What if you could use skilled tech volunteers on your campaign, without all the hard work of recruiting, training, and managing them?
While the largest campaigns will always have access to agency and technical resources, this cycle we’re seeing a growing supply of volunteer resources for advocacy organizations and down-ballot campaigns that want to level up their tech.
And unlike the presidential election engineering and analytics shops that splinter off each cycle, more organizations are taking on the year-round mission of building sustainable volunteer infrastructure, even keeping custom campaign tools in shape and free for reuse by others.
The growth of formalized volunteer-to-campaign matchmakers, like Tech for Campaigns, profiled by C&E in January, is most evident from the center to the left, where organizers and technologist work hand-in-hand to take skills from the corporate world into campaigns, advocacy, and GOTV work. Each of these emerging organizations has two sets of customers: the campaigns and the skilled volunteers looking to contribute.
Open-source tools and standards are also supporting the infrastructure for technology organizing on the left. Leaders from Ragtag, a fee-for-service matchmaker between progressive campaigns and volunteers, and the Progressive Coders Network (ProgCode), recently joined the volunteer leadership of OpenSupporter, a coder-vendor coalition that maintains an interoperability standard for progressive campaign tech. Ragtag and ProgCode also see maintaining open source tools, free and easy to use by any campaigns’ coders, as core to their mission.
The more organizations and vendors write to a standard, the more their product will continue to be relevant and the more valuable the vendor products will be over time. Maintaining the tools for campaigning in and out of cycle is what The Resistance should be doing.
Examples of solutions emerging from Ragtag and ProgCode’s volunteer communities include carpool-to-canvas infrastructure and algorithms for evaluating gerrymandering. Ragtag also offers low-budget campaigns a lynchpin service: cheap, turnkey website setup.
For campaigns looking to take advantage of volunteer help late in this cycle, it’s critical to choose proven solutions and vetted volunteers. Both ProgCode and Ragtag take a lot of time to get to know their volunteers. That's to ensure they're placed where they can do the most good, and that in the age of growing cyber threat, they're fully vetted before exposed to a campaign. It’s important for campaigns to ensure they talk to the organization before grabbing for promised resources. There's no magic tech stick, and your partners should understand and respect campaign expertise.
Ragtag also recently launched campaignhelpdesk.org to offer how-tos and free last-minute on-call tech support. (The conservative-focused Lincoln Network offers app reviews and tech advice through its Telegraph program.)
The mission of the organization is also important. TFC and Ragtag both work with Democratic campaigns of all sizes, while ProgCode is expressly nonpartisan progressive and matches volunteers with advocacy organizations and ballot campaigns on issues such as universal health care, net neutrality, and women’s and immigrant rights.
After working with thousands of volunteers on hundreds of projects, Pamela John, ProgCode’s co-executive director, offered these three pieces of advice for campaigns:
Approach a volunteer organization with clear tasks that you want to achieve.
Define a clear need for what you’re trying to accomplish – technologists can help fill in gaps, but rely on campaigns for domain expertise.
Estimate a timeline for project tasks so your volunteers know what they are getting into, and can budget their time to meet expectations for launch.
Adriel Hampton is creative director at the Adriel Hampton Group, where he provides marketing strategy for technology companies and progressive campaigns. He's also an executive board member at OpenSupporter. Views in this article are those of the author.