Chat with an Extraordinary: Jeff De Cagna of Principled Innovation

Jeff De Cagna is a leading voice for innovation in the association community, and the chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation. We chatted last week about how associations could use mobile volunteering and crowdsourcing to achieve their missions.

De Cagna feels that associations are in a period where they need to create new business models, and that those new models need to involve increased levels of voluntary engagement.

He explained, “It’s going to require being able to tap into the intelligence of a much broader set of stakeholders, and a much broader set of distributed networks of potential contributors. In that sense, this is a strategic challenge for associations: how do we engage a greater number of people, yet make it a manageable process for them, and also a satisfying and meaningful process?”

On the other hand, De Cagna points out that the people associations need to engage are busier and more tired than ever before. Their attention is fragmented from information overload, and they are under pressure in the workplace, and at home. He sees what was once a tension, becoming a conflict: organizations need volunteers, but sustaining volunteer engagement over time is becoming increasingly difficult because of people’s busy and stressful lives.

De Cagna says mobile volunteering is a “powerful option” to work through this challenge. “If we can leverage a mobile platform that just about everyone has access to, and is using, and if we can do it in ways that are meaningful, yet convenient, then I think that has real potential to change the rules of the game. The aggregate result of that is something that can actually have a huge impact on our organizations, if we can really tap into it more deeply. It is a strategic imperative, and a human imperative.”

He feels there is a distinction to be made between volunteerism, in the traditional sense, and what he refers to as, “voluntary engagement.” De Cagna says associations are very good at creating ways for people to be volunteers in a structured, conventional way (i.e. serving on a board, committee, or a task force), but that they often end up using the same volunteers over and over again.

What associations are less practiced at, but which wasn’t an issue until the recent social media explosion, is engaging someone who, “gets up in the morning and says, ‘I want to make, on a voluntary basis, a contribution of some kind, of my passion, energy, intellect, and experience, to an organization, a professional association, or any group I belong to.’” “Voluntary engagement” is more challenging for associations to manage and coordinate than volunteerism because it doesn’t fit within the conventionally defined boundaries of what they usually do.

“Mobile volunteering and crowdsourcing gives us a really powerful way to manage the two sides of that coin,” says De Cagna, “on the one hand, we can more effectively manage a greater number of people being involved, and we can support this idea of people being able to voluntarily engage when they choose to, and when it’s meaningful to them, and when it’s convenient for them, rather than having to do it in the ways that we define it.”

One specific way he could see associations using crowdsourcing would be to, instead of surveying potential conference attendees, asking them to review and comment on session proposals using their mobile device.

De Cagna says The Extraordinaries is, “one of the most important technologies that I’ve been connected to in my career, and I think it really has disruptive, in a really good way, potential for our space.”

He would recommend it to associations because it, “increases the surface area of attraction,” and, “gives anyone who is connected to the organization an opportunity to make an immediate impact on something that is important, whether that is reviewing a conference proposal, or tagging a photo, or taking a picture.”

Britt Bravo also blogs at Have Fun * Do Good,, WE tv’s WE Volunteer blog, and the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship blog. She is a Big Vision Consultant.





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