Tag Archives: activism

A neat trick Engagement Organizations can do

Here’s a neat trick that Engagement Organizations can do: because they have solid, integrated website and database systems, they can quickly identify contact records that have missing information, then send out an email blast like this one I just got from Dogwood Initiative:

Contact update email from Dogwood Initiative

As you can see, the email includes a personalized URL that takes me directly to a page on the Dogwood website that displays my current contact info from Dogwood’s database, and lets me update it with a single click.  The information feeds back directly into the database–no data entry or cumbersome import processes are required, so it’s fast and easy both for me and for the Dogwood team.

Dogwood contact update web page

Dogwood sends an email like this a couple of times per year.  In just a few seconds, their members are able to easily update their contact information.  Dogwood reaps the benefits of an up-to-date supporter list and its supporters get the most relevant, personalized information possible.  That sounds like a great deal to me!

“Engagement Organizing” is live!

I’m pleased to announce the release of “Engagement Organizing,” a short whitepaper about the culture and technology of building power for social change in a networked era.  I had the great pleasure of collaborating with my dear friend Matt Price, and I’m really pleased with the final results.  If you are working to make progressive change in the world, please give it a read and share your thoughts with us at http://engagement-organizing.org.

Collective Impact

I’ve been reading and thinking a bit about “collective impact” lately.  (Here’s the seminal article introducing the buzzword.)  It’s a solid, mostly-common-sense framework for thinking about collaborative/coalition efforts.  There are five elements that define a “collective impact” approach:

  • Common agenda.  If you don’t have a shared vision for change, you can’t really expect to collaborate effectively.
  • Mutually reinforcing activities.  Successful collaborators need to coordinate their activities, play to their strengths, and know their role in the larger effort.
  • Continuous communication.  If you don’t communicate regularly you can’t hope to build enough trust and shared language to collaborate effectively.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Jon, why are you wasting my time with such obvious folderol?”  Most coalition efforts I’ve seen fulfill these first three conditions pretty well.  Hang in there, it’s the next two that are the most interesting:

  • Shared measurement systems. Hmm, now we’re getting somewhere.  Collective impact suggests that collaborative efforts need agree on a shared set of indicators of success and the systems for monitoring and reporting on those indicators.  Without shared indicators, collaborators have no way to really know if they are succeeding or failing, and no feedback systems that allow them to “course correct” as needed. 
  • A backbone support organization.  Proponents of collective impact assert that successful collaboration efforts need to have a strong, staffed organization at their center, in order to run the collaborative process with sufficient intensity and focus to drive it forward in the face of distractions.  It’s not clear to me whether they think a strong “lead coalition partner” fulfills this condition or not.  (I suspect not.)

It’s these last two points where most collaborations falter, and probably not concidental that they require sustained, long-term resource commitments.  How do collaborations you’re involved with stack up?

Managing money for social change agents

I’m hardly a financial wiz, nor am I fabulously wealthy.  But I’ve managed to do a reasonably decent job of saving and managing money over 15 years as an underpaid social change activist.  Here’s some big-picture advice:

1) Live beneath your means, even if you’re not making a lot of money.  If expenses > income, you are screwed.

2) Have a credit card. Use it. Pay it off every month. Never, never, never run a balance. This helps you build a credit history, which will matter when you want to buy a home.

3) Start saving. Compound interest is your friend. But if you’re not-so-young, start saving anyway.  15% of your income is a good, aggressive target.

4) First savings priority: an emergency fund with 6-9 months’ living expenses. Keep it in cash or a money-market fund. This is your “oh no, I just lost my job” fund, or the “gosh, that was an unexpected car repair bill” fund.

5) Next priority: retirement. Take advantage of any 401k or 403b matching that your employer offers–that’s free money. Saving is easier when it comes directly out of your paycheck and you never get the chance to spend it.  Invest in low-cost index funds or ETFs. David Swensen’s “Unconventional Success” is a fantastic guide to asset allocation that will help you avoid the traps of the mutual fund industry.

What Steve says

The always-insightful Steve Wright pretty much nails it in this short post on OWS (emphasis mine):

Social media does a fantastic job of creating noise and through noise you get attention. But noise has no narrative. The decentralized approach has served us brilliantly. Again, I am grateful and in awe of those in the OWS movement who have done what I do not have the courage to do myself.I believe we are rapidly approaching the time when old school Port Huron style organizing is necessary. Reading up on the early days of the last civil rights movement, it took them about 10 years to get to the catalytic moment of 1968. I think we are at our 1968 moment today but don’t have the structure underneath us.

What is effective environmental organizing?

We’ve been talking a bit internally at Groundwire here about how to define effective social change organizing.  Here’s what we have so far:

Effective social change organizing creates relationships in order to build measurable power and wields that power to achieve specific, significant behavioral, policy or political outcomes.

How does that work for you?

We like that it is succinct and clearly connects relationships, power and tangible outcomes.  But it also raises questions of what we might mean by “measurable power” and “specific, significant outcomes.”

Any organizing campaign or organizer will need to figure out what measures of power are most meaningful for their context, but in general, we think that power is most often measurable in terms of “I can motivate X people to take action Y, which results in Z.”

“Specific and significant” outcomes will also vary greatly across campaigns, but again, we want to emphasize how important it is to be able to articulate these outcomes in specific and measurable terms.  Some examples could include:

  • Winning an election
  • Passing legislation or administrative policies
  • Measure shifts in public opinion or behavior

If your “big hairy audacious” goal will take years to achieve, that’s OK, but you need to be able to define some specific shorter-term outcomes to let you know whether you’re on track.

 

 

 

Citizens United vs. United Citizens: Building a Movement to Drive Money Out of Politics

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court case.  Gideon Rosenblatt has a fantastic, in-depth piece up on Huffington Post that covers why campaign finance reform is an urgent, fundamental issue that the progressive community needs to rally around in a concerted, strategic way.   Hint: money is corrupting not only policy decisions, but the very democratic process itself.