Relational organizing is quickly becoming a staple of modern day campaigning. Unlike traditional cold campaign outreach (paid staff or volunteers reach out to strangers), relational organizing involves supporters leveraging their pre-existing relationships to reach out to their friends, neighbors and colleagues. While academic research has shown relational organizing to be the most effective form of outreach, it is a relatively new area where few have developed and documented best practices. In the last two years we have worked with over a thousand clients on their relational organizing efforts. Through trial and error (we’ve made our share of mistakes!), we have seen what works and what doesn’t. Here are our top recommendations to launch, build and grow a successful relational organizing program.
- Start early. Properly building out a relational organizing campaign takes planning and resources. Having sufficient time to execute is critical to success. We recommend 3+ months for local campaigns, 6+ months for regional campaigns and 6-12+ months for statewide or national efforts.
- Treat relational organizing like phone/door: put someone in charge and be methodical. A relational organizing effort doesn’t run itself. Designating staff or volunteers to take ownership and responsibility for scaling your relational program is critical to success. Similar to other outreach efforts, create a calendar and make sure to have weekly and monthly goals for individuals, teams and overall.
- Start before phone, door and other forms of outreach. Based on the research, it is clear that relational organizing is the most effective method of persuading voters. However, it is not always possible to reach every voter in this manner. If you start your relational organizing efforts early, you can remove everyone you reach in this manner off of your phone and walk lists.
- Map out the electorate to create a relational organizing strategy. There is no point starting from scratch. Figure out the quickest way to reach the largest number of people. Identify the key groups in your electorate – churches, schools, youth sports, resistance groups, county parties, community organizations, and senior groups. Don’t forget to seek out groups that will benefit from the candidate winning or the bill/measure passing.
- Influencers are critical to scaling relational organizing. We find one of the biggest mistakes that campaigns make is focusing on their volunteers instead of influencers for their relational organizing efforts. While volunteers have time, many are not well connected in their communities. We recommend recruiting influencers who are well connected and respected in their communities. Start with friends, family, staff, endorsers and donors.
- Leverage technology. There are a number of relational organizing platforms that will automate this process and to help you scale your efforts. Some of them even offer a free version for smaller programs. Make sure to find a platform that will help you identify influencers and integrates with other campaign platforms such as NGPVAN.
- Involve the entire campaign team and leverage every campaign channel. Unlike fundraising, phone, door or texting which can be run as discrete efforts, relational organizing should involve the entire campaign team. This starts with the candidate and campaign manager and includes every team within a campaign – field, digital, fundraising and communications.
- Create volunteer relational organizing capacity. The best way to grow your relational organizing campaign is to convert your supporters into organizers who will recruit more supporters to reach out to their friends. In this manner, your campaign will not be bottlenecked by your campaign staff. However, doing so takes planning and resources. The best way to convert a canvasser to an organizer is a personal one on one conversation.
- Separate recruitment and conversion. To attract influencers to support your relational organizing efforts, there are two key functions – recruitment and conversion. Recruitment is best done by outgoing and well connected individuals who recruit individuals to leverage their networks, reputations and relationships to support your convert. Once an individual has agreed to support your effort, you need organized and task oriented individuals to follow-up and assist your supporters in reaching out to their friends.
- Make the ask individually and follow-up personally. Relational organizing is a new concept to most supporters. A mass email is rarely enough to recruit supporters. Make sure an individual asks either in person or digitally. This can be done at a neighborhood coffee, one-on-one, or by phone, email, text or social. Make sure the individual who knows the supporter best makes the ask. With high profile supporters, it is best to have the candidate make the ask. Once the ask has been made, make sure to follow-up.
- Run relational organizing parties or weekends of action. In-person communication works extremely well for growing your relational organizing efforts. However, recruiting supporters individually takes time. A great way to supercharge your efforts, especially early in your rollout, is to run hold relational organizing parties or neighborhood coffees.
In short, relational organizing can be an extremely effective program in your campaign’s arsenal. By leveraging relationships, planning effectively and mobilizing early, you can persuade more voters, improve voter turnout and WIN more races. If you have any best practices that we missed, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always looking to advance the field to make outreach more personal, effective and efficient.
(A version of this post originally ran on the NDTC blog)
Sangeeth Peruri is the CEO and founder of OutreachCircle, a digital organizing platform that harnesses the power of personal relationships to inspire action and drive change. Formerly president of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees, he serves on the boards of Orenda Education, Think Together and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. In his spare time, he is a fitness fanatic and competed on American Ninja Warrior 6 (check out his video here).