Local Infrastructure Report:
The Tools We Have & The Tools We Need
- Topline Numbers
- How can you help? What help do you need?
- YDSA Chapters
- Organizing Committees
- What Does This Mean for Convention Proposals?
- Appendix A: Membership in Good Standing
- Appendix B: YDSA Survey Results
- Appendix C: Organizing Committee Survey Results
DSA members are having spirited discussions about what Locals need to build socialism in their communities and how our collective resources as a national organization can be distributed to meet those needs. This conversation is critical. Unfortunately, our conversations have been hamstrung by a lack of data provided by the national office. There is also a dearth of information about what Locals have, what Locals don’t have, and what Locals are asking for.
At the 2018 Rust Belt Conference, I was running a workshop on Digital Organizing and quickly saw that the tactics and tools we’d been using in Pittsburgh DSA wouldn’t work. My comrades in smaller Locals with access to fewer resources weren’t just in need of training: they didn’t have the tools my Local uses to power our work.
A training on email, database, and fundraising strategies doesn’t work when most of the people in the room don’t have a database or a payment processor. Of course I realized the training had to adjust, but even more so, I realized I needed to know what tools members are using, what they need, and what we need to do to get them the tools they need.
This report is an attempt to fill in those blanks, and share that information so all DSA members and delegates can make better-informed decisions.
For example, Resolution 25 sets a goal of 50% of chapters providing child watch for at least every chapter-wide meeting by August 1, 2020. I think delegates will benefit from knowing 45% of respondents to the survey said they already do. I’ve heard it said Resolution 83 sets an overly ambitious goal of ADA-compliant meetings by 50% of Locals by August 1st, 2020, and 100% of Locals no later than January 1st of 2021. However, 84% of respondents say they’re using ADA-compliant spaces, at least for chapter-wide meetings.
My hope is this report can ground our convention discussions in the facts of our organization, from the national to the local level.
If the national organization had conducted this survey, they could have produced a more rigorous and accurate report. However, they did not, so we will work with what we have. I welcome new data or corrections due to the imperfect nature of our sample and data collection through self-reporting.
My comrades who worked on this report and I are not without bias. As detailed in Build’s Shared Values, we believe the national organization should listen to the Locals and give them concrete support, we work to protect the big tent, fight exploitation, and make the organization accessible to all. While we have a perspective and will share it, this report also makes efforts to show our work and the data we’re analyzing so everyone can come to their own conclusions.
There’s a lot of information in here, so we wanted to pull out a few of the key figures for quick reference and easy access. There’s a lot more useful information however, so please keep on reading through!
We estimate DSA has 41,250 members in good standing.
The average Local has about 15% of members paying monthly dues to DSA, and nationwide about 20% of members in good standing pay monthly dues.
The average monthly dues payment is $14.
The average annual dues payment in 2018 was $43.
56% of Locals surveyed do not currently get the dues share disbursements, 44% do.
29% of Locals surveyed that have bank accounts do not get the dues share disbursements, 71% do.
66% of Locals surveyed have bank accounts.
11% of Organizing Committees surveyed have bank accounts.
50% of the YDSA Chapters surveyed have bank accounts.
Under our current dues share system the trendline shows that Locals aren’t receiving $300 quarterly until they have about 270 members, and aren’t even getting $300 quarterly between dues share and local donations combined until they have 150 members.
DSA’s current annual member retention rate is 45%.
When asked what support would be helpful, half of all responses asked for better access to tech tools, with Zoom and a member database being the most commonly mentioned.
45% of those surveyed provide childcare, least at chapter-wide meetings.
84% say they use accessible spaces, at least for chapter-wide meetings
28% said they get some materials translated into languages other than English, but only 2% said they make translators available for chapter-wide meetings.
This survey included responses from Locals, Organizing Committees, Branches, and YDSA Chapters. Sometimes we will discuss one of these formations, some combination of them, or all of them. To ensure that people understand what we’re saying without having to rely on long, clunky lists all the time, we want to state up front the terms we will use for this report and what they mean.
Chapters+ - We will use Chapters+ to refer collectively to Locals, Organizing Committees, Branches and YDSA Chapters.
Local - A chartered local body of DSA, often referred to as a chapter, and defined as a Local in Article IV Section 1 of the Constitution.
Branches - A semi-autonomous geographic formation within the structure and geographic area of a Local.
YDSA Chapter - A chartered local body of YDSA.
Additionally we will have some discussion of finances, tech, and other infrastructure with precise meanings, so a few additional definitions will be helpful:
Dues share - Disbursements of 20% monthly dues sent to a Local on a quarterly basis.
Monthly Dues - DSA dues paid on a recurring, monthly basis.
Monthly donations, local donations, or local fundraising - fundraising done by Locals, Branches, Organizing Committees or YDSA Chapters at the Local level directly to fund their own work.
Mass texting - Mass, one-way broadcast messages that require recipients to have opted in to automated texts from the sender.
Peer-to-peer texting - Two-way, personalized conversations with templates for personalized initial texts you can send very quickly, and do not require recipients to have opted in to texts from the sender.
We began simply, by seeking people to fill out the survey by tweeting it out!1 From there, we included links and prompts to complete the survey in the occasional Build newsletter, and began reaching out to individuals the survey team knew in Chapters+ across the country.
Then, we scoured the web for emails of every Local, Organizing Committee, Branch, and YDSA Chapter we could find, and sent them emails asking them to fill out the survey. When we still needed more responses, we followed up with more people we knew, tweeted the survey more, and emailed those who still hadn’t filled it out.
In short: we organized to get anyone and everyone’s participation.
The survey itself consisted of 19 questions. The survey focused on the state of the Local, Branch, Organizing Committee or YDSA Chapter of the respondent. We asked about basic financial infrastructure, tech tools, accessibility practices and what they thought would be helpful to them and others.
Looking at the data, we found that a couple of our questions resulted in a lot of unclear answers. In particular the sixth and seventh questions, “Roughly what is your chapter, branch, or organizing committee’s average amount of money raised in a month?” and “How much does your chapter receive in the quarterly disbursements of 20% of monthly dues?” produced some confused answers, as a lot of people filling out the survey didn’t know the answers, and weren’t sure whether to leave the question blank or put $0. To make it even more confusing, we also were shocked by how often the answers were actually $0.
Thus, we followed up to ask anyone who answered either finance question with a blank or $0 to ask whether the blank or $0 meant they didn’t know or the answer was actually $0. We were able to get answers for a lot of respondents, but by the time we had to move forward with analysis, we still had 10 people who’d left the average monthly fundraising question blank and 16 people who’d left the average dues share disbursement question blank, and we didn’t know if they didn’t have the answer or the answer was $0. We’ve dealt with this by simply excluding those answers from analysis of those questions.
Additionally for the question “Does your chapter, branch, or organizing committee accept donations or local dues? If so, through what fundraising platform(s)?”, one possible answer was “pass the hat” which was intended to reference pass-the-hat.org, a specific fundraising tool some Chapters+ mentioned using, but after about half of respondents selected that option, since it could’ve been intended to mean pass-the-hat.org, Pass the Hat would help their fundraising if it passes, or that they literally pass a hat, we realized it was pretty confusing. We conducted a quick straw poll of respondents and found that 10 out of 10 meant they literally pass a hat at meetings, though some said they occasionally pass buckets or baskets instead. Since we’re pretty certain more than half of Chapters+ at times pass a hat, bucket, or basket at meetings, we mostly tossed that response out, and aside from acknowledging here that Chapters+ pass hats, we won’t be using that data elsewhere, and it won’t be included in any charts or tables.
In cases where we got multiple responses from chapters, we first attempted to reach out and ask which answers were correct, but if we never got those answers, we averaged the different finance answers, except in one case where the answers were drastically different and we had no way to know which was accurate. In that case, we included neither response in analysis related to that question.
We received submissions from 81 Locals, 3 Branches, 18 Organizing Committees, and 6 YDSA Chapters from 40 different states, representing approximately 54% of Locals, 35% of Organizing Committees, and only 8% of YDSA Chapters.
Collectively, the Locals, Organizing Committees, and YDSA Chapters that participated in this survey represent approximately 75% of DSA members in good standing.
For a comparison of the distribution of responses across Local size, below we have a chart showing the distribution of our responses, and a chart made that a fellow delegate posted on Twitter, showing a breakdown of the delegates by At-Large and Local size. While it uses a different classification of small, medium, and large Locals, it is a helpful point of reference for the distribution of delegates at the convention and the Locals they represent.
Note that the chart begins at 50 members, because it was produced using a breakdown of the Temporary Delegate Roster, and delegate apportionment was based on rounding up to the nearest multiple of 51.
Figure 1. Distribution of Members Represented by Survey Participants
Because those categories don’t tell us too much about Local or political distribution, here’s a couple other looks at the distribution of survey participants. The first shows the number of responses we received broken down by membership size, and the second shows the membership represented by the responses we received broken down by membership size. Both charts are split by red and blue states, as determined by the 2016 Presidential Election. 4
Figure 3. Distribution of Responses from Chapters+ by Membership Count and Red or Blue State
(As Determined by 2016 Presidential Election)
Figure 4. Distribution of Membership by Size of Participating Chapters+ and Red or Blue State
(As Determined by 2016 Presidential Election)
Note: Some responses did not provide an answer to every question, and some figures will show a narrower criteria of respondents, so this report will detail the summary of samples discussed in each section in Appendix A: Samples.
Based on analysis of the responses and publicly available data, our estimate is that:
DSA has 41,250 members in good standing.
The average Local has 15% of its membership paying monthly dues to DSA.
Additionally, our estimate is that at least 25% of people who have been members at some point in the last two years are no longer members in good standing.
Based on the methods of calculating these estimates, as detailed in Appendix B, we would guess the actual number of members in good standing to be lower and the actual percentage of members in arrears to be higher.
According to DSA staff on pre-convention calls, the average monthly dues payment is $14, and the average annual dues payment is $43.
DSA staff also shared that the annual member retention rate is 45% as of sometime in 2018, but they weren’t sure what it would be now. This figure was obtained just before this report was headed to the printer, so we were not able to incorporate it into our analysis. We include it to note that this number suggests that our estimates are rough and optimistic.
These numbers paint a picture of a smaller DSA than we're accustomed to hearing about, but not so precipitous a drop that we need to panic. We believe that an honest assessment of these numbers and trends is necessary to iterate on our ideas around institutional organizing. We invite you to examine this data and use it in conversation with each other. Ask hard questions about what we've done right and what we've done wrong, and have conversations about your ideas with comrades you know and comrades you don't know. The best way we can build something better is by asking these questions and doing the work together.
There's a lot of debate about what DSA should do to support Chapters+, but it's all rooted in personal experiences and anecdotal evidence. We hope to advance that conversation by providing a broader view supported by data.
Total Income by Local Size
Below is a chart showing the trend of total income for 67 Locals that provided both average monthly donations and average quarterly dues share of 20% of members’ monthly dues. The chart is prorated to show income on a monthly frequency, meaning that the quarterly dues share disbursements were divided by 3 and then combined with the average monthly donations to produce these numbers.
Figure 5. Incoming Funds per Month (Dues Share + Fundraising) vs. Membership
Sample: Figure 5 is based upon the answers of the 67 Locals for whom we have responses on membership, average monthly fundraising, and average dues share disbursement.
The trend here is not altogether surprising: the bigger your Local is, the more money your Local has. What’s rather startling is the extent of the inequality. Additionally, there is variation in the performance of Locals in fundraising. Locals above the trendline would be locals outperforming in fundraising for their size compared to the trend, and Locals below are underperforming.
To see more detail, below is the same graph focused on Locals with fewer than 500 members.
Figure 6. Incoming Funds per Month (Dues Share + Fundraising) vs. Membership (Under 500 Members)
Sample: Figure 6 is based upon the answers of the 58 Locals with less than 500 members for whom we have responses on membership, average monthly fundraising, and average dues share disbursement.
Among small to mid-sized Locals, there is great variation in the level of funding, but the overall trend is that Locals have very little funds until they reach roughly 100 members, at which point they start raising more funds.
Figure 7. Total Incoming Funds Per Month (Dues Share Plus Fundraising) vs. Membership, under 500 Members - Trendline adjusted.
Sample: Figure 7 is based upon the answers of the 58 Locals with under 500 members for whom we have responses on membership, average monthly fundraising, and average dues share disbursement.
Figure 7 shows how the overall trends play out in smaller Locals: Plenty of Locals bring in little to no money. Looking at the trendline, the typical Local is not raising $100 per month in total until they have about 170 members. Following the trendline further, the typical small to mid-sized Local would not be raising $200 per month until they have about 375 members.
Certainly, there are Locals outperforming that trend, but there are also plenty underperforming the trend. This distribution of performance across Locals indicates widespread funding challenges, which are not the result of a lack of skill, knowledge, or commitment by individual members. Rather, the challenges are systemic across DSA.
Fundraising by Local or Organizing Committee Size
What does local fundraising look like? If the donor base is local members, there is a ceiling to how much can be raised per member, unless a local has a wealthy benefactor or two. If the donor base is DSA more broadly – as we’ve seen with convention fundraisers – it becomes a competition to create the most marketable swag or the most effective messaging. The limited nature of our donor base is likely to be an ongoing challenge, and solutions based entirely on raising more funds from local members will continue to frustrate smaller chapters without affluent members.
Figure 8. Funds Raised Per Month vs. Local or Organizing Committee Size
Sample: Figure 8 is based upon the answers of the 73 Locals and 16 Organizing Committees for whom we have responses on membership and average monthly fundraising.
Results of Local fundraising are uneven, but there is a trend that the larger the Local, the more funds they raise. This calls the question of who DSA’s donor pool is both locally and nationally, and what fundraising looks like at the local level.
Once Locals pass 500 members, they tend to become big outliers in funding, but even those Locals have a fraction of the resources of our largest Locals.
Figure 9. Funds Raised Per Month vs. Local or Organizing Committee Size (Under 500 Members)
Sample: Figure 9 is based upon the answers of the 59 Locals and 16 Organizing Committees for whom we have responses on membership and average monthly fundraising.
In many Locals, fundraising is nonexistent. Nearly every Local with fewer than 100 members is raising less than $50 per month, and the average Local doesn’t reach $100 per month in fundraising until they are over 200 members strong.
If we assume that $100 per month is a baseline to fund basic chapter needs, and fundraising is the way to get there, Locals with fewer than 100 members will need to scale up their fundraising operations exponentially.
Dues Share Disbursements by Local Size
Below is a graph of the quarterly disbursements of 20% of dues paid on a monthly basis by a Locals’ members compared with Local size.
Figure 10. Quarterly Dues Share vs. Local Size
Sample: Figure 10 is based upon the answers of the 73 Locals for whom we have responses on membership and dues share.
The dues share system’s distribution of funds closely mirrors that of local fundraising, and reinforces the existing distribution of resources and membership. The inequality displayed in these charts also shows us how members in larger Locals have a vastly different experience with dues sharing than small and mid-sized Locals.
Figure 11. Quarterly Dues Share vs. Local Size (Under 500 Members), Trendline Adjusted
Sample: Figure 11 is based upon the answers of the 63 Locals with fewer than 500 members for whom we have responses on membership and dues share.
Looking more closely at the dues share distribution for smaller and mid-sized Locals, many Locals are not receiving dues share reimbursements at all. Overall, only 44% of Locals surveyed receive anything at all.
Among those receiving dues share disbursements, there is some variation in the dues share amounts they receive per member, which indicates that either some Locals’ members are more likely to be able to pay higher monthly dues or have a higher share of members opting for monthly instead of annual dues.
The trend among smaller and mid-sized Locals shows that the dues share system largely excludes chapters with fewer than 100 members.
Figure 12. Quarterly Dues Share vs. Local Size (Under 500 Members), Excluding Locals Without Bank Accounts, Trendline Adjusted
Sample: Figure 12 is based upon the answers of the 37 Locals with a bank account and fewer than 500 members for whom we have responses on membership and dues share.
The discussion around redistribution or chapter stipends often cites Locals obtaining a bank account as the hurdle for implementation. However, when we removed Locals without bank accounts from our chart, we saw that many Locals -- including some midsized Locals with hundreds of members -- were still not receiving anything in dues sharing. The bank account question is relevant, but there are more challenges preventing Locals from receiving dues sharing, and these issues are not isolated to smaller Locals.
Tools, Tech, and Accessibility
In addition to questions about finance, this survey asked comrades about how their Chapter works and the tools they use. This information can be helpful for making decisions, designing trainings, and learning about new tools we didn’t know about before!
We broke these results into Fundraising, Tech Tools, Absentee Voting, and Accessibility, but we recognize that these matters are interrelated. For example, many accessibility practices benefit from tech tools, and absentee voting can be a good practice for accessibility.
Figure 13. Fundraising Tool Usage
Sample: Out of 109 Chapters+, 60 reported using some kind of fundraising tool. Among those, some reported using one tool, some as many as four different tools.
The most commonly used fundraising tool is Venmo, followed closely by Donor Box and PayPal. The option to choose something that was not on our list also had the second most responses of any choice..
The most commonly used fundraising tools for Chapters+ that do not have a bank account are also Venmo, Donor Box, and GoFundMe--in addition to the Other option.
Figure 14. Social Media Platform Usage
|Social Media Platform||Chapters+||% of Chapters+|
DSA members are extremely online, and so is our organizing. Nearly all Chapters+ are using Facebook and Twitter in their organizing, and almost half are using Instagram. Only 1 respondent is using Snapchat, and 9% are using other social media platforms.
Figure 15. Tech Tool Usage
|Tech Tool||Chapters+||% of Chapters+|
|Internal Discussion Platform||84||77%|
|Shared File System||59||54%|
|Peer to Peer Texting||26||24%|
Most Chapters+ report having some basic tools for their organizing. Email blast tools and internal discussion platforms are by far the most common, which is not surprising given the easy and widespread access to free and free-up-to-a-point tools, such as MailChimp and Slack. Peer-to-peer texting and mass texting were the least commonly used, which is also not surprising given the costs associated with these tools.
Many Locals find all of these tools essential to organizing, so the relatively low usage for databases, online voting, video conferencing, and shared file systems is concerning. Many of these tools have free options that Chapters+ could be introduced to and trained to use.
Figure 16. Tech Tool Usage by Dues Share Amount
Sample: Figure 16 is based upon the responses of the 88 Chapters+ for whom we have a number on the amount of their quarterly dues share. Note: this includes YDSA Branches, Organizing Committees, and Branches, which would all have $0 in quarterly dues share.
Figure 16 shows the average number of tech tools Chapters+ reported having, categorized by their average dues share amounts. The overall trend shows some minor variation among Chapters+, but mostly, it becomes clear that Chapters+ are not investing more into tech tools until they have over $500 quarterly dues share.
The survey also asked “What forms of material, financial, or tech infrastructure does your chapter not have that would be helpful for your chapter?”, and about half of those responses mentioned a need for better tech tools, especially Zoom accounts and a centralized member database.
Tech tools are one of the most common requests, while also being much less used until Locals are getting over $500 in their quarterly dues share. It seems that more immediate needs are being filled first, while the need for tech tools remains top-of-mind.
We asked respondents to describe how their absentee voting system works if they have one, since there have been a number of different approaches across the organization. Below is a brief summary of those answers.
Sample: 35% of Chapters+ detailed an absentee voting method in text answers, and only 30 checked the box to indicate having an online voting system in the “Please check all that apply to your chapter, branch, or organizing committee” question.
35% of chapters detailed an absentee voting method, with roughly a third of those using completely ad-hoc systems like texts or emails to steering committee members. There is extreme variation in the tools used online, ranging from informal services such as Slack and Discord, to voting specific tools like Loomio and Opavote, all the way to custom built web portals. While some chapters expressed a cost burden from their voting service, a far larger number answered that their primary need was direction on the best tool to use and how to implement it. The responses reveal an opportunity and a need to implement specific trainings or facilitate resource sharing that chapters need.
We believe it should be a goal of our organization to be accessible to parents, caregivers, children, poor people, people with disabilities, and non-English speakers, and our survey is only touching the surface of how DSA Chapters+ are performing at accommodating those needs.
As we go through this section, we want to acknowledge that this report itself falls short on many of the accessibility practices we hope to see DSA live up to.
Figure 19. Accessibility Practice Participation
|Accessibility Practice||Chapters+||% of Total Respondents|
|Meet in ADA accessible spaces, at least for chapter-wide meetings||92||84%|
|Have food at meetings, at least for chapter-wide meetings||60||55%|
|Make childcare available for meetings, at least for chapter-wide meetings||49||45%|
|Materials & communications in languages other than english||28||26%|
|Video conferencing participation in meetings an option||21||19%|
|Video conference observation of meetings an option||19||17%|
|Use image descriptions on digital media||18||17%|
|Have captions on videos we post, at least some of the time||12||11%|
|Make translators available for meetings, at least for chapter-wide meetings||2||2%|
Sample: Figure 19 is based upon the responses of all 109 respondents.
84% of Chapters+ report meeting in ADA accessible spaces, at least for chapter-wide meetings, While we acknowledge the limitations of the ADA requirements, this benchmark is encouraging!
However, the survey failed to collect information about how many Chapters+ are holding all meetings in ADA accessible spaces. Additionally, it is quite possible that able-bodied comrades filling out the survey may have assumed their meetings are ADA accessible and be wrong. Anecdotes from comrades with disabilities across the organization suggest that it is unlikely that 84% of all DSA Chapters+ are holding all meetings in ADA accessible spaces.
45% of Chapters+ provide childcare at least for chapter-wide meetings, but again the construction of the survey limits how informative this is.
Less than one fifth of Chapters+ have options to participate or observe meetings through video conferencing, and only 17% and 11% of Chapters+ are using image descriptions on images or captions on videos. These shortfalls mean hurdles to participation for many of our comrades with disabilities.
DSA Chapters+ are performing worst at making translators available for meetings, with only 2% participating.
Figure 20. Accessibility Practices by Dues Share Amount
Sample: Figure 20 is based upon the responses of the 88 Chapters+ for whom we have a number on the amount of their quarterly dues share. Note: this includes YDSA Branches, Organizing Committees, and Branches, which would all have $0 in quarterly dues share.
Much like Figure 16, Figure 20 shows the average number of accessibility practices Chapters+ reported having, categorized by their average dues share amounts.
Also like Figure 16 showed for tech tools, the overall trend shows some minor variation among Chapters+, but mostly, Chapters+ are significantly increasing their accessibility practices after they are getting over $500 quarterly dues share.
However, unlike tech tools, tools to improve accessibility practices were not the most commonly asked for assistance in this survey, though requests for help in this area did come up.
The similarity to the trend with tech tools shows that, across both accessibility practices and tech tools, Chapters+ are not able to substantially invest in acquiring more tech tools and into accommodating comrades’ participation until they have reached a certain level of funding.
When it comes to disabled comrades, comrades who speak languages other than English, parents, and other people who might need some accommodation to participate, the trend seems to be that their needs do not receive attention until the basic needs of the organization overall are met. This may be expected -- DSA Chapters+ will overall have fewer resources until they have more money -- but the impact of not prioritizing accessibility is excluding people from our organizing.
Figure 21. Video Conference System Usage
The survey asked “If your chapter, branch, or organizing committee has materials translated and/or uses interpreters, could you tell us more about that, and what languages?”, and we had 38 responses (35%) to that question. Below is a further breakdown of the responses.
Figure 23. Translation In Further Detail
|Some Materials Translated||Most/Significant Portion of Materials Translated||Live Translators|
Out of the 38 Chapters+ responding to this question, most are only getting some materials translated, and far fewer get a significant portion of their materials translated or use live translators at events.
Figure 24. Translation by Language and Local, Branch, Organizing Committee, or YDSA
|Unspecified Other Language||1||0||0||0||0|
While most translation is Spanish, there were some Chapters+ working with ASL translators, and Hmong and Somali were mentioned as well, in addition to other, unspecified languages.
Many of those who’ve been able to provide translation or get materials translated reported doing this through working with members or allies in the community.
Figure 25. Translation by Quarterly Dues Share
Sample: Figure 25 is based upon the responses of the 88 Chapters+ for whom we have a number on the amount of their quarterly dues share. Note: this includes YDSA Branches, Organizing Committees, and Branches, which would all have $0 in quarterly dues share.
Much like Figures 16 and 20, Figure 25 shows the commitment to getting materials translated increases significantly after Locals have over $500 in quarterly dues share disbursements.
How can you help? What help do you need?
The survey ended with two final questions: “What forms of material, financial, or tech infrastructure does your chapter have that you think would be important or helpful for other chapters to have?” and finally, “What forms of material, financial, or tech infrastructure does your chapter not have that would be helpful for your chapter?”
What forms of material, financial, or tech infrastructure does your chapter have that you think would be important or helpful for other chapters to have?
Sample: Out of the 116 respondents, 31 answered this question, with 4 coming from Organizing Committees, 1 from a YDSA Chapter, and 26 from Locals.
10 responses included some member’s previous experience being invaluable: 3 responses mentioned previous tech or design experience. 1 response mentioned “a retired Steering Committee member who's available during weekdays.” 3 responses mentioned lawyers being invaluable, largely for helping to navigate the incorporation process. This is a typical response for this category:
“Having a corporate attorney on our steering committee has been the only thing that made the incorporation process even remotely possible for us. I can't imagine how other chapters are safely & confidently navigating that process. Not every chapter has one, but it's something chapters within the same state should help each other out with.“
One response from a small rural Local with fewer than 150 members, but with one of the most effective fundraising programs, discussed having set up a fund to support newly formed Locals in the area:
“We maintain a fund for the establishment of nearby chapters. At the time a nearby chapter forms a recognized organizing committee, incorporates with the state, and gets a credit union account, we give them a grant of $500.”
3 responses mentioned having a Zoom account is helpful. 2 responses mentioned childcare programs. 7 responses mention some kind of tech setup that made their work easier. 4 other responses mentioned having hardware that was useful, such as a projector, PA system, or even a truck owned by the Local.
What forms of material, financial, or tech infrastructure does your chapter not have that would be helpful for your chapter?
Sample: Out of the 116 respondents, 71 answered this question. 10 from Organizing Committees, 2 from branches, 3 from YDSA chapters, and 56 from Locals.
33 out of 71 responses mentioned access to better technology. The most common technology being asked for was tied between Zoom accounts and a centralized member database.
14 responses mention money being useful to continue operation. 5 responses mentioned burnout from members covering things out of pocket. 6 mentioned the maintenance cost of technology. 4 responses mentioned lacking a bank account.
“We literally do every bit of organizing manually, out of our own pockets. We've raised maybe $60 in the last 6 months. We are a small chapter. Our largest meeting in 2+ years was 23 members. Most meetings are about 15-18 members. Most of us with very little disposable income to invest in printing/materials/meeting-spaces/snaxis etc.”
14 responses mentioned lacking capacity or expertise to set up infrastructure beyond google groups and google drive. 5 responses mentioned basic organizing guides. 3 were looking for help streamline new member onboarding. 2 responses mentioned help with budgeting. 6 responses requested help to make their literature accessible for multiple languages.
2 of the 7 responses from chapters larger than 1,000 members reported needing no additional infrastructure.
Chapters with 250 members or less frequently reported needing help with printing services, organizing training, and help setting up internal discussion platforms.
Worries about information security only appeared among chapters with less than 500 members.
“We need a website, but a website that would be secure and have some kind of login for members only because we have Proud Boys stalking our every move and crashing events.”
Sample: 6 YDSA Chapters submitted responses to the questionnaire.
YDSA Chapters that responded to our survey appear technically-savvy and organized. They are often able to use university resources for recruitment and technical infrastructure.
Half of the YDSA Chapters surveyed had bank accounts, with the average income of around $35 a month and an average of 25 members.
5 out of the 6 YDSA chapters use ADA Accessible Spaces, at least for chapter-wide meetings. None that responded to the survey provided childcare, translation of any kind, or video observation of meetings. Almost all of the YDSA chapters that we surveyed had an email blast tool, an internet discussion platform and online voting. Around half the chapters had a shared file system, a central database or video conferencing software. Chapters also used texting to communicate with members, both peer to peer and mass texting.
Common requests for help involved access to more infrastructure, such as better video conferencing software.
Primarily, YDSA Chapters requested access to paid technical infrastructure, often with specific services in mind:
“Access to Zoom would make online meetings run much more smoothly as its interface is better suited for conference calls than Skype's.”
“Group messaging platform with dedicated channels.”
More information through survey would be welcome here, since we were only able to get data from a handful of chapters.
Sample: 18 OCs submitted responses to the questionnaire.
The needs and infrastructure of Organizing Committees closely mirrored the needs and infrastructure of rural Locals.
Out of the 18 Organizing Committees submitting responses, 6 respondents reported raising money in an average month, with the average of $40. The rest reported $0 raised. 16 out of 18 Organizing Committees do not have bank accounts, and 4 report accepting donations through a digital tool.
On the technical side, 11 respondents have an email blast tool and 12 have an internal discussion platform. Similarly, 7 have a shared file system, 4 have video conferencing software, 3 have a central database and 2 have online voting. Only 2 responses mention peer to peer texting.
Out of the 18 respondents, 14 use ADA accessible spaces at least for chapter-wide meetings. 6 respondents provide childcare at meetings. 6 make video participation an option, and 3 make video observation of meetings an option. Only 2 use image descriptions or put captions on videos. 4 respondents have materials translated into other languages, and 1 provide translators at meetings.
The primary help requested falls into two categories: money and infrastructure. 3 responses explain that the Organizing Committee heavily relies on individual members to cover expenses, and highlight it as a cause for concern:
“In general we have a very unhealthy financial situation where a small number of members will personally and directly fund things to support the chapter, instead of funding the chapter and encouraging the membership to allocate a budget democratically. So far this has not led to any particular difficulties, but with time it inevitably must.”
“We will need dues sharing or local dues sometime soon because costs unfortunately typically get covered by just a few people.”
Similarly, several Organizing Committees mentioned infrastructure support, especially around translation and technical services. These are critical to expanding the chapters, but often expensive and time consuming to set up, especially for the first time with limited manpower:
“We have no infrastructure, other than what our members can manage to get done in their spare time.”
“We essentially have no infrastructure because we don't have the time and expertise to set up anything more secure/labor intensive than what we're already using.”
“We do not have access to many resources since we are a rural chapter. A lot of the things that urban chapters are able to do are basically impossible for us considering are limited ability to travel.”
Specific requests highlighted included a Zoom subscription, better database tools and translation services -- including agitprop, agitprop translations and headsets for translation.
What Does This Mean for Convention Proposals?
This data and analysis allows for a more clear-eyed discussion of convention proposals, particularly those focused on distributing resources to Locals.
C/B Amendment #2: Local Stipends (Pass the Hat) would ensure that every Local gets $100 per month, or $300 quarterly.
Under our current dues share system the trendline shows that Locals aren’t receiving $300 quarterly until they have about 270 members, and aren’t even getting $300 quarterly between dues share and local donations combined until they have 150 members.
We do not believe that Amendment 2: Local Stipends and Resolution 55: Grassroots Fundraising are in opposition or mutually exclusive. We believe these proposals do different things and can exist together. However, since proponents of Resolution 55 have presented it as a competitor to Pass the Hat, we worked out the math to see how they compare.
Under the system proposed by Resolution 55: Grassroots Fundraising, chapters would get 30% of monthly dues for the first 50 monthly dues payers. In order to get $100/month, a Local would need to have 24 monthly dues payers at the current average payment of $14 per month. At today’s average across Locals of 15% of members paying $14 in monthly dues, a Local would need 160 members to get to $100 per month in dues sharing under Resolution 55.
|What If...||Rate of Members Paying Monthly Dues at an average of $14/month||Members Needed to get $100 per Month with Resolution 55|
|The rate of monthly dues payers stays the same||15%||160|
|We double the rate of monthly dues payers||30%||80|
|We triple the rate of monthly dues payers||45%||53|
|We quadruple the rate of monthly dues payers||60%||53|
|We quintuple the rate of monthly dues payers||75%||32|
You may be thinking, that we can also increase the average monthly donation from $14, so let’s run those numbers too! Let’s take a look at some scenarios...
|Members Needed to get $100 per Month with Resolution 55|
|If the monthly dues payer rate was...||If the average monthly dues payment was...|
In order for Resolution 55 to provide financial support to new Locals at the same rate as Pass the Hat, a new Local with 15 members would need to increase the current average of 15% of members paying monthly dues by 400% to 75%, and increase the current average monthly dues payment of $14 by 114% to $30.
However, the issue with this funding model as a path to more support for smaller Locals is that it depends on smaller and new Locals working magic that the organization has yet to do, and does nothing to redistribute the inequality of resources across Locals shown earlier in charts like Figure 5 and 9.
Once again, it’s important to reiterate. Pass the Hat is not mutually exclusive or in competition with Resolution 55. These proposals accomplish different things with different strategies, and they can exist together.
Tech Tools and Accessibility
The trend across tech tools and accessibility metrics is clear: funding and dues share proposals won’t get DSA where it needs to go on tech tools and accessibility. Locals will work to meet the most basic functions of an organization with the funds they get, and tech and accessibility are not being addressed seriously until Locals are getting over $500 in quarterly dues share, and even then they often fall short.
See figures 16, 20 and 25 - click to expand
Accessibility should not be optional. Our organization must be accessible to parents, caregivers, children, poor people, people with disabilities, and non-English speakers. All of these forms of making our organizing accessible to all must be a priority.
Of particular note here are the numbers around accessibility to non-English speaking members. We are an organization that fights for the collective liberation of the entire working class. Our organizing must reflect that. When our organizing is not translated, it inherently excludes people who don’t speak English or are deaf: people who are disproportionately impacted by the systems of oppression we seek to fight.
As we’ve found in this report, when people who can participate in inaccessible systems are given very hard choices about what to prioritize, with little to no resources for how to improve on accessibility, they are less likely to choose accessibility until they have at least $500 quarterly.
When we asked “What forms of material, financial, or tech infrastructure does your chapter not have that would be helpful for your chapter?”, it was clear that members see a need for tech tools. Our research shows that usage is uneven and chapters with fewer resources are much more likely to make do without essential tech tools that could make their local work more effective.
We believe Resolution 83: Support the Locals and Make DSA Accessible to All is the approach to take for tackling these challenges. DSA must listen to Locals in deciding how to tackle these challenges, but the organization can mobilize national resources to provide tools for tech and accessibility to Locals, so that even the smallest Local does not need to choose between tech, accessibility, and other organizing needs.
We should acknowledge again that our report fall short on many of the standards we hope to see DSA as a whole live up to. We will work to do better, and we believe that recommendations, tools, resources, and guides developed by an Accessibility Task Force would help us and Locals nationwide to do so.
2We received 117 submissions, but one respondent later changed their mind about their participation in this survey, requesting their response be removed, and another member of their Local later completed the survey instead.
3 We will not be publishing the raw data at this time and do not intend to do so without permission from chapters and members who participated in the survey.
4One Local was split across a blue and red state, and this classified as neither.
Appendix A: Membership In Good Standing
Since our estimate of DSA’s current membership in good standing is based on a very rough extrapolation from a few figures, we wanted to provide a transparent account of how we arrived at that figure.
We used the temporary delegate roster to count the number of delegates per Local (excluding alternates).
We multiplied each Local’s number of delegates by 51 to get a ballpark figure at the number of members in good standing plus members up to two year in arrears.
This nationwide figure that includes members up to two years in arrears is the figure that National has used to declare and publicize a membership of 55,000 people.
We took the self-reported figures of members in good standing reported by the 79 Locals who provided that number and had delegates listed in the temporary roster.
We divided the self-reported number of members in good standing by the estimated apportionment number which includes members up to two years in arrears.
For Locals whose self-reported membership / ( delegates * 51 ) was either less than 40% or greater than 95%, we removed them, as it seemed likely the estimate would be either being thrown off by an undersized delegation, thrown off by an inaccurate self-reported membership number, or thrown off by simply being the self-reported membership number being based upon the number National used for apportionment. This left us with a sample of 40 Locals.
Then we divided the sum of members in good standing by the sum of the estimated count used for apportionment, and found an estimated retention rate of 75%.
When we averaged the average retention across Locals, again the estimated retention rate was 75%.
We chose to use this number, recognizing that the apportionment number would skew the calculations, since membership numbers were rounded up to the nearest multiple of 51. However, we were more comfortable trusting that the variation in distance from the nearest multiple of 51 would provide a balanced average, than calculating the estimate by rounding self reported membership numbers up to the nearest multiple of 51 and dividing that by the estimated apportionment count.
If you disagree with the choice described in point 8, then you should know when we divided the rounded up membership count by the estimated apportionment count, we found a cumulative average of a 79% retention rate. We don’t think this is the best guess, so we didn’t use it.
Finally, we took the most recent publication of membership count we could find from DSA: 55,000, which exactly like the apportionment counts, includes members up to two years in arrears.
We multiplied 55,000 by 0.75, and got our estimate: DSA has 41,250 members in good standing.
Appendix B: YDSA Survey Results (Expanded)
|How many out of 6 YDSA Chapters Have a Tool for...|
|Email Blast Tool||4|
|Internal Discussion Platform||5|
|Shared File System||3|
|Peer to Peer Texting||2|
|How many out of 6 YDSA Chapters...|
|Use Image description||1|
|Make Video Observation of Meetings an Option||0|
|Make Video Participation in Meetings an Option||0|
|Put Captions on Videos||1|
|Provide Childcare at Meetings||0|
|Use ADA Accessible Spaces, at least for chapter-wide meetings||5|
|Have Materials Translated into other languages||0|
Appendix C: Organizing Committee Survey Results (Extended)
|How many out of 18 Organizing Committees Have a Tool for...|
|Email Blast Tool||11|
|Internal Discussion Platform||12|
|Shared File System||7|
|Peer to Peer Texting||2|
|How many out of 18 Organizing Committees|
|Use Image description||2|
|Make Video Observation of Meetings an Option||3|
|Make Video Participation in Meetings an Option||6|
|Put Captions on Videos||2|
|Provide Childcare at Meetings||6|
|Use ADA Accessible Spaces, at least for chapter-wide meetings||14|
|Have Materials Translated into other languages||4|
Data Collection: Finch (Middle Tennessee), Matt R. (Pittsburgh), Rachel R. (Binghamton), Zachary T. (Pittsburgh)
Writing: Aaron B. (Southern Maine), Elim G. (SF), Erika P. (Lincoln), Finch (Middle Tennessee), Matt R. (Pittsburgh)
Editing: Adam (Chicago), Dave (Philadelphia), Elim G. (SF), Erika P. (Lincoln), Lloyd G. (Ann Arbor), Ravi A. (Long Beach), Rachel R. (Binghamton), Sauce (North Bay), Yesi (San Diego), Zac E. (RRV)
Charts: Matt R. (Pittsburgh), Sauce (North Bay)
Zine Layout: William J. (Omaha)
Zine Cover Design and Illustrations: Roxy (Central Florida)
Made with solidarity and donated labor.