Membership Engagement and Development
Developing DSA-LA Members into Organizers: A 2023 Path to Stabilizing a 5,000 Membership Chapter
Co-authors: Andre A., Aura V., David A., Leslie C., Lori D., and Jack S.L. To submit comments and amendments, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- DSA-LA grew to nearly 5,000 members in 2020, fueled by Bernie’s campaign, George Floyd uprisings, and COVID-19. After that growth surge, however, membership has seen a decline from folks choosing to not renew their dues.
- DSA-LA’s lack of a chapter-wide onboarding process has resulted in unevenness of member development and contributed to low member engagement. While DSA-LA has a public calendar of events, it necessitates members taking on initiative themselves, rather than following a set pipeline to becoming a strong socialist organizer.
- This also has resulted in uneven branch development, as there is no standard means to identify and onboard neighborhood organizers, conduct branch listwork, and ensure member involvement in chapter-wide priorities.
- DSA-LA’s online-only organizing efforts during the pandemic has shown the importance of digital communication tools to increase accessibility. However, we have also seen the limits of online-only organizing spaces. The social alienation and “Zoom fatigue” has begun to create a barrier for engaging members, and nonmembers, resulting in a need to recommit lapsed members and return to in-person organizing, while continuing COVID safety measures.
- DSA-LA has unevenly piloted several member and labor surveys to assess membership demographics, workplaces, and geographies in order to develop a power analysis and understand how to better organize our members where we live and work.
- DSA-LA has the contact information of tens of thousands of individuals in Los Angeles who have signed up for DSA-LA events, entered their contact information for mailing lists, and/or followed accounts on social media, but who are not yet members. These individuals have shown their interest in participating in a mass socialist organization, but most have not been contacted or targeted to take the next step and become full-time members and organizers.
- DSA members continue to express a desire for clearer structures and resources that empower them to organize beyond our current capacity and solidify our current goals. This membership desire was exemplified in the approval of In Response to Crisis and Build the Bench Resolutions at the 2020 DSA-LA local convention to expand branch organizing and lay out a theory of change to better organize around chapter-wide priorities.
Therefore, let it be resolved:
- DSA-LA shall invest in a permanent member development pipeline to steadily and sustainably continue to expand the chapter’s capacity. We need to be able to grow in response to events and harness new members’ energy and capacity in order to sustain and expand our mass organization.
- This resolution mandates the chapter to create a standardized mechanism to track, onboard, and train members to ensure that they are successfully activated and empowered to become successful socialist organizers.
To fulfill this resolution, Steering shall work with chapter leaders to address the following points:1. Conduct a general membership assessment to develop a broad, chapter-wide power analysis specific to DSA-LA
DSA-LA shall begin the work by implementing an all-member assessment to gauge key metrics, such as participation, workplace density, demographics, and active geographies. This will be carried out by branches and completed by November 2023. This commitment will play out in several ways:
- Publicize a chapter-wide membership survey to assess current demographics, build up our Labor Circles and independent tenant associations, and connect members to their specific Branch organizers in their neighborhoods.
- Deploy survey and conduct outreach through Branch Organizing Committees, with the goal of having at least 25% of members of each Branch completing the survey.
2. Form a Growth and Development standing committee to establish chapter-wide standards and resources for member engagement
The Steering Committee will develop a Growth and Development standing committee to conduct this assessment and lead the work. G&D will sit within the Administrative Committee and focus on developing standards and resources to coordinate member engagement, based on the results of the assessment. Standard policies will make sure that various chapter bodies have a shared baseline approach, while still leaving room open for creativity and flexibility. Resources and tools will empower these groups and the organizers who run them to feel comfortable and confident in organizing our members.
Some specific, initial goals of the Working Group will include:
- Coordinate with committees and chapter bodies to centralize membership and contact data to identify individuals in DSA-LA’s orbit but are not currently dues-paying members
- Clarifying roles and responsibilities for Branch Coordinators and Neighborhood Organizers be developing documentation, metrics, reporting standards and other resources that will be useful for onboarding new organizers in their Branch roles
- Revisit, revise, and promote the Membership & Labor Survey to identify areas of vocational density and target potential areas for new labor circles as well as plug in members into existing labor circles.
- Introduce new organizing and data management tools (See Item 3)
- Other ideas to explore:
- Work with Political Education to develop buddy study groups
- Develop guidelines for people to host semi-official DSA social events (sports, hiking, picnics, etc)
- Work with the Communications Director to develop and explore tools and messaging for communications (including, but not limited to, social media and email) with the goal of creating best practices to grow our audience and encourage chapter engagement.
3. Introduce a new chapter-wide system for tracking member engagement
One of the biggest missing pieces from Branch Coordinator attempts to engage members has been the lack of a standard tool to track and manage data. Various members and branches use combinations of existing tools and spreadsheets, creating a patchwork of datasets that can be difficult to use, even for experienced members.
DSA-LA is not the first organization to suffer from the lack of a tool to help organize this data, and many solutions already exist. In consultation with Branch Organizing Committees and committee leaders, G&D will carry out the following:
- Trial Action Builder. Action Builder is an organizing tool from the developers of Action Network, another program that we already use for chapter-wide mobilization. Action Builder allows administrators to create campaigns with measurable goals, cut turf, and make assignments. It also allows organizers to log assessments and notes from conversations. It can be integrated with Action Network to keep all our data synced. This tool can be trialed in specific branches or neighborhoods before being rolled out. There are other options that can be looked into if it’s not a good fit.
- Rolling out organizing tools across all branches once a best practice has been agreed on. This rollout process should be done in concert with members training, documentation, and an internal campaign to identify and develop neighborhood organizers.
- Track effectiveness with a measurable goal of assessing 25% of our members. A campaign like this would be an important structure test, and help us gather valuable information and create meaningful connections across Los Angeles County.
4. Develop a standardized pathway of relationship building and educational trainings for new and existing members
Action Builder, or any other tool that G&D decides on to manage membership engagement, will be paired with a standardized member ladder: a pathway of providing trainings and 1:1 conversations that all members will automatically participate in once they join DSA-LA. Branch Coordinators and other chapter leaders can then use the tool to identify and track where a member is along this pathway, including pairing new members with a neighborhood organizer or captain to create a “buddy system” for accountability.
G&D will explore various options for what this pathway should entail, but at a minimum, should expand on the existing DSA 101 and focus on offering a standard approach that members can follow. Some specific, initial goals of the Working Group will include:
- Review assessments and feedback from recent Organizing Institute to identify what worked, what didn’t work, and why
- Review universe of DSA National trainings to identify what else can be useful for members on a regular basis
- Conduct landscape assessment of other socialist training programs to identify what is being taught and why
- Survey chapter leaders to identify what skills they think we need to teach
- Identify complementary training series (i.e. Rosa Luxemburg Organizing 4 Power)
- Map out timeline for DSA-LA trainings accordingly
Questions that the chapter should help members understand include, but are not limited to:
- What does it mean to be an organizer?
- How is organizing different from mobilizing / advocacy?
- What is our theory of power and change (Referencing the chapter’s Democratic Socialist Program)
- How do our activities contribute toward our overarching goal of building power?
- How do you identify hyperlocal demands?
- How do you assess what material change is needed in your workplace and neighborhood?
Establish Growth and Development Working Group, design application process, establish initial goals based on resolution
Begin the trail use of Action Builder or other organizing tools.
- Publish new documentation to clarify and empower basic branch organizing
- Begin to roll out organizing tool chapter-wide in order to be prepared for results of November election
Launch training and orientation series following November election
Break for holidays and chapter elections.
Host a retreat to revisit progress and set goals for the rest of the year. Coordinate chapter meeting / social for all members to share out progress, brainstorm next steps, and align on 2023 strategy. Continue to maintain and improve the membership engagement process.’
Relevant goals of existing chapter bodies
- As geographic sections of the organization, Branches have been set up with the goal of being intuitive sites of member engagement. This resolution will strengthen branches’ ability to reach and organize members, building relationships and skills they need to implement the chapter’s democratically-selected campaigns.
- In addition to living within a branch, the vast majority of DSA-LA members are workers. This resolution will strengthen our ability to connect members to a relevant labor circle so that they can learn from and strategize with other militant laborers who work in their industry.
- Labor Committee will have a clear role to play in supporting this resolution by providing support for labor circles, and also by providing input on the survey component.
- Admin Committee has a goal of building durable structures and resources within the organization that outlive individual projects and ensure DSA-LA’s stability. By helping to stand up the new Growth and Development committee, and by making sure that it is connected with stakeholders (including the Branches and the pre-existing National Growth and Development Committee), Admin Committee can help make this resolution a success and improve the chapter’s ability to organize.
All other committees
- All committees will benefit from supporting this resolution. By creating standards and resources for branch-based member engagement and more robust orientation and development, committees can expect that any members who seek to get involved with committee work will be able to come in with a clearer understanding of how to contribute. This will also take pressure off committees to moonlight as disconnected sites of member orientation.
All other campaign working groups
- This resolution is designed to be complementary to the chapter’s external campaigns. In fact, it cannot function without them. The new member engagement pipeline should make sure that members are always being oriented to get involved with our external projects so that we are always building our collective capacity to achieve our socialist goals.