Published
Tuesday, June 8, 2010 - 14:11
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Folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are currently evaluating options for replacing their current suite of online tools. Their requirements include membership management, fundraising, email blasts and activism - and they would like to use open source solutions if possible (and they are already using Drupal for parts of their web presence). Their team has spent some time exploring CiviCRM's feature set, and Lobo and I met with them last week to discuss their findings, answer questions and evaluate fit and gaps. Based on our conversation, it looks like "out of the box" CiviCRM provides equivalent or better functionality relative to their current toolset in 3 of the 4 key areas. The significant exception is their activism requirements. EFF's "write your congressperson" campaigns are a critical aspect of their work - and they rely on their current tool to interface with the myriad of web forms used by members of congress. The Sunlight Foundation has done incredible work providing free and open access to congressional district data - and EFF will be looking at using the cd_sunlight Drupal module which queries that data and provides integration with CiviCRM. However, none of us are aware of an open source tool or service which enables sending emails or faxes to congressional offices / elected officials (i.e. an open source equivalent to what Convio, CapWiz and Democracy in Action offer). We all agreed that this would be incredibly useful for lots of folks in the CiviCRM community (and the US activism community in general). Would be great to hear feedback from folks on this ...
  • Do you know of any existing solutions or projects in development in this area?
  • Thoughts on feasibility?
  • Would you or your organization be interested in joining an effort to build a solution?
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The problem is not in building a solution... it's maintaining it. Most of the congressional offices utilize a web form as the only method of sending email. These forms often change, are replaced with new code, new systems, the member redesigns their site, someone new comes in, there are many reasons why this changes. What the big advocacy firms do is monitor these sites for those changes and then have a crack team of developers to build a work around for the new forms. I have heard that the forms change on a weekly basis. So you really need a full-time person dedicated to just hacking them up. Then there's the argument that e-mail is no longer effective. Most offices just funnel the emails into a database where they can sort your letter, get a total count and then send you back a form letter. The Congressional Management foundation is a DC think tank that has generated some good ideas on how to improve the process. You can find the materials here. A lot of the ideas are centered around providing a format to receive letters from the big advocacy providers in an easy to digest format that is standard. The challenge is getting these ideas implemented as government can be extremely slow to adopt to change. A lot of more modern advocacy campaigns have been utilizing Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to spread their messages. It's a more public space so you can get a visual representation of the size of people who support an issue and it's public so it has the potential to get earned media. So I think we're at the point where there is a shift in the methods and perhaps the old way of doing it is no longer the most effective.

The flip side of this is that for many local issues & for contacting local politicians & elected leaders, basic email still works just fine. So providing basic functionality to allow people to send feedback via email is still a core requirement and still useful for many, many situations.

 

and should have most of the above functionality. You might want to take it for a test drive and consider contributing / extending it to make it more complete for needs of organizations like yours

 

http://civicrm.org/civicrm/contribute/transact&reset=1&id=1

 

lobo

Hi Dave,

It sounds like what you're looking for is mySociety's WriteToThem, it's open source and is described as the "new" FaxYourMP (a project it grew out of).

I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.

Cheers,

Henare

I know that Trellon has been working on an extremely ambitious project to build a highly pluggable suite of activism tools. You can see the proof-of-concept version here:
http://drupal.org/project/activism

Last I heard they were building out the real thing on top of Drupal 7. Not sure where they are at with things. You may want to get in touch with Michael Haggerty.

I recently moved a state-wide advocacy group to Drupal/CiviCRM and agree that this activism component is a big missing piece from our perspective. Right now we use a home brewed solution that works but is cumbersome to setup for each advocacy campaign.

At any one time we often have 2-3 advocacy campaigns operating. Each one has its own targets in terms of elected officials, government employees, etc. Our big requirements
1) easy setup of a new campaign,
2) easy monitoring of current campaign status (# of emails sent, etc.),
3) archiving of the messages sent and the contact info of the senders,
4) communication with the participants to keep them updated on the progress of the campaign in which they are participating.
5) populate CiviCRM with our members' national, state, and local elected officials.

We've tried a few different Drupal modules that purport to add this functionality, but haven't found anything that really meets our needs.

Finally, we need a solution that includes state and local elected officials as well as members of Congress. The data is available, but needs to be incorporated into a Drupal/CiviCRM module. Extending Sunlight's excellent module to lower levels of government would be ideal.

Connect is a very lightly used Drupal module that has some of the desired functionality, and had a beta upgrade from 5 to 6 developed by volunteers this winter. It was developed for the Canadian parliamentary system, and is not setup for US Congressional data such as that from the Sunlight foundation so far as I know.

HTH,
Joe

PS For what it's worth, I think this would be very useful to many advocacy groups and is a great fit for CiviCRM. I previously posted some specs in the past for what would be useful.

We are setting up a steering committee in the European Parliament to see what is the best way both for the campaigners and the targets to deliver the petitions.

http://wiki.civicrm.org/confluence/display/CRM/CiviPetition

My personal feeling is that mail blasting (each supporter sending a mail) is quickly becoming seen as spam by the target, and handled as such (automatic filter, goes to a folder at best, in the trash more likely). We need to find a way of showing the support without flooding their inboxes, but without having them ignore the signatures.

I'll update when we have more meetings, see if our approach makes sense elsewhere.

I'd like to stay in the loop and help where possible. A couple of clients have expressed interest in this, and I know some folks run CiviCRM and DIA in parallel because they need this functionality.

Faxing will pretty much always need a third-party bulk fax vendor. However, many can accept emails with TIF attachments, so if CiviCRM could create and mail a TIF image of the message to be faxed, it could probably work with a range of vendors.

Some of the features mentioned above can be found using a contributed Activism Drupal module from the Trellon group. I'm not sure that it connects to Sunlight Labs out of the box; but our site has this module validating against the Sunlight Labs databases; so I know that it can be done. It works like a charm.

At the Jane Goodall Institute, in most cases, we use Trellon's Activism module to create petitions and other tools to allow our site visitors to send messages directly to their govt. representatives based on live data from the Sunlight labs API.

We have been contemplating this issue for some time as well, the primary thing keeping us from switching to an open source platform like CiviCRM is the lack of a solid congressional advocacy tool (we tried DIA in the past but had some reservations about their reliability).

My initial thought was to build a homegrown system with Sunlight foundation API, Congressional fax numbers and a fax API or VOIP fax service, but given the large volume of messages that our members send that method could get extremely cost prohibitive.

I believe with a distributed effort the advocacy community could map and update Congressional forms, and in cases where email delivery was not possible hold messages (to be delivered by other means --- perhaps directed to a Fax API --- which I believe is the contingency that some of the major vendors use). If other organizations are interested this project I may be able to dedicate some resources as well.