At breakfast with a smart colleague and veteran campaigner recently, I asked him what sounds like a relatively simple question – why hasn’t online organizing thrived?
We seem to be stuck in 2007, when online organizing meant gathering as many email addresses as possible and “blasting” supporters as often as they’ll tolerate, always with the purpose of raising money, and rarely more than that. I’d hoped that we’d be past that by now, and that the presidential campaigns would lead the way.
But no one has, and the world of digital advocacy has quickly become merely a collection of intermediaries focused on moving money from individuals to good causes, while taking their cut.
There have been attempts at innovation, but a lot of things only work at a particular scale. For instance, a local Congressional challenger often can’t people interested enough in her campaign to engage online. Campaigns don’t have enough money to operate robust, locally relavent tools, just “Bio – Issues – Blog – Events – Get Involved.” And of course, Get Involved means “send us money” or “fill out a volunteer form which we may or may not respond to.” So, assuming I’m interested and want to help, there is no means to that end.
Indeed, the Causes application on Facebook is built around this exact idea – no participation, just the ability to donate and list-building capabilities. Think it’s more than that? Just check out their blog. I find this so uninspiring and disheartening, and I think that many others feel the same way.
On the other end of the scale, generic petition sites don’t allow deep enough interaction to get people to do more than sign the petition. Sure, I’ll sign your petition for Righteous Cause X, but it probably did nothing. And here’s the problem – you haven’t tried to get me to do more.
We’re taking people who are saying “yes, I want to be part of my community” and stifling them by not offering robust opportunities to do so. This lack of opportunity is actually disconnecting us from each other, rather than bringing us closer together; common causes are a key way to meet new friends and neighbors.
That’s not what our social sector is supposed to look like, and if we want to encourage community involvement and democratic participation, we can’t allow it to continue. I’m so very passionate about this – have been since I worked on these issues in college and grad school at Lehigh. I’m going to spend some time in the next few weeks writing about specific products, initiatives, campaigns, etc that I’m passionate about and how they can do better.