Inspiring volunteers is no easy task. Even the most passionate supporters sometimes balk at calls to action. Though door-knockers are important and phone-bankers are valuable, Democrats will need to engage new elements of their base who aren’t willing or able to get involved in those more traditional ways – or it will all be for naught.
The reality is that in today’s digital world, with today’s digital users, we should be focusing on creating digital volunteers who are ready and willing to fulfill easy and impactful tasks from their smartphones.
Any door-to-door canvasser who has spent even an afternoon walking streets will tell you how draining the work can be. And while canvassers’ impact is well-known, it’s essential that we offer other promising avenues of volunteering opportunities for those would-be volunteers who might not be convinced to go from door to door, but want to play their part, nonetheless.
For a while after the turn of the 20th century, it seemed like email would be the medium through which a new generation of volunteers would turn out the vote. That never came to pass. Email was never a medium that friends used to speak with one another. In fewer than two decades, it has become clear that email is an ineffective mode of organizing – especially among millennials, less than 30% of whom were contacted by any campaign in the lead up to the 2016 elections.
The beauty of more traditional organizing has always been that it reached voters where they spent most of their time – in their homes. Political advertising on television was a revelation because it allowed the candidates themselves to sit down in voters’ living rooms. Today, Democratic base voters spend most of their time on social media. If we really want to learn from previous generations of political organizers, we need to find a way to reach the voters where they are. And there is no better way to accomplish this goal than to foster a strong cadre of digital volunteers who are knowledgeable and passionate.
Digital organizing need not replace traditional modes of political organizing, which are still essential. Rather, digital organizing should extend the best organizing lessons we have learned into a new political theatre. The essence of organizing is building personal connections and having conversations; this will necessarily be the heart of any successful digital organizing outfit.
Friend-to-friend digital volunteering, which asks volunteers to reach out to their networks of friends over digital platforms, is the best way to funnel inspired voters into productive action. These sorts of voter contacts have proven to be effective among the electorate as a whole, and specifically so among communities of color and millennials, demographics poised to become two of the largest blocs of the American electorate in 2020.
Digital organizing tasks are easy, simple, fast, and fun. They complement the traditional modes of voter contact without losing sight of those older methods’ strengths. We are still relying on friends and neighbors speaking to one another, this time it’s just on smartphones instead of in doorways.
This new generation of digital volunteers has access to networks of hundreds and thousands of friends who know them and trust them. With nothing more than their smartphones, these volunteers can tap their personal social networks to amplify campaign messages. The ease of the tasks and the volunteers’ comfort with the medium allow for high volunteer retention rates and significant opportunity to expand the volunteer pool. These volunteers want to help, and digital volunteering gives them the chance to leverage their unique skills.
This is the necessary future of volunteer engagement, and that’s where Team comes in: we help campaigns bring their volunteers into the digital age.