Organizing – The Foundation of Progress

Whether you are talking about Civil Rights, Labor, Health Care, or cleaning up your local community parks, the one constant is that organizing is the most efficient and effective means of achieving progress.  On many of the better campaigns I’ve been involved with, at some point, the same document (or one of the many variations in circulation) has been used or recited.  “15 Rules of Effective Organizing” – I’ve seen variants with 10 rules, 20 rules, 11, 17…some are “Commandments” rather than “rules”.  But the basics are the same on all of them, and so I’ve reproduced the document here and in pdf format.  I don’t know where the document originated or the identity of the author.

Will Rogers has the definitive quote on the subject:  “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” Let’s fix that, read on and follow the rules.

15 Rules of Effective Organizing

  1. You are an Organizer.
  2. Things are always great. BE POSITIVE.
  3. Think with your head; be driven by your heart.
  4. People come to a campaign for a candidate…they stay because of you.
  5. Empower yourself, empower others.
  6. Respect your co-workers.
  7. NEVER lie.
  8. The phone is your weapon.
  9. If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.
  10. Numbers win campaigns.
  11. Have goals. Be accountable. Make others accountable.
  12. Some is not a number, soon is not a time. HARD NUMBERS COUNT.
  13. Keep it simple, stupid.
  14. Time is the most valuable resource you have. Don’t waste it.
  15. When you are not working, the other side is.

Some of you are looking through these and think, “well, that’s just common sense.”  Unfortunately, many of these principles are absent from Democratic Campaigns.  I can’t begin to convey how many campaigns I work with that have none of the most basic information written down.  Some campaigns operate in ‘protected mode,’ where the candidate, staffers, and/or consultants are unwilling to share information in any kind of portable format out of fear of losing control of some aspect of the campaign, large or small.  Some staffers think they are protecting their jobs by hoarding data/information.  When there is a campaign in crisis, that’s the first guy to eject.  If you aren’t confident in your own worth to do your job right, which means sharing information and creating necessary documents, you don’t belong on a campaign with a short timeline and a limited budget.  It is more efficient to re-create the information from scratch than to pry it out of the mind/hands of a staffer who practices “hoarding.”  It it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.

The phone is your weapon is one of the most undervalued concepts in “rookie” campaigns.  Everyone focuses on media, free & paid, and speeches.  As if their candidate is going to give speech of the caliber of JFK to the local Democratic Club and that will somehow catapult them to victory on Election Day.  Here’s the rough reality, even if your candidate was capable of delivering a speech on JFK’s level, and your campaign (or the candidate) could produce a speech of that caliber…it still wouldn’t do much of anything for them on Election Day.  People have to be listening, enough people to deliver a majority in the election, the only way to reach that many people is by reaching out to them.  Not one room at a time, but one call at a time.  This is why volunteers are so coveted.

I’m also frequently disappointed to encounter issues with the twelfth item on the list – Some is not a number, soon is not a time.  Too often campaigns and organizations think that emails and Facebook are adequate methods for inviting people to an event and knowing how many people will attend.  The only means of confirming attendance and conveying an invitation is direct with instant response complete with tone of voice recognition.  Yeah, that means a phone call or face to face.  People clicking “will attend” on Facebook or with an RSVP email have demonstrated no real commitment, they are not reliable attendees of any event.  Even ticketed events with monetary cost, attendance is not secured with an online ticket purchase.  It is common for people to buy tickets to support an organizations event and then not attend.  Every invitee should be called and notified of the invitation, persuaded to attend, and then receive a follow up a day or two prior to the event reminding them to ensure that the room is full.  If you are doing proper follow up, you will discover donors that have purchased tickets but have no intention of attending…RE SELL THOSE TICKETS.  My personal best is selling more than 300 tickets to an event with less than 150 seats, and still only around 125 people attended, leaving far more open seats than I would prefer.

Whether it is event attendance, door knocks or dollars raised…”some” is not a valid answer.  There must be exact record keeping, goals and performance measurement.  If goals aren’t being reached, changes must be made, to procedures, to accountability practices and possibly to the goals.  I’ve been involved with campaigns that had goals way out of line with reality, both high and low…if you set the goals too low, you never achieve your full potential.  If the goals are too high, organizers and volunteers can become disheartened or even give up.  Track everything, have goals, and make them matter.  Reward performance, on the individual and team level.  Recognize achievement and foster positive competition.

The fourth item on the list is really amazing to see out in the real world.  I love talking to someone and having them say something like, “I voted early for Kelly, the organizer for my neighborhood, she’s great.”  Organizers that do their job right, they become beacons for the communities they organize.  People feel responsible and accountable.  It isn’t about some politician the voter may meet once or twice for a few seconds of grip and grin, its about the organizer who sat in their living room, calls them regularly and responds to their questions promptly.  Sometimes, it becomes very intense and personal, “I know that if I don’t vote, it will reflect poorly on Kelly, I did my part so she can post good numbers and get a great recommendation for her next job.”  Successful and repeated demonstration of follow through is the best means for building a strong organizer-supporter relationship.  Create opportunities for follow through when possible, but make sure you do follow through.

Right now, Republicans/conservatives are working everywhere to undermine the progressive agenda.  What are you doing to combat their efforts?  What are you doing to support those that are combating those actions?  When you aren’t working, the other side is.  Always.

It really is simple stuff – get organized, stay organized, win with organization.

Over the next several weeks I will post a number of forms and documents to assist with organizing.  The first one is the above list in PDF format: 15 Rules of Effective Organizing.