Can blogs run smaller affiliates out of business? Are they?

Back in the day, if you were a Unitarian Universalist with an specific interest you might end up joining or even founding an independent affiliate organization. Twenty years ago, there were scads of them with new ones popping up all the time. Like printed pamphlets, their day seems to have passed. Some are still very active, but most seem (from the outside anyway) to be very low powered and there just don’t seem to be many new ones developed.

First, it is more difficult to form an organization that the UUA Board recognizes. It must be justified in mission and legal standing in ways the old ones didn’t need to be. Tie that to the looming drought of excess volunteer time and I can imagine that it would be hard to maintain an independent affiliate, especially if it doesn’t have real property or a dedicated income stream. Program slots for independent affiliates at General Assembly are fewer and exhibit space — while discounted for affiliates — has become much more expensive. The benefits of associating the old way are shrinking.

Second, are they so necessary? If you had an impulse to organize a group of Unitarian Universalists, I think the first task would be to connect electronically. Formal organization isn’t necessary. First came the mailing lists, then the websites and now blogs. Internet facilitated social connectivity is developing rapidly. Some bloggers, myself included, find satisfaction in specializing and speaking to a particular need, when in the past such a need might have been tackled by a group. Blog picnics and the dinners at meetings, including one forthcoming at General Assembly, add a real-life social component. So you have access, content and fellowship: three things affiliates provide. Yet a blogger could do this, provide a service and never spend any money.  Even a branded, self-contained blog like mine costs about $70 a year to maintain, or less than two memberships in many organizations. Indeed, instead of one kind of x fellowship, you can have several kinds.

What do you think?

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Scott–I think you’ve really nailed it with this. There’s just no reason to go through the bother to put together a face-to-face organization first. Use the internet to get started and meet up later. There are so many events where folks can get together once they’ve found their common interest. Great idea–Phil

  2. You’ll be interested in the way the UUA Board has tightened the requirements for affiliate status. (It’s partway down this latest Board report.) You probably know this already, but the requirements were substantially changed last year, and finally applied to annual applications this year. Only two of the 17 organizations that applied for the status were given it.

    Since, traditionally, affiliate status gave each group a blurb in the UUA Directory, a discount on UU World advertising rates, and workshop slots at the General Assembly, the status can easily be seen as access to UUA publicity venues. You’re exactly right to suggest that advocacy or affinity groups have to start thinking about other cost-effective ways of finding an audience.

    The biggest problem for would-be affiliates is that the old system gave them a distribution system. Nothing reaches as many UU households as UU World (where organizations can still advertise without being affiliates, of course), and nothing reaches highly interested UUs like a program or booth at the General Assembly. But the new Web tools require much more initiative to push content to people who aren’t already looking for it. That’s where the next year or two is going to cause problems, because it’s going to take time for people to learn how to take on the role of building their own distribution system, even if they use all the newfangled tools.

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