by Marilyn Hirsch
First in an educational series about Swing Blue mail campaigns
Ever wonder how Swing Blue comes up with its postcard campaigns? Who makes the decisions, where they find the various campaign options, or how the whole “mailing machine” thing works? Well, you have come to the right place!
You know this is a team effort, and that hosts like you are an integral part of that team. But if you want to learn more about the nitty gritty of the process that gets us all to the place where your job begins, look no further. This is the “tell-all” blog post you’ve been waiting for!
What’s more, this post is just the beginning. It’s the first in Swing Blue’s new Post carding/Mailing Education Series designed specifically for organizers — and volunteers thinking about becoming organizers. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the who, what, why, and how of postcard strategies and tactics. Going forward, blog posts will tackle subjects including the components of a successful mailing campaign, the difference between voter share and voter turnout, the science behind effective mail campaigns, and more. (Have a topic you’d like to learn more about? Let us know and we can consider it for a future post!) For now, buckle up and dive in — your mailing leadership team is ready to go!
The Search for Effective, Meaningful Action
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it all began with Trump. When Trump was elected in 2016, Democrats were furious and fearful about what his presidency would bring. Understandably, many people wanted to take action. But what? How?
In response to that outpouring of activist energy, lots of grassroots political groups found the same answer: handwritten postcards. Postcards are inexpensive to produce and mail. Their messages can be short and direct. Surely many activists would be willing and able to write them.
Swing Blue Alliance leadership agreed. By engaging the thousands of Democrats determined to do something, postcards could be a terrific tool. And yet, Swing Blue volunteers didn’t want to produce postcards simply for the sake of giving people a task that felt good. Their goal was to effect change — to strengthen the Democratic Party from the ground up, county by county, state by state. To accomplish that, volunteers on the mailing strategy team felt strongly that research, data, and evaluation should be at the heart of their efforts.
“My mission is to help people in the ‘blue bubble’ take the most effective action to help build a government that’s aligned with their values,” said Swing Blue co-founder Susan Labandibar in a recent interview.
Meet the Mailing Leadership Team
Who are the people making the decisions that produce the postcard campaigns you execute as organizers, hosts, and volunteers? It goes without saying that they are passionate Democrats. They’re also seasoned professionals with years of experience in organizing, data science, customer service, and various other business and academic areas that qualify them to lead our charge.
The Swing Blue Mailing Leadership Team currently includes:
- Barbara Head
- Susan Labandibar
- John Loewenstein
- Martha Merson
- Janet Nelson
- Robert Newby
- Sarah Pascarella
- Julia Rabkin
- Elizabeth Reingold
- David Salkever
- Richard Segan
- Bob Seiler
- Emily Shamieh
- Alix Smullin
- Peggy Speas
Together, the team works on selecting potential campaigns in collaboration with grassroots partners, data collection to measure effectiveness, logistics and planning, communications to get the word out – and everything in between.
Want to get involved with Swing Blue mailing strategy? Reach out to Susan Labandibar or Richard Segan for more info.
Grassroots at Its Heart; Grassroots from the Start
From the beginning, Swing Blue wanted to provide people with an effective activity to organize around. Swing Blue’s DNA has always been to encourage and support grassroots groups. That’s why Swing Blue is one of very few postcard providers who work exclusively through hosts and not directly with individual postcard writers.
As Susan put it, “Our postcard hosts are their own grassroots organizations, and we are providing them with an effective activity to organize around and build community.”
“We have an obligation to our volunteers and partner organizations to design tools that are maximally effective,” said John Loewenstein. “We respect their time, so we always want to evaluate and measure how these postcard campaigns affect election outcomes.”
Of course, working this way involves many steps and a lot of planning, not to mention a great deal of built-in flexibility to adapt as the political landscape changes and new postcard campaign opportunities arise. Why does Swing Blue adhere to this path? Why not just find campaign partners who have everything figured out and in place, and then sell cards directly to writers?
“I fervently believe that we are offering hosts a meaningful way to engage with their communities,” explained Susan. “Each Swing Blue host is a grassroots organizer. Together, they are the thousand points of light that can change our world for the better.”
“Swing Blue exists to provide postcard hosts and our partner organizations with an effective activity that participants can be proud of and confident in as a good use of their time,” she added.
Ongoing Mail Campaign Analysis and Technological Innovation
Susan and Bob conducted Swing Blue’s first postcard pilot study in 2019. Since then, the mailing team has made steady improvements to the process and methodology.
In 2020, Swing Blue took a giant step forward that made it significantly easier for hosts to do their jobs and manage their volunteer teams. For the first time, hosts could use a newly developed “address machine” to order postcards from the printer and addresses from Swing Blue at the same time. No more waiting for one or the other before assembling packets for individual postcard writers. The process was streamlined!
“The address machine and our Estore e-commerce software are game changers,” explained Bob Seiler. “On the front end, it allows hosts to order the exact number of addresses they want formatted so they can print them out on labels to distribute to their volunteers. After we finish a campaign, we have the data the research team can use to determine just how effective the campaign was at getting people to do what we asked,” he concluded.
“Our ecommerce software package keeps track of postcard inventory, so we don’t have the printer making cards we don’t need,” said Bob. “It maintains a log of orders that allows our back-end team to keep an eye on the health and progress of each project.”
Thanks in part to these new capabilities, Swing Blue dramatically increased the number of postcards it distributed. In 2020, Swing Blue hosts and volunteers wrote 1.76 million postcards and letters designed to help Democrats vote during the pandemic!
In 2022, the mailing team took another huge step forward. Swing Blue implemented a new registration system that includes personalized support for every postcard host. Now, customer service gurus Julia Rabkin and Emily Shamieh have a Zoom or phone call to onboard every host. This makes the whole postcard process even easier and more efficient for hosts — as well as volunteers looking to become hosts.
“The conversations give me the opportunity to figure out the unique needs of each person who is or wants to be a host,” explained Julia Rabkin. “We learn how we can support each host in a way that gives them confidence in their ability to recruit and manage volunteers, and reassures them that what they’re doing really matters, that they really are accomplishing something important.”
“Our job is to make each campaign the best experience for every member of the team so that Swing Blue can get the most out of the postcard endeavor at every level,” she added.
From a practical standpoint, the calls provide a great intro to the ins and outs of hosting while ensuring that every person with a Swing Blue website login is a vetted volunteer. Using their logins, hosts can explore password-protected resources within the Postcard Organizer Center on the website including a research repository and video library.
Weekly Meetings Drive Efficiency, Organization, and Improvement
Regular connection and communication — both scheduled and ad hoc — is the “secret sauce” that keeps the mailing team functioning so smoothly. Each week, key team members meet to share ideas, review current and future plans, and basically discuss everything that goes into creating and executing successful postcard campaigns.
On Wednesdays, Bob Newby, Alix Smullin, Richard Segan, Susan Labandibar, and John Loewenstein brainstorm topics including overall strategy, mailing team priorities, partner organizations, and campaigns. On Tuesdays, Bob Seiler and others determine the tactics needed to execute specific campaigns.
Every so often, the tactics team determines that a postcard campaign Swing Blue would like to do just isn’t feasible because of logistical or timing issues. Other times, the tacticians suggest tweaks to proposed plans. And sometimes, their review finds all the elements of the campaign perfectly aligned. The point is, a lot of experienced eyes and hours go into every single Swing Blue campaign even before hosts get started with their complex and time- consuming jobs!
AIM HI: the Swing Blue Guiding Light
So, what is the “North Star” for every Swing Blue postcard campaign? It’s an acronym for a framework called AIM HI, which covers checkpoints that determine whether a campaign is Additive, Important, Measurable, Helpful, and Impactful. AIM HI is the foundation that mailing team leaders use to guide their every action: Choosing a partner organization to collaborate with. Evaluating a potential postcard campaign to decide whether or not to get involved. How exactly Swing Blue will structure and manage the campaign once we do take it on.
“Not every postcard campaign achieves every single AIM HI goal, but that doesn’t make it a failure,” explained Julia. “The value of postcard campaigns goes beyond the voter impact they have. We also learn things when a campaign isn’t a home run.”
Intrigued? Then check out our blog post that goes over all the details behind AIM HI – and stay tuned. The next blog in the Postcarding/Mailing Education Series is coming soon!
Marilyn Hirsch is a freelance copy and editorial writer based in MetroWest Boston.