What can philanthropy learn from political campaigns?

I recently found myself wondering what the tactics, strategies, infrastructure, governance changes, and technology applications that distinguish this Presidential campaign from others might mean for communities and community philanthropy. I had just read a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, and was walking to get bagels on a sunny morning. Since I always have my mobile phone with me, I twittered the question - sort of a high-tech "note to self." Of course, a tweet is also a "note to others." Within 20 minutes I had heard back from Sidney Hargro, a far-flung community foundation colleague - who had been wondering the same thing.

His comment showed up on his Facebook Wall, where the two of us continued to chat over the course of the day. The fact that he was in Ohio and I was in San Francisco and we never spoke to each other or changed our existing weekend plans to fit in this conversation makes it notable to those of us who are over 40 and completely normal for those readers under 25.

The back drop of the story mimics some of what he and I were asking ourselves about connection, community, idea sharing and technology. Our thinking was boosted by stories we each had read in Fast Company, The Atlantic, Wired, scholarly research, legal analysis, and elsewhere. Both of us are fans of Beth Kanter and her wisdom on social media and nonprofits. Here's some of our exchange:


"My random thoughts include comparing the notion change funded by high net worth individuals to the notion of change funded and fueled by the people. The fabric of the Obama ground game as I see it was produced by weaving community organizing structure with the technology and philosophy of social media. My burning question is - "What would the impact of community philanthropy be if funded and fueled by the people?" Similarly, would our communities look like if our traditional philanthropic institutions take a deep breath and surrender the need for absolute control?"

"...My observations about Obama campaign as an org is as flat and connected to ground, not top down and centralized. sounds good if you say it real fast but its new for organizations to have staff who work to connect outsiders, bridge turf, and repeatedly offer points of connection so that each individual finds the one that works for him/her. I've lived the difference just in organizing small local fundraisers - working differently takes skill and new mindsets. how can these be encouraged?"

"There are definitely generational advantages to a new mindset - but don't count us old folks out. One very mundane example is simply giving people the experience of being part of something different. Then they (we) start to ask - wait, why doesn't my organization, this campaign, this fundraiser (etc etc) work the way that other one did....I'm personally right in the midst of this - delighting in the Obama campaign street effort, online effort, MSM effort, etc. etc and shaking my head and trying to shake up the same efforts regarding defeating Prop 8 - a California initiative. In medical residencies (I'm told) the practice is "see one, do one, teach one" - I find this somewhat frightening where my life is concerned - and totally appropriate where grassroots organizing, fundraising, outreach, voter drives, etc. are concerned."

After some of this back and forth I asked if we could move this discussion to the blog - so that you all might chime in. What are the elements of how the campaigns that most interest you from the perspective of what you or your organization might learn?

Is it how they:
  • have been using technology?
  • structuring themselves?
  • using volunteers?
  • using the media?
  • delivering information?
  • raising funds?
  • mobilizing online communities?
  • giving their supporters online invitations/tracking tools/etc. to host fundraisers?
  • Other?
How do the examples that you noted matter most to communities? To community philanthropy? To any philanthropy? Let me (and Sid) know...


2 comments:

Cindy Rizzo said...

This is an interesting set of questions. I agree that the Obama campaign is in the vanguard on the issues you identify, particularly on the use of technology and social networking. They even developed their own iPhone app, only weeks after iPhone went live with the App Store. Amazing.

But I almost think the question you pose has to be turned on its head, and here's why. The Obama campaign describes itself as "a movement" not as a campaign. And I think that comes out of the candidate's training as a community organizer. In some respects, this campaign has been modeled on non-profits--at least those using a community organizing approach. Flat, bottom up, in constant contact with the stakeholders/constituents, etc. Obviously, the youth piece makes the technological advances possible.

But in so many ways, this campaign is using a tried and true organizing model and improving and updating it.

Cindy Rizzo
Arcus Foundation

Cindy Rizzo said...

This is an interesting set of questions. I agree that the Obama campaign is in the vanguard on the issues you identify, particularly on the use of technology and social networking. They even developed their own iPhone app, only weeks after iPhone went live with the App Store. Amazing.

But I almost think the question you pose has to be turned on its head, and here's why. The Obama campaign describes itself as "a movement" not as a campaign. And I think that comes out of the candidate's training as a community organizer. In some respects, this campaign has been modeled on non-profits--at least those using a community organizing approach. Flat, bottom up, in constant contact with the stakeholders/constituents, etc. Obviously, the youth piece makes the technological advances possible.

But in so many ways, this campaign is using a tried and true organizing model and improving and updating it.

Cindy Rizzo
Arcus Foundation