How to Organize an Issue Forum

Issue forums are a great way to share educational information about AAUW issues with your community and draw potential members into your branch. Whether your event takes the format of a town hall, panel discussion, virtual event, or something else, the basic steps for planning a successful event are the same. Find our best practices below, and e-mail us with any questions. Above all, be sure to tailor your content and format to your audience and community for maximum effect.

The Basics

Issue forums allow for community dialogue on current events or issues of relevance to AAUW. We recommend choosing one topic on which to focus your event, such as equal pay, campus sexual assault, or a recent AAUW research report. An issue forum can be structured in one of many ways. Consider the following formats.

Panel discussion:

Invite three to five experts or community leaders to a moderated discussion on the issue. Panelists will discuss the issue with each other by asking questions or reacting to the views and opinions of other panel members. Provide time to answer questions from the audience.

Town hall:

Town hall meetings are similar to panel discussions but allow for more participation from the audience. An issue expert, community leader, or panel of authorities may kick off the discussion before community members ask questions. Or you might consider bringing together diverse groups of participants to discuss an issue with each other, rather than inviting a special guest to answer questions.

Tele-town hall:

A tele-town hall meeting is exactly like a town hall meeting — except it happens on the telephone! This type of meeting is a great choice if your speakers or participants are spread out or if it’s difficult for everyone to gather in one place.

Best Practices for a Successful Event

Choose great speakers.

Invite speakers with demonstrated knowledge or personal experience with your chosen issue. Consider the goals of your program, and invite the people you believe would best meet those goals.

For example, if your event is focused on the importance of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, consider inviting a woman in that field who can describe the barriers she faces in her career. Invite speakers in writing (e-mail is fine) at least three weeks in advance. If you invite more than one speaker, be sure to divide topic responsibilities, and ensure that the speakers know who will join them on the panel and the topics the other speakers will address. Read more on how to secure excellent speakers for free.

Make your event inclusive.

Be sure to diversify your speakers, as well as your audience, for a memorable event. Ensure your event is accessible for all attendees. Consider working in coalition to plan and promote your event. Doing so will allow you to share the task of planning, reach more people, increase AAUW membership, and gain additional exposure.

Optimize logistics.

Schedule your issue forum at a convenient time in a convenient place. Potential options include a local school, community center, or library. Focusing on campus safety? Consider having your event on a college campus. Want to reach people across a large geographic area and can’t gather everyone in the same place? Then a tele-town hall might be the answer. If you are organizing a tele-town hall, you’ll need to research conference call options instead of accessible meeting venues. E-mail us for recommendations at

For more on planning logistics for your event, read our guide to hosting diverse, engaging programs.

Invite local and regional media.

Send a media advisory notifying the news media about your event three to five days in advance. Allocate central, unobstructed space close to electrical outlets for TV camera crews and reporters so that they can have a clear line of sight to the central proceedings of your event. Read our guide for working with the media for a complete discussion of how to earn media coverage for an event.

Promote AAUW.

An issue forum will help generate conversation about issues of importance to AAUW. But don’t forget that it will also serve as a useful recruitment tool! Ask members of your branch to staff a check-in table. We’ve got a sample sign-in sheet you can use for double duty: It signs people in and signs them up for the AAUW Action Network so they receive urgent updates about public policy issues. Hand out AAUW pins, stickers, literature, membership information — and even voter registration forms! Materials can be ordered online.

Follow up.

Thank the speakers and moderator with letters or phone calls. Successful advocacy is based on successful relationships! Don’t forget to let us know how your event turned out by filling out this form. We’d also love to see pictures of the event. Simply e-mail your pictures to They may even appear in future AAUW publications.


Deanna Zandt

How to Secure Excellent Speakers for Free

Whether you’re on a tight budget or have no available budget at all, here are some resources to help you secure free and excellent speakers for your gatherings.

The AAUW Public Policy team puts their hands together for VAWA.

Upcoming AAUW Advocacy Activity and Events Form

Please use this form to share your plans and let us know how we can assist you. We can spotlight your event, provide materials for it, and help to maximize your event’s impact.

Senator Harry Reid meets with AAUW members.

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