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iPhone App Will Help You Lobby

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The rock-musician-turned-activist Bono wants you to know: You, too, can be a lobbyist, and all you need is an iPhone.

ONE, the anti-poverty group co-founded by Bono, launched an app Wednesday that lets iPhone users call their lawmakers at the touch of a button. It even provides a script of what to say.

The project is one of several efforts by advocacy groups to use mobile technology to harness the power of their grass roots and pressure Members of Congress.

By making it easy for someone to lobby while in line at the post office or while watching television, the group expects to have many more of its 2.5 million grass-roots supporters involved in influencing policy.

"It arms our army with a much more effective and potent organizing tool," Jeff Davidoff, ONE's chief marketing officer, said. "We think that mobile technology is the next step."

Other organizations seem to agree. In the past year, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the American Cancer Society have also created applications for smartphones and portable devices.

Such membership-based nonprofit groups rely on the size of their grass-roots base to influence Congress. Mobile tools make it easier to engage millions of people in those efforts and, as more people use their cellphones to connect to the Internet, to expand their base.

ONE's app, which was developed in partnership with the digital consultancy @radical.media, combines social media tools from Facebook with news about the organization's global work and petitions that call for Congressional action. Users who provide a ZIP code are connected to their Representatives and regional ONE coordinators.

Davidoff said mobile advocacy is designed to enhance, not replace, more traditional ways of influencing lawmakers. ONE still plans to bring hundreds of activists to Capitol Hill each year for in-person meetings.

"We frequently get asked, 'Do we need a large number of people doing small things, or a small number of people doing large things?' The answer is yes to both," he said.

As ONE seeks to expand its base, that means tapping into the technology used by young people.

"We joke that it's about as antiquated to require you to come to ONE.org as it is to be standing on a corner with a clipboard," Davidoff said.

Yet there is no consensus on whether mobile apps can actually change votes on Capitol Hill.

John Murphy, whose Zuri Group creates mobile tools for nonprofits, said the technology's greatest advantage is the ease of sharing information. After signing a petition, ONE app users are prompted to invite friends on Facebook to do the same and to share their action via Twitter.

"Whether it's new dollars or new donors, you do see a bump once you tap into these networks," Murphy said. "Once [users] have taken action, they have the ability to spread the word. That's where we have really seen this gain."

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