I recently had the opportunity to interview Heather Cronk of PledgeBank to ask her about the campaign building site before her visit here to Portland to present at Net Tuesday about online campaign building.

What IS PledgeBank? PledgeBank is a conditional pledging tool for collective action. Let me re-word that in English: PledgeBank is a way to say publicly that you’ll do something (hopefully something that will improve your neighborhood/community/world), but only if others will promise to do the same thing. It’s a way to take that notion that there should be more streetlights, or that someone should clean up the local creek, or that it’s not too hard to raise money for new playground equipment at the elementary school and make those ideas a reality by including more people in the process. The site follows a simple formula: you create a pledge (i.e. “I will do X action, but only if N number of others will do the same”), you publicize the pledge (we give you tools to email your friends, post to your blog/website, organize on Facebook, or automatically generate flyers to post in your community), the pledge succeeds, and you give instructions to pledge signers for how to follow through. Easy as pie.

What has been the most interesting campaign to see grow/succeed? My favorite example is the Bakul Foundation’s pledge (found at http://www.pledgebank.com/Bakul-Library). They basically saw that a huge problem in their community was the lack of access to books for children, and had the crazy idea of building a children’s library locally. Rather than just hammer away on that project with a few other people, they mobilized their social networks in India and beyond — and ended up getting over 1000 people to pledge their support with time, money, books, and sweat. The library just celebrated their first anniversary last week and the children’s library is going strong, rather than still being a crazy idea in someone’s head.

What has been the most inspiring so far? To me, the most inspiring pledges are small ones with a big impact. For instance, a recent inspiring pledge is “undies4liberia” (found at http://www.pledgebank.com/Undies4Liberia). One person saw in her travels through Liberia that a huge problem in that country was at orphanages — those centers were operating with few resources and little capacity to pay attention to details. So Ashley created a pledge to collect new, clean underwear that she would deliver to the orphanages on her next trip over. While she certainly could have bought 20 or so pairs of underwear herself, including others in that process yielded 753 pairs of underwear for children at those orphanages, and many more people aware of and interested in Liberia. I think that’s pretty inspiring! (See Ashley’s success story at http://www.pledgebank.com/success#undies)

How do you see campaign building relate to the uprising in peer-to-peer fundraising and social action networks online? Well, what we try to do at PledgeBank is create ways for anyone to be an organizer, regardless of experience or training. The old way of organizing said that those who were *trained* as organizers went into a community and solved problems. The new way of organizing says that everyone is an expert in what needs to happen in their community to make it better, safer, and more just — and PledgeBank offers tools to do that by creating localized campaigns that mobilize a person’s own social network. In much the same way that peer-to-peer fundraising and social networking build on the capital one has generated through relationships, PledgeBank offers a way to “cash in” on that capital through positive peer pressure — “Since we know each other, and you care about the things I care about, I hope you’ll sign my pledge to actually get something done about a community problem.” PledgeBank is a fundraising tool, an action tool, a campaigning tool, and a social tool — all wrapped up in one site.

What is the hardest part of the campaign in your opinion? Well, the hardest part of running a pledge on PledgeBank is actually taking the first step of reaching out to your networks to find pledge signers. Once pledge creators take that first step of saying, “This is something I care about and think is a good idea,” it’s relatively easy to keep the momentum going. A friend of mine created a pledge and became obsessed with watching the number of pledge signers go up — it was really rewarding for her to get that affirmation that others cared about the same thing and were willing to publicly support her idea. But it’s sometimes difficult to take that first step.

How many countries have used PB so far, in how many languages? Well, users in 99 countries have created pledges, and we have pledges running in 13 languages (English, Welsh, Belarusian, German, Spanish, Esperanto, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian, and Chinese)…with a few more in process. The site translations have all been done by volunteers, mostly using PledgeBank to get the job done (i.e. “I will translate 10% of the PledgeBank code into Ukrainian, but only if 9 others will each take on a different 10%).

If someone doesn’t want to be involved in a specific pledge, is there any other way to support the work of PB or its users? Well, the beauty of PledgeBank is in the site’s diversity. If your friend sends you a pledge they’ve created to raise money for a political candidate, but you’re not so sure you support that political candidate, you’re completely free not to sign the pledge. In fact, you’re completely free to create a pledge to raise money for a rival candidate, or to create/sign a pledge about something else altogether. One of the things I love about the site is that we try in many ways to put opportunities in front of users that they might not have known to look for, but that they end up finding interesting — we encourage users of the site to connect with other users, regardless of whether they personally know one another.

You can hear more from Heather about PledgeBank and online campaign building in person, if you are in the greater Portland area, at the Portland Net Tuesday. You can find out more about the event here, and sign up to join Portland Net Tuesday events each month.

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  • I know this is WAY after the fact, but WOW! I never knew that Heather mentioned the Undies4Liberia pledge, or that she would consider it ‘the most inspiring.’ My second Undies4Liberia pledge ended a few weeks ago, and there are 854 pairs of undies on their way to Liberia now! Pledgebank is an awesome resource to change the world around you with the help of others!