The Rise of Virtual Advocacy Groups

at Connectivity: “Ever since the launch of MoveOn in 1998, I have been evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of virtual advocacy groups compared to traditional, brick-and-mortar advocacy groups.
I hypothesized that organizing and working mostly online would allow advocates to escape a conundrum that ensnare those that rent pricey office space. As I have observed over the years, many brick-and-mortar groups dilute the effectiveness of their email programs for advocacy by inserting fundraising appeals into their email stream. As they emerged in the wake of MoveOn, virtual advocacy groups offered a new model of nimble organizations that could focus less on fundraising and more on advocacy.
Marketing guru Seth Godin describes this process as flipping the funnel. Like a funnel, he says traditional organizations ask supporters for self-sustaining money as broadly as they can, but mobilize a very small percent of them to do so. For this trickle of funds, they end up alienating many in the process. Much of the money raised, meanwhile, simply goes towards giving its supporters a megaphone to advocate for the organizations’ causes.
Today, most of an advocacy organization’s supporters already have their own megaphone: social media. So instead of alienating so many supporters with fundraising appeals to buy them a megaphone, Godin says advocacy groups should instead ask supporters to use the megaphones they already have on their behalf. Thus, the funnel is flipped into a megaphone and supporters don’t have to become alienated by excessive fundraising appeals.
This concept is central to any effective social media campaign. And with no rent to pay, virtual organizations should be best positioned to take advantage of the strategy.
In practice, virtual advocacy groups pioneered back in the ‘90s by MoveOn have proven to be more efficient purveyors of their members’ messages. And at the organizations I spoke to for this article, shifting work online has created workplaces that live up to their founders’ values, too.
I reached out to Nita Chaudhary and Kat Barr, the co-executive director and chief of staff of UltraViolet, an advocacy group formed to fight sexism and expand women’s rights in the U.S. I spoke to MomsRising executive director Kristin Row-Finkbeiner, whose group takes on critical issues facing women, mothers and families. I also consulted Joan Blades, co-founder of both MoveOn and MomsRising who currently works for a new start-up called Great Work Cultures, which promotes a variety of new workplace organizational models that are more respectful of employee work-life balances. Both Chaudhary and Barr previously worked at MoveOn.
MoveOn, MomsRising and UltraViolet are not merely virtual advocacy groups, but are three of the most successful advocacy groups in the U.S. with many millions of supporters among them….”