Community organizing and online organizing: can they go together? | npENGAGE

Community organizing and online organizing: can they go together?

By on Apr 28, 2009


Thanks to NTEN for sharing live webinars of the NTC sessions for those of us that couldn’t make the actual conference. Yesterday, I checked out the session “Community organizing and online organizing: can they go together?” led by Charles Lenchner who currently works for the Working Families Party and consults with and The session covered interesting points on the debate between community and online organizers and ways to overcome the resistance within an organization. He asked the question – is organizing the same whether it is done online or offline? In many cases, yes, but the process is very different. More on this below…

Charles started out with a comprehensive definition of community organizing:
Community organizing is a process by which people living in proximity to each other are brought together in an organization to act in their common self-interest. A core goal of community organizing is to generate durable power for an organization representing the community, allowing it to influence key decision-makers on a range of issues over time. Community Organizers work with and develop new local leaders, facilitating coalitions and assisting in the development of campaigns.

He boiled down the 3 main goals of community organizers are:

  • Recruit: grow list, outreach, base building
  • Engage: escalate engagement and find and develop leaders
  • Campaign: win on specific interests

And then, broke the 3 goals down into offline/online tactics:

  Offline Online
Recruit One-on-ones
Door Knocking
Recruit entire organizations
Petitions, Letter to the Editors (LTEs), Emails
Organizing house parties
New media/social networking
 Engage Real-life training
Job descriptions
Management procedures
Segment list by those taking the most online actions
Conference calls/webinars
Organizing real-life training
 Campaign Power analysis
Recruit allies
Phone bank
Letter to the Editors (LTEs), Emails
Research, crowdsourcing
Netroots (term coined for political activism through blogs and other online media
Press hits

Integrating the offline and online tactics is the HOLY GRAIL, and Chris provided the following recommendations to address the gap:

  • Compare efficiencies between the activities – door-to-door vs. an online petition
  • Test – make sure you are offering both online and offline opportunities to maximize participation and test effectiveness
  • Share success stories about both
  • Manage up
  • Start small

He closed with some strategies for getting offline and online to get it on — mainly that you need to focus on the end goal, NOT the process goal. And, there are effective methods in both the offline and online camps, but it is up to your organization to overcome the philosophical differences between community and online organizers and determine what strategies will work best for your ultimate cause.

This debate isn’t solely found among community organizers. Check out Convio Founder, Vinay Bhagat’s recent video interview discussing multi-channel methods to make a greater impact on fundraising, marketing, and advocacy.

And please share comments on what you are doing in your nonprofit to address gaps between online and offline activities.



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