Every four years citizens of the United States elect a president. While every election cycle is unique and sometimes more turbulent than the previous, there’s one consistent practice in running a campaign, the “ground game.” Largely known as the “get out the vote” component of the campaign, the ground game brings a human element to what is shadowed by a canopy of damning campaign ads. In fact, the ground game didn’t prove to be the catalyst for the Trump campaigns victory during the 2016 race for the White House, but it’s still very relevant. The ground game remains important because campaign ads aren’t usually the deciding factor in moving people to act. Focusing on phone calls and face-to-face interaction with “likely voters,” the ground game is crucial for getting people to polling centers, ultimately affecting the outcome of America’s vote. Let me be clear, I’m not advocating for a door-to-door campaign, but I do believe that non-profit organizations can be more effective if they have a physical human presence among the people they’re calling to action. The human connection can’t be outdone by any number of emails, social media posts, or videos. This is precisely why politicians recruit surrogates who host campaign rallies and political agents who stand up field operations offices among the electorate. It’s a wise decision for non-profit organizations to follow suit with similar actions.
While attempting to make strong connections, It’s important to understand the human brain receives information in varying ways, based on the way it’s transmitted. This said, there are some methods of communication that are far more effective than others. There’s no doubt digital mediums play an important part in an effective call to action. In a previous article Employing a Social Media Strategy to Supplement Volunteer Recruitment, I cover in detail the impact of running a proactive social media campaign. However, when mobilizing volunteers for your cause, human interaction through a ground game will be the trump card more times than not. When trying to move people to action, you’re attempting to reach a person’s inner most values and emotion. Yes, there’s a place for electronic media, but you lose the intimate, sincere and authentic connection through the digital divide when doing so. The secret to why lies within the very genetic makeup of the human species; it’s an animalistic instinct built into each of us.
Understanding the why of how the brain works
Ironically digital media has made us feel more connected, all the while making us more disconnected. But i’ll concede and admit there’s a place for digital media. Let’s face it, digital media is extremely effective. This is because the human brain is lazy; reading can be difficult and much harder to process, leading to visual cues becoming so widely utilized in marketing practices. In fact, the brain is so lazy, it’s designed to more efficiently process visuals (photos, video, body language) to the tune of over 50,000 times faster to put it in perspective. In the digital age, Instant gratification makes us gravitate to electronic stimulations. But this may not be enough as digital forms of communication can come off as sometimes detached or even unengaging to people. So why do we still yearn for face-to-face interaction with others?
The answer is both complicated, but so simple at the same time. Humans are a “social animal.” We socialize with our own species (and others), creating distinct societies. As a result, our brains are hardwired to interact and engage with others. Some even argue that the need for human interaction is so strong, by depriving a person of relationships you’d undoubtedly cause physical, psychological and emotional harm. It’s within our nature as a species to connect with others, so it only makes sense that this is the strongest connection to be made. After all, the widespread use of digital media has only existed for the greater part of six decades. Compared to human history, it’s well within its infancy stages as a form of connection. The ground game aims to strike the essential emotional chord that exists in every human.
The ground game for your organization
Whether you believe the human brain is scientifically designed to connect with other beings, or you believe humans are inherently relational because we were formed in God’s image, the theme is the same. Humans yearn to have a connection with each other. When we look at this on a more simplistic level, face-to-face interaction is more advantageous when building community. It’s through this interaction that necessary foundations of trust are created. This becomes increasingly important when working with supporters and stakeholders. It behooves a non-profit to use proven get out the vote tactics from effective ground games that translate into action.
Don’t be lazy, do the research: Like a political campaign, research to understand the environment you’re operating in and population you’re engaging. This is especially important when competing for resources against other groups. If you understand those you’re connecting with, you can gauge their level of support. While it may be wasted time targeting unlikely supporters, canvassing your environment for those most likely to support allows you to curtail your outreach to that population.
Phone calls: Calling should only be done to set up a more personal face-to-face meeting for establishing rapport. Phone calls are sometimes too passive and not personal enough, rarely giving two parties time to create a relationship. Write up a script and practice a pitch so you’re brief and concise. Use this as a launching point for a face-to-face meeting, where you have the advantage of reading visual cues like body language to navigate uncertainty or potentially awkward situations if the other person is reluctant.
Face-to-face meetings: This is where you establish a personal connection, creating the human element for the call to action. Heed caution, you won’t want to show up on the doorsteps of a company or someone’s home unannounced. Alternatively, set up an in-person meeting where you have time to communicate the mission of your organization, the population you serve and how a volunteer’s involvement will benefit all parties involved.
Interactions: Go beyond the bare minimum and cut out the digital middleman replacing it with a human. Whether a phone call or in-person meeting, it’s through those means you create a meaningful personalized connection. This takes persistence, however, without a call or in-person meeting, no interaction happens, and an email (which isn’t at all personal) is easily dismissed or “lost” in a recipient's inbox.
Establish a presence but avoid disruption: Create opportunities to participate in community service or non-profit fairs at schools, government centers or at corporate campuses. These are invites for you to be vocal while educating a new audience of potential support. This will create an audience that already has a genuine interest to hear your message and call to action, eliminating the visceral reaction you may receive standing on a busy street corner disrupting passerbys.
Whether you have brick-and-mortar chapters, or you’re largely cloud based, there are ways to create mechanisms for interaction. Understand that while human interaction is key, using digital means of communication will continue to be important and shouldn’t be ignored. The 2004 presidential election between Republican nominee George W. Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry is a perfect example of how digital communication allowed for a stronger ground game. Both campaigns understood the value in engagement through the internet and creating “force multipliers” from what they called “netroots” action. Through the internet, both campaigns stretched resources, providing an outlet to engage those who traditionally didn’t have the time or means. Those who were unable to participate could now do so from their couches, lightening the load for others placing calls and making face-to-face connections. Without the internet, both campaigns would’ve been run remarkably different, however, supplementing with digital engagement allowed the ground game to flourish in ways never seen before in politics.
Clearly, visual stimulation coupled with digital connection, is quite effective which plays a major factor in why there’s so much research in understanding digital branding and marketing. However, the digital mediums are lacking that fundamental human connection. You may be thinking the age of the door-to-door salesman is long gone, like an extinct dinosaur only to be viewed in a museum. While that’s largely true in most professions, there’s a reason that face-to-face connection is still crucial in political campaigns and establishing long term relationships for non-profits. It’s the same reason you hear digital marketers talk about how they’re working to make their online presence “more human.” It’s because humans long for that personal connection. With the earliest known social animal (the primate) dating back over 55 million years, connection through a digital medium is just a blip on the radar in comparison. Knowing this, it shouldn’t shock anyone that humans need to interact, it’s in our DNA. The great news though is that at the end of the day, understanding this instinctual behavior will serve as the most effective means of moving people to action.