Relational organizing is the bright, shiny term getting all the attention in the world of politics and campaigns.

A lot of people ask us: What is it? Where does it come from? How is it different than other organizing? Why is it important? How can it help build change and progress? How does it reflect the needs of organizations and their members? How can it be integrated into traditional organizing models in a way that benefits programs in their entirety? And of course, the seminal question: isn’t this just good organizing?

maya angelou quote.png

It’s our goal to lead a long-term discussion to get as close to answers around these questions as possible. We intend to do this by bringing together a community of volunteers, activists, community leaders, organizers, directors, academics, and more in a broad discussion meant to better define the principles behind organizing as a strategy and how it relates to relational organizing.

While doing all of this, we will also be working with that community and the knowledge gathered from its broad discussion to raise funds to provide grants in support of on the ground organizing that supports what we learn. Our hope is to help in any way we can to build a new organizing model for the 21st Century that can help better represent the new American electorate.

We will start with a focus on relationships. The importance of relationships is becoming a point of focus across career fields, not just in organizing. The discussions in the two worlds reflect one another in important ways. In business, the importance of relationships is being stressed over the importance of networking. In organizing, the importance of relationship building is being stressed over the importance of traditional approaches that have often become transactional approaches.

What do we mean by transactional approaches? The traditional “door-to-door-off-voter-list" style organizing has become transactional in some communities because the timeframes of campaigns limit the ability of campaigns to engage beyond 1 or 2 contacts with a voter and the main grab for the campaign in those conversations is an ID of candidate support. This provides support to the campaign but promises little to the community it is engaging.

While traditional style organizing definitely has its place and importance as a crucial face to face contact as a campaign tactic.  It can, however, leave out large swaths of the community who would otherwise engage if a different tactic were used. The swaths of the community that are left behind are often underrepresented groups and this has a lot to do with the use of voter lists as the main driver of voter contact.

Recent dives into the nature of “door-to-door-off-voter-list” have shown that there are serious limitations on the ability of this work to reach beyond our current electorate for example:

In their new publication, the Politically Invisible in America, Simon Jackman and Bradley Spahn explain, “Matching a high-quality, random sample of the U.S. population to multiple lists reveals that at least 11% of the adult citizenry is unlisted. An additional 12% are mis-listed (not living at their recorded address). These groups are invisible to list-based campaigns and research, making them difficult or impossible to contact. 2 in 5 Blacks and (citizen) Hispanics are unreachable, but just 18% of Whites. The unreachable are poorer than the reachable population, have markedly lower levels of political engagement and are much less likely to report contact with candidates and campaigns. They are heavily Democratic in party identification and vote intention, favoring Obama over Romney 73-27, with just 16% identifying as Republicans.”

Looking at these limitations in outreach is where relational organizing comes in to help. Relational organizing can work in tandem with traditional “door-to-door-off-voter-file” organizing to make those programs less transactional in nature and bring deeper and more transformational reaches into the communities at the same time by engaging individuals who haven’t been engaged and historically haven’t been engaged.