Notes on Groundbreakers

by | Nov 30, 2022 | General, Learning and Development | 0 comments

I recently finished Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America by Elizabeth McKenna and Hahrie Han. This book was recommended by the Republican National Committee because of Barak Obama’s incredible success campaigning. The following are my notes on the book. All ideas and wording is from the book. I do not own any of these ideas or phrases.:

  • “Our interviews suggest that OFA’s ability to motivate volunteers and persuade and turn out voters depended in larbe part on the stregth of interpersonal connections at three levels: among the field staff themselves, between the field organizer and volunteer, and between the volunteer who performed voter contact and his or her neighbor.” (91)
    • Volunteers need a leader they admire, respect, and believe in
  • Obama For America (OFA) led a grassroots program called Operation Vote. They focused on bringing African Americans, Latino, LGBT, faith, military, Jewish, women and youth to the polls to vote.
  • The OFA relational-organizing cycle
    1. Field Organizer (FO) begin prospecting his turf: Make volunteer calls to schedule one on ones
    2. At the one on one share story of self, us, and now
      • could last 30 min to 2 hrs
      • One on one agenda:
        • story of self: “…both parties exchange their personal stories, often incorporating how they came to the campaign, what inspires them, and whether anything in the Obama’s story resonated with them.” (107)
        • story of us: “…the organizer or volunteer leader described the strategy of the campaign, emphasizing the ways in which local leadership would be key to OFA’s success.” (107-108)
        • story of now: “…the organizer or volunteer makes an ask.” (108) “…[explain] the urgent challenges the constituency faces.” (109)
          • explain the campaign’s strategy by explaining the neighborhood team (aka “snowflake”) model
          • outline role the potential recruit had in reaching the campaign’s goal (elect Obama)
      • FO should note the person’s interests, motivations, skills, social network
    3. Hard Ask 1: FO makes specific request of volunteer
      • ask a volunteer to give up their free time to spend time volunteering for OFA
      •  7 components of hard ask: Page 116)
        • Build urgency (give context about why the commitment you are asking of the supporter is importnat to do now)
        • Use strong language (avoid questions that could elicit one-word or yes/no responses, such as “Is this a good time to talk? “How are you today?” or “Can you…?”)
        • Know your audience (tailor your ask to the information you have about the potential volunteer).
        • Ask for something specific
        • Ask and shut up (wait as long as 20 seconds for a reply).
        • Be persistent
          • Ask #1 : Can we meet between 2 and 4 p.m. on Thursday?
          • Ask #2 : When on Thursday works better for you?
          • Ask #3 : When in the next three days can we get together?
          • Ask #4 : What day and time does work for you?
        • Take notes to reflect on your ask to improve the next one
      • Soft ask = It would be great if you showed up at one of our canvasses.
      • Hard ask = Can I count on you to join us at our canvass on Saturday at 10 a.m.?
      • Need to schedule volunteers within 72 hrs of one on one conversation
    4. Test Leadership:
      • succesfully complete 2 organizing activities:
        • host and run house meetings
          • invite entire social network including undecided voters and supporters in local precinct
          • 3 goals
            • test would-be team leaders
            • begin to build an interdependent group identity
            • obtain public commitments from two guests to host their own house meeting within two weeks
          • remember that it’s a meeting not a house party. serve food or drinks at the end
          • 1. open the meeting with personal story about why voting and supporting Obama
          • 2. then go around the room and guests introduce themselves and what motivates them
          • 3. lastly, explane the campaign’s strategy and an associated hard ask
        • run a volunteer training
        • recruit 5 people to regularly perform voter contact
      • or complete 2 voter contact activities
        • lead a voter registration event
        • lead a local canvass
        • lead a phone bank
    5. Hard Ask 2: FO asks “tested” volunteer to take on a leadership role
    6. New volunteer leader starts prospecting his/her turf
  • “The two best indicators of whether or not a new field organizer was starting to build capactiy…were the number of volunteer recruitment calls he or she made – not dials or kmocks to persuadable voters – how many of those calls were converted into one on one meetings with supporters.” (105)
  • Collect Neighborhood Team/ Snowflake data for every field organizer’s turf. Collect data daily. See Table 6.1 (156)
    • number of voter registration forms collected
    • calls
    • door knocks
    • conversations
    • support identifications
    • one on ones
    • leadership tests
    • house meetings
  • topline metric = number of shifts recruited for GOTV: number of boots OFA would have on the ground in the final weeks close to the election
    • door to door contact is crucial for states that have early voting
  • OFA Neighborhood Team – adapt to meet the needs of your precinct
    • Neighborhood team leader (delegates)
    • Canvass captain (doors)
    • Phone bank captain
    • data captain (data entry)
    • volunteer coordinator
    • Voter registration captain
    • youth captain
    • Barber shop and beauty salon captain
    • etc
  • Calculate the health of the neighborhood team
    • ask one of the organizers in that team simple questions like “How is your team leader?”
    • if organizer could answer with personal info like “she has kids and she’s a writer” that means the lead established a real relationship with his/her team and the team was really good
    • if organizer answered with a generic answer like “she comes in on Tuesdays”, then lead didn’t establish relationships with team
  • Accountability
    • weekly call if goals are not hit
    • nobody wants to receive that call
    • “Hey what can we do? We are here to help you out. You obviously are not hitting your numbers.” (168)
  • “To distribute responsibility to Neighborhood Team Leaders and theirs teams, the staff started first by identifying what consequential goals would be. Working with the analytics team, the field director and deputy field directors of each battleground state, divided the entire state into geographic unites, called turf. Then, they calculated the number of votes each turf would need to generate for the campaign to win the entire state. Based on the number of votes needed, they then worked backward to create a plan for the amount of voter contact that would have to happen in each organizer’s turf, and, correspondingtly, the number of neighborhood teams needed to achieve that voter contact.” (141)
  • Training ideas:
    • how to lead your own canvasses
    • ”     ” phone banks
    • ”      ” voter registration drives
About the Author
<h5>Lauren Kristensen</h5>
Lauren Kristensen

Lauren Kristensen is the owner of Kristensen Designs Inc. She started out as a news producer in 2018. She quickly learned it didn't matter how important the news was, all that mattered was how entertaining it was. For example, high speed car chases, car wrecks, building fires, etc. deserved more attention than state legislative bills or local special elections. Lauren decided she didn't agree with this hierarchy and wanted to focus more on education. She believes helping the individual reach his/her full potential through learning and development is the way to go.


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