There will be thousands of important elections this November. Who we (re)elect will be the team we pick to help lead us through these extraordinary times. Many of the staple campaign tools - events, door-knocking, etc. - will be off the table for a while. This makes digital outreach and creative tactics critically important. We created this guide to help campaigns continue their work, talk to voters, and share their visions for the future – from afar.
Throughout, keep informed from reliable sources:
- Follow your state government's official pages and Twitter
- Follow the NYTimes Coronavirus Update page
- Check the CDC's Coronavirus page
- Follow the COVID Tracking Project for up to date numbers on testing and cases in the U.S.
- Use Twitter's Lists feature to stay on top of the news; TFC has created one as an example here following health care experts and the CDC that you can feel free to follow.
- Facebook is providing a Coronavirus Information Center to get updates information from health experts
It goes without saying, but when conducting voter or donor contact, please be considerate and thoughtful about how and when you reach out during this time.
Be a helpful, reliable, and consistent source of information on email and social media
What: Whether you're an incumbent or a first-time candidate, people will look to you and your campaign for reliable information. Stay relevant and helpful by reposting and sharing relevant and factual information in your area or district.
- Email: if you’re not already, get in the mode of sending emails 1-2x/week for locally-relevant information and updates, but if there’s something timely and relevant, don’t wait, and don’t mix fundraising asks with public health information (e.g. stay away from sending fundraising emails if your local public school systems are shut down). Again, do not only use email to ask for money. This is a key mode of communication for your campaign and it can't just be your asks.
- Social Media: Campaigns should be constantly posting and reposting any updates they might have in their community. Any new information from their local government, their governor’s office, their local paper or news outlet, or public health organizations are good places to start looking. Here is a good guideline for each platform on the frequency of posting:
- Facebook: 5-7 posts/week
- Twitter: 1-3 tweets/retweets/day
- Instagram: 1-2 posts/day
A great example from Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow in March 2020 sharing the imperative to stay home in an engaging way:
- Local resources like the local public health department and news sources
- Grocery stores, farmers markets, etc., that are open for business, or that offer special services like early opening hours for senior citizens
- Post-briefing updates (for current electeds) - consider using video for this so people are not getting text-only information from you
- Linking back campaign issues if relevant, like the need for healthcare access or paid family leave
- Photos and selfie videos of how your team is adapting or stories of people stepping up to help in the community
- Lighthearted, non-virus content: some people are looking for distractions and there are still moments for this. For example, if you're doing an arts and crafts project or puzzle to pass the time, share that!
- Coordinate a social media effort across your city, district, or state by all posting the same "Stay at Home" graphic across all platforms at the same time. If one graphic is used and everyone is consistent, it has the potential of creating a lot of buzz!
- How followers can help! Lots of people cope with tragedy but trying to help their community. Give folks ideas of places they can volunteer, donate to, or otherwise support.
Virtual Town Halls and 'Ask Me Anything's (AMAs)
What: Replace in-person town halls with virtual events or 'Ask Me Anythings', where visitors can submit questions to be answered by the candidates.
How: There are multiple ways to do this:
- Real-time, but not live – on Facebook or Twitter, post that the candidate will be answering questions for one hour at a certain time and day; then, during that hour, the candidate and campaign team can then answer questions as they come in. On Instagram Stories, the Questions Sticker can be used to solicit questions that can be replied to with short recorded Instagram Story videos, giving the candidate and team a chance to record multiple takes.
- Live – a Facebook Live or Instagram Live gives candidates with confidence in their story and use of technology a chance to connect live with constituents and answer questions. Using Live effectively requires a good Internet connection and a candidate comfortable speaking on the fly into a camera. You can integrate other themes into this as well, such as Lunch with the Candidate, where attendees can chow down together, virtually.
What: As the crisis will last at least a couple of months, fundraising efforts must continue although they must be heavily modified. Although donors may be more likely to be home, during call time, you may want to stick to people in the candidate’s Rolodex, previous donors, and remove donors from areas that are heavily affected.
- For example, a great list of previous donors to dive into would be “almost max out” donors. A donor who has already invested $2,000 in your campaign can probably be persuaded to add another $800, especially when you explain how fundraiser cancellations are impacting the ability to hit goals.
- Make sure your candidate has an at-home call time space they feel comfortable in. Be clear about the hours or number of calls that need to be completed in order to stay on track without a call time manager or staffer to help with the details. Ideally, a campaign should have a staffer listening in or available via chat while your candidate is making calls, so they can take notes and send follow up emails.
Remote fundraisers (Learn more about best practices for a virtual fundraiser with our NEW Virtual Fundraiser Guide)
What: As any good fundraiser knows, some people only give money at events. Remote fundraisers can help fill the void. Ideas like [a virtual] "Lunch with the Candidate" from overall communication efforts can also be deployed for fundraisers in a closed setting.
- For smaller calls, <100 people: Set up a specific ActBlue page, then add donors to a group videoconference. If your campaign has a Google G Suite account, Hangouts can support up to 150 people, and Zoom is free for calls under 40 minutes and under 100 people, and inexpensive to go beyond that.
- For larger, calls >100 people: Companies like tele-townhall and Maestro will help invite, organize, and monitor the event.
What: If you've been putting off gearing up on your online fundraising program, now is the time: email and social media are great and inexpensive places to ask for support in this new era.
- Social Media: as you build up your social media, post an ActBlue or other donation link. Explain the urgency in how normal fundraising channels have been disrupted. Post it on a recurring basis, like once per week: on Facebook, only <10% of your audience may see any given post.
- Paid Social: larger campaigns can/should use Facebook to run digital advertising campaigns optimized towards donations as an objective. Monitor ROI closely and test with small budgets to ensure the campaign is making an adequate Return on Investment.
- Email: Make gathering emails a central part of your digital interactions to grow your list, and look at swaps you might be able to do with neighboring or complementary candidates. Get into the rhythm of starting to send once or twice per week. Similar to social media, explaining why this is an even more important source of funds to your campaign in this new era is crucial. As noted in the communication section, you can mix useful information for your community with fundraising in your program, but don't do so in the same email.
Writing thank you letters for drop-off
What: You can’t ask someone for a second contribution if you haven’t thanked them for their first. Now is a great time for a candidate to catch up on signing/writing letters to their supporters.
How: If safe, candidates can ask a willing volunteer or staffer to fold, stuff, and stamp them for quick delivery. Be sure to highlight anyone who has done extra work (knocked doors, or donated a couch for the new office) for extra acknowledgment.
What: Volunteers who no longer have canvassing booked on their schedule might have time to help research potential donors from afar.
- Have volunteers check the candidate's university alumni page, or LinkedIn Contacts.
- TFC’s Polaris software tool can help with this by automating donor research - reducing it from hours to minutes - with large lists and seamlessly integrates calling. Reach out for more info here.
Remote phone banking
What: Shifting voter contact to telephone is safe, but you must be considerate in designing the program. Field programs make it easy to create remote phone banking lists that volunteers can call from across the country.
How: VAN has a built-in phone banking function.
- For potential volunteers, especially those that don’t know you, sweeten the deal. Record a video of your candidate thanking volunteers for their time and explaining why they should make calls on behalf of the campaign. Offer times for volunteers to talk directly to the candidate through a scheduled volunteer conference call.
- Create an issues list, candidate bio, and details on how to use the phone banking system to best help the people who want to help you.
Candidate Undecided Calls
What: Chances are, the campaign has already spent weeks, months, even years collecting and identifying voters in their district. If your candidate needs a break from call time, they can call people you have IDed as undecided.
- Be sure to prep your candidate and don’t let the calls go too long.
- Use your judgment as to the timing of your reach out if your community is particularly affected, and consider using language showing your consideration of the situation.
What: Parallel with calling efforts, having the candidate text undecideds or potential donors enables substantive conversations with potential supporters.
How: Platforms like Hustle or ThruText helps do this at scale, but you can get started with just regular cell phones. Be prepared -- some folks might not believe it’s really the candidate! Alternatively, dedicated volunteers can also take on some of the outreach efforts to their communities.
Use your judgment as to the timing of your reach out if your community is particularly affected, and consider using language showing your consideration of the situation.
Expect changing family schedules
What: As schools shut down and businesses close their doors, be flexible with team members as their family schedule shifts.
How: Give your team the time they need to be with their family and make arrangements.
Managing teams away from the office
What: Campaigns are used to squishing into cheap, smelly, offices with limited space. It’s a whole different world working further than shouting distance away and requires different practices.
- Type/write things down! Without the context of in-person communication, people on your teams may not be able to always glean your full intentions from short messages. Taking the time to write longer-form descriptions of projects and ideas may pay dividends. LinkedIn has made available free training resources about working and managing a remote team here. Tech company GitLab, which is 100% remote, put together these best practices for managing a remote workforce.
- Via phone or videoconference, you may want to do a brief meeting to start each day, checking in with the full team on what they’re doing each day and what resources they might need.
- Pay attention to work environments and getting set up properly at home for efficient work – we will be in this for the long haul
- Check out this guide from Zoom on how to use its software for more efficient remote work
- If your team is more than 2-3 people, consider a team chat app like Slack or Microsoft Teams.