OK – so if you were designing an electronic sign-up form for your local campaign group, what would you do?
I was listening to a talk by Rachel Collinson the other day at our staff away days about forms for fundraising and mass online action when it hit me – why don't many local volunteer groups do this?
Why electronic forms now?
Electronic forms have always been efficient at the administrative end of larger NGO operations, but the opportunity costs of doing so for small groups have now sunk through the floor.
We're now at a point where decreasing complexity coincides with increased opportunity. With Google Forms, for example, someone with no programming knowledge like me can design a simple form in 5 minutes which will send the answers straight to a spreadsheet on Google Drive.
And with computing increasingly mobile through smartphones, tablets and laptops, the potential to bring the quick and easy e-form to the people at events and through advertising is much greater than a decade ago.
I don't imagine a time any time soon when electronic sign-up forms will replace the paper version – we live in an age of incomplete wi-fi and varying degrees of comfort with technology. But we're now in a better position than before to employ 21st century recruitment and engagement tactics for 21st century grassroots activism.
The form you need and the form you want
Now, here's the part where I'd really welcome your thoughts. What do you make of this?
I think that the form that would be most helpful at the grassroots – the one you need - is a very simple one signing people up for local e-news like a regular e-mail newsletter. They could give you a name and an e-mail address and that would be it.
You've got the opportunity to turn these people into members, activists, financial supporters later through the news, but the key thing is that it's so simple you can complete it in 10 seconds. On a computer. On a phone. At a desk. On the go. Wherever, however.
The form you want (which you might be tempted to reach for before the first) is one where people can register their interest in volunteering with you. The classic version of this is the first Obama campaign election portal where people could go to the site and clearly express their interests – could they fundraise, could they deliver election material, would they canvass, would they phone bank? Bingo!
But …. to do that well your group needs to be running a campaign which has structured volunteering opportunities.
It's easier for election campaigns than others, but a good example from our own scene is The Bee Cause, where potential volunteers can do anything from simple actions like scattering wildflower seeds in their back garden to complex ones such as lobbying their MP.
This has the potential to be incredibly helpful to groups, I feel, but only under those conditions. Hence, my sense is that this is something to build to – don't implement it when you want it – implement it when you need it for a campaign that demands it.
In the meantime, get your sign-ups up and send them your news. You have something important to tell them, after all.