Alex Wirth, Co-founder & CEO of Quorum.us – a leading public affairs software that helps map, track, change, and report on policy landscape, shares insights into advocacy approaches that will work in 2023.
Alex ranks: Twitter, IRL meetings, calling, letters, videos, Meta, and billboards as just some of the methods advocacy organizations can be using to get the attention of representatives.
He shares why buying Donor Voter files may be obsolete in the new advocacy landscape.
Alex Wirth is the Cofounder and CEO of Quorum, a public affairs software platform that enables organizations to launch grassroots advocacy campaigns, manage stakeholder engagement, and monitor dialogue in Washington, Brussels, all 50 states, and thousands of cities around the U.S.
[00:00:00] audio1717820249: Today on the podcast, we have a returning guest, a returning guest that we had on a few years ago. His name is Alex Worth, the co-founder and c e o at Quorum. Uh, quorum is a public affairs software helps you work smarter, move faster. Thousands of public affairs officials use quorum and their work to Congress.
[00:00:44] My short hot take on it is it helps you connect with Congress and has an amazing database and functionality prior. To that, uh, he did happen to graduate from Harvard, as I understand it, and he was an intern at , the White House. Uh, and the office of the Chief of staff, uh, has also spent time as a global shaper.
[00:01:04] And a board member on the Economic Club of Washington, among other things. Uh, but Alex is also one of the folks that I’ve known since back in the day, and I respect his work and his persistence in, in staying with, uh, staying with the organization and building it over time. So, Alex, welcome and, and thanks for coming back.
[00:01:25] Awesome. Thanks for having me. Well, I hopefully didn’t confuse people too much about Quorum, but what is your elevator pitch and explaining what Quorum does in the world of political advocacy? Yeah, so we’re a public affairs software platform, uh, that is used by public affairs professionals at major companies, trade associations, nonprofits, uh, little bit of federal government work to track everything that’s happening on Capitol Hill.
[00:01:56] All 50 state legislatures help communicate up to members of congress. Um, we collect both the official and staff contact information and have the tools to be able to get email messages to those staff. And then also we have a whole series of grassroots advocacy technology to help individuals write their member congress, tweet their member, call their member, run massive mobilization campaigns.
[00:02:18] And we are currently working to bring a brand new pack product to market to help, uh, third party packs, both collect and raise. Manage their individual bank accounts and records and then issue disbursements to lawmakers to participate in the political process. So the quick way to think of us and our goal is to be the one stop shop for all the efforts that an advocacy team needs to engage on Capitol Hill in Brussels or in any of the state capitals across the country.
[00:02:45] Yeah. It’s pretty impressive. And before we, we pressed record, you were telling us, um, about Capital Canary. Right? You were, you were able to, to pull them into your. Feature suite and what has that capability? Yeah, so this has been the really exciting update for us, uh, from the last year is that we did acquire Capital Canary, which is the new name for the phone to action business, which sends more messages to Capital Hill than any other technology platform out there.
[00:03:15] Uh, phone to Action on average sends about 25 million messages a year to Capitol Hill, and so we combine forces with them, uh, at the end of September of this past fall. And overnight both doubled in size for the number of clients we serve and that we’re working now with 2000 organizations, including hopefully some listeners, uh, on this call, but also as a result of that, have been able to double the size of our research and development team.
[00:03:41] So we’re incredibly excited to be working combined as we think about innovations with advocacy and advocacy technology rather than against each other, taking the same teams to build the same features on multiple different platforms. And we’re pretty excited about what the future’s gonna be able to bring from.
[00:03:58] Well, last time we talked, I feel like you were really opening my eyes, our audience’s eyes, to the impact that Twitter was really starting to have. And mind you, we were pre pandemic, we were PreOn Musk coming into Twitter town, and I felt like you really were helping us understand that there are, you know, I guess a hierarchy.
[00:04:21] A hierarchy of ways that elected officials and you know, really their staff. Are are listening to constituents and I’m, I’m wondering, maybe we could just revisit that. What is your current hierarchy of high to low attention? No attention for messaging, elected officials, representatives. Yeah, so to start with the Twitter piece one, you were spot on.
[00:04:49] Twitter has taken off since we last talked, and a lot of that was as a result of the pandemic of you had members of Congress, state legislators, mayors who are used to being out with people in their constituents, stuck at home, not able to meet everyone, anyone. And wanting to show that they are being relevant and share as much information as they can with constituents.
[00:05:10] And so we saw the number of social media messages from elected officials skyrocket in 2020. I mean, just a full jump, um, as the pandemic and lockdown hit. Um, and so there’s been more definitely usage of the platforms. I think the other component to it is, I do agree with Elon Musk’s comments that Twitter really is a digital town square, and I think you see that very significantly in the policy influence participation journalism and advocacy worlds that exist on Twitter and that many of us, including me, follow along, but that we see members of congress, journalists, policy, influencers, actively participate in.
[00:05:51] And the example that I think is helpful to share is that almost every state legislature in the country, Has a given hashtag for the individual legislative session. I was born and raised, uh, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My dad happens to be a state legislator so I know it well. Uh, and in New Mexico the hashtag is hashtag nm ledge.
[00:06:09] And the best way to get information about what’s going on in the State House during session is following on the hashtag nm ledge. Cause you have people that are in the gallery. You have reporters sharing what the information they have. You’ve got leadership sharing, Hey, we’re gonna be on the floor of the House of Senate.
[00:06:24] This bill is moving, party’s sharing what’s up next. And you can’t get information that quickly, that accurately and from that many people anywhere else. And so that same level of conversation that’s happening, New Mexico is happening in all 50 states. But also then it’s happening on key issues here in Washington DC and it presents a really significant opportunity for advocacy organizations to participate in.
[00:06:48] Stuff. Yeah. Because frankly, it’s, you know, love it or hate it. We’re not here to litigate the, you know, week by week changes that Musk is putting out there. The, the truth is that it’s, uh, an open, trusted platform to the extent that identities and we understand the identities of representatives and people that have been able to burnish their reputations with consistency on the platform are able to report on things like bills progress, uh, and political means, and.
[00:07:18] And one of the questions I actually had for you is around the fact that, you know, recently, you know, we were recording this in January of 2023, uh, change of allowing political ads in political organizations to, to run ads. Now on, on Twitter has, you know, the, the ban has been lifted. What are your thoughts on the, the implications of that or opportu.
[00:07:41] Yeah, so I think there’s huge opportunities you think about reaching policy makers and their staff in that it is possible to geofence state capital, the US Capitol, a given agency, and run publical or public policy related Twitter ads to those organizations. I think that is some of the biggest opportunity and impact.
[00:08:03] and the Great Washington story that I, I’ve heard over the years is there was an official at the Department of Transportation that was needed to approve an airline route from one country in Europe to the us and it was held up with a singular individual official, and the public policy firm in DC figured out where the official lived.
[00:08:23] Figured out the exact direction that their apartment window faced out of, found the billboard that they look at every day, and went and bought just that one billboard and talked about the benefits of opening up this airline . And literally the official had to stare at it for a month or a month and a half, and then suddenly the approval came through.
[00:08:42] And so that’s obviously like the really old school way of doing things. And that story is probably from 10 plus years ago. But that is now possible again on Twitter with public policy and political advertising. And it makes a difference because these elected officials are looking at it. They’re watching and seeing what’s happening and going on, and so you wanna be at the platform that they’re on.
[00:09:02] And it’s a lot more cost effective to do than that, than try and advertise to everyone that’s gonna be watching Super Bowl Sunday and like hope you get the elected officials that are also gonna be watching as well. So I want to come back to my question about hierarchy. So at the top of the hierarchy, Billboards in front of the windows of representatives, number one.
[00:09:23] What is number? In person meetings. Um, and I think that that is something that very much got lost in Covid. Um, members of Congress did love to do zoom meetings cuz they could be many more places at once, much more efficiently. But there is something about sitting next to someone in person explaining your story, saying, I traveled to Washington or the state capitol from whatever county or state it may.
[00:09:51] And giving that pitch and, and giving that conversation. I think the third one that I would put out there is video. Uh, and this is something that we’re seeing much more cutting edge within the last year and a half, is video story banking. So pulling in and having individual advocates or members or donors record, what does the organization mean to you?
[00:10:11] Why is this policy issue important? How are you being impacted? Buy this change or buy a covid lockdown. And then organizations stringing that together to be able to play to an individual legislator or lawmaker or appointed official and say, let me show you how your constituents are having an impact.
[00:10:28] And it feels really raw when someone’s sitting in their car with a cell phone video and sharing that. And that’s been pretty impactful. I’ve probably put Twitter, um, close to number four. And the reason for that is that we have seen an increase in members of Congress who are personally tweeting themselves on the platform.
[00:10:47] Um, and that’s one of the big things that we’ve expected to happen just as we’ve had both, you know, more younger members of Congress become elected, but also more members adopted. And one of the interesting things from our annual social media report, Is that some of our most prolific tweeters in Congress are actually the older members themselves.
[00:11:04] Um, and so we’re seeing, you know, individuals look towards that example and realize this is the way that you communicate with constituents. And let me tell you, we’ve all used the Twitter app. You know, when you’re mentioned and you know, when you’re talked about. And it’s a little bit along the lines of, you know, what people are saying about you, not behind your back, but on a public town square.
[00:11:22] Like, you’re gonna click on that and see how you’re mentioned and see how you’re being discussed. And so I think that has a huge impact that oftentimes can go overlooked as a way to be able to reach and, and get to a member of Congress. That’s a sort of self-aware sentiment that I’m sure they’re all using tracking applications.
[00:11:41] And last time I dug into this, there are very, you know, smart apps that are, that can be used to track these things and manage messages. And so that’s up there. So it’s interesting because it feels like it, it’s moved up the rank, you know, looking back, we were talking about calls and letters, you know, where, where does that communication medium fall for?
[00:12:01] Yeah, so calls are still key, um, and certainly have an impact. I mean, if you can have a hundred people call a legislative office in a given day, that’s really big. Now the challenge is that staff picks that up, not the member. There are some great stories, a members that’ll occasionally do a little time phone banking and someone calls and suddenly, if they’re a member of Congress on the phone.
[00:12:22] But you know, that’s one in a million um, calls that it happens. And so members do, and I was a congressional intern, you know, get a sheet every day of here are the top issues that we’re called about. And the key piece there is doing it all in one day so that you’re at the top of the list. Because having a hundred people call over a month, you’re gonna have five, six calls a day.
[00:12:40] It’s not gonna be as effective as everyone in one given day. Um, I still think that personalized letters really do have a pretty big impact. Um, and the key piece of it is making sure that they are differentiated and on, you know, slightly different subjects than all form letters on the same thing.
[00:13:00] Because what happens behind the scenes is that members of Congress have constituent management software platforms and they can both pull and collect similar messages together and highlight that. If a message is 50% the same text, batch it all together, write, write one response, and send it. . And yes, the numbers matter, but it’s different than if somebody takes the time and writes a completely customized note.
[00:13:21] You can’t send a form letter to a customized note, and so then you actually have a staffer customizing a message in response, getting that approved and having that happen. Uh, and I really do believe that that starts to change some of the conversation in a congressional office because it can take an issue that no one was previously aware about and suddenly raise it to be top of mind for the office because they’re spending time writing and customized and thoughtful.
[00:13:45] Mm-hmm. . So you would still put Twitter above calls and differentiated, we’ll call them custom letters. So I, the handwritten letter is what might give that a little bit of a run for the money. If you can deliver a handwritten letter to a member, um, that’s pretty valuable. But again, the opportunity with Twitter that exists is you’ve got a chance to reach that elected official or policy influencer directly themselves and differentiate and also catch them in a little bit of downtime.
[00:14:13] Um, and I think that’s the key thing that I would encourage and you know, it helps with both my parents being local elected officials, is they’re people just like, And so members of Congress the same way they’re sitting, waiting for that flight to take off to go home, do they really wanna be sitting there, you know, powering through email?
[00:14:26] No, they’re probably scrolling on Twitter. And are they gonna click on the notifications tab? Of course they are like, we’re all human. Um, but you know, that’s a different experience than if you’re a state legislator and you’re trying to go through email as fast as possible. Like it may not have that same component or piece to it.
[00:14:43] Um, that getting the direct in front of and, and on the Twitter platform. . All right. Any other honorable mentions out there? You know, the, the case for Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, fill in the blank. You know, I won’t talk about Mastodon because I feel like that is a moment in time. Yeah, we’re cer We certainly see some members that are active on Facebook at the congressional level that use it even more than Twitter.
[00:15:10] Um, I think, you know, anecdotally we’ll see more form posts or posts that it feels like come from staffers and are a little less personalized. Um, than Twitter. We, interestingly enough, see more state legislators have Facebook accounts, uh, than Twitter accounts. It’s about 75% have a Facebook account and little over 50% have a Twitter account.
[00:15:33] Uh, and that’s where they do end up using it a little bit differently. But the medium of the platform is just harder of saying, oh, you’re gonna comment on an. Uh, in, you know, sending someone a Facebook message to page, it just doesn’t work the same way that Twitter does. And, and that’s part of, I think, you know, the relevance of Twitter and also where I have to say long term, you know, I am bullish on Twitter continuing to be around because you have all the users and people on it, and it’s designed in a way.
[00:16:03] that is very user friendly and also very personal. That is a, you know, way for an individual to communicate. Whereas I think when you look at some of the other platforms, there are many more uses for them. And so as a result things become harder where, you know, TikTok is not gonna be the best way to, to reach your legislator.
[00:16:19] I mean, are they allowing government officials on TikTok anymore? I know there’s certain bands talked about for, uh, government employees on the platform. Um, namely because China is literally probably used to spy, manipulate popul. Yeah. So I know certainly that’s been talked about for federal, uh, executive branch employees.
[00:16:39] Um, I am not as familiar, um, with the rules that are currently happening in Congress, but realizing is a different branch of government. Oftentimes we will see different rules, um, that are applied to congressional staff. Um, but I don’t have the answer top of mind. Gotcha. Alrighty. I wanna talk about what you’re seeing.
[00:16:59] 2023. In terms of tactical trends, there’s an organization listening right now saying we are, you know, going to be gearing up. There’s the, you know, the new elected officials in office. We’re trying to get our, you know, lobbying and advocacy straight for 2023. What are the types of activities that you see being planned for, that you think are going to be.
[00:17:22] Yeah. So first off, it’s state level, state level, state level, state level. And the reason for that is we now have a divided government here in Washington with Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House. And so the general mood in town is that not a whole lot is going to happen here over the course of the next two years.
[00:17:41] Uh, and where are things gonna happen? Things are gonna happen at the state level because you’ve got state houses. Both on the democratic side and the Republican side, where you have either Republicans or Democrats in complete control of both chambers as well as the governorship that wanna enact policy and want to go, and Bills can move fast and they’re able to do things.
[00:18:01] And so it is incredibly important to have a state level advocacy strategy because there’s both an opportunity for a lot of wins, but also there’s an opportunity to, that you need to be aware and be playing defense because any of your opponents are gonna be really active. on that state level as well. Um, so I think that’s part one.
[00:18:20] Um, part two of that is thinking a little bit about how do you build a thoughtful and engaged advocacy program to succeed in Washington in the long term. Uh, and it’s a pretty exciting time because we’re about to. Start thinking about the 2024 presidential election cycle and also what does Congress look like in 2025 during the next cycle.
[00:18:42] And there’s a world that, you know, we could be back with one party control. There’s a world, we could have a new president and a new administration, and there’s a world that we could still be in divided government, but that as we are ramping up for that, now is the time to be planning those strategies in.
[00:18:56] For 2024. And when talking about strategy, I’m talking about things like voter education. What are the campaigns that you’re gonna be running when everyone’s talking about the presidential election cycle, and how are you helping your advocates and your donors and your employees and your members register to vote, find their polling places?
[00:19:11] There are some super innovative programs that I’ve seen nonprofits do targeting campaign staff. Targeting individuals who are running for president and making sure that they are very known. So one of the most simple ones is just simply to go wear your nonprofit’s t-shirt and go volunteer for a presidential or congressional candidate and make sure they know that on that given day the phone bank is 50 people from this organization.
[00:19:35] They’re gonna notice, and these elected officials and presidential candidates are gonna be way closer to the voters than they are during most times of the year. And then figuring out bigger picture, like how are you gonna position your issues both in the election cycle, but as well as in the presidential cycle?
[00:19:51] So that they’re top of mind when either, you know, the administration is reelected or new congress comes in so that you’re off and running in 2025. And I think it’s really about playing the long game at the federal level. Um, that becomes so important. And then the last thing that I’ll share, Just on thinking about 2023 and the advocacy side is it’s all about integration.
[00:20:11] I think in the past we’ve seen a lot of very siloed efforts and siloed technology platforms. So you use one thing to send things out and you use another thing to do advocacy, and you use another thing for tracking. Um, and it ends up with data being lost, really clunky, lot of time doing downloads and uploads and what we’re seeing both with Quorum as well.
[00:20:34] Other platforms out there is that integration so that you have more one-stop shops and that your data lives together connects together, um, and that you’re able to leverage the full benefits from it.
[00:20:56] I have a random question. Can you explain data, data voter files to me as though I were a seven year?
[00:21:06] Yes. So when you are 18 and you get to register to. You go and give information to your county clerk about where you live, who you are, your age, and that information is compiled in a publicly available record that you are registered to vote, and then that record is accessed by campaigns candidates.
[00:21:37] Policy organizations and advocacy groups, and they can use that very simple information, most notably your home address, to attach a whole series of additional information to you based sometimes on algorithms and sometimes on other anonymized data. So for example, if you give your home address to go. For a hunting magazine, they can tag you as likely interested in hunting.
[00:22:07] And so when you get a mailer from your candidate or uh, elected official that’s talking about the work that they’re doing on access to guns and hunting. You can bet that the person that cares about environmental issues or cares about gun control is not also getting that same mailer, and so it lets a series of both hyper targeting from mail, but also from digital ads occur in an anonymized fashion that protects an individual from being exposed by, or being known for the fact that they subscribe to a hunting magazine and may care about.
[00:22:47] I was wondering, I’ve seen some organizations, you know, when it’s time to jump into the advocacy fray, think that like, step one is I buy this absurdly expensive donor file and then I do the advocacy. I, I, um, I’m curious of what your thoughts are on where that fits in the strategy versus, you know, looking at it from a different lens.
[00:23:14] Yeah, I, I love this question. So I’ve spent this morning with, um, two Quorum customers as we’ve started off the year and done just strategic planning around their advocacy campaigns. And one of the comments from breakfast this morning was that 2015 was the era of buying big lists. And this organization bought a massive list of.
[00:23:37] Suddenly had all these people on their contact program, and now five years later, what they’re seeing is these people aren’t active. Their sending domain and reputation is going down. People aren’t engaging because they never signed up and never wanted to be a part of it. And so that era of big list buying and just adding people in is over.
[00:23:57] It is all about having a trusted brand or trusted network of communication of someone that you know. And getting individuals to take action through that. And one of my favorite examples of this, uh, is American Airlines, uh, a company that I am, uh, quite a big fan of as being a frequent flyer. Uh, but they’re also phone to action customer.
[00:24:21] And about four or five years ago when they were facing some of the challenges with air traffic control staffing and the f AA funding and where we gonna have enough air traffic controllers, they sent out an advocacy alert to all their frequent flyers, myself included saying, You don’t wanna have longer waits on the tarmac.
[00:24:38] We need to fully fund the f a and expand the number of controllers. And so suddenly you have all these frequent flyers saying, of course I’m in. Take action, write my member of Congress. And it elevates that issue. And so for organizations out there, My encouragement for you is you have to start by looking at who’s on your existing list, who are your most engaged donors, advocates, event participants, individuals who are involved, and use that list to start your advocacy program and then slowly recruit people beyond that because it’s about the quality that matters and not the quantity.
[00:25:10] And it goes back to behind the scenes of what the Congress. To see if you have a ton of people that don’t really care, just sending and clicking a form letter, it has nowhere near the same impact as someone who really does care, taking even just two minutes to write what they personally care about. And so that’s where, you know, unlike 2015, you shouldn’t feel this pressure that, oh my God, I need to send 10,000 messages because 10,000 messages that say the same thing.
[00:25:34] ops is just shrug. And I’m like, yep, I’ve seen this before. But sending a hundred messages that are all different and super customized, like that’s really impactful at the end of the day. And then ideally, you’re having your in-person advocacy team go up and talk to the members and re-share those messages and say, let me tell you about your constituent who’s facing this issue.
[00:25:54] Yeah. I think that’s, that’s helpful. I love you saying it was such a 2015 moment. It’s clearly burned into your mind as you led up to the presidential elections. I. , you know, the, the expenditure on that. And the interesting thing is, you know, you’re, I, I dunno what the going rate is, but it’s tens of thousands of dollars depending on what you’re getting, but you’re not getting the permission to communicate.
[00:26:14] And, and I think that’s what you’re hinting at. And when you burn through that list, you are also hurting your digital reputation. You know, ending up on, on many, uh, do not send lists and ultimately the goal was missed. Um, and so what, what are some int. Planning in terms of spending, like, you know, clearly everyone will get quorum, , uh, right.
[00:26:38] But, you know, in terms of the, the outreach, what, you know, is it buying Twitter ads? That seems like, uh, an opportunity, is it spending to build up my list? Am I trying to do petitions, promote petitions? What is the, the tactic then if, if you’re not buying. but earning it. Yeah, so the most easy one that we go to is Facebook Lead Ads, because Facebook still has a series of targeting that you can get pretty specific in terms of individuals with interest that you’re looking for, as well as individuals that are in a given region or area that you can then connect.
[00:27:14] Through to an advocacy webpage. Uh, and so that by far is the default for organizations that are really actively looking to grow their lists and looking to invest. But I will also just go back to my big challenge is before you look externally, look internally and what are the options with your internal events and internal lists to be able to grow your pool of advocates.
[00:27:38] And what I often see happen with nonprofits is the advocacy team. Siloed in a given area that says, oh, well that’s your database, that’s your list. You figure out how to grow it. And the organization is sitting on a list that is way bigger and way larger for their major trade association or major individual impact summit or movement.
[00:27:57] But it says, oh no, you can’t use that list to do advocacy. And I think one of the key message. To share and highlight is that advocacy can be helpful in building a more robust relationship with your members, donors, individual participants, because they’re looking for ways to be involved. And I think so often what you get is fundraising teams who go, oh, well, don’t even ask our donors for anything.
[00:28:19] We’re already asking them to give money every year. But if you’re just asking, give money, you’re sitting there saying, well, what’s my connection? Why am I here giving resources and dollars to it? I don’t feel like I’m helping. I want to be more. And so as you can have a donor who gives money and say, oh, thank you for it.
[00:28:35] Would you be willing also help us out and take action? There’s more of an attachment, more connections, and so you can build on the ladders of engagement and actually end up with, you know, larger donations, more frequent donations, and people who see the work and connection that they’re funding. Rather than just get hit up for a check every single year.
[00:28:53] I think the inverse of that too is also your grassroots advocates are the best people to identify future donors from. Because asking someone to go and write a hundred dollars check, like that’s a big ask. Asking someone for two minutes of their time to click a couple buttons and write their member of Congress, that’s easier.
[00:29:09] And so the challenge that I would give to any of the organizations listening, Is what percent of your grassroots advocates are donating and how do you help increase that percentage? And what I think you’re gonna find is, is that very few organizations turn around and actually solicit the grassroots advocates because the advocacy teams are sitting in their silos saying, oh, well we don’t wanna ask them to donate money.
[00:29:28] Like we’re trying to get them to do advocacy. And really what we’re seeing is the best organizations are connecting the two and making it part of a cohesive engagement.
[00:29:40] final. Uh, thank you for sharing that. It’s, you know, helpful to see your framing on it. I’m now curious, you know, we’re talking about grassroots advocacy communication, and it’s not one size fits all. I feel like when we last talked, we were in peak moments of what I will call rage politic, right? Ra ra rage messaging was all the rage.
[00:30:04] I, I, I’ll go out on one and say, what? , what do you look for in terms of tactics, guidance, advice, approaches for getting people to care when clearly, uh, we are, we’re even postig of political messaging at this point, so I think one, you have to make it relevant to them. Uh, people are not as interested to be stirred up or responded in, uh, Aggravated per se based on whatever the issue is on left or right, because certainly there are people there that feel that way and feel really passionately.
[00:30:44] But you also have a whole series of people that just wanna go about their lives that aren’t thinking about what’s happening. The state capitol aren’t thinking about what’s happening in Washington, and honestly probably don’t even know the names of the individuals that represent them. And so the challenge for most organizations, Is, how do you phrase the messaging in a way that gets at those people who are in the middle, who and are, who are often on the sidelines.
[00:31:08] And I go back to that American Airlines example, and there’s many others. If you have to make it directly relevant to them of, Hey, your life is going to be impacted because of this. And that’s how you get some of the most passionate and engaged stories. Because what you end up hearing is saying, Hey, if I’m sitting on the tarmac for another three hours, I’m not home playing with my kids and I already have to travel.
[00:31:28] X number of days a week. This is the personal impact that it has on me. That’s the story that you want to tell the member of Congress, not the story around government funding and whether we should spend more money or less money on the f aa and how that impacts the federal debt. Um, because it comes down of that.
[00:31:43] They wanna hear the personal stories and that’s what moves. And so making clear that individuals know, you know, what is the impact for them, and making that as hyper-relevant as possible, I think leads to both the best advocacy outcomes and also the most effective. . Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Making it practical, bringing it to your backyard, you know, the sort of act local and is what you started off by saying, which is , the state.
[00:32:08] The state, state, you know, is acting in your backyard. Um, super helpful. Anything else that you wanna share regarding Quorum Cool Tactics, uses of the platform that are. I, the big one I just go back to is this is the year of integration, the year of one stop shop, and it’s time to get your data working for you.
[00:32:31] Um, and both, some of that runs through the work that we’re doing is we work to string together, pack information, advocacy, legislative tracking, and have that sync. But it also comes to just simply donor databases and is your donor database talking to your email platform, talking to your fundraising tools, talking to your grassroots advocacy tools, and getting all the information from those back in a, you know, circular motion so that you can learn from it and apply more analytics and information.
[00:32:55] This is something that was really probably cutting edge as we think 5, 6, 7 years ago. But now is the time to make it happen. And we’re seeing a lot more organizations make changes to their technology stacks to reflect that we’re in 2023 and the technology is out there. It is possible to do, but it’s really comes down to a matter of having both the willpower.
[00:33:20] As well as the encouragement to know that now is the time and that you don’t have to be a trailblazer to go and, and make that happen. Um, and so I would just encourage folks to really think about that because as you think about 2024 and the advocacy opportunities coming presidential election cycle, like that’s the time when you need your tools to be the most effective they possibly can be.
[00:33:40] And so take the time this year to go make those investments and make those changes, uh, to be your, put yourself in a position, uh, for. . Well, thanks for that. All right, we’re gonna move into some rapid fire here. Please keep your responses brief and interesting. , what is one tech tool or website that you or your organization has started using in last year?
[00:34:04] So we finally started using a chat bot on our website to engage with people who were coming to the website. Uh, we were late on this, um, from a B2B perspective, and many of you have probably been to websites looking to buy and see the little chat bot pop up. But we’ve seen a whole new series of engagements, conversions, and people that wouldn’t normally just fill out a form on the website that we’ve captured through the chatbot.
[00:34:29] And so my kind of out there challenge to the listeners on this podcast is what would it look like to put a chatbot on your website? Who would you wanna try and engage with? What information would you wanna capture and can you get more people added to your organization’s list or engaged than you could from just a standard email sign up?
[00:34:47] I think we’ve seen a lot of B2B uses for it, but I don’t think we’ve seen as many advocacy nonprofit and even B2C uses for it, and that there’s a lot of low hanging fruit there, especially with the new AI coming out. As you know, as much as you wanna trust a pre-trained AI to answer on behalf of your organization, uh, is a good point though.
[00:35:07] tech issues. You are battl. Yeah, so we just bought Capital Canary, doubled in size overnight and literally had two of every system. Now, sometimes they were the same system in that we had two instances of Salesforce. Sometimes they were totally different. We had an instance of churn zero and an interest of Gainsight.
[00:35:25] For our customer software, uh, we have HubSpot and we have Marketo. And so we are currently in the middle of a major, major push to both select go forward systems and integrate so that we’re operating as a combined business. And the advice and kind of mandate that I gave our team is that we don’t wanna be Southwest Airlines.
[00:35:45] When you look at the challenges Southwest ran into at the end of December of 2022, they have not upgraded their technology yet the way that they need to. And so you saw a massive meltdown as a result of it. And I think that all organizations need to take a moment and just look within and say, do we have the technology infrastructure that we need to scale as we look to grow and expand our operations, or even keep the operations going right now?
[00:36:09] Because the, you know, if Southwest Airlines is culpable of not having the technology, I know that there’s a lot of organizations out there that may be looking and saying, yeah, my tech really isn’t working for me, so we’re up to our next, just because of combining two businesses together and doing it. But I’m really excited because I know we’re gonna come out stronger with more advanced tech than if we hadn’t done the combination.
[00:36:32] What is coming in the next year that has you the most? Yeah, so we’re launching a brand new pack product to help pack professionals run, manage, and distribute contributions from their pack. It’s gonna be the first new software in the market in 20 years, and so we both have an incredible amount of excitement to come into a market that just has not seen a whole lot of innovation.
[00:36:56] And also we have customers that are really. Excited about for what that’s going, uh, to bring. And then for us, it’s the last leg of the stool on the integrated product strategy of finally putting together federal and state legislative tracking, grassroots advocacy, impact management at one place. So that’s certainly gonna be, uh, a highlight for us.
[00:37:16] Can you talk about a mistake that you made earlier in your career that shapes the way you do things? So the biggest business mistake that I’ve made is signing a new office lease in downtown DC where I sit now. Uh, and I share this because I think organizations really need to think differently about both their office space and their work strategy.
[00:37:39] We signed this lease three months into Covid, so probably. Uh, probably a year or so after we last talked and, um, you know, we were focused in betting on a rebound of coming together and coming back to the office. We now have a fully remote development team, and about 35% of our team is fully remote and lives outside of dc And even for the folks that live in DC people are not coming into the office the same extent that they normally do.
[00:38:05] Now, luckily as a company we doubled in size, and so the amount that we’re paying is a small percentage of our overall budget each year. But still, when you sit in 28,000 square feet of office space and have 30, 40 people coming in, you realize that is this really the best use of money? And is this also no longer is the way that you engage, retrain, uh, at attract and, you know, help, uh, skill and motivate team members, uh, because it’s a whole new world.
[00:38:35] Uh, and so I really think that both has changed the way that I look at the world, both of how we operate as an employer in an organization. But also, you know, I was even in a board meeting, um, earlier this week of folks that are planning to renew their office and, you know, thinking really is that the best sentence?
[00:38:52] And looking at what are the other options? What can you do with less space? Can you do more flexible working? And that the way of working as much as I loved it or others may have that we’ve done for the last 50 years has completely changed with the pandemic and that we’ve gotta adapt our strategies to that.
[00:39:10] do you believe that nonprofits can successfully go out of. . Absolutely. So one of the things that we initially met through do something.org, uh, which is just an incredible organization, uh, working on efforts and getting more young people engaged in making a difference. And one of the things that I think do something really framed for me is this ideal of social impact and doing it in a way that.
[00:39:38] Funded by organizations that are looking to make a difference or by donors, um, that are looking to achieve a particular outcome that’s clearly measured. And I think the same way that businesses can go out of business, if they’re not consumers that are willing to pay for it or customers that are interested in the service.
[00:39:56] Uh, nonprofits should be able to successfully go out of business either because, one, they’ve solved the problem and so there’s no more need to pay for that individual code or service. Or two. I think it’s also okay to. And look at the number of startups out there that have tried to do successful things and the number that fail as a result of that.
[00:40:15] Um, and even with that, it’s clear that hey, there’s not a market or need to it. And I think the trap sometimes that, uh, smaller organizations, even larger organizations, can fall in of what, we’re a big institution. We’re here, the donors keep funding it, and so let’s keep finding things that we can keep getting more donations.
[00:40:32] The push that I would say is, are you really making an impact at the end of the. And one of the clearest ways to do that is if someone is willing to pay dollars or services or time for what you’re doing, even if it’s a small amount, because that gives an indication that you know what you’re doing is, is successful.
[00:40:48] And then the best ones, uh, you’re eventually gonna run it out of that because hopefully you’ve solved your individual problem. How did you get started in the social impact sector? So I was involved, uh, in local youth advisory boards. Uh, I served on the Santa Fe Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, uh, and eventually chaired it for two years and gave me really a chance to start thinking bigger and broader around the community.
[00:41:13] And then realized that there was a whole series of opportunities to work with organizations that informed youth advisory boards do something. Dot org was one of those, uh, and had the chance to be on the do something youth advisory board. Uh, and then I sat there thinking about it and saying, look, we’ve got a whole series of governors, a whole series of members of Congress that have youth advisory councils.
[00:41:29] Why doesn’t the president, uh, have one? And so I ran a campaign for probably four or five years to try and get a presidential youth council. Uh, we got this close, but ultimately, uh, we’re not successful. With it. But what it really taught me was how to start and run an organization. How do you get people signed on?
[00:41:48] How do you delegate tasks? How do you put a website up? How do you send out email updates? Uh, basically everything but a whole ton on the financial side. Uh, and what I realized is that social entrepreneurship was one of the best lessons that I could have ever wished for, for doing actual entrepreneurship because as we were founding and launching the company, it felt really familiar and it was something that I’d.
[00:42:09] You know, a couple of years before, just in the social side for the Presidential Youth Council. Yeah. It’s funny, I rare aside that, yeah, it is how we met. I’m getting flashbacks. I don’t know if I was directly running it at that point, but I do recall at one point it might do something career, uh, needing to arrange a bunch of kids coming to New York, going to and from hotels to our office.
[00:42:31] I don’t know if you were part of that adventure when I was running it, but that was pretty funny. Yeah, I remember it. , I’m glad I didn’t lose you in the , the subway. Uh, alright. If I could put you in a hot tub time machine back to the beginning of your work, what advice would you give?
[00:42:54] So I think one of the hardest pieces is you have to be prepared to give things up. And there’s a great article called Giving Away Your Legos. Um, but you have to train yourself and learn that you have to constantly be pushing and giving things to other people as you grow and scale. . And that’s really hard because when you’re a small organization, you have all the Legos and you know, the Legos are super, super fun to play with.
[00:43:20] But as you scale more and more Legos start falling on your plate and you have to start giving away your favorite Legos and that you can no longer send the emails or collect the invoices or spend all the time with customers or do these items and you need a team around that has their own Legos that they’re playing with.
[00:43:35] But all those have to start with you. And so I think one of the most challenging lessons is we’ve scaled. Is learning, okay, how do you give away your favorite Lego set and say, I’m no longer involved in doing that, or I’m not gonna go do X. And that’s a really core part of scaling that I think founders definitely struggle with because you care, you’re passionate, you’re engaged, uh, and I think also applies for individuals, even if you didn’t found organizations.
[00:44:00] What are you doing that you can give your new team member that just joined or be able to delegate or give back to someone else to let you really spend time focusing on the things that matter the most? Uh, and that’s been one of the most helpful framing things that we’ve learned over our eight and a half years of doing this.
[00:44:16] That’s so funny. There’s part of my brain that’s saying Absolutely right. , you have to eve away tho those types of things. And the other part of me is saying, I don’t want to give away my Legos. I think there is, you know, speaking to somebody who’s approaching a decade of work in the organization, I think there are some Legos that I will say you have to hold onto because it fuels you in some part, because otherwise you’re just left with all the little gray pieces that don’t really match or anything.
[00:44:37] And you’re like, these Legos stink. I don’t like this Jack. So I’ll put an asterisk on that. Alrighty, . Very fair. . What is, what is something you think you or your organization should stop? Uh, the number of meetings that we have. I am a big believer in the book time, talent, energy, and I think the shocking thing that the book starts out of is you have all these organizations, many listeners too, who have large finance departments that are really concerned when you go spend a hundred or a thousand dollars on something and all the approvals that are involved.
[00:45:13] Well, most organizations’, largest expense is the salary. For their headcount, and each individual each hour of the day has a cost associated with it. But yet, so often you see, oh, let’s put 10 people in a meeting, and suddenly you’re looking around and you’re running a $500 or a thousand dollars meeting.
[00:45:31] And most organizations, including ours, Don’t have a whole series of protocols in place that limit the number of meetings or put standards around meetings the same way that you have to get your expense report approved or a budget approved. And so I certainly would love to see us reduce the number of meetings, reduce the number of people in meetings, and be more intentional about when we get together.
[00:45:52] But it is a fight that I’ve fought for many years and it is a challenge because we as humans wanna socialize. Wanna see each other and default to that, and also wanna be inclusive, and so add more and more people and suddenly you’ve got 15 boxes on a Zoom screen and it ends up being a pretty significant cost to the organization.
[00:46:13] What advice did your parents give you that you either followed or didn’t follow? I love, I love this question. So, when I first told my mom, uh, that I was going to start a startup at Quorum to track what was happening on Capitol Hill, uh, her immediate response is she goes, oh, well that sounds like a nice thing to do between college and graduate school.
[00:46:34] Rest assured, both my parents are lawyers that would’ve loved for me to have gone to law school. Um, I did not have the opportunity to go to graduate school. I’m very happy to be here in growing the business. Uh, and so that, uh, immediately comes to mind because look, founding a company, Or a social, uh, impact effort or a nonprofit can be scary and you’ve gotta jump off and have confidence.
[00:46:56] And if you spend enough time working towards it and iterating, you will eventually get there, even if it’s not the idea that you started on. If I were to hand you a magical wand wave across the social impact sector, what would it do? So for us, we’re always interested in more government data, more information published online, more information in machine readable form, and more transparency, uh, that happens every day, uh, on both state governments and, and the political process.
[00:47:27] I think there’s a ton of opportunities at the state government level of just being able to pull in much more information around the individual proceedings on the floor amendments, agendas, and committee hearings. Some state governments have individual transcripts of what’s happening on the floor and committee sessions, and so there is huge opportunity, but oftentimes we’ll see government organizations trying to hold it back where they don’t want to give too much information to the public.
[00:47:51] They don’t want to invite too much participation, and so that’s the big area that I would love to take a magic wand and just fix that and make the government more accessible. What advice would you give college grads looking to enter the social impact? So my big advice would be go follow your passions.
[00:48:12] Go do the thing that you are most excited about doing, and that gets you up every day, even if it is not the given chosen path or the one that might be most exciting. And it’s really interesting. Well, that most exciting, but most financially rewarding. When I look at my college classmates now, about eight years out, the ones that really went out and followed their passions, did the most risky things that at the time we graduated.
[00:48:38] You said, well, why aren’t you going to take the really high paying. Consultant or financial job or going to law school and doing the traditional thing. Um, those are the folks that I think are both most successful and most fulfilled currently in their careers. And that is something that when you are leaving college at a given and current moment, you have this pressure of where everyone else is making high salaries and going to, you know, go work in business or go work in Wall Street or going to go do X or Y and a big encouragement that you will.
[00:49:09] Financial success, you will find fulfillment. You will find what’s right. It might take you a little while to get there, but your twenties are the time to do that. And so use that time to explore because you’ll end up with just a much more fulfilling career and you’ll have more opportunities to pivot within it than say you will, you know, going into one of the more traditional paths.
[00:49:29] Well, Alex, thank you so much. Final question. How do people find you? How do people. Yeah, so we’re super easy. Um, quorum.us. My email’s just Alex quorum us. Uh, more than happy to be helpful. So if you’re looking at your nonprofit technology and just want someone to talk to, certainly happy to bounce ideas off.
[00:49:48] Uh, if you’re figuring out your advocacy strategy for next year or looking for advocacy software, we’re certainly here. Uh, and happy to talk and in general, you know, looking to be able to give back to the community because I think it’s so important that we help each other and realize that there’s a lot of advice, uh, and favors and help that we’ve been given over the years.
[00:50:04] That’s let us build the company, uh, and looking to see more people do that with NGOs, social impact movements, uh, and startups. Uh, thanks for the work you’re doing in the sector. We appreciate it and good luck this year. Awesome. Thanks so much for having me on, George.