Distributed Organizing and Fundraising

When organizations think about distributed organizing, they often think about the campaign impacts – that distributed organizing leads to more new and authentic actions led by your supporters, deepened engagement with your members, and increased leadership among your base.

While those effects of distributed organizing can be easily seen, we also know that impact and supporter engagement don’t happen in a vacuum. For nearly all organizations, donations and fundraising are other organizational metrics that cannot be ignored.

Because distributed organizing is often considered through a strictly campaigning lens, it can lead to a false dichotomy: should my organization invest time and effort into distributed organizing or should we focus on donations? The underlying assumption is that distributed organizing is completely separate from an organization’s fundraising efforts. However, that’s just not true.

Distributed organizing tools and the ethos of member leadership and engagement that distributed organizing inspires can be integral to an organization’s fundraising efforts.

Donations Image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

What are the specific ways that distributed organizing can fuel your fundraising? Let’s take a look!

  • List Growth: Fundraisers often spend hours crafting ads and landing pages aimed at identifying new potential supporters who can be converted into reliable donors. A key element of distributed organizing’s success is that it relies on your existing supporters to help you identify future supporters. Your existing leaders know who within their networks already support the causes that your organization is working on. They act as trusted intermediaries to introduce their networks to your organization. This list of new supporters – the people who have shown their alignment with your cause by signing a petition, attending an event, or joining a local group supported by your organization – are people you can reach out to for future actions, including donations. We recommend integrating these new supporters into your main list as soon as possible – making sure that they receive updates about the other actions your organization is supporting, other opportunities to get involved in your work, and yes, any upcoming fundraising pushes.

Best Practice: In your CRM, create a welcome mailer for newly-added supporters. This email (or series of emails) can be automatically scheduled to send within the first week of joining your list and should welcome the new supporter to your organization, give them more context about the work you’re doing, and tell them how to get involved. You can add a basic donation ask to this welcome mailer.

  • Deepening Connections: Everyone on your list is likely supporting the work of other organizations too. They’re likely being asked for time and money from many organizations all the time. So how can your organization cut through the noise? One of the key tenets of distributed organizing is that the people on our mailing lists aren’t just email addresses or credit card numbers – they’re leaders in their communities who are trusted and relied upon to take big actions on behalf of the causes that we collectively care about. Distributed organizing is at its best when both the organization and its supporters feel deep trust and connection with each other and join in the shared vision of the world you’re trying to create together. Allowing supporters to take the lead for your organization, via distributed organizing, deepens their connections to your organization and their trust in your intentions. Supporters are more likely to become regular donors if they believe in your organization and its role as a good steward of your shared vision for the world.

Best Practice: Organizations can use member-created actions to check in with your base and ensure that your supporters are with you on specific issues. Some organizations will send issue surveys to a segment of their list asking, “Should we prioritize work on this issue?” in response to newly-created petitions or news events. All “Yes” responders can then be immediately asked to create an action on that issue or to donate to a rapid response fund.

  • Small Donors: Most organizations would love to find a super committed supporter who’s ready to donate millions of dollars to the organization every year in perpetuity. However, that donor can be a bit difficult to find. For most organizations, the lifeblood of their donation program is the small recurring donors – the people who donate $20 every month to the cause. Distributed organizing makes it easier to identify potential donors. The people who are creating petitions and hosting events are often your most committed supporters and your most likely future monthly donors.

Best Practice: If your organization is planning a higher-touch campaign to convert one-time donors into new recurring donors, the list of supporters regularly taking distributed action is a great place to start.

  • Show Urgency: A compelling story is the key to a great donation ask and distributed organizing can offer new ways to talk about your organization’s work. For organizations, the fights we have to focus on can sometimes seem too far removed from most supporters day-to-day lives. We can explain why a piece of legislation working its way through parliament is going to be important if it’s passed, but it can be hard to turn that into a truly compelling fundraising ask. Because distributed organizing has real supporters leading the work, those leaders are often able to articulate the stakes of the fights in different and potentially more compelling ways than staff members. Our supporters may have stories and backgrounds that illustrate the real and personal impacts of our work. Their leadership on those campaigns can not only breathe new life into the campaign itself, but also illustrate the urgency of the fight in fundraising contexts.

Best Practice: When looking for supporters with stories to tell, checking for petitions that have been created on that issue is a great place to start. The leaders of those petitions are committed to the cause and looking to tell their story. On ControlShift, signers can also leave reasons for why a campaign is important to them. These comments can be springboards for new ways to talk about an issue in fundraising appeals.

  • New Stories: Distributed organizing programs can also provide new avenues for fundraising. Maybe your staff has been working tirelessly on that piece of legislation – rallying support and helping to craft changes. That’s such important work, but it may be difficult to craft a compelling fundraising message when so much of the work is happening behind the scenes and at a high level. Distributed organizing allows supporters to work on the causes close to their hearts in parallel with the work your staff is doing. Often, these campaigns can lead to great storytelling about how your organization is supporting impactful community work on a smaller scale, in parallel with the larger fights happening nationally. The story about working on a piece of legislation may be difficult to turn into a fundraising appeal, but the story of how your organization helped a teen save their local library from closure or how a community came together to protect a local park is easy to explain, shows immediate impact, and gets people thinking about the tangible role that your organization plays in bettering their community.

Best Practice: A great distributed organizing program always relies on storytelling and modeling. As supporter-led campaigns win, the story of how the campaign was won is used to model good campaigning for the next generation of leaders. The same stories that inspire future campaigners can be used, with some changes, for fundraising appeals. Reconnect with the leaders of impactful campaigns and get quotes about how your organization helped them in their campaigning. These stories can be used for rolling recruitment emails – recruitment both to create new campaigns and to become a donor.

  • Better Segmentation: The most effective fundraising programs know a lot about the people they’re reaching out to: who’s donated before and how much and how often; what are the key issues that this person cares about; what previous asks have they found most compelling; etc. Distributed organizing can help grow the information you have about your existing list while also getting you detailed information about the new people who are joining. Organizations using ControlShift’s petition tools are able to easily track which petition categories a person is signing – are they interested in racial justice, labor organizing, or the intersection of the two? Even for organizations working in a specific issue area, there’s often an array of sub-issues that your supporters may be particularly interested in. The activity that’s generated during distributed organizing – the petitions they’re creating and signing, the events they’re hosting and attending – can help you to learn more about each individual supporter. That information can then be used to better segment your donation lists.

Best Practice: Using the information generated from your distributed organizing program, craft different donation asks for different segments of your list. The people interested in increasing civic engagement can receive an update about the voter registration events your supporters are hosting and be asked to donate to support those efforts. Meanwhile, let the folks who care about the environment know about the new bike lanes your supporter successfully campaigned for. Everyone who has taken more than two actions on your distributed organizing platform can also receive a fundraising appeal focused on keeping the platform up and running.

The key takeaway here is that your distributed organizing program isn’t separate from your fundraising program. Instead, the activities generated by distributed organizing should be integrated into your donations program. Just as distributed organizing adds depth, authenticity, and vigor to campaigning, it lends the same qualities to your fundraising.

That sounds great – how do I integrate fundraising into ControlShift?

At the technical level, there are a few options to start asking for donations on ControlShift:

  • Make sure that you’ve added links to your donation tool to your ControlShift header and footer. ControlShift’s Themes features can also be useful in allowing you to designate different donation page destinations for different types of actions (e.g. if you have a specific donation page in support of a day of action, you can make sure that donation page is linked on the event page headers).

  • It’s also possible to ask for donations after someone signs a ControlShift petition. By asking immediately, they’ll still have the tangible example of your important impact in their minds when they’re asked. To implement this flow, you have a few options:

    • If your donation modal supports iframe donations, you can set up a new post-action flow that asks your supporters to share their petition or event on social media before being shown the iframe donation ask in a pop-up on the petition or event page. The iframe option also supports adding tracking parameters and other information to the resulting donation. 
    • ControlShift has a welcome modal that allows organizations to introduce your organization and the work you’re doing. This can be especially helpful for newly-identified supporters who may be less familiar with your organization’s work. The welcome modal can be configured to include a donation button that redirects to an offsite donation form. 
    • Users can be automatically redirected to an offsite donation form after taking action. We generally recommend using this only for specific campaigns (vs. for all actions on ControlShift) and to redirect the user to a campaign-specific donation page. 

Best Practice:  If you don’t want to immediately ask a newly-identified supporter for a donation, ControlShift allows you to configure different post-action flows for new vs. returning supporters. These rules can be set up at the platform or individual petition level. 

Bonus Best Practice: Some organizations use ControlShift’s APIs to automatically customize their donation page with information about the campaign the donor has just signed. The customizations can include the petition’s image or a snippet of the petition text. This requires some tech capacity but can be a great way to personalize the ask to match the donor’s already-identified interests.

  • You can add a donation ask to the thank you for signing/RSVPing emails that we send to supporters. You could also add an ask to the reminder emails that are sent to attendees before their upcoming events. ControlShift supports conditional logic for text blocks, which allows you to do things like limit donation asks to only the petitions that have been given the highest approval by your moderators. 

Want to know more about how distributed organizing can help fuel your fundraising efforts? Interested in making your existing ControlShift instance as donor friendly as possible? Get in touch with our team – we’d love to chat.