In the past year I have received many requests for interviews from consultants trying to develop recommendations for nonprofits looking to use the Internet more strategically. Since I am sometimes a consultant myself, I usually grant the interview on one condition: that I be given the rights to publish an audio or text transcript of the interview. This way I can help out the project, but also share any good ideas I might accidentally have with anyone else who might be interested.
Last year, when I still worked for PPFA, I was interviewed for a paper called “Civil Technologies: The Values of Nonprofit ICT Use” published by the program on Information Technology and International Cooperation. You can download it as a PDF or Word document.
The report is long but it has lots of great examples from real-life nonprofit staff (like me!). My interview follows after the jump. It gets more interesting toward the end when he stops asking me elementary questions about Planned Parenthood and GetActive and we talk more about online organizing strategy. I did some copy editing of what appear to be audio transcription errors.
Ruby Sinreich, Planned Parenthood
Interviewer: Ken Jordan
From the Planned Parenthood Website (www.plannedparenthood.org):
Planned Parenthood Federation of America is the nation’s leading sexual and reproductive health care advocate and provider. We believe that everyone has the right to choose when or whether to have a child, and that every child should be wanted and loved. Planned Parenthood affiliates operate more than 850 health centers nationwide, providing medical services and sexuality education for millions of women, men, and teenagers each year. We also work with allies worldwide to ensure that all women and men have the right and the means to meet their sexual and reproductive health care needs.
âˆ‘ Could you tell me a little bit about Planned Parenthood?
Planned Parenthood was founded in the nineteen teens by Margaret Sanger, a big advocate of family planning, which was something that was nonexistent before then. We have clinics in every state in the country. We a little over 120 affiliates, which vary from those that cover one or two counties in a particular area to those that cover an entire state and others that even cover more than one state. The affiliate structure is totally not systematic, but the organization has really grown up organically because a lot of these are actually organizations that existed themselves and then later chose to federate themselves with Planned Parenthood. As a result, we have incredibly strong grassroots infrastructure with these 120 independent organizations with their own leaders and advisory boards that make their own decisions.
I work for the federation, which works to serve those organizations and be their voice collectively. All of those affiliates, even the smallest ones usually have at least some program for public affairs and they have to be accredited to call themselves Planned Parenthood. The accreditation has to do with having correct medical and business practices etc. But, they are also required to do public affairs — some do a lot of it and some just barely do it. Then, at the federation, we have a whole division called Public Policy Division and within that, our department is called Field Operations. This is interesting because the structure is really unique in my experience.
The independence of the affiliates is sort-of unique. But, the thing that I havenâ€™t seen before is having field operations located within the public policy division or even having a field operations department at all. I havenâ€™t worked for other national organizations, although Iâ€™ve worked with other national organizations, but Planned Parenthood has all these different divisions. Within the public policy division, there is, of course, a government relations department with lobbyists and legal researchers. Thereâ€™s also a (c)4 action fund within our division. But, thereâ€™s actually a litigations department. And, thereâ€™s this field operations department. And, weâ€™re very grassroots oriented because weâ€™re looking at the field all the time.
âˆ‘ What does the field operations department do?
The field operations department does a combination of things because many of these things grow up out of other things. But, in the field operations department, we have field managers who work with different regions of the country. There are four field managers that work with all of the affiliates in their region. They help them do organizing, connect them with other resources, give them suggestions, give them trainings etc. Also, within field operations, we have national organizing programs that are constituency-oriented. Like Republicans for Choice and VOX, which is student and youth-oriented. We also do our national on-line organizing in the field operations department. The action center can be accessed through www.ppfa.org or www.saveROE.com. The activations are written by our people and sent by us. We manage a national database of 3/4 of a million supporters that we send messages to.
Some of the strategies are on-line and some of them are off-line. The information for the 3/4 of a million supporters is kept in an on-line database, which is part of our larger messaging and advocacy system. But, they can also be used for off-line organizing. For example, you can go into the on-line database, export a list and make a walk-list for canvassing, invitations, or a phone-bank list etc. What weâ€™re trying to do is say that itâ€™s all just organizing and here are different strategies that have to be integrated and support each other.
âˆ‘ Is there a particular Internet platform that was developed to support Planned Parenthood?
Our national messaging is under the umbrella of the Planned Parenthood Action Network, which was established four years ago as the Responsible Choices Action Network. My work is oriented towards helping the affiliates use it and less toward the actual activists contact so, when I think about whatâ€™s really useful, I think about whatâ€™s useful for me in reaching them. The Action Network is really nothing extraordinary, every national organization has their list of people they write to on-line, and thatâ€™s what it is, although itâ€™s not only used for on-line contacts.
The database is stored on-line because that allows us to share it. One of the really important things for an organization as large and dispersed as Planned Parenthood is that we achieve a lot of power through sharing information with each other. For example, if somebody in Missouri signs up for the Missouri Planned Parenthood Action Network, their name is also shared with us nationally, and vice versa. If we recruit someone nationally, and theyâ€™re from Missouri, the organizers in Missouri also get that name and all the same information that we have about them.
âˆ‘ How did the on-line component of the Planned Parenthood Action Network start? Did it being as an on-line mailing list and grow from there?
We currently use GetActive (http://www.getactive.com/), which is a web-based tool that can be accessed from any web browser. It has a built-in database component that stores all the names and individual information about each person. We focus on two interactive modules for messaging and advocacy. The advocacy module allows you to set up an action, prompting supporters to send a specific message to some specific targets. It has built-in legislative targets, and you can create any custom target that you like, so thatâ€™s really powerful. The messaging module allows us to send out rich formatted emails to any portion of the list thatâ€™s in the database. GetActive also has built-in reports and tools to help you integrate this with the rest of your website. Itâ€™s a fairly costly solution so I donâ€™t recommend it for everybody, but it works really well for our particular situation because it does allow us to have a hub where all the different organizing can take place. We have 50 different action centers that are shared by different affiliates as part of the larger system so almost every affiliate in the country is participating. This allows all 50 centers and120 affiliates to send local emails to supporters through GetActive. For example, in Ohio there are 10 affiliates, but each of them individually does not have huge public affairs capacity, so they collaborate and share resources. So, on any of their websites, they can say, â€œSign-up here to get news and action alerts.â€ As a result, they are recruiting people to the Ohio Action Network and the National Action Network. That allows us to give local affiliates credit for recruiting new members if they sign them up correctly although some of the technical aspects can be beyond the abilities of a typical user.
GetActive is really easy to use but most of the people at the affiliates who are actually doing the public affairs work might not even have average technical skills. Some of them are definitely above average, but some of them definitely are not. I was originally hired for a very singular task, which was to roll out GetActive to the affiliates who wanted to use it. I would visit them for an all-day training and support them through phone and email. I did that for a year until something like 90 or 100 of our affiliates were using GetActive in some way, or someone was using it on their behalf. Again, some of them have their own solutions. And, some of them are not really ready to do on-line organizing at all so it varies. After the first year of implementation, Iâ€™ve been able to transition into seeking how people can use it more effectively than theyâ€™re using it now, which means mostly a lot of basics. My title, which just changed recently, is Online Organizing Manager. My mission is to help anyone at the state or affiliate level do better online organizing, which is pretty broad.
I was hired to do implementation for the eastern half of the country and my supervisor did the western half of the country. But, as other responsibilities grew, Iâ€™ve now covered the whole country. Itâ€™s really difficult. One of the biggest challenges is I canâ€™t get really in-depth. I donâ€™t have a good sense of what individually different organizations are doing, or different affiliates or state-associations so Iâ€™m more big-picture oriented.
âˆ‘ Are you using GetActive for campaigns in the more active, aggressive way? Are you getting people to sign up, send this email to a friend, lobby a congressperson or a legislature in that way?
Yes, it is organizing so we are doing all of those things. Hopefully, our affiliates use it for sending announcements and staying in touch with their supporters. But, weâ€™re the public policy division so we want them to use it for advocacy. One of the things that I have to remind a lot of our affiliates is that advocacy doesnâ€™t just mean targeting legislators and grassroots lobbying although that is a very important part of it. But, if your state legislature isnâ€™t in session, that doesnâ€™t mean that your reproductive rights stop being threatened so you need to continue to organize all the time. Last April, we were one of the major partners in organizing the March for Womenâ€™s Lives. We brought over a million people to the capital. Thatâ€™s a perfect example of where a lot of the recruiting that we did to get the word out happened on-line, but the goal came together off-line. And, thatâ€™s organizing too. I try to remind people all the time that all of these things are organizing, that every time you touch your activists, and tell them about an issue, thatâ€™s organizing too because then theyâ€™re primed to take action the next time. Weâ€™re always looking for ways to get people to recruit their friends more, take more actions and be more engaged in general.
âˆ‘ Do you have a way of measuring the effectiveness of the on-line organizing tools?
There arenâ€™t a lot of direct measures. But, there are a lot of numbers we can look at to get a picture of the health of the network. One of the things that is really interesting is that just using the list actually grows it. Thereâ€™s a lot of focus at Planned Parenthood on recruitment and on building the list, always growing the list. People always looking at the numbers, how many people are on the list, which is an important thing to know. But, sometimes people forget the other side, which is what to do with the people on the list. Are you just sending them a monthly newsletter? Are you tapping their potential? Do you know what theyâ€™re interested in? What weâ€™ve seen in our own experience and what Iâ€™ve heard from other people too is that actually using the list grows the list. Itâ€™s not just growing the list so you can then send them actions that you want them to do, but actually giving people meaningful things to do, information that they think is important and/or entertaining as a way to grow the list in turn. Itâ€™s very organic.
For example, the actions might be to contact your legislator about some important bill thatâ€™s coming up that needs to be stopped and/or supported. Thatâ€™s one kind of important action and some people really want to do that. But, some people are a little bored with that, to be honest a lot of people rightly feel pretty disengaged from politics in general and maybe donâ€™t even see the point in contacting your legislator. Especially if their legislator is a Republican, they really might not feel theyâ€™re making a big difference. There are a lot of other things they can do to help the cause. For example, they can tell their friends to learn about an issue, canvass in their neighborhood, volunteer in a local Planned Parenthood, or participate in an on-line community. Whatâ€™s meaningful is going to be different for every single person. One of the things that weâ€™re struggling to do right now is to get to know the list better so that we can give them things that they want and so that thereâ€™s a value for them on the list.
âˆ‘ What tools are you using to get to know the list better?
Thereâ€™s currently an effort to survey some random samples of the list nationally and statewide. Theyâ€™ll probably use Zoomerang, which web-based survey tool. Itâ€™s pretty flexible. Basically, it allows you to set up a number of questions on multiple pages, or on single pages. You can do it by invitation only or publicly with a static url. You can have multiple choice or long-answer questions, all kinds of questions. A few times a month, I use it for on-line trainings through WebEx. Whether I do an in-person training, or an on-line training, I ask the participant to fill out a Zoomerang survey afterwards on the training. The survey includes numeric ratings that they can give i.e. how was my presentation, my knowledge, as well as long-answer questions where they can say what we can do to improve it. Itâ€™s really useful because the numeric ones I can just get an average i.e. I got a 3.7 out of 4 average, so thatâ€™s good. Zoomerang is free up to a limit depending on the number of survey questions/participants. Since we use it a lot, we have an account that we pay for.
In addition, I created an e-organizers listserv so that affiliates doing on-line organizing can help each other. This allows them to talk to each other directly so Iâ€™m not just a bottleneck. For example, they ask each other, â€œIâ€™m having this problem, has anyone else had this problem? Does anyone have ideas on how to do this?â€ So, out of this list has grown the survey, itâ€™s not a specific on-going survey, but itâ€™s a specific effort to survey the group. The on-line organizer folks are developing the survey including what the questions should be etc. Currently, there are about 35 people on the list, which includes about 5 national staff people doing on-line organizing or working with the folks who are doing it at the states and affiliates. The other 30 people are working with local affiliates around the country and directly implementing the ideas that are being discussed at the national and local levels. They specialize in the on-line strategies. Some affiliates have full-time e-organizers including New York City, Chicago, Connecticut, Massachusetts and, to a lesser extent, the Pennsylvania and New York statewide associations. The Missouri association has a half-time e-organizer.
âˆ‘ Among the other affiliates, do you think they are able to do effective organizing even with only part-time e-organizers?
Some of them are able to do effective organizing, but some of them arenâ€™t. This is a particular issue that reaches across non-profits that most non-profit leadership doesnâ€™t have a great understanding of technology as a tool. This is true especially as a tool for external outreach. Sometimes internally their organization will understand the value of technology as a tool, but definitely not externally. As a result, theyâ€™re not hiring people who have a great understanding of the value of technology as a tool either. They donâ€™t even think itâ€™s something that they need to do, and, if it is something they think they need to do, they have no way of telling whoâ€™s able to do that and whoâ€™s not. Thus, they really have a big handicap if theyâ€™re even trying to hire technologically-savvy staff. What you see happening is it really just depends on the individual in the job, some of them understand but some donâ€™t and theyâ€™re never going to. They just donâ€™t think this way. They may be great organizers, but theyâ€™re never going to understand on-line organizing.
âˆ‘ Is the national organization able to help local affiliates establish criteria for hiring e-organizers?
Yes, thatâ€™s exactly what Iâ€™m trying to do. In fact, we actually wrote an e-organizer job-description, which I sent out in the monthly newsletter to everyone that uses GetActive. GetActive allows us to easily communicate with everyone who has a manager account, about 350 people. At each of the affiliates, there may be two or three different people who are using GetActive for different mailing lists and on-line campaigns. The way that they use GetActive varies as much as their own affiliate does. For example, the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts covers the whole state so theyâ€™ve got about one main staff person that uses it and then maybe one or two other people i.e. the lobbyist might use GetActive to get reports. The reports cover membership i.e. has the membership grown and from what sources, and messaging i.e. how did your messages do, how many people opened them etc., and advocacy i.e. how many people participated, how many targets did you contact, whatâ€™s the click-through rate of your messages, etc.
âˆ‘ Can you see by how many people and how often the message has been forwarded? What kind of success rates have you found?
Yes. weâ€™re a little disappointed with the viral recruitment. But, our click-through rates and people taking actions, we consider them to be OK. It hovers around 10%, varying of course on the message, which is the industry base-line meaning that if we send the message to 2,000 then 200 click through or took the action that we requested. Itâ€™s not great, but itâ€™s OK. The action is on the advocacy page. GetActive has a lot of other tools that we donâ€™t use. For example, thereâ€™s a fund-raising module thatâ€™s used nationally, but not very much with the affiliates and thereâ€™s a whole content management tool, which we have no interest in. They also have community tools, which is an attempt at social networking, but it really doesnâ€™t work. Unfortunately, GetActive is so expensive that itâ€™s not right for every body, but it is right for us right now.
GetActive offers a lot of consulting. There are a few things that I really like about them. They have a fully staffed help-desk. One of the challenges is that because Iâ€™ve trained most of the GetActive users, when they ask questions they want to ask me. But, I donâ€™t want them to ask me, I want them to ask GetActive because weâ€™re paying GetActive all that money partially because of that awesome help-desk. Itâ€™s a constant effort for me to re-train people to ask questions to GetActive. But, the problem is that the way we use GetActive is so complicated that a lot of the questions do need to go to me because the GetActive help-desk might not understand that if this is an affiliate in Ohio, it means that theyâ€™re sharing the center with 10 other organizations.
I was pointing out the difference in the way these different centers are set up. At GetActive, theyâ€™re called centers. Massachusetts has itâ€™s own center with a couple of people using it. Ohio has one center for the whole state, but there are 10 different affiliates there and thereâ€™s a state office so youâ€™ve got people using it at the state office and some of the affiliates are using it, but some of them are not. It completely varies.
âˆ‘ How did Planned Parenthood evolve from essentially having no email capacity to getting to the point where it was willing to invest in GetActive?
One reason I think you donâ€™t see as much intelligent usage of IT by the non-for-profit sector is because very few organizations actually went through the process where they made the right decisions that actually led them from not using IT at all to using it well. Thereâ€™s very little information sharing in the field i.e. what do you need to do, what do you need to know in order to make the right decisions. We used a consulting firm called BeaconFire, a consulting firm to choose GetActive. It was a very intensive process.
We are doing what a lot of people forget to do, which is to compliment the technology with humans. Many people just want to throw software or hardware at the problem, but the great thing about the way weâ€™re set up is that weâ€™re giving our affiliates the software and Iâ€™m here to continue to facilitate their use of it effectively.
Most of our affiliates generally love GetActive — they get so excited, even people who arenâ€™t very techie and hadnâ€™t been doing it before. They get excited because the whole idea thing is so new, itâ€™s a whole new way to think about activism. Basically, they like the way GetActive integrates the things that they really like. It doesnâ€™t just do one thing. Itâ€™s not like a listserv, a bcc list, or a database and itâ€™s not just on-line, but itâ€™s really combining those. When you use the advocacy module, you create the action that you want people to do, and then you create the messaging module to send it to the people that you want, tied into your database, which has the legislative database connected to it as well. Itâ€™s very easy to use.
âˆ‘ What is the difference between the advocacy module and the messaging module?
The advocacy module and the messaging module are frequently confused because they work in tandem. Itâ€™s hard to tell which part is going on at different times. Basically, anytime you send a broadcast message out through email or fax you are using the messaging module regardless of the content of your message. The advocacy module is very specific, it allows you to create campaigns and each campaign is basically a web page with its own static address.
Each web page has a letter, a specific target, information, a short and long description of why the activists and a form for the activist to fill out. Those are elements of every single advocacy campaign. The targets donâ€™t have to be legislative, but they can be whoever is your state senator, or the target could be all the members of the Health and Human Services Committee, or it could be a local pharmacist, or an editor of a local paper. Any of those things could be targets. The elements are a letter to be sent to them with an explanation of why to take a specific target. Each GetActive advocacy campaign is a particular web page that can be sent out as an action alert. You basically take the advocacy campaign and make a messaging campaign out of it. Then, GetActive sends the action alert message to pull the information from the advocacy campaign, but itâ€™s still a message. A message could be anything — a newsletter update, an action alert, etc. People have a lot of trouble with those because sometimes theyâ€™ll do one and not the other. But there are two pieces to the action alert.
The value of this is that you can market your advocacy out to your list of supporters, rather than hoping that they come to your website. And, you can send them messages that make it really easy for them to take action because youâ€™ve already composed all the content to tell someone why, and show them the letter that you want them to send. GetActive makes it really easy to create that action alert by making an advocacy campaign into a message. It puts that all together for you. GetActive is always going to ask you who to send it to. It asks you to segment your list in some way, or choose whatever sub-set you want to send it to, but a lot of times advocacy campaigns might target a weird collection of legislators, like everybody on a committee, or all the democrats in this body or something like that. Itâ€™s a real pain in the ass to pick them out once as targets and then have to go pick out their constituents. Thatâ€™s very difficult. GetActive allows you to select everyone thatâ€™s eligible to participate in this particular advocacy campaign, then it finds everybody whoâ€™s covered by whoever those legislators are. It does a lot of things like that to make things easier. People really like the reporting too because in the past they had no idea what people were doing. They had no idea if anybody was even doing it or not. Now, they use GetActive. The sacrifice is that emails are a little less effective than phone calls, but the supporters are also more likely to send emails than to make phone calls. Using GetActive, we can find out exactly how many emails or faxes were sent to each legislator. We can also go through and do things like: I want to find all the activists whoâ€™ve taken 10 or more actions this year or whoâ€™ve recruited 5 friends etc. All of the transactions are connected into the database so thatâ€™s really useful.
Currently, the reports are probably the area thatâ€™s lacking the most in GetActive so theyâ€™re working on that. The reports are great for really simple analysis but we are looking for the meta-level analysis to get a better understanding of what individual people are doing so that you could go into any one of our 50 centers and look at their reports. If you go into the national level and look at an overall report you donâ€™t get a lot of useful information. It doesnâ€™t tell me anything if there have been 1500 messaging campaigns this year. The meta information isnâ€™t that useful right now. But, weâ€™re a huge client, so they make a pretty big effort to accommodate our needs, even though they donâ€™t do it very quickly. They donâ€™t move that fast. We can understand that because weâ€™re a bit of a dinosaur ourselves.
âˆ‘ Have the on-line e-advocacy projects been seen as part of the larger organizing effort from the beginning or were they seen as distinct or separate from the off-line organizing?
At different levels they are, but whatâ€™s really important and unique is that weâ€™re dong this out of the field operations department of the public policy division, not the IT department. Thatâ€™s our context. Now, within that, thereâ€™s a lot of division and itâ€™s a challenge.
In fact, Jen and I, our titles have changed recently, partially in an effort to get people to see us as more integrated to their work. We used to have the word technology in our titles, and, of course that gets ghettoized. Thatâ€™s why we changed my title to on-line organizing manager, to remind them that, if youâ€™re doing organizing, there should be an on-line aspect and maybe you should talk to me about it. Organizationally, at the big picture level, theyâ€™re fairly well integrated. At least theyâ€™re all in the right department together. But, this could be done better. At the affiliate-state level, thereâ€™s a need to do better. We do a lot of work with them i.e. one-year strategic plans. But, if the on-line component doesnâ€™t get into the plan at that level, then itâ€™s only going to be an afterthought. Thatâ€™s still a struggle.
âˆ‘ How do you think that the use of these on-line tools and the Internet-related work has changed the way Planned Parenthood sees itself and operates as an organization? Do you think itâ€™s had a strong effect?
It has had a pretty big impact because one of the ways that the outside world knows us is through the messages they get from us or through our website. What people see is these messages â€“ especially integrated messages from your state affiliate or from the national office â€“ that really drives home the fact that we are a broad organization with tentacles at all these different levels. And, because we have a national list, we are able to articulate what our national voice is. But, the cool thing about Planned Parenthood is that we have all these local voices too who are relevant to their own communities.
For example, when somebody signs up for the local list in Cleveland, they get messages from the local and state affiliates and national office. But, if theyâ€™re in Stark County, Ohio, theyâ€™re probably not getting anything from their affiliates. Theyâ€™re only getting state and national messages. But, if theyâ€™re in Cleveland, they might get local messages too because that affiliate has more public affairs capacity. And, they can tell the difference between the messages based on the wrappers, which are simple banners with the affiliateâ€™s name, but can also sent as html-designed emails that look like web pages. Each organization has itâ€™s own wrapper, which is set up to look like the organizationâ€™s website. Most of the affiliates have totally distinct websites with a banner at the top with their name.
Currently, the websites of the affiliates are not all part of the national network of websites, but thereâ€™s a page where you can link to most of them. There arenâ€™t a lot of shared resources between them at the moment, but weâ€™re in the midst of a huge portal project to bring them all back together under one web roof by subsuming them into the main site. Itâ€™s voluntary, of course, because the affiliates are very independent. They donâ€™t have to do this if they donâ€™t want to. Weâ€™re doing it in phases. The portal will include a re-designed www.ppfa.org site, but it will also include any participating affiliates. Their site will be part of the portal. It will look just like the portal, theyâ€™ll basically brand their own sites by choosing particular color combinations and particular images, but everything else will be the same. Thereâ€™s going to be consistent navigation across the whole website, etc. Thereâ€™s a clinic-finder appointment-maker. The point is to share resources like health information, so each affiliate doesnâ€™t have to maintain current health information on their website when itâ€™s all the same for everybody. We have it all in one place. The idea is that this is a destination that people can come there and localize themselves by putting in their own zip code and find their local affiliates, etc.
âˆ‘ Did the integration of the GetActive messaging and advocacy modules make it easier for different affiliates to see themselves as part of the national on-line network?
It varies. The smaller affiliates with less capacity are happy to take advantage of any resources that we can make available for them. But, a lot of the bigger and older organizations have their own ideas about how to do things and may, for perfectly good reasons, not want to be part of the portal. I see the benefits of unifying them into a portal, but I can also see why they may not see it as being in their best interest to participate in it. The interesting thing is that the GetActive was before the portal, and the people who developed the portal honestly didnâ€™t come from our division, so they didnâ€™t think about our work that much. Itâ€™s very clinic, health and development-oriented and not public policy. There are a lot of challenges. It will take a few years of growing pains. If youâ€™re an affiliate using GetActive, you can continue to use it whether youâ€™re using the portal or not. Weâ€™re working on coordinating GetActive with the portal a bit, but itâ€™s got to go both ways. Some of the affiliates are in the portal, some arenâ€™t. Some of them are sharing their GetActive with someone whoâ€™s not doing the same thing theyâ€™re doing so itâ€™s very complicated right now.
âˆ‘ On a national level, is the organization is totally comfortable with its embrace of IT?
Yes, I think people like the idea. There is a gap in the understanding of on-line stuff at non-profits. Terry Grunwald, author of Making the Net Work, has a chart that gets to the heart of the problem. Itâ€™s a matrix with four blocks in a square. On the vertical axis is technological change with old technology at the bottom and new technology at the top. On the horizontal axis is organizational change with old culture on the left and new culture on the right. Terry says that a lot of people move up to the new technology without moving to a new culture or a new way of using technology in the organization. Thus, theyâ€™re in the same old patterns and they donâ€™t understand why technology isnâ€™t changing their life. She calls this the technology trap. I wrote an article about the technology trap in my last newsletter, which is available at www.ppfa.org/ppmanagers. The technology trap is a constant problem and our portal project is a perfect example of that because with it comes huge changes in the way we do things. For example, prior to the implementation of the portal, we werenâ€™t sharing names between public policy and development, but this change was necessary as part of the portal.
Technological changes are forcing organizational changes for which we are not prepared to address including collaboration between departments because technology really encourages collaboration. On the website, all of the departments are mixed together, which means that we have to collaborate with people in the other departments. Each department has itâ€™s own culture, objective, structure, database etc. Technology is forcing some of the organizational change, but since it isnâ€™t happening intentionally itâ€™s going to have to get rehashed at some point so that someone can do it on purpose and come up with conclusions that we want and need instead of things that we just have to do.
âˆ‘ Would Planned Parenthood still be able to be an effective organization if the Internet disappeared tomorrow?
No way. For an organization as large as we are, even internally, weâ€™re dependent on it. But at this point, you canâ€™t do advocacy nationally without using the Internet because itâ€™s so much cheaper. You could do it but you wouldnâ€™t generate the number of responses that you want. The Internet is a much cheaper way to get bigger numbers. The result is that is itâ€™s less personalized, which is less effective and engaging for activists. We have to always be thinking about how we can balance that out. Itâ€™s really an important part of what we do.
There is some resistance to the use of technology but, overall, thereâ€™s increasing interest in the Internet thanks to Howard Dean etc. Every day my co-workers and the director of our department are more and more interested in doing things on-line. We used to have to drag them kicking and screaming, but theyâ€™re increasingly understanding that itâ€™s important. But, they are really not integrating it yet because they suffer from the same thing we were talking about with the other organizations, they werenâ€™t hired to be on-line savvy either.
âˆ‘ Was there a particular campaign that got their attention internally?
Thereâ€™s a campaign that I use as an example a lot to remind people that this isnâ€™t just for grassroots lobbying, but that itâ€™s an important organizing tool. On the day of the March for Womenâ€™s Lives, Karen Hughes, whoâ€™s a Bush advisor, made a statement on TV that people who are pro-choice are like terrorists because we donâ€™t value the culture of life. Of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that we donâ€™t like to hear, but, itâ€™s perfect, I love it. She should say that everyday because it doesnâ€™t effect legislation and it pisses off our activists. We immediately set up an on-line petition to request an apology from Karen Hughes and allow people to write their own letters to her. The Karen Hughes petition got almost 35,000 on-line signatures from one mailing to our list, which has about 4 to 500,000 good emails on it now but it had less at the time. We easily got about a 10% response rate and recruited 4000 new members who signed up to take that action. Action is a recruiting tool. People sign the forms and decide to join our network. You should always have something for people to do, even if itâ€™s a generic petition to your governor that says, â€œIâ€™m pro-choice.â€ Youâ€™re missing an opportunity to recruit somebody if they come to your site and thereâ€™s nothing to do. Karen Hughes is one of the best examples because 35,000 is 10,000 more than the next best national action that we did this year. It was far and away the thing that people were the most excited about. A lot of people are stunned when I tell them this because they think the list is only for contacting legislators, but itâ€™s organizing that energizes the base. I use that example a lot to remind them of that.