My first campaign job was in 1995 at Colorado NARAL. We didn't have an email list and we were just about to launch a website (complete with animated GIFs, natch). Among my responsibilities was maintaining the citizen lobbyist phone trees - a job that entailed calling everyone on it every so often, in addition to activating it sometimes just to make sure everyone on it still knew what to do. Over the many intervening years, I've worked on many campaigns. These days, I'm far more likely to step back and marvel at how much easier it is to do some of the basic work of campaigns than I am to test a phone tree.
As a consultant who specializes in helping organizations recruit, identify, and mobilize activists, donors, and members to make social change, I'm often working at the intersection of offline and online campaign teams and plans. It's encouraging to see integration of online tactics and tried and true campaigns out here in "meatspace." Leveraging the strengths of online campaigning - efficient, affordable, trackable, flexible - with those of offline campaigning - targeted, long-lasting, high-impact - can make all the difference, and I've developed a few big picture best practices to help guide the way:
The cardinal rule of offline campaigns is layering: multiple contacts on the doorstep and on the phone build on each other to create momentum. Neighborhoods that have had multiple passes of canvassing tend to deliver higher ROI on each successive pass - the second, third, and fourth contacts aren't "cold calls", they're follow-ups. Adding contacts through online advertising and content, social networks, email, text, mail, etc. can build momentum, too. The more times a voter, donor, or advocate sees, hears, reads, or experiences a message and call to action the more likely it is to penetrate the noise of every day life, and each successive layer builds on the last. More than a rule, layering has proven effects. For example, online donors are more likely to donate and donate more if they receive a snail mail reminder.
When you're considering an email, twitter, social networking, or other online campaign consider how you'll build on offline efforts to layer your message delivery in a way that can break through. Follow up emails with postcards, postcards with phone calls, and, when you can, social networking outreach.
Be Consistent and Self-Referential
In order to build momentum and truly integrate your efforts, choose elements that are consistent across channels. Use the same images, taglines and branding to clearly tie the layers together. Moreover, reference the other elements of the campaign as much as possible. Send people to your website in your mail, include an ask for an email address at the doors and on the phones, reference recent mailings in your email. Remind your audience that they're seeing you everywhere, and that you're excited to engage them wherever they want to plug in.
Be Focused on High Value, Strategic Action
A fair criticism on online action is that it's too ubiquitous to make a difference anymore. It's hard to find recent examples of online-only campaigns winning the day. The conventional wisdom, borne out by evidence, is that online activism is only effective when it's paired with offline actions like phone calls, events, and snail mail. It is in this environment that integrating offline and online campaigning presents real opportunities. Consider carefully what actions are most valuable and drive online and offline enthusiasm to those activities. If an email campaign isn't going to help win your campaign but calls into a state legislative office will make a significant difference, integrate tools like Advomatic's Click-2-Call into your emails (no, I don't get any kickbacks) to make it almost as easy to make a phone call as it is to sign an email petition. Or go low-tech and focus your online outreach on moving your supporters and volunteers to download a PDF postcard, print it, sign it, and send it to your targeted decision-maker (or back to you to deliver in bulk).
Insist That Strategy Drives Integration
Sophisticated databases, exciting new technologies, and marginal costs that allow implementation for ever-more creative ideas for action are all pushing the boundaries of what nonprofit campaigns can look like. That something can be done doesn't mean it's the most strategic way to engage your supporters and volunteers. Be sure your strategy (who do you need to take action and what actions will drive the best results) drives decision-making about tactics, and not the other way around. Before investing in innovative tactics, test them against your strategy and in the real world. Cool and new may work; but venture in that direction with as much back-up as you can get.
Like all campaign tactics, best practices for integration may work differently for your organization than they have for others. Test them. For example, data from Pew and others confirm the conventional wisdom that younger people are less likely to take political action offline than online. What isn't clear is what might persuade the younger people on your list to become offline activists. Invest in finding out. You might test a phone outreach campaign to your younger activists asking them to patch through to a decision-maker, a snail mail program that includes tear-off and return cards you can deliver as targets, or even a highly targeted door-to-door canvass to collect petition signatures.
*Shayna Englin is founder of Englin Consulting, a strategic communications and advocacy firm that develops and implements strategies as well as recruits, organizes and mobilizes friends and donors for nonprofits, associations and causes