More than 3,000 tech employees are volunteering their skills to turn the tables politically

More than 3,000 tech employees are volunteering their skills to turn the tables politically
From TechCrunch - October 17, 2017

There have always been outliers, people in tech who are willing to volunteer to help certain candidates. An even smaller percentage of techies quit their jobs to join campaigns. Still, its probably safe to say that most tech employees, who are also U.S. citizens, have long viewed the extent of their obligation as Americans to vote for their preferred candidatethen get back to work.

The surprising rise of Donald Trump has changed that stance in largely liberal Silicon Valley. In fact, more than 3,000 skilled tech workers have now signed on to help a nonprofit called Tech for Campaigns thatinjects tech talent into the campaigns of centrist and liberal candidates who need advice and tools to better make use of Facebook and Twitter, craft individualized emails for segmented voters and much more.

More people are signing up to help every day, too, particularly now that the low-flying organization is raising its profile a bit to further that momentum.

It has been writing explainers, for example, including this one in Quartz, on the importance of focusing on so-called down-ballot (non-presidential) state races.Tech for Campaigns also recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $250,000 to hire additional full-time employees who can help its three co-foundersentrepreneurs Jessica Alter, Pete Kazanjy and Ian Fergusonrun the organization. (It has 23 days remaining to reach its goal.)

We talked recently with Alter about that campaign, as well as to get a better understanding of the specific candidates Tech for Campaigns is aiming to help, and how. Our chat, following, has been edited for length.

TC: Youd previously started a founder dating company that was sold. How did you end up starting this nonprofit?

JA: Peter and I and our other co-founder, Ian, are all tech founders, and the election last year woke us up. After the inauguration, there was one alarming executive order after another. I like posting on social media, but saying, I cant take this anymore wasnt helping, and we were seeing the same from many people we know who wanted to do more but werent sure how.

TC: 60 Minutes recently aired a segment with Trumps digital head, who said Facebook employees embedded themselves with the campaign, trying to provide it expert help. He also said the Clinton campaign was offered some of the same help and declined it. Is your organization trying to get the job done for Democrats that they arent getting done themselves?

JA: Were not saying that tech is coming in to save politics. But for every dollar spent on campaigns, only 5 to 10 percent goes to digital right now, which is a little crazy in 2017. Americans spend 5.6 hours a day online, yet 60 to 70 percent [of marketing dollars are] still going to TV and paper mail.

There are many under-exploited digital strategies [that campaigns could be using], like testing out messages, targeting people who wouldnt necessarily watch TV but can be reached online and being able to show [return on investment] on that spend. So a lot of what were doing is educating campaign managers, many of whom come from field ops backgrounds. They build their careers by knocking on doors and making calls, which is important. But they dont necessarily understand all the digital tools they could be using.

TC: Youre helping progressive and centrist campaigns play catch-up here. Who is signing up to help you with them?

JA: A lot of people. What started as a Google Doc in January with our friends became 700 sign-ups in a few days time. We now have more than 3,000 skilled digital volunteers who have day jobs but are willing and able to be deployed in small campaigns. By the end of next month, well have completed 50 campaign projects; were hoping to tackle 500 by the end of 2018 midterm elections.

TC: Tell us about some of those projects, and how you settled on them.

JA: Were doing a project in Virginia for a state legislator, for example, where were taking the list of [potential voters the campaign has] and helping them segment it in a much more detailed way so it can send different messages that have been designed for different lists. Were also helping them understand the return [the return on investment] in that effort.

We also got very involved in a special election in Montana in May.

TC:Ugh. Where Republican Greg Gianforte won Montanas seat in the House of Representatives, despite roughing up a reporter days earlier? What did your involvement entail? I remember he was up against a novice.


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