I've been writing a lot about "network orgs" that are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm in nearly every movement. But one of the common critiques I hear about them from those who work in more traditional non-profits is "all they do are online petitions". This then connotes their work with simple clicktivism, also known as "slacktivism", and nothing more weighty. And it's wrong.
There are few progressive issues we can look back at over the last 10 years that show measurable and sustained progress. This fact alone should greatly humble NGO campaigners, consultants, and funders alike. Yet at the same time there have been some incredible successes – from the growth of Avaaz to 12M+ members, to the Arab Spring, Obama’s election in 2008, and the early days of the Occupy Wall Street movement, that may point to the power of new, networked models of campaigns showing a new way.
The common thread among initiatives that are struggling is centralized leadership in strongly hierarchical, highly independent, professionalized organizations. Many recent growth leaders take more of a network-centric approach to campaigning, with more flat, nimble structures, strong reliance on partnerships, and importantly people-powered engagement models at their core.
It's been heartening watching the environmental NGO community finally take up arms against US President Obama's weak environmental record this past week. The bold leadership with clear, direct statements has been inspiring, with their threats to pull their support and the positive response from their supporters to do so marking a rare movement wide high point.
Unfortunately, these groups still act like isolated individual brands and not movement allies, which I think greatly misses the impact of their efforts. In emails, on the web, and to the media, they talk to their supporters like they are the only ones out there doing this heroic work. They only show public support response numbers from their own supporters. They never mention or even allude to the fact that nearly every green group is engaged in the same fight at the same time!
My friend and colleague Alex Samuel has written “the soul of the Internet can be shaped by how we individually engage with it. [We get to choose] whether the Internet alienates and isolates us; or connects and enriches us.” We are still very much shaping this emerging tool today with our behaviours, and the way we do so does not always lead to more community and connectedness.
The shameful Stanley Cup riots in my beautiful city last week show a real time example. People’s behaviours during and after the riots have both strengthened and diminished our sense of trust and community. If you're only watching mainstream media you might miss the good that happened, but each pattern of behaviour left a unique digital signature online we can study.
Too often in the digital world we see websites and campaigns from worthy causes fail. They fail to reach intended audiences, fail to go viral, fail to make a real difference in the world. A smart campaign concept or eye-catching design might pique people's interest, but if they aren't then moved to action - what's the point?
We recently developed a strategy for a challenging project that saw participation in the program grow by over 400% in the first week alone! Here's how we designed for engagement.
This week’s Canadian election was shaping up as a once in a generation game-changer. Some surprisingly creative social media campaigns - driven by a few smart new players – were making an impact on the nightly news and with large swaths of voters, especially youth. I decided to reach out to the leaders of these groups to see if we could find ways to increase their impact.
The pitch was to collaborate publicly and behind the scenes to show up as a united and organized movement. And to create a powerful content network through shared key messaging and activities that would drive more traffic to everyone's sites and, most importantly, the voting booth.
Earlier I wrote how many of today’s most successful digital campaigns are grown from organizations who are thinking differently, and not just with their online campaigns. These “network organizations” operate in fundamentally different ways from traditional centralized organizations, and, with relatively few resources, are growing faster and having an outsized impact on our world.
What’s a network organization? From the business world, think Facebook, Google, & Groupon. In NGO’s, think Avaaz, MoveOn, & MomsRising. And what about Wikileaks, Sarah Palin, and the Obama presidential campaign? All have attributes of organizations with network principles baked into their core.
Congratulations are in order for the UN Foundation for reaching another impressive milestone in their highly successful global effort against malaria.
Last week the Nothing But Nets campaign met its goal of giving malaria-preventing bed nets to every family in the Central African Republic. In total they supplied about 837,000 nets with a value of more than $1.25 million.