Here’s a question that’s come up several times lately, at panel discussions, on a listserv and (most recently) after a Campaigns & Elections event last week. Why isn’t there a Republican equivalent of Care2 and Change.org? Why don’t conservatives have a “petition site” or similar activist hub, which could then become a recruiting center for organizations and campaigns aligned with its values?
For those unfamilar with the petition-site business model, here’s how it works: you build a community of activists, then you sell access to it. Simple, right? Care2 started as a place where citizens could post petitions about issues they cared about, and then ask folks to sign up to support them. Over time, the site’s audience grew to millions of members, and the company built a nice business charging nonprofits and political campaigns to fish for support in their well-stocked pond — organizations pay Care2 for every person who signs their (sponsored) petition and/or agrees to join the organization’s email list.
A few years back, Change.org “borrowed” Care2’s business model and married it to both an aggressive PR team and a staff of campaigning experts who’ll work with citizen petitioners to help them get leverage for their causes. The result? For both companies, a thriving business — and for the broader progressive organizing community, a very efficient and cost-predictable way to build a supporter/donor list. What’s the conservative equivalent?
Well, for some on the Left, Change IS the conservative equivalent, but that’s a bit far-fetched — it’s hard to imagine, say, Ted Cruz running a terribly successful Change.org petition. From talking with various conservative friends and colleagues, the Right-side equivalent seems to involve a mix of smaller online communities (like RedState), ads on sites like Drudge, and “list swaps” or “list rentals” (i.e., buying the opportunity to contact the members of a conservative email list, a la Newt Gingrich’s much-abused supporters). And some of these can be good sources of new donors and activists, I’m sure…but the Left has them too, in the form of communities like DailyKos and activism sites like LeftAction and Democrats.com.
What the Right DOESN’T seem to have is a Care2: a site where citizens can take action on their own, that becomes a robust (10+ million members) community on its own, and where conservative activists can come to recruit new supporters for their own causes. Now, it’s possible that petition sites are a Left-wing phenomenon: liberals want to CHANGE the world and are looking for people to help them do it, while conservatives want to keep things as they are and have less need for petitions. But I don’t buy that — activists are activists, and most are looking for an outlet, whether they’re trying to keep a smelter out of their neighborhood or put a Christian home-schooler on the local school board.
So! To my conservative friends, here’s a business niche that seems to be going unfilled. But remember, as soon as one of you makes a buck off it, I want a cut. ‘Cause I may be a Lefty, but I ain’t allergic to a little cash.
First, this point from a Republican friend:
The activists are certainly there. It’s just that groups like FreedomWorks and AFP get these huge infusions of money and build their own databases. Their “business” model is to *spend* money, not make it. They are like political campaigns. There is a business opportunity on the right, though. I don’t think there is anything inherently ‘progressive’ in the petition lead gen[eration] revenue model.
Also, a longtime reader notes the fact that Causes (formerly Facebook Causes) has launched as a standalone social network for those focused on “charitable passions.” In response, some are already suggesting that some of those passions will come from the corporate portion of the public heart. More on the new Causes to come.
Also note the comment chain below.
Would ActRight.com be considered a petition site on the right?
Good question! Certainly looks like a step in that direction. How active is it, though? The actions all look to be a little long in the tooth. Also, are these citizen petitions? If not, then it’s more like a LeftAction than a Care2 — i.e., potentially an activist community but not a community petition site.
From looking at the site, the petitions don’t seem to be organic citizen petitions.
I’m new to this subject and just heard about change.org and Care2 so thank you for pointing them out. Just for clarification, what is the difference between an activist community site and a community petition site being that they both seemingly have political petitions?
Good question! We usually think of “petition” sites as sites like Care2, Change.org and MoveOn’s SignOn. These all let individual people/members post petitions and then encourage others to sign them. Change.org in particular also has a staff of organizers who help members promote actions. Care2 and Change earn a living by charging nonprofits and political campaigns to run paid petitions designed to recruit the sites’ members onto the client’s email/supporter list.
On an activist site like LeftAction, Democrats.com or any of the zillion nonprofit/issue-specific advocacy sites out there, the people who run the site post the petitions. The rest of us can sign them, but we can’t create the actions. They can also charge clients for access, but they tend not to grow as large as the citizen petition sites, since the citizen sites benefit from having the members promote their own petitions.
Colin, good post!
The question of why right wingers have not copied this kind of citizen petition site, is something that has baffled us at Care2 for years. We always expected there would be an equivalent to us that would spring up, like sort of a “Bizarro Care2.”
I do want to make one clarification, which is that Care2 for 15 years has tried to be (and largely succeeding at being, I think) a true, multi-dimensional, engaged community, full of rich content, meaningful action opportunities and peer-to-peer communication among our 23 million members. In other words, we are not satisfied to be just another petition platform or toolset; those are becoming a dime a dozen.
Sure we love petitions and pledges. But our 16 “cause channels” have fresh posts every day from a friendly army of subject matter experts and bloggers — including nonprofit leaders, senators, scientists, etc. — and these posts generate thousands of comments and fiesty debates among our members. Plus we’ve got member-generated discussion groups, a Digg-style citizen news network, a mountain of “healthy living” content, Click-to-Donate pages, a nifty “Butterfly Rewards” loyalty program, etc.
So with all due respect to welcome newcomers like Causes.com (and I have friends there) they are not nearly the first social network for people who care about causes 😉
Here’s hoping the right wingers continue to miss out on having full-blooded online communities to support their causes!
Care2 pulled down the Live By Your Laws petition within the same day of its posting. So much for democracy.