strategic plan at the end of the year and each year after that. If you’ve managed to get off to a good start, consider how you will maintain that momentum. In addition to the more immediate tasks of putting together a conference and attracting members, rebuilding efforts should focus on creating an institutional framework for future years:

      • drafting bylaws and constitution;
      • incorporating as a non-profit;
      • creating a conference-planning manual;
      • codifying awards procedures etc. The goal is to set up a system that will continue to work even as the people in your core of council leaders change.

Contact NCSS for More Information

NCSS can be a valuable source of support, information and encouragement! If you are serious about undertaking this project, be sure to contact our team for further guidance and assistance mentioned above.

Lawrence M. Paska, Ph.D., Executive Director 301-588-1800 ext. 103

Joy D. Lindsey, Director of Marketing and Membership 301-588-1800, x 110