Organize for ZCom
By Michael Albert at May 13, 2010
You have no doubt noticed our garish additions to the top page of ZNet. We are sorry for the inconvenience of having to scroll down to see the usual new content. We wish we didn't have to do this. Fund raising of all sorts is not fun. It is gut wrenching.
Nonetheless, the top page appeal is a necessary step - which, if it doesn't work - can only be made even more garish, more intrusive, and even more gut wrenching for us and for you - as in replacing the whole site with an appeal, not just the top quarter if one page.
But why must we be so garish?
Well, obviously, we need to raise revenues.But again, why so garishly and intrusively?
We don't take ads - none.
No rich donor gives us large or even small piles of money - none.
No flush foundation finances us - none.
Only our users keep us going. Partly our users buy Z subscriptions and ZVideos. But about half our income is donations. And the truth is, most people who use ZCom are way too busy and way too financially stressed to deliver donations without garish appeals that intrusively get their attention.
I guess we can blame that problem on contemporary social and political habits and a culture that makes us all dubious about donations, particularly donations for information. We pay for ads and other kinds of mainstream content all the time, but paying to not have ads, paying to have serious information, paying to keep serious information flowing - that strikes us, understandably in our culture, as odd or even wrong.
If left operations, including ZCom, don't ask, people don't donate. When left operations, including ZCom, do ask, people do donate. And the more we ask, up to a point - the more people respond and the greater their response is.
This applies across the whole left and in being so ubiquitous this reality has a cumulative negative consequence. Not only do leftists see endless appeals, but the appeals we see have a tendency to become hyperbolic lest they not be heard at all. If you whisper when everyone else is shouting, you are in trouble.
Z avoids hyperbole. If we say we have a crisis - you can bet we do. But we do have to make our appeals visible. We can't whisper and be heard. And there is an additional problem, as well.
Some people respond over and over as they are only moderately skeptical of appeals, while other people respond less or not at all, as they are far more skeptical of appeals. Notice, the issue differentiating these donors and non donors isn't mainly their attitude toward the soliciting project or group. The people who don't respond so much and the people who do respond a lot are, on average, pretty much indistinguishable in income and even in the extent they like the soliciting project - in our case, ZCom - and want it to grow, enjoy benefits from it, etc.
In other words, the cost of supporting Z is born by a relative few of our users not because other users don't hope for Z's survival and growth equally as much as the donors do, but because despite caring comparably, other users are simply more resistant to appeals. This is a very difficult situation to deal with, for the fund raiser and for donors, too.
We feel it would be better for everyone if we could spread the load of helping us more widely among all those who want us to exist and grow, with donation levels "prorated," if you will, for each person's income level. But how can we facilitate that?
What We Seek, from Whom...
We have three constituencies who we can try to elicit help from. And so we also have three new orange content boxes each directed at one of those constituencies.
The first content box asks people who are not Free Members or Sustainers to become one or the other. This is a huge group of roughly 300,000 - 350,000 people, and perhaps it includes you. We of course understand that many people who use the site might not have funds to donate, or that you might feel that what funds you have for political donations you wish to use elsewhere. This group contains frequent users, and also not so frequent users, of course. All that is fine, but what we don't quite get, however, is why someone who uses the site even just once or twice a month, much less weekly or daily, wouldn't at least sign up as a Free Member. Becoming a Free Member gives you a ZSpace page you can edit, which you can use or not, as you decide. It also gets you "permission" to join groups, take polls, and some similar access rights - and it gets you periodic update mailings as well. So why not do it?
Thus if you are a user - but you are not a Sustainer or a Free Member, and if you are in good financial shape, we hope you will become a Sustainer, thereby enjoying the benefits of Sustainer status and helping us at the same time. If that isn't a financial option, or if it doesn't appeal to you, okay, fair enough - but we hope you will at least become a Free Member.
The second content box is probably most important to our well being, growth, and development. It asks Free Members to become Sustainers. This is almost exactly 100,000 people. This message points out that becoming a Sustainer can be done for as little as $12 a year, or $1 a month which is not a lot to spend to support something that you get considerable gain from, and that gives movements and individuals around the world great benefits that you believe in, especially since your becoming a Sustainer at any level can mean so much to our operations.
We mention that if one in ten Free Members became Sustainers, or if one in five did - it would have tremendous positive repercussions. The question is, why not?
I don't think there is any doubt that one in ten, or probably one in five, or maybe even one in two current Free Members get more out of the site than $1 a month worth. So even if we didn't provide ZSpace pages, nightly commentaries, Customization, Chat, Groups, and many other benefits for being a Sustainer, and even if you didn't want to support us to help pay the bills for the large number of other users who themselves have literally no financial means to help cover costs - still, the broad site would be more than worth your donation.
For most Free Members, my guess is that donating $3 a month, or $5 a month, or in quite a few cases even $10 a month or more, would be relatively easy to budget and quite consistent with your own estimates of your own benefits from the site as well as of the value you see in having the site available for others who have less means. I mean, really, isn't ZCom worth more to you than one movie like Iron Man, or than one Pizza, and so on.
So - why must we make garish appeals? Well, because our large array of potential donors is too busy, too stressed, and too multiply committed to deliver support spontaneously.
The third content box is the one we feel most hesitant putting online. It asks our current Sustainers to please consider the Proposal for a Participatory Socialist International. And that is fine, since you really should, it is important! It also asks that you please consider using the Groups and Customization facilities - and we feel fine doing that to, if aggressively utilized these will benefit you and others. But it also suggests to our Sustainers that you might want to increase your donation level. We admit that we feel strange even suggesting this. Why should the 5,000 people who are now carrying the load lay out even more support - when so many other folks have yet to step up? Well, the answer is, because while it may not be fair, it is needed. So, we would be lax to not ask.
Here is what we used to call the skinny, and our opponents used to call the bottom line, when I was in college, forty years ago.
Many ZCom users are about winning a better world and routinely point out that Another World Is Possible - and by this they don't mean they want this world with a modest bandaid in place. Yes, a bandaid that reduces some bleeding is better than letting the blood flow unto death. But I think it is pretty much incontestable, that in their heart of hearts, ZCom users are overwhelmingly eager for a world that is fundamentally equitable and just - not ideologically fundamentalist and poverty stricken. For a world that is diversely bountiful, not ubiquitously homogenized. For a world in which people care about other people, not where people routinely trample one another in a rat race of alienation. For a world that has popular participation and even collective self management, not top down rule by a few. These and many others that we share are not timid wishes. We want real, profound, and indeed structurally revolutionary change in society's basic defining features. It will take time. It will take perseverance. It will take commitment. And it will take communication - including via our own media.
When we ask our Free Members - or our basic users - to give us some signs of solidarity, to give us some of the means that we need to do our work - it is a serious request. It looks garish, but in truth it is restrained. It may feel pushy, but in fact it is rather timid. It is honest. It is essential.
So [lease help us help ourselves and you. Use ZCom's many tools as they suit you. Use its contents as they suit you. And, as well, help us to keep delivering both the services and the contents - even in these very troubled times. Become a Sustainer!