Secretary Clinton, Let’s Talk About Volunteer Onboarding

Secretary Clinton, Let’s Talk About Volunteer Onboarding

Shane BarnhillThursday,25 February 2016

Dear Secretary Clinton,

Congratulations on your recent caucus and primary wins. It feels like momentum has shifted away from Bernie Sanders and in your favor, despite some poll tightening and the nagging controversy over the private email system that you used while serving in the State Department. I think you’re well on your way to beating back Bernie Sanders’ challenge to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-Sanders. I admit that I do Feel the Bern, just a little bit. At times, that guy moves me the way Barack Obama did back in 2008. I love so much of what Bernie says. But ultimately, as you’ve said, I think he’s largely a single issue candidate. In contrast, you have an appreciation of the nuances and complexities of a huge range of domestic and foreign policy issues; and, as both a former senator and U.S. Secretary of State, you’re one of the most qualified presidential candidates in history.

Because of your qualifications, Sanders’ shortcomings, and the sheer craziness of the Republican presidential candidates (bigotry, misogyny, reproductive rights), I’ve not only decided to vote for you in Arizona’s upcoming presidential preference election, but I’ve also decided to sign up as a volunteer for your campaign team.

In fact, I’ve already taken the step of volunteering via your website, and I have been eagerly awaiting guidance on how I can best help your campaign. “Will the campaign need me to go door-to-door? Will they want to tap my career experience to help with online fundraising and analytics? Will I be asked to recruit more volunteers to bolster the campaign’s local ground game?” Oh, the possibilities! My mind has been racing while I’ve been waiting for some communication about my role.

HRC headquarters in NH

But that communication hasn’t come.

Instead, I’m stuck in an email welcome series designed to solicit a small donation as the first step towards moving me up a ladder of progressively larger donation appeals. I recognize this strategy because I’m digital professional; or more accurately, as Andrea Lopez would say, an Internet professional, but hey, semantics. Anyway, I have enough experience with marketing automation, email marketing and online fundraising to recognize a drone flying on autopilot when I see one.

But I’m not angry, really. I get it. A presidential campaign is a huge operation, and automation has a role to play. You can’t provide a personal touch for every constituent. Software has to fill in some of the gaps.

But your software needs a bit of tuning.

I signed up to volunteer, but your campaign tried to immediately convert me into a donor. And that’s a problem, because the motivations of new volunteers and new donors are so, so, different. I could write a (short) book on this topic — again, I have some online fundraising skills — but, I’ll oversimplify here for the sake of brevity. New volunteers want to feel like they’re making a difference. They want to make a connection with your organization; but secretly, it’s really all about them. Volunteering is experiential, emotional. When new volunteers close their eyes to fall asleep at night, they want to think back on the day, smile, exhale deeply, and bask in the feeling that they’ve done some good. Donors, more often than not, look at a cause as an investment. They’re believers, but there’s an ROI expectation. Donors (usually) approach a cause from an analytical rather than emotional perspective. Again, this is a high-level oversimplification, but I think these characterizations apply here.

In short, your campaign’s approach to onboarding new volunteers doesn’t land an emotional connection. It’s too impersonal. That’s a problem, and not because of misogynistic assertions that you need to warm up a bit, but because you’re running against a candidate who has shown a great degree of success in firing up portions of the democratic base. Emotion is the very foundation of his appeals to reform “Wall Street,” reverse wealth inequality, and make “the Wealthy, Wall Street, and Large Corporations Pay their Fair Share.” Boy does that kind of talk get the blood pumping.

Bernie’s performances are striking chords, but just as importantly, his campaign team appears to have a keen understanding of how to approach interested volunteers. I mean, just look at the options his website provides for getting involved:

Bernie Sanders - volunteer options

Also, the sign-up confirmation page for volunteers has a link for finding nearby events, and it’s full of interesting opportunities that take place at a variety of convenient times. Plus, there’s a schedule of volunteer orientation calls, for people, like me, who are eager to get involved right away:

Bernie Sanders - volunteer confirmation page Bernie Sanders - local volunteer opportunities Bernie Sanders - volunteer-orientation calls

Oops. While checking out the flow of Sanders’ volunteer process, I appear to have just volunteered to help the Sanders campaign. But surely, the Sanders campaign team won’t try rush a conversion…

Bernie Sanders asks for a donation

Doh! What?

Well, I guess the Sanders campaign isn’t perfect either. But wait, as I’m typing this, here comes another automated email from your campaign, signed by Huma Abedin. This looks promising:

Huma Abedin email Team Hillary Supporter Survey

Hey, wait a minute. This looks like a trick:

HRC involvement screen HRC involvement confirmation screen asking for a donation

Oh, damn it.

Really, Secretary Clinton, I want to be a part of the campaign, but your digital strategy isn’t making it easy for me to join. Your team has the tools to nurture my interest. So please, have someone from your campaign send me a note. I can help.

Shane Barnhill

Take Action!

Hat Tips:

Image Credits: Gage Skidmore, Ted Eytan.

Subscribe to get updates delivered to your inbox