In doing some research for a potential project, I was exploring what kinds of eAdvocacy options were available to plug in to CiviCRM. Many of the big commercial eAdvocacy tools have big commercial price tags to go with them (and don't integrate directly with CiviCRM besides).
UPDATE: POPVOX and CiviCRM can now be integrated! See this blog post for more information.
The problem is not in building a solution... it's maintaining it. Most of the congressional offices utilize a web form as the only method of sending email. These forms often change, are replaced with new code, new systems, the member redesigns their site, someone new comes in, there are many reasons why this changes. What the big advocacy firms do is monitor these sites for those changes and then have a crack team of developers to build a work around for the new forms. I have heard that the forms change on a weekly basis. So you really need a full-time person dedicated to just hacking them up.
Then there's the argument that e-mail is no longer effective. Most offices just funnel the emails into a database where they can sort your letter, get a total count and then send you back a form letter.
Newcomer POPVOX claims to be a solution to that problem:
POPVOX was designed by people who understand Congress to get your message through in a way that Congress needs to receive it. POPVOX is different from other political sites. It is not a discussion forum. It is a place for action.
The key to POPVOX is transparency and accountability. POPVOX goes beyond just getting your message to Congress. It ensures that your input is counted. Instead of relying on overworked Congressional staff with inadequate tools to process your message through their office procedures, POPVOX counts the positions you take on a specific bill and catalogs your message so that Congressional staffers — and others looking for information on the issue — can assess what people are really saying. When the information coming into your Members of Congress is public, counted, sorted and searchable, your voice is amplified — and Congress can’t ignore it.
I brought up a critique raised by soarhevn ("the limitation on only taking action on specific bills is a huge drawback") and got this response from a POPVOX representative:
Right now, POPVOX is focused on Congressional-targeted action, but we are considering expanding to actions targeting agencies, for example. We can also create a customized widget for Congressional-targeted actions that aren't attached to a specific bill.
POPVOX offers a variety of widgets that you can embed on your site very easily, however I think there is a lot of potential in regard to creating a tighter integration with CiviCRM. The folks behind POPVOX seem open to and interested in such an integration. Below are some of my initial thoughts on how that integration could look, but I am interested in thoughts from others, as well as any information on other eAdvocacy tools that integrate with CiviCRM already or have good potential.
Possibilities for CiviCRM and POPVOX integration:
- Users who fill the form out "cold" (for example, without being logged in) would have their information submitted into CiviCRM to go through CiviCRM's rules for creating new contacts (e.g. matching email address could update existing contact, no matching email address creates a new contact)
- Users who are logged in get any relevant information that is held on file auto-populated into the POPVOX form
- Users who respond from a CiviMail mailing get a hashed link to click on which allows the form to pull contact info even if they are not logged in to the site
- When anyone fills out the form it adds something in the activity listing for that contact such as the title and link of the page with the POPVOX form/widget they used.
Any other suggestions or ideas? Cross-posted at CiviCRM.org -- please comment on that thread.