Why Local is the Next Big Thing in Online Advocacy

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Facilitated by Ben Rattray, Change.org

Session Description

Change.org is seeing a huge amount of success with rapid response, hyper-local campaigning, often done in partnership with their users who start campaigns. Ben will explain why this represents a big opportunity for many nonprofits, both in terms of producing intrinsic social change value and building a base of power.

Session Notes

-Political campaigns


Traditional advocacy: -a lot of prep, resources, targeting congress; really difficult to win; long, protracted and most end in failure -one of the problems: exclusive focus; It's really hard to build a membership base on that large scale.

Hyperlocal: We're looking at doing "hyper local" campaigns that work with the smaller-level government/influencers. -sometimes there are things of national significance that also have local

Example: Anti-gay campaign in Uganda. -rather than working outside of the country

Hyper local focus: attacking local evangelical leaders in the US (local) who had connections/were supporting this anti-gay campaigning in Uganda -we called up these connections and protested for them to denounce the Uganda legislation.

If someone is called out publicly attached to something heinous on this, they have to respond.

So the issue was international but the response was hyper local.

By giving people victories, you're increasing people's sense of power and local victories are more easily won. It's a great way to build your base by creating local actions with more achievable victories that still affect the larger national/interanational issue.

We want to develop a tool that allows local campaigns to get going and gives them the support that they need.

Citizen Speak: campaigns with very few people like 200 can really stop campaigns by putting specific pressure on specific people. But afterward, there's this feeling of "Now WHat?"

Change.org is hiring a team of organizers and a trainer to put together a resource area for "how to run an effective campaign" and other trainings that they could use.

How do you move from local to federal level success? ---

the reason that running local campaigns locally is so interesting is that these people have personal relationships developed with the people in their community. If you were to leverage the local leaders to organize around their local district office to protest to keeping the federal campaign local.

There's just not much to do right now on the federal level for climate legislation so 350 is working on galvanizing local organizers so that we have increased capacity when it is time to take advantage of our people power.

The absolute goal is to have the local organization to feel true ownership over their cause and mission.

This woman in LA has a campaign to keep the islamic studies department at ucla alive. Change.org helped her to escalate that campaign to get more people involved offline. The point is not to take the campaign over, but rather to bolster what they're doing so that they maintain ownership.

What about outside the United States?

It's really about finding where the pressure points are over all.

When the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was escalating. Rather than putting pressure on Israel to stop, we put pressure on Caterpillar, the main company that provided bulldozers to change their policies for which they would provide equipment.

Internationally, many times it's looking at who has the brand capital to lose and pressuring them around the issue.

Change.org focuses on small timeframe wins in hopes that over time, these victories will cause local, longer term campaigns to flourish.

One strategy is using personal comments on a petition in an aggregated way to use as a piece of media to sweat organizations/companies/whoever you're campaigning against. A signature doesn't have much of a voice so it isn't that good of a piece of media, however if you collect the personal comments/reactions that people have when the decide to sign the petition is a great way to construct a piece of media that has a voice that a company/organization can actually sweat about.

What kind of target demographics are you looking at for local campaigns?

Biggest opportunity is college students due to passion, time and proximity to each other.

What other outreach techniques do you use? Especially internatioinally?

We use a SMS short code for people to interact with the campaign. "text XYZ to this short code to sign the petition"

Ringtones? -Changing your ringtone to one associated with a campaign to spread "virally"

There haven't been many strategically sequenced power-building things. "this is going to be a long haul and this is how we know when we've completed phase 1..." it's starting to feel like a lot of "one off" campaigns and not much focus or guidance for long-term engagement

-We talked about HyperLocal advocacy vs. traditional advocacy and how hyperlocal tries to address a national or international problem or issue by placing pressure locally -We talked about the ideals around moving local campaigns to a national level and how success depends on the local campaigns feeling ownership over their work -We talked about finding the right pressure point that may not be obvious at first glance to affect the change that you want. For example, applying pressure to a construction company supplying bulldozers to a war zone rather than applying pressure to the country bulldozing down settlements. -We talked about differences outside the US and specific strategies to apply pressure