Building MOMentum: Lessons in online to field organizing: An Engage conversation with Sarah Francis, Campaign Director

Born in 2006, has quickly grown into a powerful political force. pushes for positive change on a diverse range of issues that matter to moms and families, such as health care, immigration, gun reform and affordable, high-quality child care. With over a million members across every single state in the US, has been central to big wins on issues such as health care reform and maternity leave.

You might remember’s cheeky Diaper-O-Grams back in 2010: diapers decorated with messages delivered to Congress from MomsRising members with statements like, “We need a change!” and, “The insurance industry’s practices stink!” Or you may have seen members of Congress wearing baby pacifier lapel pins during the 2009 battle for health care reform — allowing Congress members to demonstrate that they would stand up for families and, ‘not be pacified!’

How has managed to engage Moms from across the political spectrum both online and on the ground and exponentially expand their impact? Campaign Director Sarah Francis gives us the lowdown on’s special sauce.

Building MOMentum

Sarah Francis has a large target audience — there are currently over 85 million moms in the United States. “New moms are suddenly faced with all these issues from education and health care to affordable child care and paid maternity and paternity leave,” explains Francis. “We held a event in Washington State where we went around the room and asked everyone: “What is the biggest issue you face as a Mom? And they rattled off everything that campaigns on: maternity leave, affordable health care and child care, live-able wages, education. We shared what we do at — and the power that we all have when we come together.

Moms are incredibly busy.  That’s why we make sure we have a strong theory of change behind all of our engagement efforts. If you can give people a clear theory of change, it really empowers them to do something on issues they care about.    They get really fired up!”

Storytelling lessons

Momsrising members sharing their experiences right across the country.

Getting members to share their experiences is a key component of’s success. “Asking members to share apersonal experience on a specific issue is one of our key avenues of engagement,” explains Francis. We work with a few storytellers on each campaign, give them a  media training, and then we highlight them in national and online media, and connect them directly with members of congress. This approach has been incredibly successful in terms of both member engagement and media exposure,” says Francis.

“And there is something really interesting we’ve learned. We’re much more successful when we ask someone to “share their experience” rather than to “share their story”. We think it’s because ‘story’ sounds like a novel, a big deal — it’s kind of intimidating and they’re just an average person. We’ll get maybe a 3% response rate if we ask people to share their ‘story’. If we ask them to shares their ‘experiences’ instead, we’ll get almost double that — a response rate of around 5.6%.”

Online to Field Engagement

Francis explains that has had huge success with using staff members’ personal email addresses in auto responders to petition signers. It’s been a way of starting meaningful dialogue with members. She also talks us through use of fun events and webinars as a key means of engaging members.

“Basically, we send out an email saying: “Sign this petition because they’re trying to cut quality health care,” says Francis. “Once they sign the petition we always put one of our personal email addresses as the return address. And we make the auto responder super casual like, “Hey Marianne, thank you so much for taking action, your voice is joining thousands of other voices and together we can make a massive impact on this issue.” And then that, by itself, has been enough to start email conversations. Because unlike the impersonal autoresponder that most people are used to getting, you have contact with a real person. People often respond right back and share their stories, or say something like, “Yes! I’m so angry about that!” We keep the dialogue open and get on the phone with them and offer people chances to get involved and tell their stories and move forward from there.”

“We found one of our biggest volunteer leaders, Hillary, that way. She’s become an unbelievable leader on early learning in Washington State. Hillary’s organized parents and testified before the legislature. She brings her two young children, which is wonderful. In North Carolina Beth is another outstanding member who came to us on a similar engagement path. She has gone out and gotten grants in North Carolina. She is a super powerful woman. Our members are so incredibly inspiring.”

Using resource webinars and phone calls in addition to email

Webinars have been a key to engaging members. has been great at finding creative new ways to get members engaged with the organization, such as direct phone calls and engaging webinars on topics of interest to Moms. Francis talks us through key components of’s engagement infrastructure.

“For reaching out to rural areas, phone calls and email have been really important,” comments Francis. “We also use webinars because moms don’t have that much time or flexibility to travel. I’m running one this Sunday about brain development and language in young babies — stuff that moms are interested in. And we always do it early in the morning on Saturdays or Sundays — which is usually a good time for moms — and you can still be in your PJs! We end each webinar with a legislative update on how or moms and families are affected by policy. And then we invite them to brainstorm how we can get our leaders to understand these issues — and we get the best ideas! The idea for our “Power of Onesies” campaign came from volunteers, and we’ve had rock concerts in state capital buildings. After these webinars people are energized and excited and things grow from there.”

Keeping members engaged

How does keep their members engaged and growing? According to Francis, “We don’t try to keepmembersengaged. Moms lives are super busy and constantly changing. Their time is incredibly valuable, so we work to engage people on campaign-specific things. We identify the key moments that members voices will matter and engage them at that moment. Because Mom’s are super busy, most don’t have the time and energy to dedicate their lives to a months long campaign. Some Moms will be involved in more than one campaign, and some won’t. And we trust that on each new campaign, there will be enough new people who care and get engaged that the campaign will be successful.

Lessons learnt is constantly seeking to evolve and grow — which means continually testing campaign strategies, tactics and communication infrastructure with members and target audiences and adapting organizational practices depending on the results. Testing different member responses to being asked to share their personal “experience” rather than their “story” is a great example of careful, creative testing and iteration, with significant results — almost doubling member responses. These results are of particular interest as in the non-profit sector at large, encouraging members to share personal stories and narratives is all the rage right now. Testing different terminology may mean that other organizations can also benefit from larger and more diverse member engagement.

Another key element to’s success has been the organizations ability to meet and adapt to the needs and interests of its members. Whether that is holding webinars on early child learning, making events child friendly or recognizing the busy lives that Moms lead and only calling on them to take part at pivotal moments in a campaign. has a deep knowledge of how best to both serve its membership base, and use that base to maximum impact.

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