An Idea for Big List Online Organizing

Together with Democrats.com, we’re trying to address an interesting – but extremely sensitive – issue. How can the important organizations with large lists of progressives work together to influence the outcome of local races of importance? Specifically, the kinds of races that often fall in the cracks: local, primaries, recalls, non-Federal, but in a context where the outcome can have national significance.

Examples abound: The New York City mayoral primary and the Colorado recall races against John Morse and Angela Giron come to mind for this September. Because of the importance of these local races, it is likely that groups we know and love with large national lists will weigh in – perhaps fundraising, perhaps volunteer opportunities, but for sure with endorsements and calls to help get out the vote.

And yet, more could be done.

Imagine a scenario where different progressive groups combine their names into a single CRM. Some black box mechanism that assures everyone that no one is stealing their names, no one is going to spam folks uncontrollably, but that coordinates the messaging. Imagine further that the names and emails on this shared list are matched with the voter file, so that even smaller chunks can be messaged for campaigners working in smaller geographic units, or that emails can be written ‘from’ someone who is close by. Imagine that this shared list is run through a social media matching service (like Attentive.ly) to figure out who the best prospects are for high touch engagement.

(By ‘coordinates the messaging’ we don’t mean send the same email to everyone, we mean making sure that it’s possible to reach the right people, at the right time, with excellent emails that are both responsive to campaign priorities, are seen as legitimate by the recipients, and that take into account the local news cycle. It can be done!)

I bet such an effort increases turnout for everyone in that shared list. In a low turnout race, that can make a big difference. More importantly, I think that the combined effort would boost overall turnout AND get national press, particularly if this kind of cooperation was trumpeted as a news story. It’s widely known in our circles that simply emailing people might not improve GOTV, but working a list in this fashion, early and carefully with an experienced local staff person taking charge, does not constitute a program of simply emailing to boost GOTV.

There isn’t much time if we wanted to roll such an effort out for September. On the other hand, so many of the obstacles DO have solutions, even if they require some fancy footwork and goodwill. Examples:

Privacy issues and ‘can’t pass on emails to other organizations.’ There are solutions to this. First of all, a combined effort of multiple organizations working in close partnership doesn’t constitute ‘giving emails to another entity.’ It’s entirely possible to work with a CRM that keeps track of every email address’ source, and for that CRM to be formally owned/managed by a consortium of partners.

Lack of staff time in the national orgs for such a small fraction of members. Well that’s the whole point. We can’t really expect the managers of national lists to be focused on a local race, which is why having a local person take charge of the process makes so much sense. Imagine what your list could do if it was worked in the most efficient manner for a specific race for a limited amount of time?

List members might complain. But isn’t that always true? This exercise isn’t about building a list or raising money for the large org, it’s about winning an election. And we can’t trust candidates and their campaigns to do it on their own, particularly in small races that might not have access to the staffing and talents of a statewide or national race. More importantly – our progressive list members want to be effective, want to be informed of how they can make a real difference. That doesn’t always happen in local races.

If you think this is worth doing – please say so and let’s be in touch. If you can identify obstacles or hurdles, even ones you think are insurmountable – please post or email them. Sometimes, what looks like a problem from far away is an opportunity when a talented group examine it close up.

(comment below or email me at clenchner@organizing20.org)

Comments

  1. Nathan Henderson-James says:

    The next iteration of the toolset at the Corporate Action Network is going to be designed to facilitate just this kind of thing, though not specifically in this scenario. It will allow multiple people from multiple organizations create shared lists that they all can message from that central toolsite. It doesn’t have the voter file integration, but it does tackle this kind of collaboration issue. It would require that people get on the list by taking action, so each organization can message their list separately and have them take the action at CAN and then they will have a merged list of action takers.

    These tools are supposed to debut in September.

    Nathan HJ

  2. This is an obvious good idea. I’ve been involved in some halfway implementations, and not specifically in a GOTV context, but there is much, much more that can and should be done. It is eminently solvable given some time and focus.