When I first started working in digital campaigns it was common to lament that we didn’t have access to the tools and and tactics available to big American political campaigns. “We can’t A/B test our emails because we don’t have a big enough list” and “we can’t afford to do what the Dean Campaign is doing with distributed events” were common tropes.
I’m here to tell you something exciting. The biggest innovation in field organizing to come out of the successive Obama presidential campaigns is available to everyone and the tech to make it happen is lying just under the surface of NationBuilder. The "Snowflake Model" is a way of organizing teams of supporters or activists that empowers local activists to take ownership of small organizing teams. These leaders spearhead the core organizing work of a campaign. In the electoral context, this is often door-knocking and phone banks, but in other contexts, these leaders might be organizing rallies, doing community outreach at public events, or otherwise spreading the gospel of the campaign.
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So how do you revamp your nation to support a distributed field program? Easy.
Use Permission Sets to Empower Volunteers (and limit risk):
This is something that a lot of organizations struggle with but that’s hugely important for distributed organizing. Let your organizers (even volunteer organizers!) into your nation and empower them to take action. The key to empowering organizers is to give them the environment to be successful, training them, and then letting go. In snowflake campaigns this looks like developing different permission sets for each level in the snowflake, but the key is to restrict access to only the correct groups of people in your database (e.g. everyone in the electoral district or other people in the snowflake) and then making sure that they have the correct communication settings. By giving organizers access to the people they’re supposed to be organizing they can take action.
Use Tiers of Point People to Distribute Leadership:
This is where the big innovation happens. If you’re familiar with NationBuilder you know that you can specify a “point person” as the primary point of contact for groups of supporters on each action page type. In a snowflake campaign, you want to create tiers of responsibility using point people flowing out from the centre. All of your voters in your database are assigned to the Neighbourhood Team Leader as a point person in that district. Then that person is assigned to the regional team lead and all the regional team leaders are assigned to the central staff person coordinating the program. You get the point. What this means is that when you combine point people with permission sets, Neighbourhood Team Leads can see only the people they’re responsible for organizing, and your Regional Leads can only see the people further down out the snowflake. You are able to decentralize leadership but also clearly set responsibilities and expectations.
Use Auto-Districting & Precinct Assignment to Automate your Snowflake:
You’re thinking, “Okay, so this all sounds great. But how do I put this into practice? Will I have to manually assign voters to the correct point person?” The answer is no. By using auto-districting and precinct assignments - both features in your database - you can ensure that all levels of your snowflake are occupied and busy with the right people at all times. This relieves you from spending all your time in your nation planning for others, and leaves you more time to lead. It also allows you to filter and target your voters. In essence, it ensures your canvassers don’t hear, “You were here yesterday!” at the door.