Power of Friend-to-Friend Voter Outreach: Relational Organizing Insights

By Bobby Brady-Sharp, Organizing Director

As an organization on a mission to increase voter participation, close the voter race and age gap, and shift the culture around voting, we know the best place to reach voters is where they already are. Whether you’re scrolling through Instagram, watching your favorite basketball team on TV, or playing video games with friends, our goal is to make voting resources as easy and accessible to you in as many spaces as possible. We have learned that one of the most effective spaces to reach voters and raise voter participation is through organizing within their personal networks of friends and family, an idea called Relational Organizing.

The Idea

Relational Organizing is based on the concept that individuals organize their own personal networks — their ”pre-existing relationships with friends and family” and their extended networks. Throughout history, organizers in the Civil Rights movement, the Farmworkers Union, and more have relied on relational strategies to reach people where they are. In more recent years, academics and researchers have studied the effects of relational organizing versus other voter contact efforts (such as door knocking and phone banking), and found that relational organizing contributes to the biggest mobilization effect of any voter contact method, especially as it relates to voter turnout. According to the recent studies, relational outreach methods can have a much bigger impact than traditional canvassing or phone calls. This makes relational organizing the most effective voter outreach method and a powerful tool for changing the culture around voting.

This year, When We All Vote is using relational organizing strategies to reach out to voters using a variety of tactics, including text messages, DMs on Instagram, and individual voter registration portals where volunteers can track how many people they’ve helped register to vote. Our goal is to use relational organizing to encourage our Voting Squad Captains, partners, and Student Ambassadors to guide their networks through the voting process — from voter registration to making a plan to vote to actually casting a ballot.

We have found some strategies and tactics that work and learned some best practices along the way that we are excited to share!

What We’re Doing

  1. Relational Texting

How can texting urge people to vote? Here at When We All Vote, volunteers have been encouraged and asked to to begin a voter registration or voter turnout conversation with voters in their life. We use OutVote, our texting tool, to allow users to sync their contacts and select their contacts to send them pre-written text messages around voter registration and make a plan to vote. We generally try to ensure that relational text messages are specific to a current event (such as a day of action) and have a specific audience in mind. And it really works! One caveat though — relational texting is only one tactic to start or continue a conversation to make sure your friends and families are getting out to vote. It’s important to make sure we are also following up!

Sending a text to a friend or family member is something most people do every day

2. Social Media Direct Messaging

Next, we slide into voters’ DMs! Our My School Votes team has employed an incredibly effective program to boost voter registration through direct messages on Instagram. Over the summer, My School Votes National Student Ambassadors created 100+ chapter Instagram accounts for their city or state that now have more than 16,000 followers combined. Through their personal accounts and these My School Votes chapter accounts, students used scripts to send direct messages to their followers and to followers of high school pages to register peers to vote. Over the past two months, they have sent more than 150,000 DMs resulting in 1,500+ students starting or completing the voter registration process. It’s as easy as DMing a meme.

3. Relational Voter Registration Campaigns

Another strategy My School Votes has utilized to further empower students is creating personalized online voter registration campaigns for themselves and their schools. Students both want to feel ownership over their work, share it publicly, and see results in real time. This tool allows for schools to track their progress and compete with other schools, and also allows individual students to register their friends. More than 800 students and educators have created a page, and more than 3,200 people have started or completed the registration process.

4. Vote Tripling

Vote Tripling is geared towards non-activists — the reliable voter who follows When We All Vote, but may not necessarily volunteer for us. We ask these folks to simply tell us one family member, one colleague or acquaintance, and one neighbor/friend they will help get out to vote. Later in October, we will send them a message from When We All Vote that encourages them to follow-up with their three voters and make sure they make a plan to vote early or on Election Day.

5. Volunteer Command Center

In September, the When We All Vote Data Team built our When a volunteer joins the Volunteer Command Center, they are provided a unique voter registration link that will allow them to see how many voters they have registered. In addition to being able to tangibly see how many voters they have registered, the Command Center allows volunteers to see the impact they make when they text voters! Within just two weeks of using this tool, 6000 volunteers created a profile and it has helped collect nearly 3,000 registrations — incredible!

6. Turnout Captain Program

is a simple and effective program for volunteers and Voting Squad Captains to work with a When We All Vote Regional Organizing Manager to identify 10 voters they will help in their network through the entire process of voting — from confirming registration, to requesting mail-in ballot, to making a plan to vote early. It is designed to be a weekly engagement program where Voting Squad Captains have check-ins with When We All Vote Staff and use the Volunteer Command Center to make sure that their networks are getting registered and getting out to vote. When we work together, we can make a huge difference. The first ten voters can turn into thousands more!

What We’ve Learned

Specific asks are better than general asks — Relational actions that are tied to a specific action (i.e text 5 friends in your community group or place of worship to register to vote) perform better with volunteers than generic relational asks (i.e. text 3 friends to register to vote)

Relational organizing requires training — Volunteers need to be equipped with the tools to be able to identify who to reach out to, how to frame their conversations, and how to continually engage with their networks. The challenges found are that people believe that “everyone in their network is registered” or that they feel uncomfortable initiating conversations. When We All Vote’s programs have been designed to couple simple, low-bar asks with tools and resources to help volunteers participate in relational programming.

Relational organizing is a strategy that requires multiple touch points and tactics — In order to run an effective, comprehensive relational organizing program, When We All Vote has developed a suite of tactics that volunteers can use to engage with voters in their network continually and through different means. Text messages, direct messages, phone conversations, and repeated touches are encouraged to continually ensure that we are creating a conversation with voters, rather than relying solely on one tactic.

With the election quickly approaching, we are doing everything we can to encourage relational organizing across our own networks, partners, and teams. Together, with our families and friends, we can drive people to register and turn out to vote.

Grab your phone, call a friend, send a text, DM a follower, and help them get ready to vote. Because, when we all vote, we can make a difference in our country and our communities. make a plan, then go VOTE together.

When We All Vote is dedicated to changing the culture around voting and closing the race and age gap in voter registration to increase voter turnout in every election. Join us at WhenWeAllVote.org.

We’re shaping the promise of our democracy through voter registration and participation. Because #WhenWeAllVote, we can change the world.

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