Page date: 26 December 2004
A Project SafeCom model for 'web based building of an NGO'
At Project SafeCom we prepared a submission for the 2004 Changemakers Innovation Award - an initiative of the US based Changemakers and Ashoka's Citizen Base Initiative (CBI), due on 14 January 2005. Below is the outline of the Award Criteria, followed by our submission. We didn't make it all the way to become a winner of the Award, but participation in it was a great exercise. (Click here to jump straight to our submission down the page). From the Award notification:
The prizes will be given to the five best ideas for creatively generating resources from a diversified citizen base, comprising individual citizens and citizen organizations, businesses, and the media. Organizations that receive support from such a citizen base - in the form of money, people goods, and services - have demonstrated that they are stronger and more independent than when they rely solely on foundation and government grants.
Changemakers and Ashoka's Citizen Base Initiative (CBI) invite you to submit strategies here for the Changemakers Innovation Award. The prizes will given to the five best ideas for creatively generating resources from a diversified citizen base, comprising individual citizens and citizen organizations, businesses, and the media. Organizations that receive support from such a citizen base - in the form of money, people goods, and services - have demonstrated that they are stronger and more independent than when they rely solely on foundation and government grants.
You can submit a contest entry, or vote for the best entries, that include creative ways to:
You must submit a description of a technique that either has or will be implemented by your organization. These must be pioneering concepts that promise to generate significant amounts of financial, human, and/or in-kind resources for sustaining a citizen sector organization. These ideas must be relevant for other organizations located anywhere on the globe. [The task was...] to submit your most innovative and replicable ideas to make an organization sustainable. All contest entries will appear on Changemakers.net and anyone can post comments, questions, and responses with each contest entry. We encourage you to participate in the discussion that appears on this site. All applications must be received (in English) by January 14, 2005.
We encourage you to send photos that illustrate your idea to cmcbi(at)changemakers.net.
Everyone Will be a Winner . . .
Even if you don't enter the contest, you can read the entries and profit from these valuable ideas for creatively sustaining your organization. Web site visitors will be able to rate the contest entries until January 14.
Prizes will be awarded for up to five of the best ideas. Winners will receive:
Anyone working in the citizen sector can participate by submitting an online entry or forwarding this to a qualifying organization. Eligible participants include members of citizen sector organizations (NGOs), civil associations, foundations, community-based organizations, cooperatives, and schools.
How to Rate Contest Entries
Please rate the contest entries considering the following criteria:
Mobilizing Citizen Support
Generates a Diversity of Resources to Heighten Social Impact
For more information, contact cmcbi(at)changemakers.net
1) Descriptive name of program or idea:
Email-only Alerts and web-based building of an NGO: to mobilize, sometimes within hours, up to an estimated 15,000 Australian residents, human rights and refugee advocates from a remote and isolated location, using email combined with an attractive website, using high-quality information dissemination only, for positive actions applying pressure on MP's and Ministers with tangible outcomes for asylum seekers in detention, and to generate supporters, members and sympathisers as well as funds to sustain its organisation.
2) Organization name:
Project SafeCom Inc. - a community association in Western Australia
3) Describe your strategy and what makes it original (750 char):
Western Australia is the earth's second largest landmass defined as a State, but has just 2 million inhabitants. Reaching out to members of a 'community' is often only feasible with email and via internet. Three years ago Project SafeCom started operations in a small country town (4400 km from Sydney). It developed a professional email-based network, reaching out to an estimated 15,000 people concerned with (also indefinite) mandatory detention for asylum seekers and refugees, held in some cases for six or more years. E-action Alerts from Project SafeCom have led to government MP's intervention of detained asylum seekers while daily news bulletins keep many people informed about crises. Donations sales and memberships are results of email promotions.
4) Describe how you make your strategy work - with detailed steps - and how it can be replicated by other organizations (5000 char):
Using E-mail: the "refugee movement" in Australia (Oz) developed 'spontaneously' at the time of the stand-off with refugees on Norwegian Containership MV Tampa. While Project SafeCom was formed its operators searched for others, found them through the internet. Many people, including Project SafeCom's operator, communicated by email, and Project SafeCom carefully stored email addresses and other details, and names of local groups or alliances formed by others. Details were stored in an EXCEL file, and were updated daily to include postal and phone details. Using database, mass-mails with up to 900 addresses in BCC field can be sent. Currently 5000 people are in the database.
E-Groups: soon many e-groups formed, using Yahoo!Groups, topica.com and others with internet archives, and other mailserver hosts. Project SafeCom made sure to register as a member of each e-group it found or was told about, but also made sure to switch the "email receiving feature" of each group to OFF, instead accessing online archives to read messages on the lists in its own time, instead of receiving thousands of emails a day. Within months there were more than 60 refugee groups messaging by email through these lists. Project SafeCom believes that its coordinator is the only person in "the refugee action, advocacy, lobby and support community" who is subscribed to all known group lists.
At present, Project SafeCom reaches a total of ca 15,000 people through all e-groups and individual email addresses.
Website: from its start, the Project SafeCom website included pages for comments and submissions. At present people enter details for ordering products, provide comments or feedback, or enter endorsements of proposals or strategies on 21 pages. Everyone gets a reply, and email addresses and other details of these website commentators and supporters are added to the database.
Mass E-mail generator: an activist from another area of Australia created a mass email generator, linked to MS Access databases. See http://senatorslapper.netfirms.com. This software creates individual emails for every address in one of the selected Access databases within seconds, each with its own Salutation, and dumps the emails into MS Outlook. Next, opening Outlook will show the often hundreds of emails, ready for sending. The mass email generator avoids any accusation of "spamming" by the spam control software at Yahoo!Groups or other hosts, because the emails are sent individually to each group, with its own Salutation and the "real" name of the addressee group.
Contributing to the debate: Project SafeCom also actively and frequently "manually" replies to messages on all lists. Project SafeCom always adds a carefully chosen signature line to all its emails sent to the groups, linking back to its website, or points to papers, stories, speeches or other material on its website via links.
All emails are first drafted in the NOTEPAD program or MS WORD. Once Project SafeCom is satisfied, the message is pasted into the email program, rechecked - also for looks and layout - and sent. Project SafeCom ensures in its messages that:
E-mail not an add-on to the job: emails are often treated as if they are an extra add-on to the duties in the modern office, a sign that many people still do not accept the central place of emails in the workplace. Project SafeCom treats emails as an essential core element of its daily work, because email is its messenger and it also creates its clients, supporters and members: it has made Project SafeCom into a main national player in "the refugee movement".
Press releases: Media releases are sent by email only - contrary to "protocol" which prescribes fax machines. It has not been a problem, because journalists rely on "the citizens' movement" for stories. (Media are banned from detention centres by the Australian government)
Alerts are sent for immediate action, asking people to question MP's and Senators about asylum cases, to confront avoidance by MP's of emergencies or languishing cases, or to lobby MP's for case interventions. Example is a detained asylum claimant whose Indonesian wife was killed in the Bali terrorist bombings - after 3 govt refusals to allow the 2 children into Australia to visit their father, for fear human rights lawyers would claim asylum for the little children when they entered Australia, PS initiated e-action, which triggered questions in Parliament, eventually leading to the man being released with a permanent visa, and the children granted access to Australia.
5) Of the following five items, choose only those that are key to your strategy and describe how they help make your strategy innovative. We do not expect you to provide answers to all five:
(i) Citizen Support Mobilized: (e.g., memberships, public events, stakeholder involvement) (750 char):
60% of members do not live "locally" and have become members through the Project SafeCom website, being attracted through messages and news to the website and its work. Local event participants, local forum audiences are recruited by email; unknown supporters "spontaneously" replicate notices on other lists and news websites. Friendly MP's and Senators receive all news, assisting them in their work; one email was read out in an MP's speech in Parliament. Human rights lawyers and groups, and TV, Radio and other news reporters - also in other countries - read Project SafeCom's free daily Newsletter (about 800 subscribers). See here and here.
(ii) Financial and Nonfinancial Resources Generated: (e.g., earned income, in-kind donations, cost recovery, and financial contributions, etc,) (750 char):
Project SafeCom provides lots of news and information about asylum seeker issues and policies in Australia for free: donations and support follow spontaneously. This is one of Project SafeCom's deliberately chosen ways of working. 2003/04 saw an income increase of 220% compared to the 2002/03 financial year through website sales and donations. 2004/05 prognosis shows another increase of 130%. The Project SafeCom Office is operated f/t by a coordinator on a pro-bono basis. The Project SafeCom coordinator has toured Australian cities to share ideas and resources, and travelled to Victoria, and Canberra ACT to attend events and conventions. Income from "useful items" usually matches a trip's expenditure. Once a Foundation assisted with a $1000 grant. Project SafeCom seeks to develop into a human rights agency.
(iii) Established Relationships with Strategic Partnerships: (e.g., corporate, media, government, etc.) (750 char):
Informed and "friendly" MP's are briefed with copies of press releases & info bulletins. A new party expected to hold the balance of power in the Senate from July 2005 requested a policy briefing from Project SafeCom - then responded publicly, strongly opposing govt policy. A few allies in the main opposition Labor party assist in this process: Project SafeCom emails were tabled in the party caucus. Those Media outlets who refrain from party-political bias to the govt (many media outlets shun asylum reports because of readership backlash fear and fear of reporting disagreeable with the govt) are briefed following press releases. Project SafeCom's professional approach slowly erodes resistance of press and MP's and melts away fear to be associated with "suspected radicals".
(iv) Engaging and Managing Volunteers: (e.g., volunteers, interns, probono support) (750 char):
Contrary to "accepted practice" of many groups in "the refugee movement" Project SafeCom does not have weekly or less frequent public meetings because of logistics and distance difficulties. Volunteers are briefed and attracted from members, supporters and sympathisers on a needs-only basis when public events are organised in city or other areas. Through Project SafeCom's frequent e-mail notices and "high visibility" on the internet, this system works well. Material and financial sponsorship of events is sought and successfully found in the lead-up to events. Turnover of volunteer core group, often students, is accepted. No interns at this stage, but this is part of planning and development for the next three years.
(v) Types of Information Developed and Ways of Spreading the Message: (e.g., on-line interaction, print, broadcast, outreach campaigns, etc.) (750 char):
6) Describe how the items and steps you listed in (4) and (5) make your organization more self-sufficient while increasing its social impact (1000 char):
Many NGO's struggle with funds to sustain daily operations, to enable growth and expansion, and raising their profile; too many fail because of their classic reliance on mail-outs and printed newsletters. Incorporation law in most countries lags in terms of not including "electronic communication" created with the advances of the Internet and its possibilities. While Project SafeCom also struggles with these limits, many of these are beginning to be overcome because of Project SafeCom's high usage of emails, its insistence on continuously reshaping the relevance of current and new info on its website and its insistence on using an intense e-group presence in its targeted citizens groups in Australia. On its website PDF files provide flyers and leaflets as free info and briefing sheets; no mailing or printing costs are incurred while 500+ daily page views are evidence of a growing visibility, and about 250 Project SafeCom print press quotes since 2001 have raised its profile.
7) Contact information
Contact Person & Title: Jack H Smit, Coordinator
Mailing Address: PO Box 364, Narrogin, Western Australia 6312
Telephone: (+61) (417) 090 130
Fax: (+61) (8) 9881 5651 (by appointment only)
Web site: https://www.safecom.org.au/
8) Organization's mission and vision (300 char):
To envision ... operation of a Safe Community in Western Australia for people of any race .... nationality, who are displaced as a result of Wars or Political .... Geological upheaval and/or Disaster; and for other users as and when appropriate.
NOTE: 'community' in this context is not neccesarily or always used as physical or 'local'.
Thank you! The following questions are optional:
How do you anticipate your strategy evolving over the next three years? (500 char):
Size of organization (i.e., number of volunteers, full-time employees, part-time employees) (500 char):
How did you hear about this contest? (200 char):
Through a regionally distributed e-newsletter.
If you win the contest, what service would be of most value to your organization? (Please rank with "1" representing the greatest value, "4" the least):
3. Being connected with an Ashoka Fellow working in a similar field
4. Networking and sharing with other citizen sector organizations (CSOs) that are using similar citizen base strategies
2. Receiving one-time consultant support from (private sector) professionals
Below are the comments submitted so far at the Changemakers website and copied to our website. They were submitted to the Changemakers website.