Monday, December 15, 2008

Engaging the Grassroots: ur doin it wrong

I was very excited to hear that Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla had taken it upon herself to start a website called In an obvious attempt to emulate the success of the Obama Nation down south (Hope! Dream! Inspire!), the website invites Liberals to "make your voices heard!" is about you. It's about having your voice heard. It's about making a difference. is a grassroots campaign to open the Liberal Party to new voices, to new visions, and a new future. This campaign is about building from the bottom up, about reaching into communities, about connecting with families, listening, and changing the way we do politics in our nation. With you have the power to be apart of history for a cause that is greater than any one of us. has been created to hear your thoughts and suggestions of how we can better connect with Canadians, give them hope and inspire them to believe. As the Liberal Party goes through the journey of electing a new leader you have the opportunity to be apart of this change to make sure we get it right!

Unfortunately, when you go to the website, it turns out that the only way to have your voice heard, or indeed to access any real content, is to make a donation.

Now, the donation can be as little as $1.00, and I can sympathize with the rationale behind it (it keeps out the trolls, plus, well, we really need the cash). But I think that making dialogue, input and grassroots participation contingent upon a financial contribution sends entirely the wrong message.

People donated to Obama in the millions because they WANTED to. The participation and dialogue came first, and was open to everyone - even Canadians like me. I signed up early in Obama's campaign so I could contribute to their forums and receive email updates. Only THEN did they start hitting me up for money, and I'll tell you - I was sorely tempted to send them some, and it wasn't even my country!

A lot of the appeal in Obama's case was obviously the desire to be "part of history" and all that. But a lot of it was a simple desire to participate and interact, and feel that someone was listening. Oh, and the merchandise: buttons, posters, limited edition bumper stickers, and those coveted 'tickets to history'.

The point is, you need to get people engaged FIRST. Get them to register, sure - that way you can do troll control and build up your database at the same time. And yes, you could even have a special section for 'premium members' who have made a donation.

But to ask people to give you money - even if it's only a buck - without showing them what they can expect in return (but asking them to give their input anyway) is entirely the wrong way to engage people or to get them to donate. And on top of everything else, you are effectively excluding everyone who doesn't have a credit card, and double-dipping off of people like me who have already joined and/or donated to the party.

Oh, and in case you were wondering - yes, I hauled out my VISA card, donated $5 (just to make it worth the trouble), filled in my info, gave them my ideas, expressed my concerns about the format of the website, and hit 'SUBMIT'. Not because I really wanted to, but just so I could see what happened and tell you about it.

I'm not sure what I expected - a secret password emailed to me, an online forum, a look at what all the other "voices" had to say - something.

This is what I got.


Dhalla gets an A for effort and for having the right idea, but a C- for execution. We've got a lot of work to do here folks.

UPDATE: John Laforet proves that great minds think alike, and also makes a connection (also mentioned in the comments) that I hadn't noticed: between the 90,000 'voices' that Dhalla wants to enlist, and the $90,000 it takes to enter the Liberal leadership race. Things that make you go hmmm...


  1. This makes me sick. If you are going to emulate Obama's grassroots efforts, especially on the web, do the one thing that made Obama's campaign so successful. Let the people have easy and mostly free access to the candidate and paaty. Don't make people pay to play. That's the opposite message of success. It is stupid, short-sited and lacks any scope of vision. Sad.

  2. One-way communication on precondition of financial standing a grassroots movement does not make.

  3. Good point, and I think this really represents a major issue that I have with the Liberals. It often seems like the party hierarchy has lost its connection with the electorate, and I think the way they've lurched from policy to policy and leader to leader over the past few years is a direct consequence of that disconnection.

  4. As for your $5 back! Block the transaction from the creditcard company!

    If they wanted the input of the Grass Rootz, they would have heald a 1M1V leadership!

    This is a joke!

    But, then again, I am not surprised. Asking the Liberal Elite to organize/reach out to the grass roots is like asking a Dane to dance. They don't know how; and their attempt looks gauche.

  5. From the website: "The goal is to have 90,000 new voices to help renew and rebuild The Liberal Party.".

    The entry fee to be a Leadership Candidate is 90k. Is that a coincidence?