Thoughts on Engagement Organizing

November 8, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonathanpoisner @ 1:06 pm

I recently had the opportunity to read an excellent white paper by Jon Stahl and Matt Price on the topic of Engagement Organizing.

It’s well worth the read.

Here’s the nutshell version:

Engagement Organizing in their words is a set of inter-related practices that are designed to simultaneously use the latest technology to organize and drive real-world personal one-on-one conversations that, in turn, lead to organizational supporters moving up a ladder of engagement in support of the organization’s mission.

Here are 3 points Stahl and Price make that I think are worth elaborating on:

1. You must invest in data management.  Organizations that underinvest in data management are in far worse shape than those that overinvest. And the data management system must be one that everyone in your organization can utilize — not just a database administrator.

2. You must have a culture that emphasizes personal relationships that are built in-person, with the phone a major tool as well.  I’ve seen too many organizers in the last few years who think that organizing begins and ends on the internet.  The internet makes certain things much cheaper.  But in the end of the day, the phone is a critical means of reaching people, and only in-person relationships are the type that generate true organizational buy-in.

3. You must trust your volunteer leaders if you want them to take responsibility to lead.  I like to call this my Spiderman theory of organizing: “with great power, comes great responsibility,” to quote the comic book character.  Organizations that empower individuals outside staff and board to advance their program are more likely to succeed.  And that will only happen if you give them real responsibility.  I recently heard an Executive Director justify a decision to strip away power from volunteers by saying: “we had to do that because the tail shouldn’t wag the dog.”  In my opinion, this is setting the organization up for failure, as dog is entirely the wrong metaphor for an organization.  Organizations that centralize decision-making and control at a time when the world is becoming more networked are setting themselves up for decline.  Organizations that understand Engagement Organizing will get this.

I’ll be curious to hear what other folks think about the White Paper. If you’ve had a chance to read it and have thoughts, please comment here or shoot me an email.

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