Rathke: The Numbers Underneath the Art of Organizing

Quebec City    Listening to the national and office reports from the organizers ACORN Canada last evening at their Year End/ Year Begin meeting, I was making notes and trying to follow the breakthroughs on new campaigns and victories here and there over the year.  Most of the reports were oral with PowerPoints and, in a few cases, there were printed copies.  Over the years, I’ve sometimes jotted down a lot of the numbers and other times just followed the top line number on total  members for ACORN Canada, now almost 140,000, and full members, meaning the members on bank draft or direct deposit, making dues automatically, month after month, who are the lifeblood of the organization.

Somehow this time, I copied down the national numbers which are meticulously kept and compiled on the key organizing metrics by Head Organizer Judy Duncan and ace admin, Peggy Cooke.  This time she noted that they had collectively hit 110,000 in their community organizing outreach going door to door.  They had garnered 10,344 provisional members, 561 associate members, and 582 full members.  A full-member, as I said, means they are paying their dues in full.  An associate member is paying partial dues, usually in case for several months at a time.  Still a critical member, but not part of the monthly drafting system.  A provisional member is someone who is signing a membership application with an intent to join, but doing so on a trial basis for several months before actually paying dues.  This report was followed office by office with Toronto first, then Hamilton, British Columbia, Montreal, Ottawa, and the unstaffed areas of Peel and Nova Scotia.

I somehow missed the Toronto numbers, but as I jotted down the others or grabbed the random written report, I started to see a rough pattern.  As a rule of thumb, the combined total of the full and associate members, those with dues paid into the organization, were running plus or minus around 10% of the total of the provisional members with full members usually on a 1 to 5 ratio to provisionals.  Montreal 29 full to 601 provisional.  Almost on the money, British Columbia 43 to 510, a little better at 8%, and Hamilton 105 to 1332, a bit under 8%, Ottawa full and associates were 337 to 3467 and 10% on the money.  Looking back at the national figures there were 1143 full and associate members compared to the 110,000 or 10.4% — bingo!  We’re talking about organizing math, not rocket science, but these are all pretty good indicators of office performance and organizers above or below the mean.

A bit more random and perhaps coincidental, but an interesting mathematical pattern nonetheless were the relationships between the figures on annual turnout to provisional members where the ratio ran almost exactly one to two, meaning one person at a meeting or action to every two provision members who applied to join.

We’ll have to think about that relationship, but having numerical benchmarks for organizing is vitally important.  Organizing math doesn’t rule the work, but it sure helps build mass organizations which is what ACORN is all about.

Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International

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