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The proliferation of onramps

November 19 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

There is a recurring concept that keeps hitting my brain, it’s “onramps.” I've talked about it a few times before on this blog.

For those that haven't heard of this before I'll start with a definition.

I think the reason this concept keeps spinning in my brain is that I see so many people NOT plugged into this mission. Our name, Surfrider Foundation, can act as somewhat of an offramp... suggesting to people that if they don't surf then we're not the group for them to plug into. We need ways for people to do the exact opposite... find that way to plug into a mission of coastal conservation.

Close onramps.
One of the key concepts to onramps is that they can't ask very much of you, especially initially. We need to find a way for you to connect to the Surfrider movement without trying very hard. One of my favorite examples of this was Jack Johnson's recent world tour. We all know that he's popular (#1 on itunes suggests that simple fact). So we jumped at the chance to team up with Jack and Kim Johnson... and ended up going on the road with them. So if you were simply going about your life and singing along with Jack at a concert... Presto! An onramp to connect.

Non-surf onramps.
Related to the above onramp is the fact that we know when people unfamiliar with us hear "Surfrider" they think "for surfers." Meanwhile the strong majority of our activists aren't surfers but instead beach lovers. We created Rise Above Plastics to address this. In many instances people will read the Rise Above Plastics blog, interact with a campaign... and only later find out it's Surfrider Foundation behind it.

Global onramps.
Oceans, waves and beaches aren't unique to Southern California (where Surfrider was founded). It turns out... they span the globe. So do we. We don't plant chapters. They simply self-form and then we assist them with campaign plans and activist training. The result of this is that after 25 years, we have onramps for people in over 15 countries. This is very important because if you're in Portugal or Brazil you expect to engage with our mission in Portuguese. If you're in Chiba you expect Japanese. Etc.

Neighboring-issues onramps.
Many of us know that we need to find a way to stem our addiction to fossil fuels. One of the many alternative energies being explored is tidal and wave energy. You don't have to live near the coasts or be a surfer to care about this. You simply need to be interested in our global overuse of petroleum and petroleum derivative products. You may want to plug in and follow along as these new energy types mature and come to market. This is an onramp for people because once they show an interest in wave energy, we'd like them to understand that we can't just take from our natural resources... we also need to care for those resources.

Custom onramps.
One of my theories is that people don't bend too much. They don't really go out of their way for new things, they they are creatures of habit living by their daily schedules. Custom onramps is an idea onramp designed to reach out to a small number of people, and get them to connect on a deeper level. Some of the podcasts I've done speak to this, whether it's the Brian Wilson podcast for music-heads, the Paul Naude podcast for the surf industry, the Gilles podcast for Europeans or the Cobi Emery podcast I'll do this week that's oriented toward kids. I don't expect people to subscribe to all the podcasts but rather pass a link to a friend based on their interests.

Educational onramps.
In Europe tens of thousands of kids go through our education programs. They also access more educational materials and play games via our European website. In the end much of what we want to do is educate people; we want people to understand that the world's coastal ecosystems call for action and engagement. We seek to educate people via our edgy advertisements and our videos.


Low-friction onramps.
One of the keys to the onramp idea is finding things you love to do that overlap. I've created more than a few of the Save Trestles stickers... because I'm a bit of an Adobe Illustrator geek. However my deeper action here is that I gave out a few thousand of these stickers to people I think are sympathetic to the Save Trestles cause. In the end many surfers found that putting a sticker on their car as a way to show their support. I believe a sticker is a great onramp as it has thousands of impressions and illustrates regional support.

Personal onramps
Blogs are multiplying. Last time we checked there were well over 100 digital properties operating under the banner of our mission. I love blogs because they are personal, the voice is in the first person and they scale. When a company or even a non-profit tells you something you feel like you're being "sold." When a person tells you their opinion, you may disagree with them but you probably also feel privileged to have had that person share their views with you. There is a level of trust that you give to a person that you don't give to an organization... perhaps it's due to a level of vulnerability by the person. There is some risk involved... and thus a similar uptick in the reward category. Personal onramps, a one-to-one interaction with someone in line at the grocery store regarding why you use your own bags... are special.

Wearable onramps.
We've sold Ts, hoodies and other soft goods for years. Today one of our board members, Vipe Desai, has taken this a step further with Project Blue. Project Blue is a way for people to buy surf products and plug into our movement. This combination onramp is also an indirect onramp (people may not initially know they are supporting Surfrider Foundation until they look into what exactly Project Blue is).

Bloom in onramps
Regarding onramps, I'm a believer that "more is more." I take this stance because I believe that most people miss most onramps... or the onramps or asks are too high-friction (they ask too much, too early). Perhaps it's our collective history with network television or advertisements... but my sense is that we overestimate the value of those kinds of approaches and underestimate the smaller, more personal ones. For me I'd rather have 100 small onramps than 3 large ones (but the truth is that I'd like to have 103 with a variety-pack mix).

Succession of onramps.
One onramp does very little. If I pass you in my car with a Surfrider sticker on it, that does very little. But if you combine that with your kids Respect the Beach program during school and a news snippet about a regional issue mentioning our name, pretty soon you are intrigued. It takes more than one onramp to make an impact. Perhaps more importantly it takes multiple onramps, in succession, to really engage someone (in the end onramps need to point to a deeper level of engagement and activism). The sticker may make someone aware of a beachfill issue, that may make them read a piece in the paper about it, which may make them talk to their neighbors about it. By extending these interactions, you get a knowledgeable person or better yet, an engaged person. One of the coolest characteristics about Surfrider is that a person can go as deep as they want... that's not the case with many groups.

Maintenance/ownership of onramps.
Counter to my "more is more" comment above " I'm a bit shy regarding starting new websites and blogs. This may sound counter to some of my ideas above, but it's not. Many of us have built enough web sites to know that when you're done with the first build you are the exact opposite of "done." You've only started. We all tend to underestimate the time/energy/money/resources required to create and maintain a meaningful onramp experience. An onramp is a way to engage... but once you've engaged someone you need to be ready to have a dialog.

Proliferation of onramps.
All these things point me to the proliferation of onramps. Above I've already explained what onramps are and how diverse they can be. The umbrella idea with the "proliferation" phrase is that I'm encouraging more and more onramps to be built. In an oversimplified sense I'm comfortable with our chapter layer and activist opportunities... we simply need more people to plug into these mechanisms. Thus, I hope you'll join us in the proliferation of onramps.

Build one that you'd want to plug into... my guess is that others will share your views.

Onramps... to the protection and enjoyment of our oceans, waves and beaches.
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