Case study: using data to identify and develop activists

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The Californian-based Alliance for Climate Education has a fantastic story about how it used its data to measure who amongst its supporters were turning into activists and leaders.

I think it’s a really good example of how progressive non-profit organisations can use their CRM to achieve their mission (they’ve reached over 1 million students) and really super-charge their activities.

ACE is using data to a number of ends, including measuring impact and helping to evolve program offerings to make decisions about what’s working and what isn’t to inform future program plans. The primary program offering involves sending educators into high schools in 14 states to give assembly presentations about the climate.

“They use data to determine who among the students is most likely to become a leader and step up to take on the mantle,” she said. “They pay a lot of attention to skills and performance. The educators ask students to take an initial shallow commitment of doing just one thing, and once they make that commitment the organization uses technology very successfully to get people plugged into the system.”

The next step is getting involved at the school level with a sustainability club. The students partner with volunteers and educators within the schools to mentor the sustainability club, and once that’s happened, the organization asks those clubs to make commitments, too.

“They have staff touching base with those clubs over time and figuring out who those leaders are within those clubs,” Karen said. “And they have training opportunities, too. So they can track from very shallow engagement up to being spokespeople on climate issues on the national level, and see what that looks like.”

ACE uses a Salesforce database and has a tool within Salesforce that helps track engagement. Staff organizers use dashboards to see how they’re doing building engagement at each level of the engagement pyramid. Groundwire came up with the idea of the engagement pyramid as a framework to help organizations think about all the people in their communities or all the audiences with which they work. Built upon an old-fashioned fundraising and organizing principle, it differs from an engagement ladder in that it focuses on all audiences rather than one.

The Alliance also uses engagement-related data for fundraising, Karen said, but her work with the organization has focused on using data to track engagement to see what’s working and what’s not.

“They have a data team, and all their organizers are required to use Salesforce so that anyone doing any kind of relationship-building is putting information into the database,” she said. “The engagement strategist on staff and two others work really hard to track all the people in the database.

“We did a lot of thinking about how to help them evaluate progress,” Karen said. Her new outfit, Percolator Consulting, is continuing the work Groundwire started.

“Now that they’re actually measuring over time, some of their assumptions are proving wrong, and we’re helping them adjust those and rethink them,” she said. “They’re also launching new programs all the time. We help them think about what the engagement function is … and how it complements other programs.”

The Alliance started by being very thoughtful about certain kinds of data. All the organization’s educators have specific goals about how many kids they’re trying to reach, how many schools, and how many school districts they’re building partnerships in, for example.

“They’ve been thoughtful about that since the beginning,” she said. “They were very focused on getting to a goal of reaching X number of high school students with the assumption that would be enough to reach their ultimate vision.” That model evolved over time as the young organization adapted.

This case study is interesting because ACE’s needs are very similar to many progressive organisations and unions. An important task is to identify delegates or activists who come up through the supporter (or member) base. ACE made sure that they captured their interactions with their supporters, and used the commitment and consistency principle to move people through small actions.

The process — a pyramid of engagement — is described in detail in my book, Guide to Online Campaigning for Unions, and ACE shows how having specific goals, and a clear engagement process can really assist.

There are a lot of very interesting case studies over at NTEN, and I encourage you to take a look.