Brad A Schenck

Build your data library

If you manage supporters in any way and you don’t have a data library, stop what you are doing and create one. A database is not a data library. Here’s the difference.

Where you store data about supporters

Data Library:
Where you keep the notes that explain EVERY tag in your database. I know not all data systems use the term “tag”. I’ll be using it here. Think of a “tag” as a discrete marker or piece of data you want to keep on your supporters.

You can’t build out a functional Matrix of Engagement (or even ladder if you want to fight me on that one) without it. Without knowing the nuances of what each data point means and why it was added you won’t actually be able to build real models on who your best audiences are.

But you can keep it in your head you say? So what happens if you suddenly have to leave or take a look back now and do you really remember them all?

Twice bitten
I’ve been bitten by this twice and don’t want to see you have the same fate.

Lesson 1
During the 2008 Obama campaign states ran their own data programs and the structure of tags was pretty loose. Some states might have had Phone Bank Coach, Phone Bank Super Vol, and Phone Bank Leader and they could all mean the same thing but there also exists other random similar sounding tags that meant different things. But what happens when you need to standardize? Well a group of folks from the data team came together and did their best to merge them into standard names with standard definitions, after the election. What that meant on the ground is that some organizers actually lost valuable data or nuanced relationships. It was the best for the long term but was a real 6-12 month wrinkle for folks trying to search by the old system.

Lesson 2
When taking on the role at I needed to move databases. Now there were a lot of tags in the old database. Turns out folks only remembered about 5-10% of them. The rest of the supporter info was lost to internet gods. In many ways it was like starting the database over again.

Build your data library

This shouldn’t be hard. Quite frankly it should just be a google doc that several people on your team have access to. Here is a template.

And here are things you need to include in yours.

TAG Name
What is the actual name you are using for that tag. Not the jargon term someone else uses but what makes sense in the database.

TAG Description
Be really clear here what is this tag, make sure this description answers things like:

  • Is it a top level tag
  • Does it explain a campaign
  • Is it for a specific action/event or is it for people who come to a specific kind of action/event
  • Is it an online action
  • Is it an in person action

Date Created
In a few years from now it will make more sense. But looking into the future, knowing how long a tag has existed can help frame it’s history of use in the org and is it time to update the tag or term?

Archive tags merged
If you are merge outdated or short term tags make sure you list them as having been merged in and create an entire separate sheet.

Number of sheets
Now you’ll see in the template I am sharing are only two sections of tags active and archived. I’d say use what works best for you on how many tabs you create. I’d recommend possibly creating a sheet for campaign or department depending on how your organization is structured. Also I would highly recommend having some org level tags that are universal. Example yours could look something like this:

  • Org Level Tags
  • Fundraising Department Tags
  • Campaign One Tags
  • Campaign Two Tags
  • Archived Tags

Which ever way you go make sure your organization is moving forward with a smart data library that you’ve put some thought into. Again here is a template, happy tagging!


No digital bench

There is no bench for digital teams to draw from when hiring. If you’ve had to make hires in the digital world especially in the NGO and political campaign world you probably know this too well. There just isn’t much depth or at times any depth to hire from. Or when there is depth folks don’t have rounded enough skills or much experience. But don’t worry you aren’t alone, it’s an issue for almost everyone.

Why is there no bench?

There are several factors combining to create this lack of a pool of folks with digital skills. The first problem is the skillset everyone is looking for. Almost everyone is looking for someone who is both some sort of creator and manager at the same time. Let’s be honest the skills are neither taught together and rarely do the exists. Think about it, most people in the arts to writing world are taught to be self creators not managers of a team and process. Also people traditionally and still often do special. People are often a writer, video editor, web developer, social media writer, designer, etc. but not a combination and even in those buckets sometimes a person is even more niche. But almost everyone is looking for people with some diversity in skill except for teams with people in the range of 7 or more.

The second problem is we are still just getting going at this. Think about the reality the ‘08 Obama campaign was just six years ago and very few other campaigns had any new media team. By the 2010 cycle I was still talking to Gubernatorial campaigns that didn’t have a dedicated new media staffer and Senate races that had one. Both even then should have had three to four. So when we got around to hiring digital directors for states in 2012 we wanted people with rounded skills and some political experience. The reality was we had to bring people in from other fields or NGOs and train them with additional skills.

Lastly, everyone is hiring. Digital shops for NGOs and corporations continue to scale up. This means that digital fellows and interns that started with us on the 2012 campaign are running digital teams in 2014. It’s lead to people being swept into the better paying corporate world. So those that have any experience are being pulled higher and faster than those in other fields. It’s still a bit like a vacuum.

What can we do?
It’s all about training. For many of the folks we brought into the Obama 2012 and Organizing for Action teams we trained them. Either starting as interns, specializing in digital for the fellowships, or with digital staff development that I lead. The New Organizing Institute has been running it’s New Media Bootcamp for years. And as I left Organizing for Action I helped them get their inaugural digital fellowship off of the ground. So if you can you should support programs like this. If your shop is big enough you should host programs like this.

If you are hiring digital staff don’t be afraid to train the right people. Since the pool isn’t deep you might not find someone with the right skills day one. But if they have aptitude and attitude you need then make that investment in them. Then invest in their training, find that budget to get your team growing and learning. Build your bench and build the progressive movement's bench at large.

There is no ladder in a Matrix of Engagement

Last blog I introduced the concept of a Matrix of Engagement. I got a few rebuttals that sometimes you need a simple ladder. Maybe a Matrix works for thinking about organizational engagement but in the simple things we use the ladder for we still need the ladder. Maybe inside the Matrix there are ladders…

Well I would say this is right and wrong. Right in that we need to be able to distill a path of growth for people. Wrong in that the ladder still works as the analogy and should be used.

Breaking down further why to let the ladder go. When people think of the ladder, they in their mind imagine a pretty basic ladder right? It’s got a few rungs and you step up one step at a time. In reality that’s not even what people mean when they say ladder. What they really mean is something that looks more like progressive levels that are harder and harder to get to.

Let’s create a pretty typical example: You need someone to become leader of an action/s.

Now if you had a ladder you could just point them to it and they would climb right?

  1. Attend a first action ( Invite them to a second action)
  2. Attend 2nd action attender ( recruit to support the next action)
  3. Become support team ( Recruit them to be a leader)
  4. So someone just climbs on up and becomes a leader, yeah right.

We all know it’s harder than that. At best it’s a tough gnarly overgrown pyramid that is a nasty sucker to get people up.

And what this really looks more like a series of action plateaus.


A- Attend a first action

  • R- Repeat ActionHere you need the highest number of people. It’s the easiest point of entry.
  • The step from Action #1 to taking repeat actions isn’t too hard to make a next step. But since this process is linear it’s not all repeat action takers just those on this path to be a leader.

S- Support team

  • Now this step is higher, smaller, and there is a clear space between these two levels. And if someone is trying to get there and doesn’t they might drop out completely.

L- Leader of action

  • It’s hard to get to. There is a small pool of people from which to start with from the last level. There is a higher loss potential, meaning if someone is pushed from support toward that level and misses you could have lost a good team member. That person could have added other value to your organization and now they might just fall away.

If you’ve worked in some form of human organizing you’ve probably witnessed the push happen or even committed the pushing yourself. The very concept of there being a ladder that people just step up creates a system by which people accept you can just keep pushing people up. That it’s a natural way to look at it. But in the real world we know that human organizing works best when at times we let people stay in a role where they feel most comfortable or have the best skill set.

We also know that people also engage even more when given variety in action and more action to engage with.


What if your path to creating a leader was a diverse as the people you are trying to engage with?


What if it looked more like this?

It’s time to think about a pathway to leadership within a matrix, along the pathway there are sustaining actions. Actions that people engage in or even re-engage them after they’re off the path to taking a more formal role. What if broader range of actions became gateways to becoming a leader of action.Now, that’s not a perfect matrix (come on, it was drawn with sharpies quickly to be representational). But what if you were to create a larger vision of how someone goes from A- action #1 to being some sort of leader L, it’s about letting those who organize and those being organized be more dimensional. It’s also ultimately about raising all sustained action, not sacrificing smaller asks because you kept driving everyone up a gnarly pyramid people keep falling off of.

The idea of tearing down the ladder isn’t just about nuanced data and the future of digital asks.

It’s about a shift in organizing to be more reflective of how the world works and how digital allows us to deepen engagement and grow sustained action.

Matrix of Engagement

If you have worked in any sort of organization that relies on people to fund your action, attend your events, or rally around an idea or cause you've probably heard the term “Ladder of Engagement.” It’s often held up as the holy standard in community organizing. For those unfamiliar it works a little like this:


  • A person is introduced to your organization or cause (in person, social media, a sign or poster, some form of media, etc.)
  • They are asked to take an initial action. Maybe it’s just sign up for info.
  • They are then asked to take a next successive action. (In modern times maybe like some content or sign a petition.)
  • They take that action and then the next action and are moved along up the ladder to some ultimate actions.

Here is where I say this idea is deeply flawed. Maybe it made sense in the pre-web-2.0 pre-accessible-data world but I imagine even then it didn't work. But this idea of a ladder is the easiest way for an organization to wrap its head around getting action or resources from people to fuel it’s mission.

But it’s time to throw away the ladder and embrace the Matrix of Engagement!

There are many reasons the ladder of engagement is flawed but here are two simple ones.
The ladder concept assumes everyone enters an organization from the same place. We all know this is false. Some people show up to an annual gala as their first event and others like all of your tweets without ever having signed into anything that has captured any more data about them.
The easiest way to know this concept is flawed is simply in the results. Be honest if you had a perfect ladder then you could set about using it to move everyone to whatever end action it is that you desired. For many organizations that’s either giving in person time or financial resources. So if your organization moves humans along the ladder like an effortless conveyor belt then I guess I’m wrong. It’s just that I've never heard of your flawless organization.

Here are some of the other flaws a ladder system idea more concise.

  • The ladder assumes everyone enters an organization from the same place.
  • The ladder concept assumes everyone will respond to the same incentives and motivations.
  • The ladder assumes that all actions and motions are either linear.
  • The ladder assumes the most important thing to do is to ask a person to move forward. Even if not ready or able.
  • The ladder assumes there is one similar final objective for all people.

I want to repeat one conceptual flaw of the ladder again. If it worked in a step after step process then an organization could look at the current number of let’s say rung one people (new email sign ons for example) and they could map out exactly how many people will attend their gala from this group. Because they could look at that number and now all of the exact steps that will happen. OK we aren't robots. We don’t just follow a mindless progression. We are all driven by different incentives, interests, and have different resources. But all of use do share some similarities with others.

Matrix of Engagement

To help explain what a Matrix of Engagement is let’s think about two really important things.

  1. How do supporters interact with your organization?
  2. What is the most critical action for your organization right now


1: How do supporters interact with your organization goes hand in hand with how did they connect to your organization. Peoples’ first interactions with organizations are as varied as the number of things your organization does. Some people come to a gala, others sign an online petition, others see a tweet, others a pamphlet, etc. But the big question is what do they do next? How will you engage with them again

If your only focus was pushing people up the ladder to your year end gala and someone has come there for the first interaction with your group, do you not talk to them again until gala time next year? If they tweeted with your gala’s hashtag would you just let that be it or find a way to keep them involved in lower “ladder” actions like tweeting for your organization?

2: What is the most critical action for your organization right now should always be known. Maybe today the most important thing in your organization is an important event in a city in North Carolina. You need 20 really involved people there no more, no less. Can you email people who have taken a series of engagements with your organization? Maybe you’ve never had an event like this in North Carolina before but had one in New York. Can you look at the people who showed up in New York and what their previous history looks with the organization and invite people in North Carolina who look similar based on actions first?

A Matrix of Engagement is built on data. Data about as many past actions as you can record. That data should start to build clusters and connections for you. You should then be able to take those known data clusters and find out who connected to the organization has taken certain interactions with the organization but not others. It’s those other interactions they haven’t taken that you should invite them to take. Like this example

Lets say you have 40 people who share all of your Facebook events, donate $20 or more a month, and come to every event near them. You also have a cluster of 10 people who share all of your Facebook events, donate $20 or more a month, but have yet to come to an event. You need 5 more people at your next event. Let’s start with those 10 people and see if their similarity in engagement can be translated to also coming. If not, note it. Build out the set of people who who share all of your Facebook events, donate $20 or more a month, and REFUSE to come to events. Then think about what their next engagement is and STOP asking them to come to events.

A Matrix of Engagement allows you to think about people with similar actions and interests. Remember that there are probably hundreds of actions that people take in supporting your organization. Not all of those actions are donating large sums of money or volunteering 40 hours a week. Sometimes it’s just tweeting. If someone has connected to your organization and are willing to keep sharing information about you that’s valuable. If they move themselves into the “not interested in volunteering 40 hours a week bucket” that should never mean you’re done with them. Keep them engaged where they are. As the data builds you might find other correlations. Maybe those frequent tweeters often help make phone calls from home. Maybe that’s the next other engagement.

How to build a Matrix of Engagement

Now that you've thrown that ladder out you’ll need to build a Matrix of Engagement for your organization and most likely no two matrices will be exactly the same. But keep in mind this is never a finished project. That is another failure of the ladder, folks often said ok we are done here’s the ladder let’s ask for step two. The Matrix of Engagement is about continually finding what similar actions people will take and what next actions you can suggest at the right time and also what actions to stop asking some people about.

Here are the pieces of information you will need to build a successful Matrix of Engagement.

  • Organizational Mission
  • Goals to achieve your organizations mission
  • Campaigns or actions to meet goals
  • Goals and actions connected to the campaigns
  • All of the ways people get introduced to your organization

How to structure your Matrix. Let’s go back to flaw #1. “The ladder concept assumes everyone enters an organization from the same place.” Now let’s think about all the ways someone connects to an organization. Think deep about it. One of the flaws I’ve often seen people make is assuming that people don’t ever start at the things we think are the hardest but people do.

Think about these anecdotes:

Some people show up at fundraisers and drop a few hundred or thousands of dollars just because a friend asked them.
Some people show up and march in a parade or demonstration just because they were asked or sometimes were passing by. (I can actually name an organization that I have never gotten an email from and I've never donated to, that I marched with.)

connecting the matrix

So make a long list of all the places you think people connect to the organization. Start with the easy ones and keep going.

  • Social media
  • Sign on forms
  • Sign on to email
  • Signed something in person
  • Donate in person
  • Donated online
  • Bought ticket to a fundraiser

Now here is where it starts to get harder.

Start making a list of all the activities a supporter could take. Really all of them. Just like the Matrix will continually evolve it’s OK if this list does to. But build it. If you can get crazy detailed because it could teach you a lot about who your supporters are long term. And what is a good ask for which people. Anecdotal thought on this:

I've never seen an organization log who is willing to run the sign in process at an event, but these are typically people who don’t mind responsibility. What if you had a record of everyone who had ever been the sign in person that you could reach out to when needing hosts for future events? What if you were able to know over time that someone being the sign in person twice makes them likely to be a host by four or more times means they are happiest at that level of responsibility and you could remove them from the list of likely hosts. What would that data mean to future people working with your organization?

Get as action detailed in this is as possible down to the in action actions. I promise as your data and your engagement to it grows so will the meaningful engagement your supports. Start today by breaking down your ladder and adding those actions into your Matrix. Then build your Matrix of Engagement and I promise you’ll build a more engaging organization.

Do you follow 30,000 people on Twitter?

Fairly often I get asked, "do you really follow 30,000 people?" The answer is yes. But it isn’t as simple as me constantly watching a river of tweets from these 30,000 people, although I sometimes do. Here’s the breakdown of how and why I want to engage with 30,000 plus people.


It’s all about the lists. 

If you check my account I have 19 lists that I use to curate tweets. Lists like News where I’ve lumped in national press, local press from places I’ve lived, and journalists. But I am active about curation, if a journalist mostly tweets about things other than news they get bumped. They don’t get unfollowed just moved from that list maybe to another, maybe not. Lists like Organize  I use to see what other Organizations and activists are doing in the progressive space, maybe give a favorite or RT. Organize is ever growing, as I come across of different progressive groups they get the list add to there. I often use TweetDeck  to let those lists stream next to each other.


Direct Messages

I’m an organizer, I’m passionate about issues, and I believe in building community. That means I believe people should be able to contact me and DMs are a great way to do that.  I try to follow all real people back so they have that option. I want them to be able to DM me if they want to. But to be honest I only check DMs every day or so. Often I take messages from DM to email. 


I’m proactively following people

I’m an organizer. I want to connect with people who share similar passions about the world. So often I’ll follow a bunch of people using a hashtag that look like they are interested in taking action. I actually like to follow people who are really new and have a just a few followers. The reason is several times people new to twitter thought it was awesome that someone who has been around a while took interest in them. It’s community building 101.


Reading all the Tweets

Lastly, yes sometimes I just go to and just let the Tweets stream. It let’s me see what a broader section of people, companies, and organizations are tweeting about. It also helps me find Spam accounts I may have accidentally followed. 


So the answer is yes. 

The Secret of Scale — A must read

If you are in anyway connected to an organization that involves action and membership then "The Secret of Scale" by Peter Murray is an absolute must read. Covering years of research this piece taps into some of the keys to success of large organizations. This quote gives a sense of the breadth of that research: 

Many are traditional membership organizations, such as the NRA, AARP, and AAA. But others, such as Planned Parenthood, local immigrant organizations, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community centers, provide services for millions of community members who are not offi cially “members.” Civic organizations include unions and worker organizations, neighborhood associations, community service clubs, PTAs, business and professional associations, and co-ops. Civic organizations also include churches, which often endorse a range of social transformation goals in addition to their mission of personal transformation. Whatever the form or goal of these civic organizations, they share the core underlying idea that citizens have the power to reshape our society

Find the rest of the article here: "The Secret of Scale"

Train, Tweet, Win!

I’ve heard similar lines over the last few years…

  • Our volunteers aren’t really on Twitter.
  • Social media isn’t my thing.
  • I don’t see how Tweets matter?
  • Our volunteers want to tweet but don’t know how.


You might know it has been an evolution of reasons why the supporters of your organizations or campaigns aren’t using twitter to support the cause. Four years ago when I first started talking to volunteers about getting on Twitter it looked like I was speaking a foreign language. Yet, here we are four years on and most people know it could or should matter if they tweet. But I still hear, “Our volunteers aren’t really on Twitter” or “Our volunteers want to tweet but don’t know how.”

TTW.jpegIn 2010 after the midterms I was with the Democratic National Committee and we hosted our first professional development Twitter training with @sara_ela and @SaraLang. The purpose of that training was to give people an introductory walk through of Twitter and a solid connection to how it was applicable to their work. Creating a connection between the tool and the goals of the organization is key.

As sophistication grew so did the trainings. Eventually I worked with others to create Twitter 201 for advanced users to give them tips and introduce them to apps, photo best practices, and more. But we continued to offer the introductory trainings as well. The truth is we never got all of our most dedicated volunteers tweeting, quite frankly far from it. But what we did was move enough people that critical inch forward. A story never told from the media or campaign was the ability to drive trends in cities and source truly local content from volunteers and supporters, because of these trainings.

Here’s how it’s applicable to every organization, they all want to do one or more of these things:

  • Get your message heard.
  • Influence the conversation around your issues or campaign.
  • Earn media coverage.
  • Source local content and images.

A real barrier is supporters not on Twitter or not feeling comfortable with the tool. Let’s be honest Twitter does a pretty great job of walking new people through the process and has a great system of support. But for what ever the reason they aren’t on Twitter yet or aren’t talking about your organization yet, that’s on you. You need to make the investment in your supporters in time and possibly other resources to get them to take that next step.

The next steps for you should look something like this…

  1. Identify who your core supporters are.
  2. Decide what level or levels of training they need.
  3. Determine who you have to train them.
  4. Schedule and execute trainings.
  5. Check goals, evaluate, reshape, train again.
  6. Train, Tweet, Win!

If you’re lost and don’t know how to get started don’t worry there is a growing list of talented people looking to help others Train, Tweet, Win! And I’m happy to connect you.

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