engagement, Getting Started

Basic Mistakes of Community Organizing

0 Comments 15 December 2008

What is community organizing, and how does it relate to social media?

When I first started as an organizer, I thought it was defined as “convincing others to join a cause.” I’d knock on doors and tell them about this cause or that. I’d get a few to join. But did they really join? A typical conversation might be driven by me, and commence as so:

me: hi, I’m from the SELF Organization. Do you have a moment?
you: yes, what’s this about?
me: I’m working with a group of fellow neighbors. We’re trying to do something about the high prices at the local stores. Would you sign a petition?
you: maybe, yes, no, get out of my face.

I was sure I was doing everything right: I met the prospect, told her about the cause, and asked her to act. In reality, the prospect does not actually commit to anything. On top of that, I know little to nothing about the person who just spoke to me.
So, what were my mistakes?

1. We versus You.
I made the very subtle distinction that I was not part of the target group. The message: “I’m working with them and you can join them.

2. Don’t let the other person talk.
I spoke to the prospect. I left.
I told her everything about the cause and quickly moved to “the ask.” Did the prospect didn’t tell me a thing about himself, herself? No! My organization is no richer for this interaction. I can’t qualify my contact in any way, and I still don’t know why s/he even bothered to listen for a minute.

3. Don’t ask a single question.
Does this person even shop at the overpriced neighborhood store? Does he care about food prices? I never bothered to ask, so how could I find out if this cause would be 0f interest to them?

4. Don’t ask the person to really commit!
I would typically ask a prospect to sign a petition, come to a meeting or take a phone number. But that doesn’t commit the person to the cause. I set up the dynamic for them to play along. Real commitment would be asking someone “what would you like to do to help?”

If you want to create a real online community, beware of the Basic Mistakes of the new community organizer. Your online community, just like the real one you talk with face-to-face, wants be valued and included. Many non-profit organizations don’t see the connection between organizing a real community, and their online community. They create a blog, a forum or a facebook page. But they still…

  • don’t listen to you, but still ask something of you
  • think of themselves as “outside of” or “apart from” their community
  • don’t ask you what you want them to do for you
  • don’t ask you to really commit

Just as in the real world, social media communities should not make the Basic Mistakes of Community Organizing. It can cost you members, commitment and valuable ideas about how you can best serve your community.

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About

Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She is the current Director of Outreach at the National Brain Tumor Society. She speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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