Winning the Internet

ControlShift Labs brings deep member engagement to the masses

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

As we continue to explore alternatives to we’ve got something exciting to share with this week’s interview with ControlShift Labs. One factor in Change’s success is they allowed regular people to start petitions on issues important to them and run those campaigns with an authenticity professional organizers usually can’t match. What ControlShift Labs does is essentially allow you replicate what Change does for your member-based organization.

They’ve got a handful of clients around the world doing some interesting work that showcase the platform. 38 Degrees is based in the UK and it’s a multi-issue advocacy group similar to You can see their campaign site here. Australia’s GetUp! is using the platform in a similar way. And here in the US Occupy our Homes is using it to organize around saving specific homes.

This kind of organizing isn’t right for every organization. You really need to have a grassroots member base and you need to have organizers on staff capable of working on campaigns that are catching on. But I hope to see a lot more organizations putting this kind of organizing to work in the future.

We interviewed ControlShift Labs’ founder Nathan Woodhull to get to know the platform.

What is ControlShift and how can organizations and causes use it?

ControlShift Labs is a not-for-profit provider of web products that help membership organizations engage their constituents in activism. Our first product brings member-generated petition campaigns to existing organizations. We help them move beyond broadcast email to embrace the skills and leadership of their members. We see this product as the first in a broader suite of tools that help membership organizations prioritize deep engagement and offline organizing, not just list building and fundraising.

Our mission is to shift the control in social movements from professional organizers to ordinary activists — in doing so, we empower people to work directly on the causes that matter most in their communities.

With our hosted software platform, any organization can create a branded site where their members can create campaigns to aggregate support and then deepen those connections with in-person meet ups and online collaboration. We work with them to support the campaigns that take place under their umbrella.

We’re particularly excited about finding ways for local leaders to create campaigns that support the work that national organizations do online.


What led you to create ControlShift and what values is it grounded in?

I’ve been inspired by some of the early experiments in member powered organizing that organizations like have done. Traditional online organizers are never going to A/B test our way to developing a campaign as compelling as one created by someone telling their personal story, working to organize their own community.  ControlShift believes that every membership org in the world can and should be able to use distributed campaigning tactics in their work. We’re at the beginning of an important shift in how membership organizations use the internet to fulfill their missions: towards activism that is more participatory, local, and offline.

ControlShift believes in a set of progressive values and we only work with organizations whose work, on the whole, aligns with those values. We’re proud to be focused on helping progressive membership organizations around the world be more effective. We’ve structured ourselves as a not-for-profit in part to ensure that we will never lose sight of that mission.


Does ControlShift provide a full service CRM solution or would you still need an existing CRM solution?

We do not aim to replace existing CRM solutions, but work along side them. Our software is designed to empower ordinary people to run their own campaigns for social change — but the organization itself still needs a traditional CRM to manage donations, send emails, and track action over time. In the same way that we aim to supplement traditional online organizing tactics, we also supplement existing toolset.

We already integrate tightly with Blue State Digital, ActionKit and the Getup/Purpose CRM platform. We include CRM integration as part of the setup process that we do with each organization who signs up, and are committed to integrating with all of the CRM vendors in the space, driven by customer demand. As soon as someone takes action on the ControlShift Platform, that information is pushed into that organization’s CRM.

Pictured below is the management screen for a petition creator.


If you’re bringing on a new client, how easy is it to get up and running? How much customization is involved?

It usually takes us about a week to bring on new clients. The process typically involves setting up a CRM integration and adapting the toolset to the customer’s brand guidelines.  We also assist the partner staff with adapting our default application copy to their needs, and helping their team figure out an organizing strategy.

We offer more in-depth customization and custom software development as a service for organizations whose needs we do not yet fully serve, but we’ve found that most partners do not require these services.


We’re familiar with what these kinds of sites look like from the user perspective. What kinds of tools do organizers have available to them?

We offer a comprehensive administrative interface for organizing staff to use:

  • Hot Campaigns see campaigns that are trending now.
  • Powerful moderation tools for approving petitions and the emails that members send to their signers.
  • A CMS that allows site admins to edit the site copy inside the tool.
  • Invite partner groups to create their own co-branded area of the site. Partner groups can create their own petitions, send email to the signers of their petitions, or download a CSV of members to start to build their own list.
  • Innovative “efforts” feature allowing many local leaders to run campaigns against local targets that together form a national campaign.
  • The ability to query data using SQL to perform advanced analytics.
The images here show the moderation tools and management of partner groups.


Finally, what does the platform cost?

We charge a sliding scale that is based on the annual revenue of the organization using the toolset. We work with organizations around the world, so this lets us keep the toolset affordable for organizations in India, while charging a fair price to wealthy advocacy groups. We also offer “scholarships” for particularly awesome organizations with innovative organizing plans who wouldn’t otherwise be afford to use the toolset. Subscription prices range from a few hundred dollars a month, to several thousand dollars per month for the world’s most wealthy orgs. As a not-for-profit we reinvest all our revenue back into the product and the movement.

About Raven Brooks

Executive director of Netroots Foundation and Netroots Nation.



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