Grassroots Organizing During A Pandemic

How we built the largest grassroots volunteer campaign in history

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Digital Organizing

Hi! I’m Jose Nunez and I was the National Director of Digital Organizing on the Biden for President campaign. I joined the campaign in June 2020 with a mission to build a grassroots digital organizing program to mobilize and organize millions of voters and volunteers, and the only caveat was we’d have to do it virtually because, well, we were and still are in the middle of a pandemic. Well, as you know, we did the damn thing and we couldn’t have pulled this off without the 160+ brilliant staff members on our team, and the hundreds of thousands of volunteers that invested their time and leadership.

Over the next couple of weeks, our team will be sharing insight into what we built, how we approached organizing during a pandemic, the learnings we are taking from our time on the Biden-Harris campaign, and our vision for building organizing power in the future. Before then, I wanted to provide some high-level introductions into the Biden digital organizing model, why we built the model we did, how the digital organizing team was structured, and the highlights we are taking from defeating an incumbent President. Whether you are an organizer, manager or director of a program at an organization or campaign, we hope this series pushes you to think outside the box of how we organize not only during a pandemic but beyond. My only ask for you as a reader is to remove all preconceived notions or ideas of what digital organizing is (or isn’t).

Our teams led different programs, but all had the same goal: to recruit and empower volunteers to organize, no matter their background or where they were located in the country. In the end, our volunteer-led program completed more than 200,000 relational conversations, made 135 million phone calls, sent 333 million peer-to-peer text messages, and hosted more than 11,000 virtual events. In total, the Biden-Harris digital organizing team accounted for more than 450 million voter contact attempts and nearly 20 million conversations in roughly three months, and in doing so, reached more voters than any presidential campaign before us.

I’ll walk through our organizing model and team structure, but for those looking for our key takeaways, I thought it’d be helpful to include them up right up front.

Lessons Learned

There are many successes and lessons learned to take from this cycle, while organizing in the midst of a pandemic. The lessons learned listed here are only a few of many programs, innovations, and takeaways that will be expanded upon via the insights from our team’s leadership in the coming weeks. Additionally, these are learnings that are specific to a Presidential campaign in a specific period of time, and while they may not be directly related to lessons learned by organizations and down-ballot campaigns, we hope our lessons can be applied to any and all organizing campaigns in the future.

These are the top lessons I have learned this cycle:

  1. Provide the space for your team (staff and volunteers) to be creative in how you approach organizing and the mobilization of voters
  2. Invest in strong states infrastructure(!) and trust your volunteers and supporters
  3. Invest in a robust data and analytics staff and infrastructure early
  4. Building and managing a team virtually allows the opportunity to recruit top talent while not needing to uplift your life to move across the country
  5. Organizing objectives should drive your technology roadmap, not the other way around
  6. Relational organizing should be integrated to all facets of your campaign
  7. Build organizing tech in-house when you can, and support existing vendors as if you’re building in-house when you can’t

Organizing Landscape

In order to build an organizing model you need to identify the landscape you are organizing in, understand the timeline you are working against, and have SMART objectives and goals to work towards. This was the starting point of the Digital Organizing team.

We knew from the start the organizing landscape we were working within was going to look different: many voters were home, and in some cases displaced from their normal residence, and we did not have the ability to organize folks in-person. While this certainly limited our ability to build community in-person, it allowed us to think creatively about how we could approach organizing, and the creation of virtual communities, in the general election.

We also knew the Trump campaign had a five-year leg up on us in regards to organizing. He had millions of volunteers who’d been engaged online and offline from 2016–2020 and we needed to compete with his operation in a short period of time. We also had an expanded electoral map which allowed us to have multiple pathways to victory, but it would require organizing infrastructure to support not 5, 6 or 7 states but 17 states we would consider our electoral battlegrounds.

While our map was large and our timeline short, we understood there was enthusiasm all across the country from folks ready to do their part to defeat Donald Trump. This is very much in part due to the incredible organizing and mobilization work done by many organizations and campaigns in the last four years which would enable us to have a jump start to building our operation — we just needed to build a model and structure that could tap into various networks both online and offline.

In regards to voting, we knew in June that it’d look pretty different from previous campaign cycles. Across the country voters were looking to vote by mail as a primary method to cast their vote, and states were making voting by mail more accessible (good!). This meant our traditional timelines to educate voters and for turnout efforts would shift, and not by a few days or so but weeks. We were essentially running a turnout effort beginning in September and didn’t stop until November. We’d need to ensure voters understood what was in some cases a very complicated process — and we’d have to educate them while being virtual.

Last, we had to think critically about various virtual methods of communicating with supporters and voters, all the while not sacrificing the relationships and community we build while organizing in-person. Whether that be in-person campaign events, field offices, or canvassing, our goal was to take the best aspects of in-person activities and bring them online. This was critical in order to think through how we’d reach voters who we otherwise could not reach through traditional methods or for whom we had limited contact information.

Organizing Objectives

Once we had our best assumptions of the organizing landscape, we needed to have clearly defined objectives and timelines to work against through Election Day.

We narrowed our team’s objectives to the following:

  1. Recruit, train, and mobilize volunteers across the country, regardless of their location, to own a piece of our organizing program and the Biden-Harris campaign.
  2. Recruit and mobilize supporters to volunteer.
  3. Have targeted conversations with voters.
  4. Educate voters on the ways to vote in their community.
  5. Register and turnout voters, either through mail or in-person.
  6. Drive culturally competent organizing programming.
  7. Build a thriving online community online to support our digital organizing programs.
  8. Enlist organizing tech and programs to support our voter mobilization programs.

The Biden Digital Organizing Model

Our core objective was to enlist a strong volunteer empowerment model to allow our volunteers nationally to drive the majority of our voter outreach programs. Without a strong volunteer program we simply would not be able to reach the numbers of voters we’d need to turn out a large base of voters across 17 battleground states. Our national digital organizing work would help build a robust volunteer community to direct capacity into targeted states, while empowering volunteers across the country to take part in the campaign, and all the while not sacrificing the impact of a strong state and local organizing program.

The digital organizing program would have two tracks:

  1. National Distributed: Volunteers from non-battleground states would be able to join our campaign and community, receive the same level of training a volunteer would receive in a battleground state, and have a major impact in all of our battleground states, wherever they were needed most.
  2. Battleground Distributed: State-based distributed programs focused on recruiting and mobilizing volunteers to organize and mobilize voters within their own communities or constituencies.

Our battleground distributed program worked hand-in-hand with our traditional organizing programs in our battleground states. If a volunteer wanted to connect to the campaign through a field organizer, we were happy to connect them with one of the thousands of organizers in our battleground states. But if they were ready to get started or had been part of distributed organizing before, they could jump right in with our distributed team.

Distributed programs within our key states would also integrate volunteers in rural areas who would otherwise be far from an office or a field organizer. Our national distributed program ensured every single supporter who wanted to be a part of our organizing program had a home and community to take action with and make an impact in the election.

In short, the Biden digital organizing model would enlist a distributed organizing model to build massive volunteer capacity virtually. Volunteers would be empowered to organize from anywhere across the country, online and offline, to build relationships with and mobilize voters on behalf of the campaign. During the pandemic, we needed to build inclusive and diverse volunteer-led grassroots programs that could scale — fast.

The Digital Organizing Structure

Our objectives were hefty considering the timeline we had, and while our program would be distributed through volunteers and supporters, we wanted to make sure our volunteers had support, training, and frequent communication. We never wanted a single volunteer to feel their actions taken with the campaign were transactional. We wanted our volunteers to know we considered them part of our team, not separate, and our staff members were at the forefront of making that happen.

Our digital organizing structure included eight program verticals to support our volunteer mobilization and voter outreach programs.

Our department facilitated the following forms of engagement:

  • Developing a robust data and analytics infrastructure
  • Creating a streamlined and simple voter education experience online
  • Managing voter contact programs and volunteer training
  • Developing and managing supporter communities online
  • Supporting battleground programs and staff
  • Engaging supporters and voters subscribed on our email and SMS list with organizing opportunities
  • Making sure every supporter was responded to, including through our info@ email inbox
  • Holding technology and programs accountable by ensuring a great volunteer experience

With clearly defined forms of engagement, we then developed a team structure to support each vertical of voter and volunteer engagement. This allowed us to reach voters through every possible method of virtual communication outside of enlisting volunteer carrier pigeons. Maybe for next time!

The Distributed Organizing Team

The Distributed Organizing team consisted of four program verticals including peer-to-peer texts, calls, volunteer hosted events, and relational organizing. The distributed organizing team managed all voter contact programs leveraging volunteers who were located in non-battleground states.

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The National States Digital Organizing Team

The National States Digital Organizing team provided strategic support on behalf of our battleground state digital organizing programs and holding in-state leadership accountable to digital organizing goals. This support included coaching and training on developing in-state distributed programs, tools training and implementation, and coordinating which voter lists we were contacting in battleground states.

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The In-State Digital Organizing Team

The Biden-Harris campaign had dedicated digital organizing teams in all 17 battleground states to develop and manage in-state distributed programs, similar to our national program, and online community programs to build relationships with supporters, and empower them, in online group settings. All together, we had over 100 state-specific digital organizing staffers.

The Digital Engagement Team

The Digital Engagement team managed two verticals, using our email and SMS lists, which are typically used primarily for grassroots fundraising,, to organize and mobilize supporters around volunteer opportunities, voter education, voting information, and key campaign moments such as the debates and Democratic convention. This team collaborated closely, but worked separately from, the email SMS staff on the grassroots fundraising team.

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The Online Community Team

The Online Community team engaged and managed relationships with volunteer leadership in online group settings, and managed our inbox systems to communicate one-on-one with supporters via our info@joebiden.com email inbox and Facebook Messenger. They also developed, recruited, and trained communities, such as the Soul Squad, which was a vibrant community of content creators and online organizers. This team allowed us to expand our reach to various constituencies and affinity groups that was otherwise hard to reach since we could not use common in-person organizing tactics — we needed to create visibility online.

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Digital Organizing Platforms

The Digital Organizing Platforms team, led by our Platforms Director Vishal Disawar, supported all program verticals on the team in optimizing the volunteer experience through our online platforms and organizing tools. Put simply, every day Vishal focused on this question: “What can we do to make our organizing tools more user-friendly and effective, and how can we provide the best volunteer experience possible?”

The Distributed Analytics Team

The Distributed Analytics team, led by our Distributed Analytics director Nina Wornhoff, was embedded into the Digital Organizing team to support in determining, which specific groups of voters we were contacting, providing reporting, and building our analytics pipelines across all of our team verticals, tools, and programs.

Digital Organizing Technology

We had one wonderful Senior Product Manager, Jeff Chang, embedded with our team from the Biden Tech Team to oversee all organizing technology needs on behalf of the digital organizing department. Jeff’s work included the drafting and management of product scope in coordination with all digital organizing vendors. Jeff worked closely with our Director of Digital Organizing platforms, Vishal, to ensure program priorities were aligned with technology roadmaps throughout the duration of the campaign.

DNC Digital Organizing

The DNC Digital Organizing team, led by Digital Organizing Director Meg DiMartino, coordinated with the Biden-Harris team on all volunteer and voter programming, including the development and management of iwillvote.com, the chase programs for iwillvote.com and its sister site, makeaplan.com (i.e. the follow up supporters received after visiting either website), email and broadcast SMS programs, and a majority of our online voter education programs.

The pandemic required a longer and more robust voter education program than ever before. Our friends at the DNC were able to take on the bulk of this work, and in doing so, the BFP Digital Organizing Team had the capacity to innovate and try a number of novel ways to reach voters in the final months of the campaign.

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Digital Organizing Resources

Thanks to our amazing grassroots donors, we were provided with the resources we needed to purchase best-in-class tools and platforms to reach voters. We’re fully cognizant that many campaigns have much smaller budgets and scale. However, the model and approach we took can be replicated and scaled down to any organization or campaign. As soon as I started in June, we started evaluating digital organizing tools, knowing we needed to enlist a new suite of organizing technology to support our outreach for the general election. We looked for tools that met a very specific need and if it was volunteer facing we needed the tool to be able to scale with our program and be flexible in meeting our constantly changing needs to optimize our programs where and when needed.

You’ll have the opportunity to read more about how our teams leveraged our tools using volunteers and volunteer leaders to reach millions of supporters and voters in later posts, but in the meantime here’s a snapshot of the organizing technology we enlisted on the Biden-Harris campaign, including the tools we built in-house.

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What’s Next!

This was a quick and somewhat brief introduction into the Digital Organizing program for the Biden campaign. Now, we want you to have the opportunity to hear from each of our digital organizing team lead to dig deep into their team’s work, how they measured success, the challenges they faced, and the innovation that came from their programs. Here are the topics we’ll be diving into next:

  • States Digital Organizing
  • National Distributed Organizing
  • Digital Engagement
  • Online Community
  • Organizing Platforms and Technology
  • Distributed Data and Analytics
  • Organizing Infrastructure in the Democratic Party

It was the honor of a lifetime to be able to lead the Biden Digital Organizing Team to elect Joe and Kamala and defeat Donald Trump. And none of it would have been possible without our staff and the hundreds of thousands of incredible volunteers who powered our efforts. A huge shoutout and thank you to all of them. And a special thank you to Kurt Bagley and Anatole Jenkins for being amazing organizer partners. We did it, and the only way we did it was each one of us working together. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Here’s how to get in touch with the rest of the Digital Organizing Team leads, and if you have a question or feedback for me, drop me a line at josenuneziv@gmail.com

More coming soon!

Director of Digital Organizing @joebiden . alum: @KamalaHarris @TheDemocrats @WideEyeCo . Texas forever.

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