Industry Leaders Discuss the Internet's Impact on Philanthropy, Advocacy and Politics, and Value of Constituent Empowerment

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On May 21, Convio and ViaNovo hosted a panel discussion at the National Press Club entitled, "Converging Campaigns: How the Internet is changing philanthropy, advocacy and politics," that addressed how the Internet, social media and technology are creating change in the nonprofit, advocacy and political arenas. Top executives and strategists from Facebook, Rock the Vote, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, ViaNovo, Convio and the online strategists for the Howard Dean and Bush/Cheney '04 presidential campaigns discussed the ways online communications and campaigns in all three worlds are converging in appearance and success. Panelists also shared lessons learned that will help organizations and campaigns better engage supporters today and in the future. A replay of the entire event is available at http://www.visualwebcaster.com/converging

This allows organizations like Rock the Vote to actually find young people where they are congregated, in an online setting, through their telephones, and give them the information so they can mobilize and engage their peers.

On May 21, Convio and ViaNovo hosted a panel discussion at the National Press Club entitled, "Converging Campaigns: How the Internet is changing philanthropy, advocacy and politics," that addressed how the Internet, social media and technology are creating change in the nonprofit, advocacy and political arenas. Top executives and strategists from Facebook, Rock the Vote, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, ViaNovo, Convio and the online strategists for the Howard Dean and Bush/Cheney '04 presidential campaigns discussed the ways online communications and campaigns in all three worlds are converging in appearance and success. Panelists also shared lessons learned that will help organizations and campaigns better engage supporters today and in the future. A replay of the entire event is available at http://www.visualwebcaster.com/converging

WHO:    
Moderator:     Tucker Eskew, Founding Partner, ViaNovo
Panelists:        
1) Adam Conner, Associate, Privacy and Global Public Policy, Facebook
2) Heather Smith, Executive Director, Rock the Vote
3) Brian Rubenstein, Associate Director, Nationwide Grassroots, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
4) Patrick Ruffini, Online Strategist (Bush/Cheney '04)
5) Nicco Mele, Online Strategist (Dean for President '04)
6) Vinay Bhagat, Chief Strategy Officer and Founder, Convio

According to the panelists, while the Presidential Election of '04 set new standards for using the Internet to raise funds, engage and empower constituents and drive advocacy, today those standards are being crushed by the success campaigns and nonprofits are having in 2008. By embracing new technology, as well as new and proven strategies, nonprofits, advocacy organizations and political campaigns are having more success online than ever before. Just as important, that online success is helping drive even more success for the traditional offline channels for engagement. Many current peer-to-peer fundraising tools, social media utilities like Facebook and mobile technologies like text messaging and the iPhone did not exist in 2004, but each are playing key roles in engaging constituents of all ages in 2008.

In setting the context for the discussion, moderator Eskew commented that, "Philanthropy to me, and I think some of our panelists will agree in some of the early discussion, can sometimes mean 'donations' and certainly that is a major factor, but not the only one. It is clearly a broader term in our view; involving all that human activity meant for the betterment of mankind. So we'll talk about the ways organizing philanthropy, advocacy and political campaigns can drive that kind of action."

In addressing the concept of empowering people to make a difference, Bhagat explained the social fabric of the Internet. "This concept of constituent empowerment is incredibly important, because the Internet is really all about a social fabric where people can communicate with each other. Savvy campaign organizations have realized that there is this social energy they can harness by empowering their constituents to reach out and create more support."

Talking about how today's youth are changing the face of politics and advocacy through their engagement, as well as their expectations for communication, Heather Smith shared insight into different ways Rock the Vote reaches people. The lessons could be applied to any organization or campaign looking to engage new constituents. "They (young people) are incredibly connected with each other because of new technologies and digital media," she said. "This allows organizations like Rock the Vote to actually find young people where they are congregated, in an online setting, through their telephones, and give them the information so they can mobilize and engage their peers."

Rubenstein spoke to how American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network is using online technologies and resources to drive offline actions to support a broad volunteer structure and engagement. "We empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the fight against cancer. So we are empowering our volunteers using these tools to reach them so they can begin to do the offline things that we believe still have a lot of influence with members of Congress."

Yet the pace of technology and opportunity continues to move swiftly, often causing organizations and campaigns to wonder which applications and technologies to use.

"Convergence is confusing; four years ago on the Dean Campaign, YouTube, Facebook and podcasting did not exist," said Mele. "The dramatic change in media consumption and communication habits over the last decade, especially the last four years, feels like it is accelerating and reaching more and more people in weirder and odder ways. For any nonprofit, political campaign, corporation even, you have to figure out who is your audience; how do you reach them; engage them; advance the goals of your organization?"

While many people see the highly visible political campaigns and believe they are leading the convergence, Ruffini shared insight into how political campaigns are following nonprofits; "What we are seeing is that we have to keep people motivated for the long haul. Campaigns are trying to tap into this sense of belonging, trying to tap into a sense that I am part of something larger than myself, part of a movement."

Other key topics from the 90 minute discussion included:

  •     Engaging current and potential supporters
  •     Need for micro-campaigns/micro-targeting
  •     Importance of an effective online presence
  •     Use of multi-channels
  •     Empowering constituents and volunteers
  •     Value of mobile technology
  •     Power of young people

The event panelists agreed that the basics of email marketing and having a strong Web presence are no longer just "nice to have." They are imperatives for all campaigns and organizations. But with limited dollars and resources, organizations need to partner with vendors and strategists that can help them engage constituents to help create a movement around their candidate, cause or mission.

As Convio CEO, Gene Austin summed it up "While celebrating world-altering communications technologies and success, we must also strive to share lessons learned and expertise as a country so that together we can change the world. That's what "Converging Campaigns" is about; to help expand the conversation, to share ideas and prepare for the future."

Individuals interested in participating in the event discussion can do so at the Convio blog, http://www.connectioncafe.com

About Convio
Convio is a leading provider of on-demand constituent relationship management software and services to nonprofit organizations to enable nonprofit organizations to more effectively raise funds, influence public policy and support their missions by leveraging the Internet to build strong relationships with constituents. The Company's online constituent relationship management, or eCRM, solution includes a suite of on demand software modules for fundraising, advocacy, email marketing and Web content management complemented by a portfolio of best-in-class consulting services.

Convio's clients include American Red Cross, American Diabetes Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Sierra Club, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and National Public Radio. For more information, please visit http://www.convio.com

About ViaNovo
ViaNovo is a leading management and communications consultancy that specializes in the high-stakes positioning of corporate and not-for-profit clients from a branding, sales, crisis, regulatory and legislative perspective. The firm's clients include some of the world's most recognized brands, leaders and organizations.

ViaNovo's principals have worked on several winning U.S. presidential elections, on the White House Staff, and on Capitol Hill and have shaped strategies and campaigns for CEOs, corporations, foundations, governments, candidates, and presidents. The firm has offices in Austin, Washington, D.C., Dallas and Monterrey, Mexico. For more information, please visit http://www.vianovo.com.

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Tad Druart
Convio
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Michael Shannon
ViaNovo
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