Here is a fantastic set of interview notes, interview quotes and research dumped into an article that pulls together some nice insights but falls a bit short on the conclusions.
The Chronicle: 7/22/2004: The Mice That Roared
I have clipped some of the interesting informaiton here
Each month, 5,000 to 10,000 people who regularly read the Heritage Foundation's news and opinion Web site meet in person in 150 cities to discuss current events with fellow conservatives and get to know each other.
More than six months after Mr. Dean's campaign fizzled, his approach to soliciting donors and organizing volunteers online continues to have an effect not just on the presidential campaign, but on charities and advocacy groups that are borrowing some of the campaign's ideas.
Jonathan Garthwaite, director of Townhall.com, the site operated by Heritage, says that after watching the Dean campaign, he realized he wanted to find a way to reach out to the site's readers and get them to organize local, in-person gatherings, in the hopes of building a grass-roots network of conservatives.
These people like other campaign networks are not getting babysitters, leaving home and running thru the rain to see a superstar or to meet Jonathan. They are getting together to see each other. Building a grass-roots network is really about lowering the barrier for people to connect and then stepping out of the way.
The most important thing he has taken away from this election cycle is a lesson that the Dean campaign drove home, says Mr. Garthwaite: "If you give your supporters a sense of ownership and the ability to give feedback, they will be your best salesmen."
Some big numbers of folks out there want ownership of their power. These supporters are not getting together to "sell" your opinion but to give voice to their own.
Observers in the nonprofit and political worlds say that, if nonprofit organizations are realistic in their expectations, they can learn a lot from the way candidates have used the Internet to attract supporters, build relationships, and raise money. The experts caution, however, that the short, definite time frame of political campaigns and the intense news-media coverage that accompanies them are important factors driving the presidential candidates' big online fund-raising numbers -- factors that charities don't often encounter.
Increasingly, it is safe to say that EVERYTHING with the ability to sway large portions of public opinion is hammered into a "definite time frame and an intense news-media coverage cycle". It will be difficult to pick 10 campaigns that moved the needle on public and policy choices that is not subject to an intense cycle of media attention and short window of opportunity to move the agenda. There is definitely important work that does not happen in public and huge things that happen in the dark of night or over a small kitchen table but I don't think they are moving the participation "needle."
This year's presidential race -- Dean's campaign, in particular -- has shown that online fund raising works when supporters feel they are an important part of the overall effort, says Phil Noble, founder of PoliticsOnline, an Internet publication. "It's the old, 'Get their hearts and minds, and their dollars will follow.'"
The Dean campaign didn't just ask for money online, it also solicited advice. In fact, Howard Dean decided to forgo federal financing of his campaign, and the spending limits that come with it, after putting the question to his e-mail list of more than 600,000 supporters.
McCurry seems to get the real shift. His quotes suggest that these new campaigns are not creating a sense or a feel of control. The new campaigns are listening and moving decision making power into the hands of the supporters.( Dean, Bushin30Seconds, etc.) ..."It's a call and response. I give you some critical piece of information about an issue that's important, and I ask you for your opinion back."
Then my favorite quote in the piece:
Veterans always say that soldiers go into battle for their fellow troops, not for their commanders, says Mr. Hlinko. "Why shouldn't the same be true for activism?" he asks. "Sure, there's a larger cause, there's a candidate, and you want to fight for him, but you're so much more likely to keep on fighting if you form close bonds with the people who are in that battle with you."
Disappointedly, the article refocuses on quickly into closing the loop on McCurry statements focusing the remaining paragraphs on implementation, fundraising and control.This all to familiar conclusion ends up with the "lets use networks to do the same old things we always wanted" conclusion.
The article and quotes from Nelson, Stuart and others clearly show that the timing, pace and behavior patterns are changing but the article falls short in recommending the proper next steps. The sector as a whole need to adopt a larger percentage of advocacy tactics and campaigns to the new tempos, behaviors and demands. While I think that Greg is absolutely correct in his closing remarks about the relationships Washington Toxics has cultivated. The very model traditional organizers employ has limitations. As Greg suggests traditional members would leave if they were exposed to the higher tempo of today's campaigns but most likely that new generations and a huge swath of Americans are not going to show interest in the old model in the first place.
As a sector, we need to think in terms of generational shifts and long term success because a huge percentage of Americans are being trained into a culture that fosters impulsive consumer behavior and on-demand everything. These new masses will win progress event by event, issue by issue but they are not interesting in joining a long term relationship. The looming disaster for our sector is to continue to demand we immediately get married to any potential activists when all they really want to do is date.