In honor of Labor Day, I had a conversation with Jared Rivera of SEIU 2015 about their organizing program this year. If you haven’t met Jared, he is one of the most skilled and forward-thinking organizers we have worked with. Below are excerpts from our discussion.
Sangeeth Peruri (SP): Thanks so much for speaking with me today. Please tell me a little about yourself and your role at SEIU 2015.
Jared Rivera (JR): I have been an organizer in the LA area for the past 20 years, working for a number of great organizations including PICO, SEIU CA and the Hillary campaign. I have been at SEIU 2015 for the last 4 years as their political director. SEIU 2015 is the largest SEIU local with over 300K members. We are headquartered in Los Angeles, with offices around the state, and represent home healthcare workers around California.
SP: When we spoke last, you mentioned that you have completely changed your organizing program this year. Can you walk us through what you have done in the past and how that has changed this year?
JR: We have been building a member engagement program we refer to as “Democracy Schools” for many years, where we enlist our members to become democracy captains who encourage other members to register and vote. The core of our program has been recruiting volunteers to phone bank or knock on doors, on both the IE and coordinated side.
In the past, we would run in-person democracy schools around the state. This process would take about two months. However, we found it very difficult to keep new volunteers engaged. We did a great job training and recruiting volunteers, but we saw very high dropout rates by the time we launched our programs. We just couldn’t figure out how to engage and mobilize our volunteers.
SP: So how are things different this cycle?
JR: We initially started using OutreachCircle as a way to enable our volunteers to reach out to other member voters (members who are also voters). As we started ramping up the program, we realized that even though OutreachCircle works well for reaching voters, the best use of OutreachCircle is to manage our volunteers and keep them engaged. This was a real “aha” moment for me that completely changed how we do things.
SP: Can you elaborate?
JR: In the past, the only way to keep our volunteers engaged after a training was to meet with them in person or on the phone. This works well with your friends or people that you see often. But if you run a large organization, this becomes really difficult. This is a particular problem for our workforce, as most of our members are in-home care workers. They work in isolation, one-on-one with their clients. So they aren’t coming to job sites where one organizer can interact with a lot of members at once.
With OutreachCircle, we can give our volunteers small, micro actions for them to do periodically. We change things up, but typically we send one or two small actions a week.
Another benefit is that we always have actions readily accessible that any member can take at anytime. In the past, if someone wanted to help out, I would have to take their name down and then follow-up with them to assign them a task. Now I can just say: “Are you on OutreachCircle? It has everything you need.” Members can sign up in real time by downloading the app or just using the browser on their phone or computer. They can sign up in seconds and start volunteering right away. We have recruited well over a thousand volunteers in this manner.
SP: So what kinds of micro actions do you ask your members to take?
JR: I have been very focused on creating a ladder of engagement. We want to give members lots of small tasks that they can do quickly. Some recent actions in OutreachCircle include: watching a TV ad on Prop 15 (it’s pretty cool that videos are now embedded in OutreachCircle), registering for a FB live event, sharing a post on social media, and reading an article or an update about SEIU 2015.
Before, we used to go dark after our democracy schools. Now we can engage volunteers little by little before we make a big ask like phone banking, canvassing voters or attending a hearing in Sacramento.
SP: So now the obvious question. How do you walk members from smaller asks to larger ones?
JR: With OutreachCircle, it’s easy to track the actions each of our members take and then follow up with them via text, email or push notifications. I am always on the lookout for members who take a lot of actions. Then we use OutreachCircle’s Affinity texting to reach out to those members. With Affinity texting, the text message comes from an organizer’s real phone number. So it forms a personal texting relationship between the organizer and the volunteer.
Once the organizer texts them, they typically schedule a phone call or an in-person meeting. Before OutreachCircle our organizers wouldn’t know who to follow-up with. Now an organizer can focus their time. It allows them to spend less time and get better results.
Our members are happier as well, because the members that want to engage are given extra attention. Others can watch from the sidelines until they are ready.
SP: What have been some of the biggest surprises for you this year?
JR: An unexpected use case has been identifying hot “leads” – members who have fire in their belly and want to get active even if they’re not sure what that means. This capability has been really critical for us and something we could not have done without OutreachCircle.
Recently, we were focused on trying to get SB275 passed. The bill would increase the stockpiles of PPE that California keeps on hand for future pandemic outbreaks. There was an LA Times article on the bill and we created an action in OutreachCircle to read that article.
The button to read the article said “I want to help pass SB275.” It is really important to get the text of the button right. I let the action sit there for a couple weeks. Our members don’t always check their notifications right away, so I always give it some time.
After two weeks, 175 people had clicked the button to read the article. Now we have a 175 person rapid response network. I can’t tell you how amazing this is! Normally, we have to go back to the same well to recruit volunteers. Here we created new volunteers almost out of thin air. Before OutreachCircle, there would have been no way to identify a hotlist of supporters for a new bill. We would have just gone back to our same list and asked them to do one more thing. Over time, engagement rates drop and you have to start all over and recruit more people. So you never grow your program. It’s like you are on a never-ending hamster wheel.
SP: So give me an update on the program this year. What have you done so far and what comes next?
JR: We have done 6 two-hour democracy schools. This year they are virtual instead of in-person. 1,200 people have gone through the training and almost all of them are on OutreachCircle. We would send them OutreachCircle links in advance of the training and for those who didn’t sign up pre-training, we would have them sign up during the training. It’s easy to slot it in as it takes less than a minute to get someone on-boarded with OutreachCircle. With this approach we saw exponential growth in OutreachCircle usage.
We launched our trainings in August and gave our members 1-2 small actions per week. We used this to see which members would be the most engaged. We are now launching union-wide member-to-member phone banks. We will take all of the Yes IDs from our phone banks and assign them to our democracy captains for follow up. Each captain will be assigned 40 people that live near them, that they will Affinity text until election day. It will be the same democracy captain texting the same member during the entire period.
The first text will be a simple introduction. Then we will let them know when ballots have been mailed, send them a link to our endorsed candidates and then end with a chase program.
SP: Any other last thoughts?
JR: All of this struck home for me a couple weeks ago when there was a Senate hearing on the millionaire tax. We found out Friday night that there would be a hearing on Monday and we needed to get members to attend the hearing.
So I decided to try an experiment. I created an action on OutreachCircle asking who could attend the hearing. I made sure to create a nice graphic that included all the relevant details. I posted the action and by Monday morning, 40 people had signed up. I then used OutreachCircle to text those 40 people the link to join the hearing and 20 showed up.
And this is not an easy ask. A member has to dial in, wait for two hours and then speak when they are called.
This was an absolute game changer for me. Using OutreachCircle took no time on my part and was so easy. Instead of begging the same people over and over to help, it’s nice to have an opt-in approach where members can choose when they want to be involved. AND I didn’t have to burn out my staff by forcing them to recruit volunteers over the weekend.
Before OutreachCircle, this would have been impossible.
Sangeeth Peruri is the CEO and founder of OutreachCircle, a supporter management, relational organizing and P2P texting platform that makes it easy for volunteers, activists and donors to support their favorite cause, campaign or organization. Formerly president of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees, he serves on the boards of Orenda Education and Think Together. In his spare time, he is a fitness fanatic and competed on American Ninja Warrior 6 (check out his video here).