The Opportunity Toolkit - A Local Action Guide for Improving Our Communities

Our Strategy to Expand Opportunity

Download the Opportunity ToolkitOpportunity Nation is committed to taking local action to expand opportunity across the country. In order to achieve this goal, we need the support of local leaders like you to engage citizens in our shared plan to increase social mobility in America.

This toolkit will guide you through the three key steps to getting involved:

  1. Using the Opportunity Index to identify local challenges,
  2. Hosting a community discussion, and
  3. Taking local action to address those challenges.

Please also be sure to report back on your activities to share your success.


1 - Using the Opportunity Index

Opportunity Nation has developed the Opportunity Index to provide a measure of social mobility for states and communities across the country. This tool provides a measure of opportunity for a given state or zip code and lets you compare that index score with other counties and states across the country. The index is a composite of measures of the local economy, access to education, and community engagement. Using these specific measures, you can pinpoint areas of low opportunity in your area and organize others to take action to improve your score. You can access the Opportunity Index at is an easy-to-use tool that helps you quickly look up the score of any state or community. To begin, simply enter a state, city, zip code, or address in to the search bar. After searching, you’ll see the Opportunity Index data for your community.

The Opportunity Index provides a broad set of measures on the economy, education, and civic engagement. When you search for a community, you’ll see the data for that community in each of those areas. From this pop-up summary, you can get a more detailed look at individual scores for each of the three areas. The website also shows the raw data used to create the index score, allowing you to mine down and identify key indicators that need improvement. Moreover, you can compare your local score to that of adjacent counties as well as the state average.

As the national conversation about opportunity and social mobility grows, the Index can be a great tool to engage others in the Opportunity Nation campaign. You can share this tool with local businesses, non-profits, faith organizations, and community groups to help focus their actions on expanding opportunity in their community.

You can take this index to town hall meetings, school board meetings, local outreach meetings and volunteer events to act as a great conversation starter about opportunity, social mobility, and access to the American Dream.


2- Hosting a Community Discussion


Why host a meeting to talk about opportunity in your neighborhood?

There are many reasons why hosting a discussion about issues of opportunity can be valuable. As we have found in our community listening sessions around the country, these meetings can provide a supportive and empowering space for people’s voices, connect people together, and in many cases, inspire people to get involved actively in their community. Moreover, in conversations where the Opportunity Index is utilized, the discussions can spread awareness about the quantifiable things in everyone’s community that affect opportunity, and motivate people to take actions to boost their community’s score.

Getting started

There are many types of community conversations that you can host, whether large or small, with your neighbors or leaders from various sectors (or both!), or focused on government policy or creating a more supportive community. We encourage you to host a discussion that appeals most to you and your community's needs and goals, and recommend that you use the Opportunity Index to facilitate your conversation. The following tips are offered in case they help assist you throughout the process.

Invitation Process

During our own community listening process, though we have found our personal networks to be helpful, we have relied heavily on other individuals' and organizations' connections as well. We recommend that you invite other community groups or individuals to co-host the discussion with you to expand your outreach and to draw from multiple social networks. We also suggest that you send the invitations at least two weeks before the meeting to give everyone time to fit it into their schedules. Utilizing a combination of personal emails, phone calls, face-to-face requests, and social media tools will ensure the best turnout.

These conversations can easily be held in tandem with other events. Is your group participating in a day of direct service or volunteering? A social event? An organizational retreat or planning process? Any shared experience amongst the group can help set participants up for a vibrant conversation.

Keynote Listeners

Consider inviting individuals from your community to serve as “Keynote Listeners.” Keynote Listeners can be local elected officials, teachers, nonprofit leaders, clergy, news reporters, etc. Having the presence of a high profile individual from the community can elevate the conversation and is an easy way to engage other members of your community.

The Meeting: Tips for setting up an effective Community Conversation

a - Logistics

It is important to hold the event in a space where participants feel comfortable conversing. For example, a community center, a local college, a public library, a place of worship or a family home can provide an environment conducive to conversation. We also recommend that the room be set up as a round table, a circle of chairs, or a similar format where all participants are facing each other; if possible avoid 'classroom seating' or a lecture format.

Additionally, because it is difficult to fully engage in a discussion while taking thorough notes, we suggest that you ask at least two volunteers to take notes during the session. We have found that the compilation of two sets of notes provides the most detailed recount of the conversation. Lastly, we ask that one person complete the Opportunity Toolkit Feedback Form to share the details of the community conversation with our staff and the coalition.

b - Introductions

Introduce your hosts and facilitators and allow everyone at the table to briefly introduce themselves to the group. It is helpful to share the different backgrounds and perspectives that each individual is coming from. This is a wonderful opportunity to allow individuals to connect with others; encourage everyone to meet and stay in touch.

We also recommend that you share information about the Opportunity Index, particularly describing how it relates to your community and state. We’ve found that this can guide your discussion of what opportunity looks like in your community and state, and how individuals, leaders, organizations and government can get engaged to help.

c - Starter Questions

Personal Opportunity
  • What does “opportunity” look like for you, or what is the American Dream? (A certain income level? Going to college? Safe community? Starting a business? Rights and Freedoms?)
  • What has helped/will help you achieve opportunity?
  • What are the barriers to opportunity?
Societal Change
  • How have you seen social change happen in the past? What were the keys steps in the process? What was the outcome?
  • Which areas might require government action to change policy?
  • Which areas can the community or volunteers make a difference in?
Personal Engagement
  • Are you involved in social action or community organizing at this time?
  • What would draw you and your friends to commit time and energy to a grassroots campaign? (Which policy goals would inspire them? How would they like to engage? What can they commit?)
Opportunity Index
  • Looking at the Index, is there more or less opportunity in your city than in other parts of the state or country?
  • Were you surprised by the score your community or state received? Why or why not?
  • How can you as an individual help boost the opportunity score in your community?
  • What can you ask of organizations, businesses, schools, government or other entities to help boost your community’s opportunity score?


d - Closing

If possible, define the specific next steps the entire group and/or individuals will be taking to expand opportunity in your community. These steps can be related to expanding this important dialogue to other neighbors, volunteering/participating in service projects to expand opportunity and/or making local leaders and officials aware of their Opportunity Index score. For more actionable ideas, please view step 3.

Alternative Listening Session: Spoken Word Town Hall 

Inspired by poetry slams, these events will be venues for community members looking for an outlet to speak their concern and solutions to some of the most pressing problems in their community. Following the performances, there can be a facilitated discussion of possible solutions and how to implement them locally. Anyone can organize these events including ON coalition organizations and Opportunity Leaders and Scholars. 
Last year we held a Poetry Slam in Los Angeles, check out our recap and video; and for more information about how to host your own, download the full toolkit.




3- Taking Local Action

Now that you've organized fellow citizens and discovered areas to work on in your community, it’s time to take action. Identify one or two key areas of opportunity need using the Index and work with other engaged citizens to discover and plan ways that you can increase opportunity for your community. You can join up with an existing program, expand your commitment to a project you’re involved with, or start a new initiative.

Here are a couple of guiding questions to help you decide what type of action you should take:

  • According to the Opportunity Index, what is the greatest area of need in our community?
  • What area of the index are the people in our group most connected with through current involvement?
  • Which area of opportunity are we most interested in?
  • What resources do we have that can help us take action?

Answering these questions will help you clarify the ways that you can work together to expand opportunity in ways that are both meaningful and effective.

When you’ve decided on a course of action, you should begin to think about key stakeholders in the community that you can reach out to. This would be a great time to reach out to them, share about the Opportunity Nation campaign, and invest them in your ideas for local action. These stakeholders will become key assets to the development of your local action strategy, regardless of the scale. Additionally, the information you share about the Opportunity Nation campaign will be helpful in creating a movement of leaders and citizens in your community who are committed to standing with Opportunity Nation and working to expand social mobility.

Ideas for Local Action

Opportunity Area Ideas for Action
Local Economy
  • Host a job fair
  • Plan a job skills day with interview training, resume services, etc.
  • Volunteer with YouthBuild USA in your city or one of the other great organizations at
  • Promote a personal financial planning seminar
  • Support locally owned goods and services and get to know the owners (for institutions, review your procurement to see if you can source more locally)

Access to Education

  • Support a student mentoring program and recruit mentors
  • Read with elementary school students
  • Host an education town hall and listen to educators about the challenges they are facing; make plans to address areas of need
  • Plan a school beautification day
  • Adopt a school
  • Help organize a college fair for HS students and share information about admissions, financial aid, etc.
  • Sponsor an after school program
Civic Engagement
  • Reclaim vacant lots with gardening, painting murals, yard sales or other projects to increase community safety and property values
  • Organize a social gathering to welcome a new neighbor
  • Attend local civic meetings and invite others to participate
  • Plan a volunteer action day, city-wide clean up, etc.
  • Host a voter registration drive at shopping centers, parks, sporting or entertainment events
  • Ask local employers to review their family and medical leave policies


4 - Share Your Success

Please let us know how you are using the Opportunity Index, hosting community listening sessions, and taking action to increase opportunity in your community.   You can share about the success of your activities by completing the Opportunity Toolkit Feedback Form.

And be sure to connect with Opportunity Nation on Twitter at @OppNation (Request a RT and we can help promote your event!) or post your activities to Opportunity Nation's Facebook page.

Thank You!

We are thrilled that you have sparked a conversation about opportunity in your community and have begun to mobilize people to take action. Please continue to visit our website to stay tuned with campaign developments, track events happening throughout 2012, and discover new ways to get involved. Additionally, you can browse our Partners page and find coalition organizations to get involved with around the country.