ACS in a Flat World

Our work of organizing people in the fight against cancer hinges on where the people are. Currently, our volunteer base is organized, for the most part, via the workplace. The workplace has morphed over the past decades, from a place where people knew there was a mutual longterm commitment to that of a much more loose and flexible arrangement. A person may not be an employee of where they work for more than a year, even at a professional level, or may not be an employee at all and is instead a vendor. The ebbing of connection to a corporation with a large centralized workplace is increasing. Benefits exist in these new arrangements, as do challenges, such as income generation as described by Reuters today. Similarly, opportunities for success and possible difficulties exist for the American Cancer Society.

The following thought piece was presented to ACS volunteer and staff leadership the projected environment and how ACS can continue meeting mission in this new flat world. It has also been published internally. Your thoughts are welcome.

Outlook: ACS in the Flat World.doc

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  1. In informal conversations I have had there has been hints that the Society needs to become an international brand. Working on cancer.org, I have become keenly aware that on the Web we are already an international brand. We would be wise to live in this reality when we make decisions about online presence. What needs of this emerging new, rarer multi-national middle class described here will/can we meet? How do we let them know we are here?

  2. For some time I’ve been advocating that we establish staff who devote their time to actively reaching out to people through the web. We have succeeded for decades as a “community-based” organization because we pay many hundreds of staff to deploy themselves from community offices to meet with and organize people in local physical communities. We invest a lot of our resources unquestioningly in that strategy because of traditional historical precedent.

    However, the advent of increasingly high bandwidth communication modalities gives us an opportunity to engage people online in meaningful and increasingly rich ways via the internet. The bandwidth and richness at low cost increases daily. But we are only beginning to realize that we need to spend dollars to employ staff to proactively engage people online regardless of where they are in the US or the world. It seems like a freaky idea. But we’re getting there. I hope the success of the Second Life Relay shows the potential of assigning staff—in this case Randy Moss—to working with online volunteers to organize that community. Likewise, I hope the launch of Relayforlife.org sets the precedent of creating a much more interactive environment for engaging people online and that Erin Anderson becomes a known, real presence in cancer-focused online communities. We need people going to work by sitting down and going online just the way people have gone to work at ACS by getting in their cars and driving to a meeting in some town for decades.

    We have a growing international presence. But, having worked just a few feet from June Chan for several years, I’ve observed that deploying people overseas is very taxing. Surely our physical presence overseas will grow, but we need to support and supplement those resources by building an infrastructure of communication and engagement online. I think we can successfully establish an online component to international activity with volunteers and staff.

    Here’s my projection: By 2015 at least 50% on the interaction the ACS does will be through the internet as a medium and it will be global in scope.

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