We operate in a sector that has no profits, no barriers to entry, little overhead and low labor costs. In every other sector like our own, the dominate model of operations becomes small independent operations or very lightly controlled franchises. The world of issue organizing is joining the ranks of barber shops, landscaping, maid services, truckers, taxis, newspapers and nail salons. This shift threatens the core business model of important groups but it also gives rise to new models and services.
The life-cycle of a movement usually starts as an issue emerges inspiring individuals to act and organize. Founding groups in a movement are organized (NAACP, wilderness society, Teamsters, Amnesty International) get formed and grow. The new groups recruit talent and pulll together power to create change. As staff increase in skills, build personal and professional networks and talents, a percentage of the talented staff, Board members or funders get increasingly frustrated by the decisions of managers (boards, brands, etc) or politics (wrong message, wrong focus, to conservative or to radicle) so these talented staff split off to create splinter operations that compete directly for media, members, attention of policy makers and funders.
The basic barriers to entry and the overhead with being a political issue group have gone down toward zero. In the last ten years the tools to organize, collect information and broadcast messages has dropped drammatically. The overhead of running an organizaiton has dropped so much that new groups start up quickly and can compete with the same tools as the best funded groups. These new start ups can survive with less money and provide the niche organizing that the public wants. Additionally, the overhead of running an operation has dropped and is so low that both groups remain in operation and are likely to continue.
The trend willnot go away unless there is an increase barriers to entry or drastically increase overhead costs to stay in business (both unlikely). Political and issue organizing is a complex and chaotic environment in which we want many or all organizers to survive. In fact, we care about overall market share of people engaged and growing the base of people that wish to be a part of organizing for change. We know that the new groups often reach new segments and work on new issues so we are always interested in pushing new organizing to a new edge. We care about growing the overall engagement and overall success not the allocation of interests and members within individual groups.
The problem that has emerged is that as the cultural forces splinter organizing units into smaller and smaller factions the issues that must be addressed grow in scale and quicken in tempo. Issues such as balancing influence of multi-national corporations, climate crisis, human justice and dignity on an international scale, war, natural resource management and child safety have spiraled into global issues requiring extensive power to track, evaluate and promote solutions. Even in the US, our own government has take to moving prisoners overseas to complicate the extension of ability to address oversight by US activists groups.
Simply, the problems we want to address are getting bigger while the mechanisms working on the problems are getting smaller. Smaller groups are becoming more powerful but the sum of the smaller groups’ power is significantly less than the potential power of the whole.
Given the transformation this trend represents to organizing, it is essential to actually solve the challenge of enabling a highly fractured network to work together in an advocacy and issue context. It is essential to invest in the strategy, training, analysis, research, tools and platforms that enable relationship building to occur and it is essential to train a new generation not just of managers but of network leaders.