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March 13, 2020
Creative Organizing During a Pandemic

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have asked all our volunteer leaders postpone, move to virtual, or cancel in-person events of any size through at least May 10. Unfortunately, that means we must adapt our favorite mode of grassroots organizing—in-person engagement. But as any true organizer knows, we never give up—we get creative! Obstacles can also spur innovation, new approaches, and even increased productivity. Don’t miss our Virtual Organizing Resource Hub for more strategies and tips.

Recommendations for Safe and Effective Organizing During the Outbreak:

1. Safety first!

We have asked all our volunteer leaders postpone, move to virtual, or cancel in-person events of any size through May 10. We also have some additional guidelines and a round-up of CDC and WHO guidelines available here, and we recommend checking your local public health guidelines often.

But no matter where you live, wash your hands! We love some of the sillier recommendations for songs to sing to yourself to make sure you hit the 20 second minimum (Hamilton, anyone?).

2. Host virtual parties.

We have found, both through our research and anecdotally, that folks love Sister District because of their social relationships and sense of community. Instead of holding an in-person event, consider hosting a virtual party instead of just canceling.

You can do this using Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Facetime. To help, we are making our corporate Zoom accounts available to all Sister District teams and affiliates. Get in touch with your team leaders for more information.

Screenshot of the Sister District Organizing Department on a video conference
The Sister District Organizing Department on a one of our frequent video calls.

Seeing friendly faces can help keep spirits up, and make troubleshooting or answering questions faster and easier. If you’re phonebanking, you could ask everyone to join a video-conference, stay on mute until the half-hour mark, and then take a minute to check in and chat about how things are going (thanks to our MA-RI team for this idea!).

If it’s a virtual fundraiser, you can condense the event to just the speaking program—e.g., intro, featured speaker, and ask. To make it more interactive, you might facilitate a time-limited Q&A session.

Have you organized a virtual event already? What worked and what didn’t? Contact us to let us know—we’ll continue to gather ideas and share them back out on this blog.

3. Call, write, and donate from home.

Supplement your virtual parties with some quality solo time by phonebanking, letter- or postcard-writing, and donating from home. We’re currently supporting Harold Hayes in Pennsylvania, through his special election. We also have plenty of postcard and letter addresses available as part of an experiment with our research arm, Sister District Action Network. Please reach out to your team leaders for more information.

Canvassing opportunities are down, and are likely to stay down, because of the outbreak. This makes all of our other work, including fundraising, especially important. A strong financial base will enable our candidates to build solid campaigns and robust plans to reach voters.

4. Hold a virtual volunteer recruitment drive.

Although in-person events may not be possible, we can still recruit and engage new volunteers! We can help you put together a recruitment drive that will not only give your existing volunteers something to do, but will also help to engage new people for the long-term.

The basic idea is that you and other active volunteers will make calls and send emails to folks on your list who have not yet engaged. Once connected, you can:

    • Learn about how they want to get involved;
    • Invite them to an upcoming event (even if it’s virtual);
    • Recruit them for leadership roles;
    • Ask them to host a small friendraiser with their networks later in the year.

We’ve helped several teams do this already, and the individualized outreach is incredibly effective. You could even plan a virtual “learn about Sister District” event for new volunteers to help seal the deal! See #2 for tips on virtual parties.

If you’re already a volunteer leader with us, contact Head of Organizing Neal Morgan for help putting together a program. Or, if you’re interested in starting a new team or getting an existing organization engaged as an affiliate, please use our contact form.

5. Engage the people you live with.

Have your family members or housemates been putting off volunteering? Now is the time to get them engaged! We may not be able to interact with many people outside our homes for a while, but the people inside it are stuck with us.

An “entry level” activity like postcarding is simple and straightforward for even the most novice activists (and can be a great coloring activity for kids, too!). See #3 for information about current opportunities. Or, you could watch Suppressed: The Fight to Vote together, a powerful documentary we highlighted earlier this year about voter suppression.

6. Keep each other’s spirits up!

This is a stressful time for many people, and it comes piled on top of a political environment that is already overwhelming. Sharing silly memes, or giving friends, family, and community members a quick phone call just to say “hi” can go a long way. But, when sharing information online, be extremely careful to only promote credible sources. Let’s do what Democrats do best—use science, facts, and compassion.

We also encourage all our volunteers to share your “virtual activism” selfies and screenshots of your Zoom parties. Don’t forget to tag us on social media so we can share your creativity!

7. We work remotely, and are here to be a resource.

Sister District HQ has always been a completely virtual organization—our entire staff works from home, all the time. We’re available via email, Slack, and social media, and we’re happy to give you further recommendations and share ideas about your volunteer organizing or professional work.

This is all a work in progress. If you have your own ideas or experiences about organizing creatively during the outbreak, contact Head of Organizing Neal Morgan so we can share with others.

At Sister District, we believe in the power of community and person-to-person organizing. We don’t yet know what the full impact of this pandemic will be, but we do know that investing in our relationships with each other and our communities leads to a stronger, more just society.

P.S. If you’re not already involved with Sister District and this post has intrigued you, please sign up to volunteer! And if you’re interested in starting a team in your area, please shoot us an email using our contact form and include the words “New Team” in the subject line. We encourage volunteers from anywhere in the country to sign up.