Leadnow started as a digital campaigning organization. While they had successfully organized many National Days of Action, deep, relationship-based community organizing was new to them when they set out to run Canada’s strategic voting campaign in the lead up to the 2015 federal election.
From the start of a pilot program in Vancouver in 2013, to October 19, 2015, Leadnow built a network of 5,626 volunteers in 45 communities across Canada. After the election, Leadnow volunteer organizers continue to be a driving force building people power for progressive change. Starting from scratch, and primarily engaging volunteers who had never been involved in activism or community organizing before, training was a crucial component of their success.
For the past four years, Organize BC training has helped Leadnow volunteers go from interested supporters to seasoned organizers, and supported Leadnow grow volunteer-led community teams that organize for the long haul. Here are a few lessons Organize BC and Leadnow have learned together over the past few years.
"Every time we work with Organize BC, they ensure the training empowers our volunteers and maximizes the leadership development needed to win."
Field Organizer, Leadnow.ca
One day in the summer of 2014, Dana Cook’s phone rang and Betty, a volunteer from Leadnow’s Vote Together campaign, asked her to come out and go door-to-door canvassing in Vancouver. “I took a long-ass transit trip from New West to go to that canvass”, Dana told us. At the end of the canvass, Rachel Tetrault, at the time a volunteer Team Lead with Leadnow, booked a 1:1 meeting with her. Within 2 weeks, they met after a canvass shift for coffee. Rachel told Dana about how she could get involved further, and that there was an Organize BC training coming up in September.
“Knowing there was a training coming up helped me feel safer in it all. I thought ‘I’m going to volunteer, and in September I’m going to go to this training and then I am going to figure it out.’ An important part of me being hooked, was the safety of this training in the future”, Dana told us.
At the training in September 2014 “I met all of these like-minded people doing this amazing work from all these different organizations. I was crazy into the theory we learned, but what got me excited about it was all these people working together. I remember being pushed out of my comfort zone and gaining confidence as a result. This helped me grow in organizing, my work life, everything.”
Dana stayed with Vote Together, joining the Recruitment Team, making the same types of calls that Betty had made to recruit Dana to her first canvass. As the Leadnow teams in Vancouver grew, she was escalated into leading the Recruitment Team, and eventually became a Neighbourhood Team Lead in Summer 2015.
The new responsibility felt daunting, and soon after Rachel invited her to an Organizing 2.0 workshop by Organize BC in August 2015. “I felt nervous to go. I had a lot of imposter syndrome. Being welcomed by this group of experienced organizers was really important. I felt like an equal, and it helped me take on that responsibility and get past the impostor syndrome and step into my new role. Getting invited in the first place was also really exciting, I felt like Leadnow was investing in me,” Dana told us.
Dana said the training from Organize BC helped her understand how all the parts of the Vote Together campaign worked, so she could support her volunteers, and explain how their efforts fit into the larger picture. “Once you take on the leadership roles, your job is to support people doing the things. A lot of what I was doing was checking in with people. So I needed to understand what roadblocks they were facing. All of the trainings helped. Especially learning about coaching. It was critical for me in supporting others. Everyone has the answers they need. They just need to be asked the right things and given the space to find the answers and move forward.”
Dana stayed on as a volunteer organizer with Leadnow past the end of the Vote Together campaign, and despite having moved away, stays connected to her old volunteer team, and keeps organizing. “All of this organizing is embedded in me from that time. There’s a sense of responsibility to use what you have learned. The more you know about it, the harder it is to walk away from it. I came away from my experiences with Leadnow knowing that there is a way to make change, and people are doing it, and I will stick with it.”
On Thursday, August 13th, 2015 Leadnow’s Vancouver team held a volunteer orientation meeting. They were trying to get supporters who hadn’t volunteered before out to hear the Vote Together strategy and sign up for canvass shifts. While many activists had been preparing for the election for 2 years, a mere 67 days before the federal election, the general public was starting to feel the urgency. After blasting the orientation to their entire list of emailable supporters in Metro Vancouver, 70 people came out to hear the campaign plan and get involved.
“At the end of the meeting people signed up for canvass shifts” Leadnow Organizer Rachel Tetrault told us, “and for really committed people we had 10 spaces reserved in a 1-day Organize BC training on Sunday, three days later.” A few of those spaces had been booked for volunteers who had been gradually taking on more leadership over the past several months. More than half of the Leadnow volunteers who attended the training for eight hours on August 16 has been to at most two campaign events before, and several had never interacted with Leadnow in person prior to the Thursday evening campaign orientation.
At the training, 29 volunteers from three organizations learned the principles and of using community organizing to empower local canvassing teams, and the practical skills to make it happen in their neighbourhood.
Prior to the training, Leadnow had divided their target riding in half, with two neighbourhood level teams, East and West, covering the turf. In the week after the training, Rachel held 1:1 meetings with trainees from the previous Sunday, asking them to take on Team Lead positions using the skills they had just learned. Within 3 weeks, Leadnow had gone from two neighbourhood teams to five. People who came to the volunteer orientation having never done anything but sign online petitions, were leading weekly canvass teams. By skilling up impassioned supporters at the right moment, they more than doubled their organizing capacity right when they needed it. By election day, Leadnow had 500 volunteer canvassers getting out the vote.
After the election, some of the volunteers who had felt urgency around the election dropped back and returned to being occasional supporters. Many of the volunteer organizers trained during the election campaign, however, continued on to become core leaders within Leadnow.
As Leadnow built their organizing teams over several years, each wave of new leaders were trained by Organize BC. As new team leads were onboarded, they got consistent and high quality organizing training. Leadnow volunteer and staff organizers have shared understanding of the foundational importance of storytelling and relationships. They all know what the snowflake model is and how Leadnow applies it. And they’ve all been trained in designing campaign strategy.
After the 2015 federal election, Leadnow staff began to re-strategize on how to meet their long term organizational goals in the new political climate. Because they valued their volunteer organizers and wanted them to be the first to see their new campaign plan, one evening in January 2016, Rachel brought volunteer organizers in Vancouver together for a strategy huddle. As Rachel explained the campaign strategy and goals, Marcia, one of the team’s canvass leads, asked “Wait, so what’s the Theory of Change here?” This wasn’t something they had included in the campaign plan so far.
Over the course of the meeting, the organizers poked holes in the strategy, which Rachel brought back to the staff team to strengthen the overall strategy. Leadnow volunteers have learned to expect the campaigns they work on to be well thought out and effective. This helps make Leadnow, already a highly strategic and effective organization, even more so. And because when your campaigns are effective, volunteer organizers feel effective, it helps build a sense of commitment to Leadnow and their teams.