This cycle could mark a turning point in the decentralization of campaigns as digital tools empower volunteers to take on greater responsibility. On the left, Mobilize will now include a feature that programmatically asks a volunteer who has responded that she had a good experience at a campaign or organization’s event if she would like to host her own digital gathering.
This feature — the automated asks come via prompt, text, and email — was previously available for premium users of Mobilize, which has emerged as the left’s go-to events platform, but will now be available to even its non-paying users as part of a refresh unveiled Thursday.
“What we found was that this capability of campaigns to ask volunteers to host events on their behalf was one of the most powerful capabilities we could give to our partners,” said Alfred Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Mobilize.
The company has benefited from explosive user growth since pandemic mitigation changed campaigning back in March. In April, the platform saw roughly 57,000 signups per week after it pivoted from live-to-virtual events. During the week of the DNC, Aug. 14-20, the platform saw 604,000 volunteer signups. In September, it passed 3 million volunteers users. As part of that growth, its engineering team is now “15 plus,” said Johnson.
Meanwhile, the move to empower scaling through automation doesn’t mean that the campaign or group’s organizers are left out of the equation.
Campaigns are granted approval over the event, and after the update on Thursday, those that are greenlit end up in the candidate’s feed. Consider the upcoming “Meditation for Joe and Kamala” as one example of the need for a paid organizer to provide guardrails.
While the new tools give volunteers added agency, the platform also allows for organizers to expand their powers — giving them the ability to target personalized language in the invites.
“There’s a lot more personal engagement and humanity that is enabled by this technology,” said Johnson, who noted that volunteers can still click to indicate they want to be hosts for a candidate or group without being asked.
While Johnson is working to enable decentralized campaign organizing, he’s not advocating for campaigns to simply hand volunteers complete control of organizing events.
He said the most successful campaigns provide extensive support to their volunteer hosts.
“They really invest in training the hosts so the hosts drive a good experience. It isn’t really like, ‘Hey just take the car and drive it whatever way you want to,’” he said. “They’re building support around the host that makes the host have a good experience, too.”
Alexis Magnan-Callaway, national digital mobilization director of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's presidential campaign, was one of the voices back in May saying that greater agency should be extended to volunteers. “Both volunteers and staff can be handed the keys,” Magnan-Callaway said.
Now, Mobilize’s data supports that decentralized approach. The user research firm it hired recently found organizations that currently use volunteer-hosted events have five times more volunteer hosts than they do staff hosts.
The volunteer-hosted events also proved better at retaining supporters: people were twice as likely to stay engaged with the organization or campaign on Mobilize when their first event was hosted by a volunteer, according to the company.
Moreover, its research found that 33 percent of group chat threads between attendees saw these attendees continuing to communicate with each other after the event.
In addition to the volunteer organizing automation, Mobilize on Thursday also added automated features that promotes future volunteer-hosted events to supporters who provided positive feedback after attending a volunteer-hosted event with fewer than 50 attendees and CSV exports of data from the campaign’s volunteer-hosted events and the supporters who organize them.