Five free online platforms to train volunteers, activists and campaign staff.

8 mins read

How do you train volunteers and staff the skills to be better activists and organizers?

Especially when a range of skills have to be taught from canvassing to calling for dollars? Training that is interactive and can be learnt from a phone or computer when time permits? With little time and money on training content that is subject to change?

DemLabs used these five free learning online platforms with groups including the Midwest Academy, OFA and NDCO to train activists and community organizers. Large corporations with millions of users in business and education offer these software platforms. They work just as well for training in activism and advocacy. And the price is right!

Video based training: How to tell your ‘story of self’.

Background: “A story of self tells why we have been called to serve. It expresses the values or experiences that call each person to take leadership on a given issue.” – Marshall Ganz / Bill Moyers. It is a basic community organizing skill.

Project: This eight minute course was developed for Organize For America (OFA) in 2017 when they had an influx of volunteers and wanted to train them on basic persuasion skills.

PlatformUdemy hosts video training courses at no charge and monitors who has taken a course.

Design: We split the course material into four segments each about two minutes long and included real life examples as well.  A video of how to tell your ‘Story of Self’ was recorded. This was edited into four smaller segments and superimposed with captions. Kimberly Dryden managed the course design while Demetris Akinnaso delivered the training.

Interactive training: Strategic planning for organizers

Background: Heather Booth founded the Midwest Academy in 1973 as a training institute for progressive community organizers to learn strategy, tactics and movement building. 

Project: This interactive course was designed to provide a short, introduction to strategic planning. It uses material that the Midwest Academy uses to train organizers on how to identify the individuals and their motivations to target in order to bring about change. Students progress through the course at their own pace in the form of a simulated soccer match. It also includes short embedded videos of Heather Booth explaining key points. 

PlatformPrezi is a platform that creates engaging, visual presentations which incorporate motion. Students navigate the training material at their own pace. 

Design: We first split the Strategic Planning content into smaller modules. Each includes a description and a video explanation.  Learn more here.

Digital training: How to collect video comments from supporters with FlipGrid

Background: The National Democratic County Officials (NDCO) wanted to show members how to remotely collect video clips from their constituents for web site content, fund raising and campaign videos.

Project: A 20 minute course was on how to use Flipgrid, a free software app to remotely collect video clips from community members.

Platform: A webinar was delivered to NDCO members using ZOOM, a free app.  The webinar was recorded and hosted on Vimeo, an ad-free video platform so that other NDCO members could watch the training later.

Design: Deepak Puri from DemLabs and Michael Sargent from NDCO jointly conducted the webinar. The twenty minute course explained how to use Flipgrid, case studies of how the app was used by other campaigns and tips to get better video clips. Learn more here.

Volunteer training: practical phone-banking skills for volunteers

Background: Susan Pfeiffer is a phone bank coordinator with Democracy Action. Training new volunteers on how to phone bank was taking her about ten minutes for each new volunteer. She needed a more efficient process and wanted volunteers to take an online video course before volunteering at the phone bank.

Project: We recorded a four minute video course with two veteran phone bankers (Rodrigo Toquetao and Regina O’Connor) who explained the basics of effective phone campaigns.

Platform: The video training was recorded and then hosted on YouTube.

Design: The four minute course consists of a short introduction and four segments, each with a practical tip.  Learn more here.

Canvassing skills: how to ‘frame’ issues and handle common objections.

Background: Michelle Pallas is a leader with StateWide Indivisible Michigan (SWIM). She wanted to train her extended team of volunteers to be better communicators and ‘frame’ issues properly.

Project: To create a digital online course that activists could take at their convenience on phones or laptops to become better communicators.

Platform: We used Quizlet, a free app which delivers training in the form of digital flash cards. It’s possible to create multiple courses, track how well a student did in a course and see which questions were the hardest for students to answer.

Design: DemLabs worked with Michelle to take ten common objections and the best response for each. This material was used to create the digital flash card based course. Learn more here.

Choosing a training platform

Training should be evaluated based on how much the student learnt at what cost? How much did it cost to organize and deliver the training? Is the training interactive and convenient for the student’s schedule? How current is the course material? How many students took the course and how well did each understand the course material?


  • For training that is primarily information sharing, use webinars with ZOOM.
  • Record the webinars and host of Vimeo or YouTube for watching later.
  • For interactive courses where monitoring students progress is important use Udemy and Quizlet.
  • For interactive training where monitoring student progress isn’t important consider Prezi. 
  • Design online training content in small segments that students can restart later if they are interrupted while taking a course.


Tech startups know that their growth depends on training their employees to sell and support their product and to train their customers on how to use their solutions. This isn’t easy with customers scattered across multiple timezones, a variety of training to be delivered on regularly changing content. Fortunately, there are excellent training platforms to meet this need.

Thousands of activists and volunteers need training. Progressive groups should apply these proven training platforms – especially since they are free. Learn more about designing better online training here.

Co-Founder, DemLabs

Please share this bulletin. DemLabs is a SF-based, progressive hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation. We focus on free and affordable apps. Donate here to support our work.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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