We’ve been up and running for over four years now, worked with twenty two social justice and environmental groups to date, and are about to launch our 8th cohort this fall. We have the privilege of mentoring groups working tirelessly for social change—and we also have a bird’s-eye view of the challenges they face. When it comes to online work, they often struggle with the key components of successful campaigns including strategy, practice, systems and budgeting.
Here’s what we’ve discovered:
Many groups don’t go through the process of clearly defining goals for their online work, answering the “what for?” question or mapping out how they’re going to roll out and measure their campaigns.
- They may be familiar with all of the steps of the strategic planning process, but they either don’t have the time or take the time to work through them.
- Groups often do online work without a written plan.
- They may lose time and resources on online work that don't get them closer to their goals because they don’t have a plan.
- Sometimes national coalitions have trouble designing and running strategic campaigns because they don't have control over the planning process in every region. State-focused groups don't have this challenge.
Groups often use online tools with mixed results.
- They don’t follow best practices.
- They use online tools because they think they “should” but don’t understand how they need to use them to make them work for their organization.
- They don’t understand how online tools can be used to bolster offline organizing efforts.
- They don’t have the right tools in place. Some have outdated websites that poorly represent the organization’s work or create barriers between the organization and their constituents.
Staffing and systems
Often an organization’s internal systems and staffing don’t support their ability to achieve their goals.
- They don’t have the processes in place for things they do all the time. That means they reinvent the wheel when they send out a mass email, or scramble to come up with a process when they’re in rapid response mode.
- They have staff issues that impede success. Executives don’t always understand how/when their staff could be using online tools to help them win campaigns. And sometimes staff members aren’t clear about the goals of the work or aren’t in the right role to complete work effectively.
Groups don’t typically understand how to budget well for online work.
- They don’t know that they can use paid ads—inexpensively—to help them win campaigns. (And they feel like they can’t afford anything paid.)
- They aren’t taking advantage of some of the free tools available to them like Google Analytics and Google AdWords (nonprofit grants program).
- They spend a lot of time (and resources) patching free tools together rather than spending a little bit of money on an integrated tool. (Because they feel like they can’t afford it.)
What this all means and what’s ahead
While there is clearly room for improvement, there is much to be celebrated. The vision, energy and commitment of these groups is inspiring—and in many ways effective. Victories have been won—and will continue to be in the future.
For New Media Mentors, we will have more capacity in 2016 to work with groups on any or all of the above. Our goal is to help them be at the top of their game - to work with purpose, expand their spheres of influence and raise more money.
We will continue to change organizations so they can change the world.
That’s why we do this.