Partisan and nonpartisan technology firms are competing to make life easier for volunteer coordinators.
Volunteer management has, until recently, been left relatively unchanged by the influx of digital technology into campaigns. But NGP VAN this week unveiled new options for its VoteBuilder platform (these aren’t yet available for SmartVAN clients) that are meant to help corral volunteers.
John Lee, CTO of NGP VAN, described it as a way for campaigns to automate onboarding and scheduling volunteers using similar technology that the company has applied to email fundraising. “The beauty of this is that it can scale all the way down,” he told C&E.
In other words, a campaign doesn’t need to be a statewide or presidential behemoth to benefit from automating its volunteer-management system. Still, Lee is quick to dismiss the idea that this could instill an impersonal touch into what is a bedrock of field organizing: the connection between field staffer and volunteer.
“This isn’t robot overlords,” he said. “There’s a lot of clicks to do the bread-and-butter [organizing] for campaigns. We’re not writing the emails.”
It works like this: the campaign can email a volunteer sign-up page to prospective recruits. Those who signup to, say, phone bank can then be separated out into a list that can be emailed separately with details about shifts, training and so on. “The automation will make all that stuff really push-button,” said Lee.
The new service already faces competition from Hustle, an existing partner of NGP VAN. But the non-partisan platform uses text for outreach instead of email.
Roddy Lindsay, who co-founded the company after spending five years at Facebook, said they’ve worked primarily on the left with Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and FWD.us, but are open to working with Republicans – if they plan to do grassroots organizing.
Lindsay said one big difference between Hustle and NGP VAN is that texting is more likely to generate a response. Some 30-40 percent of recipients respond to a text compared to emails, which can have an open rate of 5 percent or lower, he said, adding that calls to cellphones can see a pickup rate of just 10 percent.
Through Hustle, organizers can text a group of volunteers using a customized message—including emojis—for people who have responded previously to a thread. “It’s not just the voice of the organization,” he said, “it’s the voice and personalities of the staff and volunteers. We’re really focused on this one-on-one text messaging conversation.”
Hustle aren’t the only ones offering text blasts (HandStack is another mass text vendor), but Lindsay said his service has an added value in that organizers can do A/B script testing and list segmenting.
When it comes to pricing, Lindsay said the company charges based on the scale of the campaign, not per message. He also dismissed the suggestion that he was competing directly with NGP VAN.
“We think we compliment the tools that are out there,” he said. “Our goal is to be a great technology platform.”