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Good Data Helps Find Good Volunteers for Your Campaign

3 Dec

Writing for Brookings, Michael J. Malbin reports that this year’s enthusiastic midterm elections found candidates raising record levels of money:

Democrats running in the general election against incumbent Republican House members in 2018 have shattered all previous records for challenger fundraising, more than doubling the previous high set by Republicans in 2010. We know from the work of Gary Jacobson and other political scientists that challenger fundraising is probably the single strongest signpost of a competitive election campaign. In 2010, Republican challengers had raised 43 percent as much as the Democratic incumbents they were facing by the end of September, and 52 Democrat incumbents were defeated in the general election. In 2018, the shoe was more than just barely on the other foot. By the end of September, Democratic challengers had raised 69 percent as much as the incumbents they faced. We should emphasize that this includes all challengers and not only the ones in competitive races. All Democratic challengers, including the sure losers, raised almost as much by September 30, on average, as the average winner spent over the course of the entire two-year cycle in 2016.

But raising money isn’t enough. Otherwise, the candidate who raises the most money would always win, and that’s not the case. Maggie Koerth-Baker at 538 points out that the mere fact that the candidate who spends more often wins more often isn’t a “causal link.” It doesn’t mean spending the money caused the win. And there are plenty of counterexamples to the assumption that money always wins, such as billionaire Tom Steyer donating a collective total of $50 million to candidates in 2014 and fewer than half of those recipients getting elected.

Winning campaigns requires engagement, and that means recruiting enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers. More importantly, winners turn supporters into volunteers. That takes a certain kind of “conversion process” where a smart campaign, upon learning they have enthusiastic supporters, will contact those supporters and provide easy-entry volunteer opportunities for them.  As Kelly Dietrich wrote earlier this year, “Engaging with voters goes beyond simply knocking on doors. It’s about giving voters ownership of your campaign’s success and making sure they know they are a crucial part of your campaign. By doing this, you change the ‘I’ of your candidacy to a ‘we.’ You get them to volunteer.”

Writing for Vox, here’s what David Broockman and Joshua Kalla have to say about campaign volunteers: “Mountains of rigorous research show that campaigns should be having personal conversations with voters at their doors. But, campaigns spend almost all their money on TV ads — and, every year, most voters say they’ve never had a conversation about the election at their door.” In fact, Broockman and Kalla write, one set of research “found that voters called on the phone or sent postcards were not noticeably more likely to vote than those sent nothing. But canvassing was different. Just one in-person conversation had a profound effect on a voter’s likelihood to go to the polls, boosting turnout by a whopping 20 percent (or around 9 percentage points).”

A 20-percent boost in turnout just from canvassing? Holy cow! Why doesn’t every candidate do this? Well, it’s hard. It requires a lot of data to recruit and retain volunteers. Many campaigns just keep throwing money at advertising on the theory that they’ll reach a larger number of people overall. That prioritizes quantity over quality, and doesn’t get people to the polls with any certainty.

Appending and data aggregation services can help recruit and enthuse volunteers. One organization I work with, Accurate Append, has been lauded by Call Hub for having “billions of data points on U.S voters and consumers,” guaranteeing that its clients’ “campaigns have the right contact information to rely upon through their email append, phone append, and lead validation features.”

But Accurate Append also maintains an industry-leading demographic database. This allows campaigns to access quality demographic attributes of voters on their lists, including their ages, income levels, and political interests. That information can be appended to their lists, allowing quick searching and analysis from which campaigns can identify ideal volunteers.

The processes involved in building a greater understanding of your support base includes verifying contact data, turning partial collections of contact information (like just having an email address or phone number) into full lists (a voter’s name, address, phone number and email). But it also means knowing what neighborhood a voter lives in and the local issues most likely to affect them. Append services can help you do that too. What I also like about append services is that they take seriously the fact that time is of the essence in campaigns. You upload a file to your secure folder and we return the results in that same folder.

The better you can manage that data, the easier it is to do the other essential things you need to do to manage volunteers–laid out nicely in this recent post by campaign tech company NGP Van–including respecting volunteers’ time, making the volunteer experience fun, and building ladders of volunteer engagement. Having good data means you can keep recruiting, and treating volunteers well so they work even harder.

It’s all part of an effort to use technology to re-humanize politics. This may seem ironic since technology has been part of the reason campaigns have de-humanized constituents. But the solution lies in a more intelligent and humanistic approach to collecting and interpreting that data. And that interpretation, in turns, requires more accurate and more frequently-updated data.


Comedy, Tragedy, and Your Campaign Email List

22 Oct

The subject lines were foreboding . . . terrifying . . . shocking . . . and ultimately irritating. As the Miami Herald’s Alex Daugherty put it, “for David Richardson’s congressional campaign every day is doomsday.” This was made evident by Richardson’s fundraising emails, their headings reading “we cannot afford this again,” “this is becoming dangerous,” and “REALLY REALLYYY BAD for Democrats!”

David Richardson was running in the Florida primary this year in the state’s 27th U.S. House district. He justified his method of hard-hitting subject lines because it seemed to bring in money—he was at one time ranked sixth out of 1200 Democratic House candidates in bringing in small-dollar donations. But Richardson went on to lose the primary to former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

It’s not just inexperienced local candidates doing that kind of thing, by the way. Recently, the Democratic Party’s much-maligned Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) fell under fire for sending a fundraising email to supporters with the subject line “Mueller FIRED.”

Yeah, that’s pretty bad. And, I think it’s a slippery slope you risk sliding down the moment you let your creative energy fall into a “positive messaging/negative messaging” dichotomy. Philosopher and literary critic Kenneth Burke believed that humans are at our worst when we live in the “tragic frame,” pitting every conflict as a battle between good and evil where one side must vanquish the other. A more sustainable and less harmful position is the “comic frame,” where humans and our predicament are seen as more fluid and changeable, and every conflict doesn’t need to end in the annihilation of an enemy. Ultimately the comic frame, rather than the tragic frame, does a better job of making us feel like we have agency and responsibility to fix the problems in our political system.

So I think it’s not really about positive messages versus negative messages—at least not all the time. It’s about sustaining a conversation with your supporters, and bringing in more supporters. That requires good writing and a sense of being able to talk to voters as if they were normal, thinking human beings. It also requires good data.  

In fact, when I see campaigns relying only on these simplistic, dichotomous, fear-mongering subject lines, it makes me wonder how much those campaigns actually know about the voters in their district, or even their own supporters. It’s likely that they know relatively little about their voters’ age ranges, income levels, or the industries in which they work. Instead, such campaigns take the easy way out by relying on the quick fix of fear appeals yielding small-dollar donations. What these campaigns may not know is that there are data solutions for their lack of specific knowledge.

Accurate Append is a client of mine, but I also love their services: I use their email verification and append to create comprehensive voter contact lists that I can then use for surveys and other conversational methods of gathering information about voters in a district. But Accurate Append also has a Demographic Append service. This allows you not only to append your voter or supporter lists with accurate contact info, but also with updated demographic information, including estimated income and wealth, whether they have kids, marital status, age, how long they’ve lived in your district, whether they own their own home, and many other pieces of information.

It’s that knowledge about people—even if it’s just surface knowledge, even if it doesn’t tell you everything about who they really are—that is the gateway to writing good emails that go beyond just trying to scare the crap out of people or piss them off. Let’s say that after examining a voter list (that’s been supplemented with a demographic append service) that a large number of voters in a district are college graduates aged 25-40. Chances are very good that they will be concerned about student loan debt. Instead of writing a subject line like “OMG STUDENT DEBT WILL KILL US ALL!” and a hyperbolic email to match, you can title your email “A Serious Plan to Forgive Student Debt,” and let people know that your campaign is, well, serious. Readers can enter into the conversation with you. Your ask will not just be for money, but for a personal investment in your campaign’s focused approach to a policy issue your voters care about.

Sure, there are times to call your opponent, or your opponent’s party, out for doing and supporting policies and other things that are harmful. And sure, sometimes that call out shouldn’t be diluted and should totally be an uncompromising call to reject bad policies (or personalities) and embrace good ones. But even the fiercest battle cry will be more effective if the campaign has a deeper knowledge of the material, financial, occupational, and other circumstances of voters in the district. The more you know, the less likely it is that what you believe to be a powerful and attention-grabbing subject line will seem, to others, like silly, alarmist rhetoric.

Saving Campaign Dollars with Good Data Hygiene

2 Apr

Data hygiene will save your large-scale campaigns hundreds if not thousands of dollars per month.

In one of AHG’s current campaigns, we’ve focused on line-typing, an inexpensive data quality process that’s cheap and easy with our marketing client Accurate Append. We use Accurate Append’s data append service and a private FTP service (with monthly volume-based billing) to review the self-submitted data from targeted groups of voters and get back a label for landlines or cell phones. The line type will determine outreach method – for example, one-to-one calls to cell phones, a recorded call to a landline, and a GOTV reminder text to a young voter’s cell.

Data quality is essential not only for compliance but for stretching your campaign budget. At scale, a $0.005-per number charge for line-typing is much cheaper than paying several cents to waste a text message on a landline. (Note that cell phone directories are very expensive, and sending to a dead cell phone may still be the most efficient alternative.)

For continuous small jobs, such as adding donor flags to new email signups, a data append API may be the right solution – however, if you’re regularly cutting data for targets and don’t mind running those into your outreach software, batches by FTP can be a clean option. Drop one, five, or a dozen files into the FTP folder and get them back within minutes with your additional columns and hygiene taggings.

Beyond line typing, other data quality needs may be even more critical – you’ll want changes of address for your voters, for example. Be sure that you’re not paying for hundreds or thousands of returned postcards or larger mail pieces – don’t be afraid to talk to your vendor about their practices!

Be sure to budget data hygiene (and the alternative!) into your per-voter contact calculations. It’s not how many phone calls your team makes, texts you send, or homes you mail to, it’s how many of those reach the right party.

Accurate Appending Your Data

13 Oct

Guest post by Massimiliano Caron

The key to winning your campaign will always be direct voter contact. From the 2008 Obama campaign, Bernie Sander’s 2016 primary race and the recent victories of the Labour Party in the UK, we have seen the success of robust direct voter contact programs. Your campaign needs to be at their door, on their phone and in their inbox. Thus, you need accurate and current data on your voters.

With a basic voter file and Accurate Append you can get that valuable data. Accurate Append can get you the emails and phone numbers of your soon to be supporters. Voter files are not the only source of contacts you can append. What about that awesome Facebook page you have with thousands of followers? This is the audience you built and is the best group to target because they follow you. Now, not only can you get their email, but get their phone numbers. Utilizing these contacts, you will be talking directly to your audience converting them into volunteers and donors. There are plenty of places where these lists can be built; from your voter file, social media accounts and other publicly available data. Feel free to get creative, knowing that any data gaps can now be filled. No matter how you get it, coupling this contact data with powerful messages will lead you to build a winning campaign.

Accurate Append has a basic implementation of the Open Support Data Interface, which means other adopters of that data standard can easily add Accurate Append data to their voter outreach tools and CRMs. Along with easy integration like this, you will get access to billions of data points with hundreds of millions emails and phone numbers. This makes building your campaign’s database for voters, volunteers and donors much easier and you get up to 500 API calls for testing for free when using developer tools.

People are yearning for change and motivation in times like this, and your campaign’s message can be what sparks them into action. Do not let not having enough data get in the way of you activating your community and creating the change desperately needed. Add Accurate Append API to your campaign’s toolbox today!

Sailing the San Juans – America’s most under-rated vacation adventure

1 Jun


The San Juan Islands may be the most underrated vacation destination in all of North America.

Located off the coast of Northern Washington, the islands are only a half-hour flight or an hour-and-a-half drive from Seattle. You can even sail Seattle to the islands in a few hours if the wind is on your side.  It’s the perfect distance for a quick day trip, but you may be disappointed if you don’t leave enough time to fully explore the islands.

Four of the islands are accessible by ferry: Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island each have ship harbors for both the ferries and private boats. While these islands are where most people live and offer the most options for restaurants and lodging, they only begin to scratch the surface.

“Local residents claim there are 750 islands at low tide but only 450 at high tide, but that’s really an unresolved questions,” according to an article by Chris Caswell in PassageMaker. Of those, 172 of the islands are named and make up more than 350 miles of coastline.

“Without going more than a half-day in any direction at a leisurely pace, you can find hundreds of small coves, wildlife to watch, fossils to hunt, small villages, resorts to enjoy, beaches set in pine forests, and protected waters suitable for boats of all sizes,” writes Caswell. “There are a dozen Washington State Marine Parks in the San Juan Islands, with most of them accessible only by boat. Each is in almost undisturbed condition, with a few picnic facilities, piers for landing, and trails to build your muscles and appetites.”

The San Juan Islands get half the rain of Portland and Seattle and an average of 247 days of sunshine each year. This perfect weather is paired with a slower, more relaxing island lifestyle compared to hustle and bustle of the cities on the mainland. In fact, there’s not a single traffic light on any of the islands.

The Islands are a perfect place to sail, and it is easy to plot a course lasting a week or more. While the idyllic weather makes for a picturesque expedition, the mild winds ensure those who set sail have an opportunity to fully appreciate the region’s beauty.

San Juan sailing will be an experience of a lifetime, but it’s important you plan ahead to ensure the memories you create are cherished and not a harsh reminder of poor preparation. While it’s possible to find a boat charter that comes complete with a trained crew ready to ferry a group of friends around the islands, you can save a lot of money and have a lot more fun by learning to sail yourself.

It isn’t hard to learn to sail, but it will take some time. You can be certified to crew — or assist in the the sailing operations — in one day. While it takes months of training to learn the skills necessary to skipper a 42-foot boat on a multi-day expedition, in just three 8-hour lessons you can be certified to take a 27-foot sailboat on the water yourself. At Windworks Sailing these courses are typically taught over three weekends, but can be taken over the course of a single week. For anyone visiting the Pacific Northwest, Windworks recommends purchasing private lessons in order to maximize the time spent on vacation.

Christopher White embarked on a five-day charter through the San Juan Islands for Sail Magazine that left him eager to return for another adventure.

The first stop on our cruise was Thetis island, which the Island Charters team said would give us a good taste of the lifestyle and beauty of the Vancouver islands. And I can’t argue with the recommendation,” writes White. “While I had packed for the cold nights and dreary weather typical of fall cruising in the Pacific Northwest, the dog days of summer were in full swing for the first few days of our cruise, with blue skies, plenty of sun and temperatures creeping into the 80s. Our trip from Montague to South Pender was pure Pacific Northwest cruising at its finest. The warm weather held right up to sunset and the wind built a bit as the evening approached, allowing us to raise sail and have a bit of fun as we made our way out past the tip of Mayne Island.”

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As the San Juan Islands are so close to the Canadian border, it’s a good idea to turn on international roaming on your cell phone before making the trip. Though travelers may never set foot in Canada, it’s possible that the nearest cell tower is located on the other side of the border, and a quick call to the cell provider ahead of time can save expensive roaming charges.

In a USA Today article recommending the San Juan Islands as one of the top sailing destinations in the world, the newspaper provided this helpful guide for visitors to review before casting off:

  • Check cruise ship routes and schedules so you can plan your itinerary to avoid the crowds.
  • Download nautical navigation and GPS apps to your tablet or phone to map your route and get familiar with the waters before you sail.
  • For several couples chartering together, consider renting an additional dinghy so everyone can move about more independently.
  • Investigate costs of transportation from the airport to the boat. Some charter companies provide free transportation depending on your arrival time.
  • Ask about reduced fees for staying onboard your boat the night before your charter begins. Staying aboard is usually less expensive than putting up the crew at a hotel.
  • Get a nautical guide to your destination, which will serve as a reference for sightseeing and offer advice on anchorages, sea states and hazards in the area.


Growing a Civic Tech Ecosystem

30 Mar

Over the past year, I’ve been building a consulting group with a focus on growth strategies and services for civic tech companies (tools to do politics, government or nonprofit work better) and digital projects for nonprofits and progressive political campaigns.

Here are a few of the companies I’m working with:

Ecanvasser: This Ireland-based startup builds mobile and desktop constituent outreach and issue management tools for campaigns and government officials. They have Android and iOS apps for mobile canvassing and some of the best pricing on the market.

iConstituent: With a CRM solution as well as e-newsletters and website building products, iConstituent is solely focused on enabling great government-constituent communications and streamlining issue tracking and response from Congress to City Hall.

Accurate Append: An outreach strategy is only as good as the contact data backing it up, and with one of the largest resources of opt-in contact data available, Accurate Append can help with email verification, email append and phone append, including sussing out line type for phone contacts.

League of California Cities Emerges as Chief Opponent of Open Data Bill

25 Jun

The League of California Cities has emerged as the chief opponent of an open data bill I helped propose. California Sen. Leland Yee’s SB 1002 would create a new open data standard in the California Public Records Act.