The Next War III, Donut Organizations

Good stuff--Chris

Most Presidential primary campaigns are a donut (D'oh!). Luckily, we can fill the hole, and it won't take much dough (you can all groan now).

In the past two diaries, I have discussed how volunteers can be segmented, organized and used better by campaigns in 2008. These suggestions grew out of my work on primary campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and lots of local campaigns in and around those.

Today, I will fill the hole, then talk a little about one of 2004's great "discoveries", Meetup, and why it may be time to let it go.

Filling the Donut

My observation has shown a lack of "middle management" in big political campaigns. Look at the "average" large campaign office, and you'll find a few senior people with major campaign experience, and large numbers of young political operatives willing to work for almost nothing in exchange for the experience (and maybe a small job in the big pale house).

Where campaigns break down as businesses is in their lack of much "middle management" to convert the big picture goals of the senior operatives and campaign managers into work packages for the younger, less experienced folks. These should be people who bring life experience to the table in subject areas, work areas, or as managers of organizations.

Where campaigns fail to find these people is by thinking that the experience they have has to come in campaigns. It does not. People skilled and experienced in their work but less experienced in political campaigning would make excellent middle managers of a campaign, particularly when combined with the motivation of working for the candidate they support. These may be people used to dealing with multi million dollar budgets and supervising hundreds, exactly the folks you need to keep an organization organized.

Any major campaign office (including HQ) should have three levels of "expertise":

  1. Senior/Strategic/Direction - experienced in political campaign organizing at the state or national level
  2. Midrange/Tactical/Management - very experienced in specific skill areas but only volunteer/limited campaign background, volunteer corps can be the "farm club" for this group
  3. Junior/Implementation - the 20-somethings that want to make a career of politics, but don't have the life experience and need direction to go with their native intelligence and enthusiasm

By making use of the expertise of supporters in the middle management area of campaigns the campaign can fill the donut of organizational expertise with people "they couldn't afford" if they had to pay full price, and people who would normally be limited to stuffing envelopes or phone banking would be able to contribute their time to a campaign at reasonable pay and huge psychological payback both to the campaign and themselves.

Beyond Meetup

A campaign organization within a political party is a shadow organization, made up of those active in party politics between elections and many who are not. In 2004, the Dean for America campaign used Meetup as the structure for at least part of their shadow organization. Meetup worked for some things, but when, as Iowa and New Hampshire approached, we needed to move from a monthly meeting to active daily campaigning, in many places it broke down. We may want to replace the Meetup model with the idea of "Campaign Clubs" based on the idea of old Democratic clubs (or the Rotary or Lions). Instead of meeting monthly (although it could have monthly or weekly meetings) there would be ongoing activities, and perhaps in time even "clubhouses". Campaign Clubs would go beyond campaigning and politics to provide community and fraternity in the long haul.

This concludes why I have to say (for now) on organizing volunteer efforts to fight "The Next War", 2008. I hope someone or several someones will pick up the torch and bring some of these ideas into their campaign as the primary season begins for 2008 (that would be next Thursday, I believe). In the meantime, I'm going to go climb back outside my box and see what's floating around out there.

Tags: (all tags)



relationship of meetup to the campaign
i think the question of how meetup and the campaign interact is hard to pin down.  in part this is due to the fact that meetups, especially dfa meetups, vary widely in structure, experience level, and focus from one locale to the next.

but one thing that's occurred to me is that meetup groups can be the quasi-official "attack dogs" of the campaign, similar to the way the swift boat liars were for bush.  while the campaign disavows any cooperation, the meetup groups can go out and draw blood with the usual tactics of press releases, letters to the editors, staged events, etc..  this is a lot easier now, as DFA is a separate group trully untied to any campaign, than it would have been in 2003 and 2004.  one obstacle is that a lot of groups are fiercely independent and probably hesitant to "go negative".  but it could be useful in some cases.

by myddaholic 2005-04-12 05:24AM | 0 recs
"Donut Organizations"
seem to be the wave of the future.. soon, they won't even need the younguns, except to go out and talk to people.. (lets hear it for sentimentality!)

That applies to business, all of it. Not just political organizations.  

At the risk of sounding like a broken record.. "machines will do all the work"  Its inevitable..

That's why the GOP hates the middle class. They see us as pretenders to glory, fulfilling an ultimately near-worthless nonfunction in the economy, in the long term. Middle managers, middle this, middle that. They are itching to get rid of us and they can see it won't be long now.

The blue collar guys were the first to go.. now its us, the 'middle class'

When business no longer 'needs' people, they also no longer need people's cooperation.

In other words, they will no longer 'need' democracy or the vote..

by ultraworld 2005-04-12 07:02AM | 0 recs
At least 2 campaign structures
One old fashioned structure needs to remain for any candidate to handle Iowa and New Hampshire.  The pamper quotient (I haven't made up my mind, I've only seen the candidate three times.) is so over done it goes into the Pampers range (baby em).  

If any segment of the model will disppear first, it will be the lower level kids being replaced by technology.  Much of the upper level stuff could be done more effectively by fewer people with less competition for the candidate's ear, political infighting, etc.  Your addition of a middle level makes a lot of sense to me.

Much of the Republican organization, of course, is not part of their political structure.  The churches exist independent of the GOP and provided a lot of the muscle in 2004.  What distorts political organizations vis-a-vis business organizations is their temporary nature.  This has fostered reliance on large number of bodies rather than automated solutions.  Think of the old post office and the over-staffing for the Christmas rush.

by David Kowalski 2005-04-12 10:07AM | 0 recs
Re: At least 2 campaign structures
Two points about the lower level 'kids' work, especially from a primary, NH and Iowa perspective:

1. From what I understand, the early-on success in the notoriously independent-minded NH came from Dean's House Parties where you had neighborhood networks of supporters.  That's probably more akin to the Campaign Clubs Rich is suggesting, with community relationships and effective GOTV efforts; neighbors were getting out their own neighbors instead of having weird Californian kids in orange caps banging on their doors.

The thing is, it was largely 20-somethings who were the Area Organizers who did the initial work of finding supporters and setting up the networks.  Maybe this isn't lower-level work that Rich is talking about, but maybe that also means that many campaigns (especially state or local ones that can't afford a lot of big hires) should look at the pool of 20-somethings as possible middle management.  In terms of the NCO metaphor, remember that a valuable characteristic of NCOs is that they're 'one of the grunts'; if you have high-paid businessmen as middlemanagers, there's going to be the same disconnect between top and bottom levels you have now.

2. Replacing the high school/college kids (and a lot of middle-aged and senior citizens, as it turns out) with technology for certain functions like phone-banking might be more efficient (more calls, less pamper factor), but not necessarily more effective.  I think this is probably true at the beginning of the campaign when you're trying to build a reputation for your candidate and want to have real people who can answer questions, and also at the end of the campaign when people are sick of phone-banks in general and hate machines even more.

Another thing you need untrained lower level campaign workers for are media and local events.  Organizing press, supporters, and those just coming to hear a candidate can be done logistically by a few middle management people, but they'll need actual manpower to run the show.  This may be a good place for the transition from Campaign Club members to lower level workers, as well.

by KevinH 2005-04-12 12:10PM | 0 recs
I've heard a number of military experts speak of the importance of NCO's (Non-Commissioned Officers, i.e., Sergeants and sometimes Corporals) in the success of a good military.  They are essentially the middle management of the military world, and they are key to mission success.  They are possibly more key than either upper management or grunts.
by nanoboy 2005-04-12 10:34AM | 0 recs
Re: NCO's
When I first started tossing this idea around among friends (some of whom were military), the NCO example was the one I used. They're the ones who get the job done, translating orders from the officers into actions by the troops.

Good call.

by rich kolker 2005-04-12 10:49AM | 0 recs
The other problem
Another problme with the Meetup model is that nobody seems to have asked exactly what was being created through these organizations.  So, they were a big success, but nobody seems to have really considered what exactly they were succeeding at.  

Specifically:  I believe the Meetup format succeeded at building vlunteer communities, not at building a labor force for more traditional campaign activities.  As it turns out, volunteer communities are ideal markets.  So, Dean uses the Meetups to build volunteer communities, then goes them and asks for money and he gets it.  But when he tries to turn them into campaign labor--doesn't work.  

Honestly, I don't think anyone gave this any thought at all during the election, which is astounding.  Pick up any Peter Drucker book and the first thing he teachers about organizational success is that Executives are responsible for understanding (1) why an organization is succeeding, (2) if that particular success is the right direction for the organization to take, and (3) how to build on that success.

For example, if Dean had turned to the Meetups and said, I want each Meetup group to set a goal of creating 1,000 members--that would have been more effective than saying, I want the 30 members of each group to canvas their district.  

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that I appreciate very much this reflection on orgranizational structure.  With all the talk about framing, I think we would win in a landslaide in '08 if we could solve just half of our organizational issues.  

by Jeffrey Feldman 2005-04-12 11:02AM | 0 recs
Outstanding diary!
I haven't commented because there are obviously people who are more knowledgeable about organizations and Meet Ups than I am. The only question I have is who can make the executive decision to improve the organizational structure or direction for DFA?

I've never given it any thought. Does DFA have any executive decision making structure?

by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-12 12:05PM | 0 recs
by hpvv 2005-12-19 10:09PM | 0 recs
Re: The Next War III, Donut Organizations

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by jonnylee 2006-09-09 03:02PM | 0 recs


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