I have been invited to present to a high-powered group of Illinois Democrats on Monday morning. The group will include Governor Blagojevich — and the subject is how to energize the grassroots people who’ve felt out of touch with the Democratic Party. My role is, as someone closely involved with the Dean technology crew, to explain what we did and why it worked.
Here’s what I think were the keys to the Dean success (the barometer for purposes of this discussion is fundraising, not election results):
- Give people a voice. The minute people think their voice is heard is the minute they feel empowered. Empowered individuals want to see their group succeed, and money was universally acknowledged as an important yardstick of the group’s success.
- Talk back. Communication is about dialogue, not press releases. When campaigns engage their supporters, let their supporters (as well as their opponents) speak up, and most importantly, when they respond, the campaign appears more authentic. Authenticity breeds respect. And respect earns the people’s commitment.
- Make supporters visible. By making individuals’ contributions visible (and the results of those contributions apparent), Dean was sharing the spotlight. When he said “this race is about you, not me”, he meant it. People who were either disenchanted with traditional politics, or cynical about their ability to make a difference to begin with, suddenly felt like they really could do something.
- Be transparent. Transparency affected all levels of the campaign — from being open about fundraising goals (and their progress to those goals) to sharing works-in-progress on policy issues — and it made supporters feel like they were contributing to that progress instead of taking orders from above. Furthermore, as goals got within reach, supporters dug in and gave more (money, time, energy) to reach the goal.
- Give up control. This is perhaps the scariest for those who’ve been around a while. Dean’s campaign didn’t try to control the message or the medium, instead choosing to let the grassroots run with it. This is where the barometer mentioned above is important: from a fundraising perspective, this lack of control gave each contributor a sense of ownership. It’s arguable that this lack of control is what contributed to the transition from a campaign to a movement, but that’s fodder for a different analysis.
So… I’ve got five minutes on Monday to boil this down and try to ensure that those in the crowd understand that it’s not about bits and bytes, not about keyboards and mousepads, but about energy. And enthusiasm. And passion. And I believe the bullets above highlight how the Dean campaign tapped each of those. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What have I missed?