Getting Started with Distributed Organizing
People call it different things – distributed organizing, member-led campaigning, wildfire activism. Regardless of the name, there is a central goal: to harness a community’s bottom-up energy to work for changes, large and small, that create leaderful movements more powerful than those directed by organizational staff alone.
Many organizations have proven that this way of organizing can work to generate both growth and impact, and there are many more groups who have the potential to benefit from this model. However, these successes don’t mean that you can just set up a platform, snap your fingers, and suddenly have hundreds of successful campaigns, events, and groups run by members. It takes careful planning and an investment across your organization to launch a successful program.
Very few of your members are ready to spontaneously create a new campaign, host an impactful event, or effectively lead a group at the drop of a hat. The key to a successful distributed organizing model is to prepare your members so that they’re ready to lead in their communities, and then support them along the way.
Each organization is different, and you’ll want to spend time examining your specific goals and carefully designing a distributed organizing program and launch strategy to achieve them. Because ControlShift supports member-led petitions, events, and groups, organizations can choose which model or models to integrate into their program. Tips for each type of member-led action – petitions, events, and groups – are included below.
The key to a successful distributed petitions program is to prepare your members so that when they have the spark of an idea for a campaign, they remember to come to you and your platform. It is a process of focusing the energy of your members – who share a broad alignment on your issues and a desire to make change – into strategic, concrete, and winnable campaigns. There are various ways of doing this, including templatized campaigns on a specific issue, ongoing storytelling about successful member-led efforts, and a lot of coaching, training, and working directly with members to build their organizing skills.
Each organization is different, so you’ll want to spend time examining your specific goals and carefully designing a launch strategy to achieve them. Below are a few possible outcomes that your organization may wish to achieve through distributed campaigning. Not all organizations focus on all of these outcomes, but you may want to brainstorm how each of them could help further your goals and plan to test a few different approaches to see what works best.
- The ability to work on issues beyond the current capacity of your staff organizers.
- Expanding your reach at the local level.
- Making campaigns more compelling through the authentic voices of real people, confronting an issue personally, rather than the official voice of an issue advocacy organization.
- Discovering novel ways to talk about issues or policy proposals that resonate more viscerally with members than talking points from insider think tanks.
- Growing your supporter list by tapping into your members’ personal networks.
- Identifying new and novel campaign ideas from your members that can be shared and replicated with other supporters.
- Collaborating with partner organizations that don’t have access to sophisticated digital campaigning tools and strategies.
- Tackling campaigns that don’t have a single decision maker, but instead have tens or hundreds of targets that need to be pressured in their own way.
- Winning more victories that improve more people’s lives.
Getting Off the Ground
Your early steps into distributed organizing are about figuring out what works. Be ready to conduct a lot of tests and dedicate more energy and attention to individual campaigns than you would expect to once the program starts to scale. You want to learn what resonates with your members and what doesn’t, and that means paying attention to the granular details as well as thinking about eventual growth.
Start with You
Good organizers understand where their members are coming from. What better way to get a perspective on their experience of running a campaign than running one yourself?
You can start by taking some of your existing staff-run campaigns and setting them up as though they were distributed campaigns. You’ll get hands-on experience of how the tools work and learn about any challenges you may want to address in training materials. Also, it’ll ensure that there’s actual campaign content online when members start coming to your site. People will be more inspired to start their own campaigns when they can see examples of what others are doing.
Next, you can reach out to members of your staff or board to see if they have pet projects that would make for good campaigns. Make sure to ask for detailed feedback on their experiences, which can be crucial for identifying and resolving any problems that members may face.
Rolodex / Grasstops Outreach
Once your organization is comfortable using the platform, you can start to expand the circle of users. When the opportunity for a campaign arises – maybe you see something on the news that sparks an idea – you probably know a handful of member activists or partner organizations that would be a particularly good “face” for that campaign. Give them a call or shoot them an email asking them to post a campaign. You’ll probably need to hold their hands a bit and coach them through setting up the petition and sharing it with their networks.
At this stage, a “pile on” – where your organization promotes campaigns via email to your list, social media, and other channels – can also be helpful. The goal is to generate traffic to your distributed campaigns site and let people know that it exists. Don’t count on a ton of “organic” activity yet – although maybe you will have a couple of superstar members who are already inspired to start campaigns of their own.
Inbound / Customer Service
We all know that our members are opinionated and will often contact us requesting that we run a campaign on a specific topic. Often, these are great ideas that our organizing staff just doesn’t have the capacity to work on. In these instances, it’s great to be able to point members to the distributed campaign site. If you want, you can even issue a challenge. For example: if they get 50 signatures, an organizer will commit to 30 minutes of coaching on the phone, or you’ll email the campaign to a portion of your list.
Efforts or Templatized Campaigns
One of the most powerful strategies of distributed organizing is the idea of running a lot of small campaigns against many local targets – where these small victories add up to a big impact. This might involve letting your members run separate, but similar, campaigns targeting individual legislators and asking them to cosponsor or support a bill. While a campaign to “Parliament” may seem daunting, breaking it down district by district, naming each individual legislator, and sharing the responsibility for getting a commitment from each, can be far more empowering.
Other times, there may be opportunities for localizing a larger campaign. Skiftet – a progressive organization in Sweden – was running a campaign to stop public transit fare hikes in the Stockholm region. They decided to open up the campaign on their distributed organizing platform, and encourage members start local campaigns in their own communities. It led to over 50 active petitions and explosive list growth – with over 42,000 signers – helping them win the campaign and jumpstarting their early-stage organization.
ControlShift’s Effort feature makes it easy to launch and manage a national or international campaign with many local leaders and local targets. The organization sets the framework for the campaign – what’s the goal of the campaign and who should be targeted – and then recruits local leaders to manage the campaign in their community. Each local leader receives support from the organization and their work contributes to the success of the broader campaign.
Other opportunities you might look for include:
- Asking governors or mayors to make a statement of support on an issue. Everytown for Gun Safety asked mayors to declare a gun awareness day.
- Pressuring media outlets to report fairly by not covering climate deniers.
- Getting businesses to take a product off their shelves or adopt a particular policy. SumOfUs got members to start campaigns asking local hardware stores to stop selling bee-killing pesticides.
- Crowd-sourcing targets where there’s no authoritative list. Color of Change ran an effort to take down Confederate symbols, which exist in thousands of places, including street names, schools, and other landmarks.
Once a core set of users are comfortable with the platform and you have a set of active campaigns, you’re ready to figure out what your ongoing program is going to look like. Of course, you can keep working with your early-stage programs too, but you’ll also want to expand and determine what will eventually scale.
Much of our work wouldn’t be possible without organizational allies. Opening your program up to allied groups can be a huge win-win — allowing you both to recruit more members and multiply your impact.
You can use your distributed platform as a way to cross-post campaigns, growing both organization’s lists in the process. For example, keep an eye out for new campaigns from organizations you work with. When you spot one that’s a particularly good match, ask them to post it as a partner petition on your site. You can send an email to a small portion of your list promoting the petition. Signers can choose to opt in to both your list and the partner’s, and you’ll both reap the benefit of any organic growth from sharing.
ControlShift’s partnerships feature makes it easy to collaborate with like-minded organizations to run petition campaigns (and events) together. Set up rules for how signature information is shared with the partner and grant partner organization staff access to a special partner portal. Each partner organization also receives their own public landing page explaining who they are, the work they do, and the campaigns that you're collaborating on.
Open-Ended Member Petitions
At some point, you may want to begin actively soliciting new campaigns from a wider section of your supporters. Although this is probably the most recognized way of doing distributed organizing, it can also be the most challenging. As we said before, you can’t just launch a platform and expect a stampede of traffic. Our supporters have busy lives, and finding strategic opportunities for campaigns is a skill that is learned over time. The goal in this type of program is to inspire members to think broadly about possibilities for change, while helping them land on concrete and winnable campaign opportunities. On the one hand, we want them to source new and innovative ideas from their broad experience, while on the other we need to stay true to our organization’s goals. This can be a tricky balance.
A core principle of organizing is that most people won’t take action unless they’re asked. Getting someone to start a campaign is a big ask, and you’ll need to conduct tests to determine the most effective means of asking. Email is probably the easiest channel to start with, since it’s simple to segment and measure response. You can challenge members of your team to come up with different appeals for campaign starters, send the appeals via email, and measure the actions that are taken in response. Also, think about different segments of your list. Do you get better results from people who have donated, recently taken action, or attended an event?
It’s really important to define what constitutes success. Is it more petitions? More petitions that have more than 10 or 100 signers? More campaigns that actually win? Or is it campaigns that attract people who aren’t currently on your list and that help you identify new leaders? You may want to look at many of these metrics and balance them against your initial goals when making a decision about what works.
To keep members engaged, some organizations send rolling recruitment emails where each member is prompted to start a petition once every three months. Each of these emails includes an inspiring case study about a different member campaign. Other organizations look for campaign opportunities, and then email members in the relevant location asking them to start a campaign on that specific issue. Another organization sends their members a survey asking them to pick the issue they want the organization to work on and follows up with a prompt for the member to start that very campaign!
Beyond specific solicitation emails, you can also expand into other channels. You can add an ask to the PS line of autoresponders or emails about other campaigns (“Got an idea for a campaign? Start one here. . .”). Facebook ads allow you to target very specific populations. Across all of these channels, remember to model the behavior by framing petitions, even those authored by staff, as coming from a particular person and always reminding your members that they can do the same thing.
Supporting campaign leaders
As we mentioned before, campaigning is a skill that is learned over time. While members are often able to spot raw opportunities for action, it is rare that they can move to a successful campaign without some level of support from your organization.
Many organizations develop a set of how-to content to share with petition starters. A scalable way to share this information is to include it in the series of emails that go out after a member starts a petition – giving them important tips at different milestones in the campaign. Other effective channels include short video tutorials, conference calls and webinars, and an email list or online group for petition starters where they can ask questions and learn from one another. 38 Degrees has set up a great resource site for their member campaigners.
ControlShift was built with support for petition leaders in mind. Each petition creator has access to a petition leader toolbox and tips for how to use the tools most effectively. Organizations can refine and customize these tips to ensure that their petition creators are well supported. Similarly, organizations have control over the emails that ControlShift automatically sends to petition creators.
Beyond the written materials, most groups work with the petition starter directly to massage and edit content if they plan to promote the petition using organizational resources. This is a good opportunity to help the petition starter improve their campaign writing skills and open a line of communication with the leader from the beginning.
Additionally, some organizations do direct coaching for particularly compelling campaigns. By scheduling time on the phone with petition starters, they can discuss how to promote the campaign, schedule an event, work with the media, and stage a high-impact petition delivery. While you can probably communicate much of this information via training guides and online resources, there is no substitute for personal outreach.
ControlShift’s mentors feature makes it easy to assign a staff member who will serve as a coach for a specific campaign. This mentor can contact the petition leader, offer advice, and be available for questions from the campaign leader.
As your program grows, you may have a set of supporters who have run successful campaigns and are interested in supporting future campaigners. Some organizations allow these committed supporters to become coaches for fledgling campaigns. This model not only empowers your supporters to grow their leadership and campaign potential, but it also reduces your staff’s support burden. Organization staff will likely still need to step in if a member-coach is unsure of how to support a campaign, or if the campaign is one that the organization finds particularly compelling, but more basic support can be handled by these member-coaches.
ControlShift’s teams feature allows organizations to create different levels of permissions – allowing member-coaches to have access to only basic admin tools.
Getting Off the Ground
Supporters have a lot of different options for where they can post events, and a successful distributed events program will need to demonstrate the benefits of hosting an event with the organization. This includes the support that the organization will provide to hosts, access to the organization’s broad base of like-minded members, and integration with the other tools and opportunities that the organization offers its supporters.
If your organization is supporting member-led petitions, then petition events are a natural extension of your existing distributed organization program. Petition events can include things like: planning meetings, signature collection events, rallies and protests, and in-person signature delivery events.
Supporting successful petition events begins from the petition campaign’s inception. Letting your campaign leaders know about the ability to and importance of hosting events allows them to start thinking about the events that would best support their campaigns from the beginning – it also shows an added benefit to hosting campaigns on your distributed petitions platform and demonstrates that the organization takes its member-led campaigns seriously. When storytelling about successful campaigns, be sure to highlight any events that were tied to the campaigns, and how they helped to move the campaign forward.
Once a campaign is created and gaining traction, remind your leaders that events are available. Within ControlShift, we’ll automatically remind petition creators about the events tools, but you can also include reminders about the importance of events in your other communications with campaign leaders as the campaign is growing. Your campaign leaders can often choose which types of events will be best for their campaign, but reminding them of the options that are available and providing tips for each type of event will help your leaders to be successful.
Because hosting an event can be a bigger challenge than starting a campaign, it’s often useful to provide concrete examples of the types of events that campaigns leaders have hosted in the past. You can even provide example agendas or other resources for more complicated events. What’s most important is to let your hosts know that they’re not on their own – that if they have questions or need help, there’s a staff member who can assist them.
Days of Action
Days of Action or other templatized events – like house parties, phonebanks, local deliveries of national petitions, watch parties, etc. – are also great ways of getting your supporters involved in hosting events. Because these types of events generally have more guidance and a clear vision from staff, it’s often easier for a member to agree to become a host.
Successfully mobilizing supporters for a day of action will require clear communications from your team: explain why you’re relying on your supporters to host events in their communities, what these events will look like, and how they fit into your organization’s broader strategy for the campaign you’re running. Some organizations share that information via emails or texts to supporters, but other organizations have had success by also hosting kickoff events to encourage their supporters to host events. These kickoff events can be national calls, in-person barnstorms, or other types of events – anything that will get your supporters amped up and excited to host an event in their community. Setting clear expectations for hosts from the beginning will help these events be successful.
ControlShift's calendar feature makes it easy to support and manage hundreds of local events hosted by supporters. Within calendars, the organization can provide events defaults and custom instructions – ensuring that hosting an event is an easy and rewarding experience for your supporters.
When launching a day of action, consider a tiered approach to host recruitment. If you have committed supporters who you think would make good hosts, reach out to them first about creating events. This outreach could involve contacting them directly, or just appropriately segmenting your organization’s mailing list before sending a host recruitment blast email. Once this initial round of prospective hosts have had a chance to create events, email the next tier of your list – this email can include a host recruitment prompt and encouragement to join an existing event in their area. Continue to expand the audience of these recruitment emails until you’ve worked through your list.
Once you’ve identified your hosts, share more detailed information with them about the event you want them to host. This can include an agenda for the event, key actions that should happen during the event, more detailed organizing plans, or answers to other frequently asked questions.
It’s useful to also provide a contact person that your hosts can reach out to if they have any questions or need any additional help with their events.
For many of your members, the events they’re creating on your platform may be the first organizing or advocacy events they’ve hosted. Some of your members will find that this sort of action comes naturally to them, while others may feel passionately about the issue they’re addressing but may not feel comfortable acting as a host. The support and guidance your organization provides to these potential hosts may be the difference between them taking action and hosting a successful event or remaining on the sidelines.
Some organizations provide that support by reaching out to each host individually, while others will just share written materials and ways for hosts to get in touch with staff if they have a question. Your method of supporting hosts will likely vary based on your staff capacity and can also change based on the event that’s being hosted.
The most basic level of support is a written guide (or guides) that can be shared with hosts. These guides should ideally address basic questions that apply to all events – like technical help for setting up any event – and also specific tips for different types of events. These specific tips can include things like: the process to set up a meeting with elected representatives, best practices for successful in-person petition signature deliveries, or expectations for rallies.
Guides for days of action, or other themed events, will often be more specific and will include the specific expectations for the events, lists of things to prepare before the event, sample agendas, and steps to report back to the organization after the event is completed.
Allowing your supporters to see these guides before and after agreeing to host an event can both help your supporters think about the types of events that will be most useful for the issues they’re working on and make it easier for them to run a successful event once they decide to become a host.
Keep in mind that the best written materials are refined over time with feedback from the hosts themselves. If you’re getting similar questions from hosts, incorporate that feedback into your guides moving forward. As your events program begins to scale, you should also collect resources from successful events that can be reused in the future.
Depending on your organization’s capacity and the number of events being created, you may want to provide higher-touch support for event hosts. This can include direct calls, emails, and/or texts to members who have created events. These one-on-one communications allow staff to quickly check in with the potential host, thank them for agreeing to host an event, and answer any questions they may have. This can also be a starting point for future conversations with the host.
ControlShift’s mentors feature makes it easy to assign staff who will be in charge of supporting an event’s host.
Conference Calls / Webinar Trainings
When planning a day of action, organizations may wish to host kickoff calls to recruit potential hosts and/or training calls once supporters agree to host events. These calls can include more information about the strategic plan, reiteration of expectations for the events, and allow for hosts to get their questions answered in real time. These calls also allow your supporters to see themselves as part of a broader community dedicated to working for change.
Depending on the scale of your non-day-of-action events program, it may also be useful to host regular events trainings or office hours that will allow petition creators, group leaders, or other supporters interested in hosting events to learn more about the process and ask their questions.
Regardless of which models of support you use, it’s important to be specific – especially when organizing a day of action. Supporters may feel hesitant to host an event if they’re not sure what will happen or what’s expected of them. Having clear expectations and concrete actions will ensure a good experience for both hosts and attendees.
ControlShift’s organizer instructions allow organizations to set expectations for hosts and provide specific instructions for a day of action.
The work of organizers isn’t done once the event is over – it’s important to also follow up with your hosts and attendees for feedback. Asking your hosts about what went well and poorly, and what they wish they had known in advance, is useful for refining the tips and guides that you share with hosts as well as your broader support program. You can also use report backs to collect anecdotes and example events that can be used in storytelling.
Equally important is collecting feedback from attendees – did they feel the event was a good use of their time? What did they think went well and what did they wish went differently? Some organizations also use this feedback to ensure that hosts are making their events safe and welcoming.
Report backs can be done in different ways. If you’ve already spoken to a host during the event setup and planning process, follow up again to ask for feedback. Quick surveys can also give you an aggregated view of event feedback and can be useful in identifying which supporters to ask for more detailed report backs.
Getting Off the Ground
Supporting healthy and active member-led groups is one of the most complicated aspects of a distributed organizing program and requires a high level of staff time and investment. Before launching a member-led groups program, it’s important to think carefully about your goals for these groups, what will constitute a successful groups program, and how these groups will fit into your organization’s broader strategic goals.
Organizations approach groups programs in different ways: some see groups as rapid response hubs that the organization can call on whenever an issue arises in the group’s area, some support groups that are solely focused on winning a specific campaign, and some organization view the groups as an outlet for supporters to build community amongst themselves and get to know one another. Organizations may find that groups fill each of these roles at different times, but organizations who support successful group programs will have a clear vision for their groups and regularly communicate that vision with group leaders.
Two common pitfalls for organizations supporting local groups are to exert too much control over groups or to take a too hands-off approach. With too much organizational control, group leaders won’t feel empowered to make decisions for their group – instead of being member-led organizing, the group becomes another channel for broadcast messages from the organization to its supporters. At the other extreme is the too hands-off approach. When organizations set up groups infrastructure and but then leave group leaders entirely on their own, the groups will often fizzle out as they lack direction.
Successful member-led group programs work to find a balance between these two extremes by supporting their group leaders, providing strategic priorities and opportunities for groups to contribute to the organization’s goals, while also empowering group leaders to make their own decisions about the actions the group takes. This balance can be difficult to find and may require recalibration as your groups program matures (or individual groups and their leaders become more comfortable with their roles).
Types of Local Groups
A common type of group is the locally-based group. These groups are organized by location (generally a political constituency or city/town) and members of the group are from that community. These groups are often focused on responding to local issues in their communities. They can act as the organization’s eyes and ears – responding to local issues that wouldn’t otherwise be noticed by the organization – and they can serve as rapid responders when the organization’s strategic plans intersect with their community. Generally, successful local groups have a high level of autonomy to decide the direction of the group, but leaders are still given support by the organization and brought into larger strategic priorities. The organization may also help to facilitate collaboration between different local groups when necessary.
Issue groups are generally not based on location, but are organized around advocacy for a specific cause. Members of these groups are geographically diverse, but share a common passion for the specific issue.
Campaign-related groups may be location-based or issue-based, but they’re hyperfocused on a specific campaign’s success. Once the campaign has finished, the groups will either be dissolved or will be spun into a more traditional location-based or issue-based group.
ControlShift’s groups feature supports both location-based groups (tied to a city/town or to a geographic shape, like a county or parliamentary constituency) and non-location-based groups. All groups have access to the same tools: the forum, which serves as the heart of the group; events tools, allowing the group to meet online or in-person; and petitions tools, allowing the group to sponsor online petition campaigns on the issues that mean most to them.
Supporting Group Leaders
Onboarding Group Leaders
Successfully supporting group leaders begins with a clear vision for your groups that’s communicated with groups from the beginning. Initial communications should include both written materials (which can be ongoing references for both established and newly-created groups), as well as one or a few kick off calls to explain your organization’s vision in more detail.
The process for approving new group applications can vary based on the organization. Some organizations will approve most group leader requests as long as no red flags are raised in the initial application. Other organizations have a more intensive process that includes checking the prospective leader’s past actions in support of the organization, completion of required group leader training, and/or speaking to a member of staff.
Within ControlShift, all group leader applications are automatically added to the organization’s moderation queue, making it easy for staff to review new applications.
Similarly, ongoing support of groups can take many forms. At the most basic level, having written materials with expectations, frequently asked questions, and ways of getting in touch with the organization is essential.
Some organizations also divide their groups into cohorts based on issue area or geographic region before assigning them to a member of staff. That staff member becomes the main point of contact for the leaders of their groups – building a relationship between leaders and the organization and answering any questions the leaders may have.
ControlShift’s mentors feature makes it easy to assign staff who will be in charge of supporting a member-led group.
Organizations may also wish to have regularly scheduled calls or webinars to check in with group leaders, share the organization’s current priorities, and communicate opportunities for action. Separating leaders into cohorts can keep these calls smaller and allow leaders to establish relationships with other group leaders. Ideally, these leaders will then be able to share tips amongst themselves, answer each others’ questions, and provide each other with support.
The organization may also wish to provide other spaces for leaders to communicate with one another, like a group specifically for group leaders. As your groups program scales, you may also find some group leaders who wish to mentor new group leaders.
As with other types of distributed organizing, storytelling is important. When a group launches a campaign, holds an interesting event, reaches a milestone, or gets a win, tell people! Share the story with group leaders, group members, and other supporters. Having concrete examples of the work that your groups are doing will make them more appealing to potential group members, while also keeping the energy and passion up in your existing groups.
Even with the best support program, not all groups are going to be successful. Some groups may fizzle out after initially burning bright, others may never really get off the ground at all. Organizations should feel empowered to hide or remove inactive groups. If a supporter is looking to get involved, not seeing any group in their area (while being asked to become a leader!) may be preferable to seeing a long-inactive group. The former will hopefully get them to step up as a leader, while the latter may just leave them discouraged.
If a group is languishing, try to see if you can get it running again. Has the group’s leader(s) stopped taking action? Get in touch to see if there’s anything you can do to help. Maybe they’re overwhelmed or not sure what actions they should be planning next. Remind them of the important role they’re playing in your organization’s strategy and see if you can get them to host an event or take some other action in their community. Is your organization running a campaign in the group’s area? Try to get them involved in the campaign. If the host is no longer able or interested in leading the group, put out a call to the existing members to see if they want to take over some or all of the leader duties. If needed, you can ease a group member into a leadership role by asking them to host a single event or be the contact person for a piece of the work that group is doing.
ControlShift’s groups features allow administrators to see an overview of the activity – forum posts, events, and petitions – that’s happening across all groups. This overview makes it easier to see which groups are actively engaged and which require intervention.
If your efforts to revitalize a group have failed, it may be time to archive the group. Let the members know that they can create or join a new group if they’re interested in doing so in the future.
Supporting Digital Organizing Broadly
Regardless of which model of digital organizing you adopt, supporting your members through each stage of their involvement is essential to your success. While learning from early tests and homing in on the program structure that best resonates with your members should allow you to scale and increase efficiency, distributed organizing will still need plenty of care and feeding. Depending on the size of your program, you will probably need at least a half-time person – and potentially several staff members – to ensure ongoing results.
At a minimum, you’ll need to keep a close eye on what comes in on the platform – at least on a daily basis and ideally closer to real-time. Quickly reviewing new campaigns, events, and group leader applications signals your support for your members’ work and will ensure that their campaigns and other actions can advance in a timely manner. You may consider staffing this on a rolling basis – with each team member being responsible a day or a week at a time.
Some organizations also have a daily review of new campaigns. They sit down, walk through each new or updated campaign, and assign follow-ups for editing, coaching, or other support.
Similarly, organizations supporting days of action or groups may find that regularly scheduled meetings are useful in making sure that everyone knows the current status of the work being done and the places where additional admin support is needed.
Organizing Support, Coaching, and Mentorship
As mentioned before, campaigning is a skill that is learned over time. While members are often passionate about the issues and able to spot raw opportunities for action, it is rare that they can channel that passion into a successful campaign or a stable group without some level of support from your organization.
Many organizations develop a set of written content that can be shared with leaders. A scalable way to share this information is to include it in the series of emails that go out after a member starts a petition, creates a group, or signs up to host an event. Whenever possible, try to tailor your guides to the specific action that the user has just taken and include specific real-life examples of previous actions taken. Other effective channels include short video tutorials, conference calls and webinars, and an email list or online group for leaders where they can ask questions and learn from one another. 38 Degrees has set up a great resource site for their member campaigners.
After a petition or event has been created, most organizations will work with the leaders to edit and refine content if they plan to promote the event or petition to their broader organizational mailing list. This can be a good opportunity to build the relationship between your organization and the leader who created the content.
ControlShift’s mentors feature makes it easy to assign a staff member who will serve as a coach for a specific campaign or event. This mentor can contact the leader, offer advice, and be available to answer questions.
Some organizations offer direct coaching for particularly compelling petition campaigns. By scheduling time on the phone with petition starters, they can discuss how to promote the campaign, schedule an event, work with the media, and stage a high-impact petition delivery. While you can probably communicate much of this information via training guides and online resources, there is no substitute for personal outreach.
Similarly, some organizations will host live webinars for group leaders or hosts taking part in a day of action, which allows these leaders to learn more about the strategic plan and get their questions answered in real time.
As your program grows, you may find that you need additional tools to manage the relationship between your staff and your leaders. Groups have successfully used Trello, NationBuilder, and Salesforce.com for relationship management.
ControlShift’s native integrations and flexible APIs make it easy to send platform data to the other tools that your organization is using.
As you build capacity for distributed organizing, it can be an extremely valuable resource in key moments. You’ll want to make sure your full staff is aware of the possibilities and trained on the platform so that they can quickly tap into the capacity of your member leadership when it really counts.
Case Studies & Storytelling
Success stories are vital for inspiring members and showing your leadership that the program is worth the time and money. You may want to assign someone who can keep track of successful actions and write compelling stories about what worked. These stories can be shared with staff, your board, and the media to paint a picture of your program’s impact.
Equally importantly, these stories should also be shared back to your supporters. Nothing as effectively captures the power of your supporters as a concrete example of when a regular member, just like everyone else on your list, was able to effect change. These stories don’t just provide encouragement, but they can also spark new life into supporters and can turn passive recipients into newly recruited leaders.
Ongoing testing and optimization
You will also want to keep a close eye on the overall health of the platform. This means setting up analytics to monitor important paths and funnels, like how many people who land on the petition start page actually complete the process.
ControlShift is built to easily connect with analytics tools like Google Analytics, Matomo, and Segment.
Beyond aggregated numbers, the most successful organizations will also perform targeted surveys of leaders and/or people who have taken particular actions. The action takers in your distributed organizing program are the best source for feedback about what’s working and what needs to be changed. Incorporating this feedback into the program is an ongoing process that’s integral to successful programs. The support you provide to your leaders will change over time and constantly refining your program to meet the ongoing needs of your supporters is key.
If one of your organization’s primary goals is to grow your supporter list, also you’ll need to regularly monitor activity, promote the best campaigns and actions to your list, and track which type of content is recruiting the most new members.
Once you’ve tested and established your ongoing program, you’ll want to make sure that distributed organizing is fully integrated into your organization. Many organizations link to their platform from their homepage, which makes it easy for organic action takers to get going. You might also consider adding a prompt to start a campaign, join a group, or find an event to your standard email templates.
ControlShift’s front-end JSONP APIs, and other integrations, make it easy to integrate our platform with the rest of your site. Color of Change has done this with their OrganizeFor.org homepage.
Our pre-built CRM integrations also ensure that member data flows seamlessly to your existing databases and mailing lists.
Launching a distributed organizing program can be a scary step for a lot of organizations. Trusting our members to take the lead in organizing and giving over control is often a large shift from the way the organization has organized in the past, but it’s also a great opportunity to expand the work your organization is able to accomplish.
If you’re interested in how distributed organizing can help improve your organization’s impact, get in touch!