In December, we held one of the first conferences devoted to the intersection of online and community organizing, with a special emphasis on the labor movement, local electoral campaigns and small organizations. It was gratifying to be able to discuss issues that weren't getting enough attention at other conferences we attend.
What made Organizing 2.0 unique was the emphasis on organizational change, in contrast to tech tips and tricks that other conferences already explore. While participants got a healthy dose of standard fare (writing for emails, CRM fun, how to prep for a web redesign, social media 101, etc.) they also heard from multiple speakers about the challenges that online work faces within our organizations – and how to overcome them.
Simply put, the emphasis on best practices and skill sharing fails at the point where organizers function in an organization that simply hasn’t made a commitment to change. Evidence of that is all around us in the form of Executive Directors and managers who think they can devote more attention to online tools without simultaneously decreasing attention somewhere else. Or what about the gap between status power and expertise that develops in teams where the newest and least empowered member has to spend energy persuading the boss instead of getting work done? Three of the sectors where this comes into play the most are labor, low-income grassroots economic justice groups, and local political campaigns.
Interested in changing the dynamics at your organization? Check out these suggestions attendees developed at Organizing 2.0
- When introducing or explaining a new use of a tech tool, put in mission oriented language senior staff can understand. Instead of “let’s use social media” reframe it and say “here’s a plan to reach an additional 1500 people with our message.”
- When your organization has staff and membership training on organizing or communications include online organizing or online communications training as part of the curriculum.
- Set rules and procedures in place as much as possible, so that staff can respond without having to seek language approval from gatekeepers in real time.
- Make the case that online tools are not the sole province of the communication department or an IT staffer, but a natural part of most departments. Look for how that’s already true (in your organization or a similar one.)
- If your boss is insisting on writing for the web (yay!) but won't take any edits and writes like it’s a newspaper column (sigh) – divert him or her to the Huffington Post, and keep your blog – bloggy! Also train other staff like researchers, organizers and members in writing for the web.
It can be hard for some old-school groups to understand the significance of the “engagement” ladder and ways of measuring it. Some groups value only one or two metric (votes, money) and find it hard to connect them to newer and softer metrics (click rates, comments, fans, advocacy actions). Demonstrating how these different metrics support each other can help get leaderships buy-in. If you tout the importance of the metrics important to you (as well as studies and data) that attitude can trickle up the ladder if couched in the right language.
That said, there is good news to celebrate.
In Washington DC, we have Union City News, an excellent model for a daily labor newsletter that ties together action alerts, news, job postings and cultural events of interest to the labor community. Chris Garlock, the editor, thinks it is the only instance of a comprehensive daily e-newsletter produced by a Central Labor Council in the entire country.
Brad Levinson of SEIU presented on their efforts to implement online organizing at the local level. He demonstrated ways potential members reached online were folded into on-the-ground organizing. Amber Sparks talked about how the UFCW ramped up its presence on social networks its members were actually using. They have even been able to successfully use Facebook for workplace organizing campaigns. Check out their Facebook page full of active members.
FireDogLake has a new section called Work in Progress. In it, Michael Whitney covers labor news for the broader, non-labor netroots audience. Which is to say, there are other sources of labor news and commentary, but FDL does a great job conforming both to labor AND digital culture. (But don’t forget Richard Negri’s blog for a more within the labor movement style).
The New Organizing Institute is holding one of their RootsCamps in Washington, DC on February 20th. This time they are reaching out in particular to attendees from grassroots economic justice groups, labor, and folks not living and working in DC. (Consultants looking for clients – stay away! This is about empowering staff to do their own jobs even better.)
As for Organizing 2.0 we are continuing to offer monthly training in online organizing skills. If you are interested in joining our announcement list, sign up here.
Online organizing is here to stay, but its adoption will look different in the labor and community organizing space, as opposed to large political groups and national nonprofits. As these groups do make the transition, expect to see more of their staff and volunteers attending the right conferences – and visiting nonprofit practioner blogs like Frogloop.
*Charles Lenchner and Elana Levin are both co-founders of Organizing 2.0 (www.organizing20.org). Elana is also Communications Director of the Writers Guild of America, East.