How to organize a massive number of distributed events

From American presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders to the global Youth Climate Strikes, the most exciting movements are scaling the capacity of their organizing by mobilizing supporters to meet up (and do important work) at offline events.

Using distributed supporter-led events, you can scale the work of your organization and demonstrate your movement’s power. Once you bring your supporters together in-person, you can ask volunteers to make phone calls, canvass their neighbors, visit their elected officials, collect petition signatures, write letters, march in the streets — or just build community and solidarity over a meal.

If you are just getting started, the prospect of organizing distributed events at scale can seem daunting, so we’ve collected the best practices we’ve heard from our customers, allies and partners across the progressive movement.

Running a distributed offline mobilization has three phases: finding local event hosts, recruiting your supporters and the public to attend, and then following up after the events happens.

Recruit Hosts

Recruiting event hosts is the most critical stage in a successful event mobilization. The more hosts you recruit, the more likely it is that each potential attendee will find an event near them. Many hosts will also recruit attendees from their own network, which grows the size of your mobilization.

  • Send an email to your list. The easiest way for many organizations to recruit hosts quickly is to send an email to their supporters asking them to run an event in their area. Tools like ControlShift allow your organization to provide each supporter with a guide for hosting their event, while supporters can quickly and easily set up and share their events. It’s also a good idea to have an organizer call through the list of hosts to confirm the details of their events and walk each host through what you expect them to accomplish at their event.
  • Call or text people who have hosted events before. If you’ve run member-led events before, get in touch with the people who hosted events in the past to ask them to host again.
  • Recruit event hosts at rallies. Zack Exley and Becky Bond refined this “barnstorm” tactic while organizing with the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign (as described in their book Rules for Revolutionaries). Instead of trying to recruit event hosts from your email list directly, recruit supporters to attend a few big organizing meetings led by your staff. At each rally tell the story of how the work done at every member-led event will add up to a big overall campaign win. Essentially, you’ll use each staff-led rally to recruit dozens of event hosts where the actual work of the campaign will happen. The Social Practice offers consulting help if you’d like to adopt this tactic, but our friends at the Beto for Senate campaign and Getup! in Australia have both had success replicating this model to massively increase the number of events that are created versus traditional event host recruitment over email. A good overview of this tactic was also written up by Micah Sifry in the Nation. At ControlShift we’re excited to have built a workflow designed to support this style of host recruitment, using either phone banks or barnstorms to find event hosts.

Recruit Attendees

To get to a massive scale, you’ll need to do some work as an organization to recruit attendees for each event in order to make your overall campaign successful.

  • Put events on the map. An easy-to-use, searchable map of upcoming events is an essential way for organizations to allow supporters to find events near them while also demonstrating the national or global scale of your campaign. A large, searchable map tells the story of your campaign and encourages supporters to get involved nearby.
  • Email your Supporters. For many digital organizers, emailing your list to recruit attendees is one of the fastest ways to get a lot of people to sign up to attend your events. To make this tactic work well, there are a few tweaks to make: 1) Use mail-merge or dynamic content features to include each supporter’s closest event in the email. This increases conversion rates significantly. 2) Tell the story of how the activity at each event will contribute to the goals of the overall campaign and help the movement to win something big together. 3) Help the recipient imagine how the event will unfold and what it will be like.
  • Use phone calls and text messages. Campaigners we’ve spoken to have told us that peer-to-peer text messages and calling people who have attended events previously are among the most effective ways to recruit supporters to events. Some organizations ask event hosts to do this work, but others have a centralized volunteer “texting team” that handles this task across all of the events that supporters have set up.
  • Replicate events on Facebook. Events that are mirrored from your organizing toolset to Facebook as native Facebook events will grow faster than if you simply share a webpage with the event information on Facebook.
  • Run Facebook Ads to Recruit Attendees. Campaigners tell us that Facebook ads that promote native Facebook Events have a much lower cost per attendee than Facebook ads that are promoting a generic event website outside of Facebook or ads using the Facebook Lead Ads feature.

Report Back

After the events happen ask both the attendees and the event hosts to report back about the experience. Many organizations ask participants to rate their experience while also providing qualitative feedback. You can use those ratings to identify problematic hosts and understand ways to improve things for the next campaign.

Event mobilizations can be an effective way to build power and community and to get important work on behalf of your organization done at scale.

ControlShift provides a powerful software platform for offline organizing that integrates with your exiting CRM and other tools while giving your staff team the ability to moderate events, recruit supporters, and provide an open front door that invites the public to get involved locally.

Want to learn more? Send us a message.