Campaigning With Tinderox
During my year of Minnesota political work, I relied on Tinderbox every day. Some notes on what I did, and how it worked, might be useful to others embarking on projects like this one.
- I kept my use of Tinderbox very simple. Everyone says this; the Tinderbox forum is filled with disclaimers that begin, “I only use a tiny fraction of Tinderbox.” But I mean it. What I wanted was a list of volunteers, and I tried hard to resist spending any time at all on automation unless I was certain that automation would save time soon.
- Having a list of volunteers helps a lot. One day, you have six people and you’re pretty sure that using a computer is silly. Tomorrow, you have twelve and it’s less silly. Next week, you have three volunteers named Madison and you can’t keep anything straight.
- I kept the notes simple. Name goes into the note name. Email goes into $Email, and cell phone number goes into $Telephone. I used $Text to record email discussions — especially places where volunteers described their strongest abilities.
- Campaign volunteers bring lots of talent; we need to do a better job at using it.
- I started with a document that was one big list for MN-02. When my responsibility grew to encompass the other Minnesota districts, I made a second document with containers for the other districts. This was a mistake. I was constantly opening both documents, and I frequently found myself in the wrong one.
- Even in a tiny database that’s this simple, representation is a problem. How do you handle people who want to work in several districts? (Answer: I made two notes. Aliases would have been good, but MN-02 was a different document.)
- I didn’t use links enough. One good use of links, though, was to connect spouses and other people who volunteer as a team.
- I should have used the map more to build internal teams with complementary skills and interests. There’s never enough time.
- I used key words in the text to assign people to teams and task forces. For example, “chef” assigned you to Team Food. Agents then gathered the team members together for reference and for easy mailing. I should have used $Tags for this. I have no idea why I didn’t.
- I used agents and HTML export to compile mailing lists and dossiers for district leaders and team leads. This worked well; everyone wanted different data and different formats, but that was easy to arrange.
- I took a familiarization trip to Minnesota for the primary week and used a special container to keep track of all the meetings and events I arranged, both for myself and for my boss. This began as a list of People To Contact, evolved into a correspondence list, and then eventually mutated into a day-by-day schedule. I covered 1200 miles, met lots of volunteers, and somehow managed to get to all the meetings. This is not a task I’m accustomed to, so managing it competently was a big deal.
- I had a container of Tasks To Do. Because I seldom got them done, I couldn’t bear to open it.
- My boss wanted detailed weekly reports. That, too, worked nicely in Tinderbox. I made those reports as single notes, adding an entry for each new action or decision. Adding a new note would have been better practice, but this worked fine.
- All in all, I had 595 notes and about 50,000 words on Election Day. I don’t think that’s enough — I was a lazy notetaker — but it’s 1.63 notes/day.