Advice & Resources for Your Online Organizing Career

Our event ‘Online Organizing – Career Night’ was a smashing success, judging by how long folks stuck around to talk with our panelists. Thank you panelists for coming out to support our community! If you didn’t attend, here’s who you missed:

Tate HausmanTate Hausman Consulting, Studio Guild
Rebekah SpicugliaWomen’s Media Center
Daniel AtwoodIraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
Errol King1199SEIU (Healthcare union local)
Benjamin YeeNY State Senate and Manhattan Young Democrats
Elana Levin – Writers Guild of America, East and Organizing 2.0

Tate Hausman kicked off our panel by talking about the evolution of online organizing from his days working at Alternet.org during the first tech boom, when the phrase ‘Content is King’ was, well, king. Compelling storytelling will never be out of style, it’s essential to holding an audience’s interest. However, what was less clear a decade ago is that the network is queen. Content surfs the waves, and those waves are made up of the people willing to pay attention and promote it to the networks they belong to.

He also challenged the audience by asking two questions: do you want to change the world? And do you want to accumulate power? Almost everyone nodded to the first question, but only a few asserted proudly that they wanted more power. Yes, the essence of being an online organizer is getting networks of people to work together to advance change in accordance with your (or your organization’s) agenda. Online organizing is about accumulating power. (To be used only for good, of course.)

His advice to online organizing careerists: focus on your skills and developing relationships with people you know.

Rebekah Spicuglia talked about the journey that she and her organization went through. She joined in 2007 as an intern. She then became an administrative assistant, and by advancing in her skills and credibility, she and the WMC began to do more online work. The real leap forward took place when they began to use Salsa (a popular advocacy/fundraising tool), but this merely accelerated an existing trend. Her story resonated with many of us. The phrase ‘accidental techie’ used to refer to folks who became experts at keeping the PC’s running and the internet up. Rebekah became an ‘accidental online organizer’ who in the space of three years, with very little formal training, rose to become a ‘7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10’ in terms of expertise.

Her advice to online organizing careerists: don’t be shy about putting yourself and your skills – new and not yet acquired – forward. Be willing to push gently at the boundaries of what your organization already does while expanding your own role.

Daniel Atwood considers himself lucky. He joined IAVA four years ago as someone who was responsible primarily for posting content to the website, and also for occasionally fixing a broken printer. But as a young organization with open-minded, entrepreneurial leadership, he was empowered to help build something bigger. In that environment, Daniel was able to work closely with other departments in the organization to develop and implement integrated campaigns that combine offline with online, staff with volunteers, online supporters with highly committed super activists.

That’s not all; as a relatively new organization working with younger people (recent veterans) IAVA never had to worry about legacy roles, departmental silos and veteran staff protecting turf. Still, it makes a lot of sense to think carefully about the nature of the organization you are joining, not just what the job description is and the compensation.

His advice to online organizing careerists: see yourself as constantly developing new skills and talents, and be a good team player, and a constant problem solver.

Errol King has been with 1199, SEIU’s East Coast healthcare union local for seven years. In that time though, he’s shifted jobs every year or two, often moving up to positions that he had a hand in crafting. Much of his work has been related to web content and web development, which he has mostly learned on his own.

It was clear listening to Errol how much he enjoyed tackling new problems. I know he is one of the first folks to purchase an iPad, not to prove he’s cool (we knew that) but to figure out if there’s a future for future iPad applications that assist organizers in the field. Much of his presentation was about the importance of navigating the organization before trying to push anything. Organizations can be very complex and political, forcing the online organizer to specialize in the practice of organizational change management.

His advice to online organizing careerists: understand your organization and its culture and master the art of communicating technical concepts to the non-technical.

Elana Levin is fairly new at the WGAE. But her path as an online organizer began (along with so many others) with the Howard Dean Campaign for President in 2004. Since then she’s served in a variety of communication roles including doing traditional press relations and became known for her expertise in working with bloggers. The organizations she’s worked with were the kind that needed to change to incorporate online tools effectively. The best way to make those changes is to focus strongly on how some new tool will achieve a goal set by the boss – but better, faster, and more of it.

Remember, in many instances the boss doesn’t understand this brave new digital world we live in, and doesn’t have much inclination to start now. So make it easy – do something small that builds your case to generate permission to do more. Just don’t fall into the trap of explaining how things work…

Her advice to online organizing careerists closely matched Rebekah’s and Eroll’s: pursue opportunities to innovate, but be very mindful of staying in your boss’s comfort zone. Develop skills in organizational change management – from below.

Benjamin Yee was last. He told the story of how he rose from volunteer in the New York Obama campaign to become ‘the go to guy for new media in New York’ according to his current employer at the NY State Senate’s CIO office. He described how staff on the campaign increasingly relied on him to figure out how to make technology work for the campaign. This meant grabbing on to specialties he hadn’t mastered yet, and running with them. It also meant making sure he was recognized for it.

Benjamin pointed out that all political campaigns are a mess. But within that mess, there’s often a chance to occupy some niche and build on it, just be being the one person who cares enough to focus it. As a volunteer, you just might carve out a role of real responsibility that you can leverage into something bigger down the road.

His advice to online organizing careerists: don’t be afraid to live with your mom and collect unemployment while working on a political campaign. Find a place where you can show initiative and get recognized for it.

Of course, there’s a lot more we covered, which you know if you were there! Check out our two related posts:
Sub Specialties of an Online Organizer
Resources for Online Organizing Jobs and Training

Thank you Green Spaces NY for offering discounted space for our event. They offered one day of free workspace to all attendees. Check out the amenities here.

This event was a co-production of Organizing 2.0 and GrassrootsCamp. We have events scheduled for April 28, May 12, and May 26. Join our mailing list to learn more.

Job Opportunities
Our good friends at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are looking for an online strategy associate. They are one of the most innovate, strategic and successful nonprofits doing online organizing. And they treat employees well. If you’re looking for work or hate your boss, visit http://iava.org/content/jobs-and-internships#onlinestrategy for more details.

New York Jobs with Justice and Urban Agenda are hiring as well. They need a talented and committed Communications and Online Associate to join the NY JWJ / Urban Agenda team! This is a great opportunity for someone looking to use their creativity and technical skills to help build and win campaigns for social, economic and environmental justice. See the full position description and apply here: http://www.idealist.org/if/i/en/av/Job/374525-104/c. They also need an administrator.  And our friends at the National Employment Law Center are looking for a Communications Director.

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