Choice: Empowering or Overwhelming?

Last post (I think) on Allison Fine’s book Momentum: Ignititing Social Change in the Connected Age. She writes:

To reach the broadest possible audience, organizations should present a continuum of opportunities and ways for people to participate from lot to high intensity.


Except when it isn’t.

Too many opportunities can overwhelm rather than empower.

Consider the Paradox of Choice.

Consider the Big Red Fez.

Consider Discovering the Activation Point.

Consider Don’t Make Me Think.

In a world where people are overwhelmed by choices, sometimes the best way to help a potential supporter take action is to give them a single simple path to action.

Sign this petition.

Donate $25 dollars.

Click to send a letter.

When I volunteer at a food bank, I don’t want to be asked to plan nutrition plans or to analyze the opportunities and dangers of the corporate food system to both cause and alleviate hunger. I want to be told, “put those cans from that pallet onto this shelf.”

Allison Fine is right, you need to have the door open to higher levels of involvement. It also helps to spell out what these higher levels could be.

But it’s also important to save your supporters from the load of always playing “choose your own adventure” when it comes to getting involved.


Since this is my last post on Momentum, let me also share a few final words of overview. It’s an excellent book that will make you think about how the hyper-connectivity of today’s world affects the social sector.

Allison Fine is a true believer here, and as such she sometimes goes overboard. In particular, she tends to overplay the power of connection technology and underplay the continued relevance of existing tools. For example, when she says “throw out your direct mail handbook,” well, that’s just plain foolishness. For most organizations online giving is a small fraction of direct mail giving, and that will be the case for some time to come.

This over-zealousness may be vital for her to make her point. A less enthusiastic book would be less thought-provoking, not to mention less interesting.

2 thoughts on “Choice: Empowering or Overwhelming?

  1. Allison Fine

    Hi, Chuck, thanks for your multiple shoutouts! A quick word on this post. I agree that I do go over the top at times, and its for a reason: most folks are reluctant to do anything new, so if I encourage them to do a lot, boldly, energetically, openly, then maybe, at least, they’ll get started.

    I am often asked by groups, “Where or how do we get started?” And my answer is to encourage them to find a piece somewhere, a small project, a single fundraiser, a conversation, where they can begin to reverse the polarity between their organization and its constituents. And part of this shift is moving away from old century, out dated styles and approaches — like direct mail.

    I started my career as a list broker for a firm that was hired by noprofits to raise money through the mail. It was a lovely company but a horrible business. How much money can we continue to squeeze out from little old ladies from each list, was the question asked every day.

    I understand that organizations can’t and shouldn’t abandon practices that are working right this minute. However, they do need to look beyond old, tired, outdated practices, habits and structures that are going to soon make them irrelevant dinosaurs and look to the future which is all about the conversation they need to have with their supporters — a two-way, authentic engagement, not a one-way direct mail fundraising piece.

    Think Obama and not Clinton. So, thanks again for engaging in the ideas presented in Momentum, I glad to have a chance to join your conversation!

  2. admin Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Allison.

    I do understand the need to go overboard. Here on my blog I often go overboard. It is necessary to counter-balance inertia and unquestioned organizing theories such as “education leads to action.”

    And your book did succeed in making me think how we can take our connected activism up another notch at ICPJ.


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