Sunday, October 26, 2008

Liberal Reforms Part 2: Developing the Membership

There is an advantage to the delegate system in that delegate wannabes traditionally sign up a lot of new Liberals to vote for them in the riding elections. That's bad for the leadership election process but it brings in a lot of new members. Most of these "instant members" drop out just as fast. However, some of those people stick.

It's up to the party to draw in new members and keep them, and we're failing at that. If we had more detailed membership forms, we could find out what's important to new members. If we had decent membership databases, we could make good use of that information. If every riding had programming to involve members, we could keep some of those people.

A long time ago I wrote a book about how to develop a business selling art and crafts. I suggested that every contact should be viewed on a potential continuum of involvement in the business: browser -> purchaser -> collector -> patron. We should be looking at Liberal members in the same way, drawing them in. We have people on the fringe of membership, and we're letting them slip away. We have people who want to be more involved, and we're wasting them.

When I send the Liberal party money it is guaranteed that within a week I'll get another plea asking for money. Instead, within a week of anyone sending money, the person should be invited to something that draws them into the party more. Different things could be triggered by different sizes of donation. Even if the donor doesn't attend the event, they feel more a part of the party.

Ridings need to organize more affordable fund-raisers, Liberal outings, Liberal workshops, Liberal training sessions - not just for the inside clique, but for the local membership. Every riding should have a goal of a set number of events for members per year, and gear those events to new as well as long-term members. If they lack the resources to organize events, inform their membership about events in nearby ridings, or involve their membership in the organization.

My riding has a woman's caucus that organizes two dinner-dances a year, and other than that and the riding executive, there is no Liberal activity. This seems to be the effect of being a "safe Liberal seat" - complacency and stasis.

In addition, we need to have outreach people to help citizens with causes. If someone is trying to clean up a river, they should know to go to the local Liberal association for help, and the Liberal association can either organize something or just pass the information on to their membership.

Keeping new members is not just about activities - it's also about policy and leadership. We dropped the ball in the last election. After all the talk about policy reform, we got saddled with a flagship policy that members didn't like. I found it very difficult to vote Liberal this time. I can understand why other previous Liberal voters went elsewhere.

Jason Morris has made some good recommendations, but one that troubles me is his recommendation that we streamline the party. I'm not saying that we shouldn't, but we should be wary of emulating the Harper Conservatives in being a top-down, centralized power structure and lean, mean fighting machine. We need to be moving in the opposite direction, towards more broad-based involvement in the party.