Empowering Volunteers and Letting Members Lead

Problem Statement

The internet and social media have radically changed how people participate. How do you open up your organization and give members the tools to run campaigns, fundraise, and participate in decisionmaking?

Formal organizations are playing a less central role in some of today’s most powerful movements—think Movement for Black Lives and Occupy. Social media and other platforms have given virtually everyone powerful tools for connecting, networking, and amplifying their message. As a result, organizations are rethinking how they engage with members and facilitate participation in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago.

In the advocacy space, distributed organizing has proliferated. Far from the early create-your-own-petition sites, many organizations are running programs that give members a larger role in campaigning strategy and execution, putting their trust in members’ abilities. The benefits are huge, including list growth from people engaged in heartfelt causes, and a powerful leadership pipeline. There are also challenges: balancing the needs of growth and impact, wrangling campaign support resources, avoiding brand damage, and finding the right technology.

Other areas of the nonprofit world are also confronting these changes. Join us for a case-study based discussion aimed at generating actionable steps for organizations looking to empower members to lead.

Adam Klaus

Randall Smith
I'm an organizer with 15 years of experience building people-powered campaigns and organizations. In 2013, I founded PowerLabs, a consulting firm that supports organizations to create leaderful, open source campaigns that change the political weather and win big. I specialize in training, coaching and strategic planning support to build the capacity of organizations, leaders and networks. Previously, I provided strategic support to user-generated campaigns on's platform. My work at helped people win life-changing (and life-saving) victories including freeing loved ones from prison and changing the policies that govern lung transplants for kids. I was also part of the team that grew the user base from 25 million to 50 million people worldwide. Prior to, I directed the digital program at Corporate Accountability International, a global NGO that protects people and the environment from corporate abuses. I've also worked as a direct action trainer during the alter-globalization movement, a tenant organizer, and the operations director of an immigrant-led human rights organization in southern Arizona.

Tim Newman
Campaigns Director
Tim Newman is the Campaigns Director at Before joining, Tim served as a Deputy Campaign Director at and as a Campaigns Director at the International Labor Rights Forum. Tim graduated from Clark University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology.

Esther Meroño Baro

Esther Meroño Baro is a freelance digital organizer and multimedia artist passionate about equipping organizers with smart, grounded, ethical, and creative digital strategies. Her activism started in high school, when she wrote her first petition, and called out the school district's mismanagement of funds as editor-in-chief of her school paper in Southern Utah. In college, Esther founded a womxn and trans bicycle club in Salt Lake City, co-organized the largest annual urban bicycle event in Utah, and worked as a columnist, podcast producer, and managing editor of an independent print magazine over five years covering everything from Sundance and SXSW to local art and action sports. Esther is an alum of UCLA's Dream Summer program for undocumented youth, and a fellow of the New World Foundation. She further developed her chops as a digital organizer for Groundswell Movement, where she exponentially grew the faith-rooted petition platform's membership and social media following, and accompanied campaigns with base-building and membership engagement strategies, multimedia content development, and digital organizing training, including Rev. William Barber II's Moral Revival, the National Sanctuary Movement, and the We Say Enough campaign.

Thaís Marques