Relational Organizing in Action

7 mins read

“Relational organizing focuses on the most important tools at our disposal: our relationships and our ability to talk with one another about things that matter.” – Kara Waite, Harper’s Bazaar.

Spreading a message through your personal network is like creating waves: the message travels like ripples, but eventually fades away as it runs out of new contacts. Recruiting friends to make waves with you, lets you make a bigger splash. Relational organizing works in a similar way. A campaigns can extend its reach by having supporters spread its message to their friends and on their social media pages. This approach has several benefits:
Credibility: The message comes from a known source and more likely to be believed than a political ad
Speed: Messages spread much faster through personal networks than the time needed to launch an ad campaign
Cost: Spreading a message through personal networks costs a small fraction of an ad campaign
Reach: Messages sent personally have a better chance of crossing the partisan divide as political messages from the ‘other’ side are often ignored

How is relational organizing applied in real campaigns? How can supporters easily spread a campaign’s messages with their friends and on social media? How can supporters be alerted when there is a new action for them to take? How does a campaign with little money, free time and tech expertise apply relational organizing?

Relational organizing uses supporters' personal networks to reach more people faster and for less money than traditional advertising.

Campaign Case Study

A good way to understand relational organizing is through a real example. Judith Bolker is running to represent the California Democratic Party in Assembly District 19 (AD-19) with help from a small group of supporters. She uses relational organizing in her campaign which spans San Francisco, Daly City and South San Francisco. This is how she did it:
– Analyzed the composition and distribution of voters in her district with Statistical Atlas (a free app)
– Segmented potential supporters by geography in order to create customized messages for each group
– Identified potential supporters with connections in those communities
– Created messages for her supporters to share with their friends and on social media
– Shared these message with her personal and extended network with VoteForce
– Monitored the effectiveness of each message she shared with supporters

Campaign Prep

Judith used Statistical Atlas, a free app to understand where different groups of likely voters were clustered and then sought out supporters in those communities. She then prepared messages that appealed to these groups for her supporters to text to their friends. Texts are sent directly from a volunteers’ phones and more likely to be read as they come from someone the recipient already knows. Sample message: “Hi! I’m running for AD 19 Delegate for the California Democratic Party. Please consider voting for me! Register to get your ballot by mail. All voting is by mail-in ballot. Once you receive your ballot it must be mailed by January 27, 2021.”

Analyze your field to find the areas to  find supporters to spread your message.

Activating Supporters

This is how Judith implemented her relational organizing campaign:
– She asked supporters to instal the free VoteForce app from the Apple iStore or Google Play store
– She used the app to communicate directly with her supporters with new messages and calls to action
– Volunteer’s interests are recorded when they instal the app so Judith knows how to customize messages to their interests
– She creates messages in the VoteForce console and alerts her supporters when there is a new message for them to share
– Volunteers text the messages by picking friends directly from their own phone book
– Volunteers protect their friends’ privacy as they do not have to share their friends’ contact info with the campaign
– Supporters also easily post the messages to their Facebook/Twitter pages with the VoteForce app
– Judith tracks which of her supporters share the most messages and which messages get the most exposure

VoteForce is a relational organizing app that lets campaigns reach more people through their supporters' personal networks.

Keep it simple for supporters

Supporters instal the free VoteForce app, enter their preferences and contact details. They choose the subgroup they identify with from the list Judith created. The app can be set up in two minutes to start texting their friends with messages that Judith sends them. Highlights:
– Supporters choose which of Judith’s message to share, choose their contacts that they would like to share it with, personalize the message and hit ‘SEND’.
– Multiple people can be texted in one step.
– The app ‘beeps’ when Judith sends supporters a new message to share or action to take.
– The VoteForce app makes it easy for supporters to post messages received to Twitter, Facebook and other social media services.

VoteForce is a mobile app for relational organizing.

Take away: Voters are isolated in information silos and often only listen to news sources that reinforce their beliefs. Relational organizing can penetrate these silos with messages from someone they know. The approach costs less and works faster than paid advertising campaigns. Try relational organizing in your next campaign.

A limited number of free VoteForce accounts are available for groups working on voting rights and social justice campaigns. Apply here.


Image Credit: Arek Socha from PixabayNoun Project
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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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