Measuring Counts

ACORN ACORN International Canada Community Organizing

Montreal         There are probably thousands of sayings about measurements.  “Measure twice, cut once,” is the rule in carpentry and many other trades.  In business, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  In life and much of work, “if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”  In general, “a good measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions,” and so on and so on.  You get the message:  measuring counts.

            Don’t be confused.  Counting matters in organizing, but that doesn’t mean it’s popular or easy to establish.  Measuring is the gateway to accountability.  Measuring offers a way to understand performance.  Measuring in organizing often is a subtle challenge to what is often a verbal tradition infused with personality and charisma.

            Listening and reading the reports from the ACORN Canada organizers it was impossible not to understand that a key to the continue growth and success of the organization lies firmly in the deep culture of measuring the work, wherever possible.  Of course, members are counted, whether new, associate or provisional, as well as something they insist on calling “golden eggs”, which are more significant recurring donors.  Past the raw numbers, ACORN counts how these categories convert to money from new members on bank draft and associate members in cash.  Canvassing totals are reported, as well as other internal money, and all the internal is tallied against the external contributions from foundations, unions, and churches.  Furthermore, email addresses are tallied as well as phone numbers and other data from all contacts made by the organizers and the office, all of which are the raw data of future drives and campaign success.

            The first building block is that individual contact or member, but then there are reports from each organizer and office on the number of people who participated in meetings and actions.  With a total membership in all categories of over 100,000, the fact that even in the pandemic almost 10,000 members participated in different events is critical.  ACORN doesn’t just count feet-on-the-street, but also the reaction via “press hits.”  This isn’t under the control of the organizers, but it disciplines making sure the work was done, press contacted, releases written, and leaders prepped, which is the critical infrastructure that, when done just right, might end up being able to count as a press hit.

            If the organizers count the members and press hits, in modern organizing where social media and networking have also become critical, Peggy Cooke, the national administrator for ACORN Canada also presented an elaborate array of charts and graphs measuring the growth and impact of the organization’s presence across numerous formats.  The website growth is charted in different colors across multiple years:  the pandemic was a hit for web traffic.  Remember growth in unique users, time on site, and other metrics, when measured, contradicts the opinions that social media and multiple platforms have eroded web presence, at least for ACORN Canada.  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also are reported although with any analytics that are available and are credible.

            The excitement, whoops, and hollers from the ACORN crew in Montreal came in the campaign reports on struggles and victories, but in the final session after dinner when Judy Duncan, the head organizer, gave out the awards, there was no doubt that the ACORN culture of counting was the underlying message for everyone of the 25 organizers assembled here, and they exulted in it.  Certificates were handed out to the top three organizers responsible for new members, golden eggs, and turnout.  The individual offices also received awards in these and other categories.  The final awards were for the MVPs, the organizers-of-the-year, with the runner up from Toronto and the winner, Sidney Blum, who had built the Halifax office most of the year before moving across the country to direct the British Columbia operation.

            This was a celebration, not a competition, because the culture of counting is so ingrained in the collective work of ACORN Canada, that everyone understands that what is good for one is great for all, and the membership was served well.