After the shock of the 2016 election results faded, thousands of grassroots organizations coalesced, driven by a desire for action. Swing Left was born out of that moment, formed by a group of friends with the skills and experience to drive progressive movements. In the years since, Swing Left has grown into a force for progressive action, working to take back Congress in 2018 and is now focused on flipping the Senate, defending the House, and winning state-level races across the nation.
We’re big fans of the organization and their work. Tori Taylor, Head of Political and Organizing, recently sat down to talk with Matt Compton, our Director of Advocacy and Engagement, on Swing Left’s history, future goals, and how other organizations can learn from their experience.
What’s your number one goal in the build-up to 2020?
My number one goal is to build the infrastructure and capacity needed for our eventual Democratic nominee for president, key U.S. Senate races, and targeted state legislative races around the country. In many cases, organizing comes too late in election cycles, and the ramp to recruit volunteers, train leaders, and build key community relationships is too steep for campaigns and organizations. That is why Swing Left organizes year-round and prepares an army of volunteers for Democratic candidates post-primary.
Time is our most precious, valuable asset; once it’s gone, we can never get it back.
What’s your biggest challenge right now?
It’s a crowded election cycle — There is a large field of candidates, numerous issues, Trump’s daily, incoherent tweets, and general noise reverberating from the 24-hour news cycle. There’s a lot going on for political organizers, but also for voters. It’s important to always have our eye on the prize — winning in November 2020 — and not drown in the day-to-day chaos.
The progressive movement must be aggressive and unrelenting in our resistance to this administration, but we also have to constantly pace and center ourselves. The other side is playing by a different set of rules that don’t include moral or ethical boundaries. Our strategic advantage has to be playing smarter — and that requires focus.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. We will not win if we burn out too quickly.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from campaign work that would benefit brands and nonprofits?
If you center people at the core of what you do, your processes and your outcomes will be better. Investing in authenticity and relationships, and building internal systems that allow your people to not only survive, but thrive, are the smartest long-term investments an organization can make.
What’s one innovative tactic you’ve seen campaigns use this cycle?
In the age of big data, I’ve appreciated how political campaigns and organizations are prioritizing relational organizing and programs that focus on maximizing the ROI of personal networks. For example, Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign has been pioneering an organizing tactic called “friendbanks,” where volunteers gather and call through their personal networks, versus the standard, pre-populated list of voters who they don’t know.
I like this tactic because it not only expands the pool of volunteers and voters for the campaign, but also improves the user experience of the volunteer. At a time where authenticity has a high value in the public’s minds, a tactic where you personalize your strategy on an individual, peer-to-peer level is a valuable asset.
Swing Left has grown rapidly over the course of the past three years. What’s the thing you’ve learned because of that growth that might be useful for smaller campaigns or organizations?
A central tenet of Swing Left’s strategy is to focus on the user experience from start to finish: How do we build an organization that provides the best user experience for someone who wants to engage in high-impact activities to win the most important elections?
There is nothing more important to an organization than their user — whether that’s a volunteer, a donor, a candidate, their staff, or whatever user base an organization is serving. We should always build and scale our work with the user in mind, and allow that focus to drive each element of the organization.
Swing Left has built a reputation around being willing to experiment. How do you think about testing and learning — both in terms of traditional outreach but also on the organizational level?
Innovation is how we improve as people, as organizations, and as movements. The users we are serving are part of a rapidly changing world, and it’s critical for organizations to meet users where they are. Experiments and testing allow us to expand our knowledge base with data points that can better inform our users, tactics, messages, and priorities. There is always more we can learn, and it’s important to remember that organizations are only as successful as the audiences they are serving.
Once we get in the door, it’s up to us to deliver the best message and opportunity with the gift that this individual has already given to us — a moment of their time.
In addition to Swing Left, you host your own podcast. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from podcasting that’s helped you as an organizer?
Hosting a podcast has given me a platform to communicate, share ideas, and have meaningful conversations around mentorship, leadership, and management. It’s also taught me how to drill down on the most important points in a 30-minute timeframe. Most of our subscribers listen to the podcast during their morning commute, so if we can’t say what we need to during that time, we might not get another chance.
It’s a lesson that’s applicable to a lot of areas, including organizing. The most valuable part of an organizing relationship is simply getting the attention of a potential voter, donor, or volunteer. Once we get in the door, it’s up to us to deliver the best message and opportunity with the gift that this individual has already given to us — a moment of their time.
As I said before, there’s nothing more precious than someone’s time. Use it wisely.
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