By Commons Volunteer Librarian, Sophie Hartley, Sorcha Rochford
Hundreds of campaigns and nonprofits faced an election at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. NationBuilder provided digital infrastructure to support customers like Vote Run Lead (who are unleashing the political power of women as voters, candidates, and leaders in the US), plus Culture Aid NOLA (a crisis response organisation that’s provided 95K New Orleans residents with locally sourced food using a no-barrier model).
Sorcha Rochford from NationBuilder presented at the FWD + Organise 2021 Conference held by Australian Progress. Her session shared how NationBuilder has supported customers in running an election campaign and a nonprofit in the midst of the pandemic. Here are some practical takeaways from the session that you can apply in the lead up to the next Australian federal election.
Key Tech Trends during the Pandemic
- People of all demographics became used to online events
- There was a greater significance placed on early voting and postal voting
- Groups and organisations fought for attention in the crowded online event space: creative ideas won
- Less door-knocking led to an increased use of texting and emailing
Key tips for Campaigning during the Pandemic
1. Building trust in local communities
- It’s not just about building a contact list, it’s about cultivating deep relationships
- Invest time and resources in volunteers and community members
Make sure all of the training and resources that you would use as a staff member are available to volunteers – Chennoah Walford, Field Campaign Director (NZ Greens)
- Engagement has to be more personal. Campaigners and organisers need to know what their community members’ day to day is looking like e.g.: Do they have children learning from home? Are they working from home? Are they an “essential worker”?
- Share experiences, not just a campaign ask. It’s important to bring people together to share their experiences of lockdown and what they want the world to look like.
- It is even more important to invest time in onboarding volunteers and build stronger relationships.
- Activists need to think of creative activities they can organise within the rules of lockdown, for example: socially distanced street stencilling.
- To build trust it’s important to engage with communities beyond your own campaign asks, for example: helping members to support local relief programs.
- It is impossible to do this work without knowing the people. It doesn’t come from big data or algorithms, it comes from people.
- Know what you’re doing with your data (e.g. survey data) – how are you using it to build trust and relationships with communities?
2. Thoughtful engagement
It’s important to engage and listen rather than constantly talking to (or talking at) your members, for example:
- Build an online digital space where members can vote on and talk about policy and campaign design.
- Have a poll built into your Zoom calls so you can gauge sentiment as the event is ongoing. This lets you see how the audience is responding to different campaign ideas.
- Reflect these lessons back to your members to cultivate deeper relationships. If a member has show an interest in a campaign/action through an event or survey invite them to participate in similar campaigns/actions.
Barriers and challenges to consider:
- The online space is busier than ever as more and more groups fight for space. You need to get creative to keep members engaged.
- Zoom fatigue! Train volunteers to host engaging events. Ensure your messaging is on point and focus on outreach in the lead up to the event to make sure members will respond.
- Create meaningful space for members to talk about the issues they are facing in their own lives.
- Virtual events are great for campaigns with small budgets, but sometimes lead to self-selecting.
- Be really intentional about what you’re doing in the online space and what goals these actions align with.
3. Getting your message out there
Less door-knocking has led to an increased usage of texting and emailing. To be prepared invest in digital GOTV (Get Out The Vote) infrastructure. During lockdowns there is a significant focus on early voting and postal voting.
- Make sure there is ample engagement with both online and in-person audiences.
- Don’t neglect online audiences! Include some activities that are purely online.
- Build in ways for the in-person audience to engage in the virtual space.
- Don’t forget about accessibility needs. As we move to more in-person and hybrid events again, it’s important to make sure we’re not returning to old methods that aren’t inclusive.
- 98% of texts are read and seen within the first 3 minutes.
- The more targeted the better the response.
- Texts are more personal, so out of hours can backfire.
- It’s important to think about why you are texting your members.It needs to be strategic and not just white noise.
About the Speaker
Sorcha Rochford, Sr. Director of Strategic Partnerships, NationBuilder
Sorcha is the Sr. Director of Strategic Partnerships at NationBuilder. She manages customer relationships and strategic partnerships for a host of the most influential political, brand, and non-profit organizations around the globe. She is a political strategy leader, committed to building community in an effort to develop more effective leaders from all walks of life. Prior to joining NationBuilder, Sorcha worked as a Senior Associate of Dewey Square Group where she developed and managed grassroots organizations for a variety of candidates, ballot initiatives, businesses, and non-profits. Sorcha has also served as a political advisor on a number of federal, state and municipal campaigns across New England. Currently, Sorcha serves her communities as US Ambassador for the British and Irish Trading Alliance, as a board member for Suffolk University Alumni and the Boston and New England Rose of Tralee. She is also the co-host of the Unapologetic Women podcast.
- Australian Progress (Conference)
- Coronavirus infections_COVID 19 (Disease)
- FWD + Organise 2021 (Australian Progress Conference - Australia)
- Meetings - Digital_Virtual_Online