For many, the concept of relational organizing in an electoral context is a new tactic. However, the practice of empowering individuals to organize and mobilize their personal community has been around for ages, the basic concept is even discussed in the Bible! In an electoral context, we have seen that relational organizing is the single most effective way to make direct contact with voters. This makes sense because if you know someone, you understand their motivation and can engage with them more authentically than with a stranger.
Studies have shown that a voter asked to turnout by someone they know is twice (or more!) as likely to vote as someone who was contacted through canvassing or phone banking. Sister District’s helpful one-pager on the value of relational organizing shares multiple studies of Reach clients that saw a significant turnout increase using Reach. However, a strong relational organizing program takes time and additional resources to grow to scale.
To start with, let’s discuss the biggest hurdle in any relational program: how do you get volunteers to engage in this tactic? Particularly for first-time candidates who are just building their volunteer list, this can seem daunting.
The short answer is, making the ‘hard ask’ for individuals to organize their personal networks for the campaign should be integrated in all other tactics in addition to a standalone practice. Relational organizing should not be silo’ed as a digital organizing tactic, and should be a core part of every field program. This is because relational organizing can help your campaign ID, persuade, and turnout supporters in a faster and more effective manner than any other form of direct voter contact. Since that is the goal of every field program, it only makes sense for it to be an integrated component.
One way to integrate relational organizing into your field program is incorporating a training element into your training/debriefs of other direct voter contact tactics. Post phone-bank or post text-bank debriefs should include an ask to sign up for a dedicated Friend-bank as one’s next volunteer shift and during future interactions with those volunteers, engage them in one-on-ones to help them think critically about organizing their networks for the campaign.
Success will vary depending on the group of volunteers. Many large-scale campaigns have seen much better engagement numbers from phone-bank volunteers than from text-bank volunteers. However, my father always tells me “if you don’t ask, you get a no”, which is why I think it’s worth integrating into all direct voter contact programs regardless of tactic.
Outside of building your relational organizing program from your existing direct voter contact volunteers, there are many other tactics to build your network. I’ve always been taught that successful organizers organize themselves out of a job by training up and empowering their volunteer leaders. These are your volunteers currently participating in the program who already understand the power of organizing their personal community for your campaign.
Reach gives volunteers the power to scale their engagement by recruiting people they know into the platform and then further gamifies the practice by having leaderboards where individuals can track their achievements and obtain points through their engagement on the app. You can do this practice by helping your volunteers think through their relational mapping template focusing on volunteer recruitment opportunities in their personal network.
It also helps to have a planned ladder of engagement for your relational volunteers. The first ask can be something easy such as a Social Media Share Action Card of your campaign’s website with a personal story as to why they are volunteering, or inviting their personal network to a house party with the candidate.
When first planning to build your relational organizing program make sure to consider the program cycle and varying tactics. A great resource for this is a free mini-lesson named “Building Your Local Democratic Relational Organizing Program” that is available as part of the Online Academy provided by the National Democratic Training Committee (NDTC). Particularly, consider what metrics are being tracked to define success in your relational organizing program. Is it new volunteers brought in, new voters registered, supporters identified, individuals persuaded to support, or something else? From there, you can backwards plan to incorporate this tactic into your field plan.
To determine what goals you want to set for your relational organizing program consider what your campaign needs are at the moment. Just like any field plan, relational organizing has stages and the goals you set can change depending on the phase of your campaign and your current scale.
Have you just launched your campaign? Your small donors can be relational organizing to solicit additional funds for your campaign. If your campaign is using Reach, you as the candidate can use it to manage and track your small dollar fundraising texts.
Are you just starting up your field program? Your core volunteers can be organizing their network to help recruit more volunteers to your campaign.
Are you in a red district and want to expand your base to win? Your volunteers can register new voters from their personal community and bring in people who maybe feel excluded from the political process because those previously elected do not represent their values.
You also need to determine how you are going to track the metrics and obtain the data for goal success for your relational organizing program. Reach’s CSV exports and a VAN integration for data syncing will make this easy!
Growing your Campaign
A strong relational organizing program starts early and takes organizing time to grow. With that invested time you can scale your program. The more you scale, the more voters your campaign will be able to engage with in a meaningful way.
A fully-fledged relational organizing program allows supporters to become self-sufficient organizers who keep their networks engaged over a long period of time. Relational organizing can not only help a campaign win a particular election, but also build long-term Democratic party infrastructure. It will benefit Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, from the start of a campaign through election day.
A version of this story was first published by the National Democratic Training Committee.