Beyond the Click of a Mouse

Submitted by Sarah Pullman on Thu, 2007-10-04 08:39.

with Liz Butler and John Warnow

notes by Donna Barker

What got you involved in the activist movement/advocacy/social change?

➢ Friends invited me to a rally
➢ My grandmother
➢ Earth Day, 1998
➢ I was working and burnt out and decided if my life was going to suck I wanted it to be for a good reason
➢ I had good teachers
➢ I used to watch National Geographic instead of Sesame Street
➢ Junior High teacher told me my generation had to get its shit together
➢ Dinner with friends who told me about an organization I should join
➢ My family instilled values and my university situation fermented into action
➢ Family and spirituality
➢ Brother in law is an activist and he asked me to help out
➢ Shock during my first year of university to see inequality in the world
➢ Making a final commitment to be a vegetarian and researching the meat industry and the power of corporations shocked me
➢ Spirituality and personal elements and a bad break-up
➢ When I was 7 I lived in Paris for 6 weeks and saw a homeless person for the first time
➢ Moved to DC to escape rural America and found opportunities to make change that aren’t available anywhere else
➢ I grew up in a family of Cape Breton socialists with salt of the Earth prairie farm folk
➢ When I was a kid I went to pro-choice rallies with the head of my church and my mom at 8 years old

We have to step back to look at what gets people engaged and what starts them down this path. The internet is now our tool to find people but that is tapping into the stuff we all mentioned only on a cursory level. Most of what gets people involved is a major inter- personal interaction.

How do we come as close as possible to get people to face to face.

People sign things online that they don’t remember or don’t understand. It doesn’t get them committed to the cause.
Getting someone out on the street or getting them to write a cheque proved a stronger belief in and connection to the outcome of the campaign.
Does anyone have a personal friend who they’ve never met and only ever emailed? It’s rare. But you can meet someone once and email for years and feel like they’re a friend.

With younger people moving people from online activity to offline action is much more fluid. But we can’t win if people only do things online. Congress ignores online petition and there’s concern that emails are not delivered to congress members. In Canada it may not be that way.

It’s about thinking in terms of the user experience and the connection you feel to the issue. The more you get people to do in the real worked the deeper commitment they’ll have since it takes more effort to get involved than to click a mouse.

Case study: Forest Ethics
Victoria’s Secret catalogues using Boreal forest paper.
2 year campaign with 750 actions out in the streets that was won in December 2006
Support of real bodies to help people who sign up onlne to organize an offline event is really important. To answer their questions, nudge them, support them.
Meetings with the company
Full page ads in New York Times
Missed some…
Dedicated website
Email list
We were 7 on Google searches for Victoria’s Secret
We had a ton of people whose entry to the campaign was online
50% of people at most actions had never taken part in a action previously

1. Clear asks that are understandable as to how they will help the campaign
2. Organize around something that has urgency even if you create it
3. Help people feel part of something larger lowers feelings of risk (not out there alone)
4. A bog tool we used were days of action: we did 4
5. The largest DOA we did alone had over 220 events

We created a research action packet for volunteers to find who was selling wood from a certain timber company. Had we hired someone it would have cost $10 thousands of dollars and taken months. We got it done in a week. We sent people to lumber yards and asked if they saw a certain logo on the wood. We created the urgency.

You want to use your organizing to make people feel like they’re part of something larger and online collaborative tools create that.

One things we did was send flowers to all the board members and CEO at Victoria’s Secret. They were not screened and all had campaign info included.

Balloon action: let two heliums balloons with a banner suspened between them in a mall

Keys to success
➢ Give people tools / how to go from no experience to organizing an event (action packets)
➢ Have things to do for a one man show all the way to large really
➢ Accessible targets help a lot (VS has over 1000 stores)
➢ Organize available for contact offline if you use them for you online to offline
➢ Mix up the asks. If it’s the same all the time people start to lose interest (if you say something is urgent month after month they won’t believe you)
➢ Ask! Ask! Ask! – no matter how many people you have, you can get people to act if you ask and provide action in a box

Response rates
➢ Under 1% of the list responds
➢ Given the impact of real world activities you need fewer offline events than 50,000 emails to have an impact
➢ Treat your new offline activist like donors: more time = more attention from organization
➢ As the people increase the time and actions you should talk to them more like an insider so they feel part of something and recognized.

Case study: National Day of climate action – Step it up

The idea:
do something in your community in whatever way you see fit and the only thing that connected all the actions was a banner. We were seeking comprehensive legislative action. So our rallying call was boring: Step it up Congress: Cut carbon by 80% by 2050.

We had no experience with internet or national campaigns
6 college students
No money
No list
Site on blogger. Com
Under 3 months to organize a national day of action

The letter circulated faster than we expected: 150 actions signed up in first week
Spreadsheets was not CRM
Blogger was not sexy
In over our heads no sleep

We had a website built for us by friends. We turned to friends for support.


1400 actions in all 50 states plus internationally (Britain, Canada, Peurto Rico)
Media coverage was terrific: Front page of NYTimes online…
All linked up to make a powerful emotional (and political) punch
Many were very creative – the ideas came from the people

Students stood in formation … scuba divers… classrooms… rallies… people skiing a dwindling glacier in Wyoming… canoeists… angels in the sand… people on a levy in New Orleans… Sea of people in New York to create a new tide line (6-8,000 people)…elementary kids making posters… John Edwards at a rally in Florida… clown troupe… lots of town square rallies with a couple hundred people holding our message which has translated into ongoing groups in many communities

At the end we had to let people feel like they were part of something successful. We made sure people understood that by the end of the day of action they had to upload their photos. The next day we had an obvious success and a national event had taken place that everyone could take ownership of. People need to feel like they’re winning, accomplishing something so we put a “success” banner on our website.

Lessons to move people from online to offline

➢ Tap into a resonant narrative: the story is critical. Find one that is hardwired into our souls. For us it was the David vs Goliath
➢ Take people’s offline activity back online (up load pictures) back offline (we printed pictures and sent to congress members for each constituency and let them know what their members were doing.
➢ We did not do any fundraising after this, but it would have been a good time to do so.
➢ Flexible framework: we gave them the banner info, leave the creative to them
➢ Facilitate ownership other ways: allow them to tweak our logo for their action
➢ Do easy favours easily: we were contacted by orgs who wanted a link to our website so we agreed quickly so we have national and local links
➢ Be responsive as hell: you have to support offline organizers – they need templates so we put them up
➢ Value the visual:
➢ Encourage creativity: activism must be fun
➢ Stay nimble
➢ Have an absolute blast: it’s not fun to click a petition so figure out how to facilitate fun

We declared success 2 weeks later (again) when Clinton and Obama committed to 80% reductions by 2050. And all democratic reps supported this. We created a new baseline.

Myth: you don’t need a huge list to start
Fact: Even if you only have 1000 people, you can build the action into a huge event

However, if you have support from other organizations who have lists, that is very helpful. Step it up, was not an organization, we were just a campaign, we weren’t a threat asking for money. We just asked large groups to send out a message to their members for an action that met their values. We tried to say “Sierra Club and NRDC are partnering… will you? It will make a huge difference.”

Question: can anyone speak to online to office organizing – as opposed to actions – to engage people with an action and get people to become an activist.

Forest Ethics does a lot of long-term organizing with an elaborate leadership system to build a core group of activists in eth USA, that feels like their work and includes them reaching out to their colleagues. When someone signs up to hold an action, they get a phone call from one of our volunteer organizers who have taken this on as their activism. There’s more we can do to use technology to facilitate this further. Training is a core component to what we do: sometimes in person sometimes a call.

Follow-up campaigns where previous event coordinators can get involved are a good strategy to continue to build activists.

Right wing has two things going for them:
They get together every week at church
They have a heart to heart connection, not an angry undertone many activists bring

Disease walks have a good model: each walker must raise a certain amount of money to make the event a success. The walker feels ownership over the success of the event, is responsible for the success of the event. We should think of leadership development in this way for our own actions.

Q: how about diversity and anti-oppressive organizing?

The technologies we choose to use will either move us away from this or more to it… is the way you organize a kindergarten class the same as other groups? Probably not. But we look at technology as though one solution will work for all groups.


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"The thing that draws me back is not the 'professional development', but rather the incredibly powerful connection back to why we do all what we do. WOC recovered for me the purpose of this work and why I am in it. I think this is true for many who have been there – and the realization and clarification of this with trusted friends leads to a lifelong bond."
Katrin Verclas, Executive Director, Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN)