With new technologies readily available, there has been a rise in virtual NGOs. Navigating the space in which such NGOs exist was the topic of one of the Interaction 2014 Forums.
Several different ideas were discussed in this workshop and among those that I found to be most interesting, was that of membership. Specifically, the workshop touched on the changes in defining membership, where in the past, members were those who simply donated money. Today, virtual NGOs are defining membership in other ways. One way is through email. Specifically, organizations define members by their ability to reach them through email and to get them to take action.
Of course, different organizations define membership differently, such that some, refer to donors as members, though they don’t necessarily have a say in the decisions that the organizations make.
The central theme within this discussion of membership is the use of individuals’ energies to help an organization advocate for a cause or issue. Building membership was an equally important idea that was elaborated upon in this workshop and one of the most important takeaway points was that membership building requires the utilization of different tools. In other words, if one was seeking to build membership in a region of the world where internet use is not common, one might instead, reach out to prospective members through, for example, sms. For growing organizations where membership plays a key role, this advice is well heeded.
The power of membership relates to the ability of members to effect change. Change, however, is another issue, that is region specific, such that different strategies must be employed in different regions throughout the world. This therefore, requires a thoughtful and critical analysis in how a tactic such as a petition might work in Europe versus Africa. As one of the workshop speakers noted, petitions alone are not as effective in the United States and require follow-ups in the form of meetings with political officials, whereas in other areas of the world such as Europe and Africa, petitions continue to be an effective means of pushing for change.
Engaging existing members, was also a topic of discussion and strategies such as A/B testing, different fundraising tactics, and the use of the voices of those affected were all mentioned as creative ways to sustain member engagement. One issue that was not discussed in depth, was the solicitation of member voices for change to the organization, the issues they advocate on behalf of, and the way different issues are framed and addressed. One organization that works to incorporate members voices into said issues, is Amnesty International. Of course no model is entirely perfect, but the idea of democratizing how an organizations runs, etc. has the ability to engage members in a different and perhaps more substantial way.
This particular workshop was especially relevant to the work of the PCDN and our organizational members. To me, one of the most important ideas was how to build membership, with a focus on building a constituency of members that not only feel loyal to an organization, but to a social justice cause more generally. This is perhaps one of the most powerful impacts that an organization’s members can have and a goal that I believe should be sought out by more organizations. With this goal in mind, an organization cannot only build momentum around an issue they are advocating for, but also be part of a larger movement that seeks to address larger structural issues wholesale and through working and partnering with other organizations.