DSA has been growing steadily, but that growth went into turbo from October 1 to November 14, 2020, during DSA’s first-ever national recruitment drive. Membership soared 14,852 in six weeks.
DSA’s National Growth & Development Committee (GDC) led the drive, using technology-assisted people power. Its basic instrument was an online pledge. Individual DSA members pledged to recruit three new members and then received a unique referral link to track those they signed up. Chapters committed to grow by 10% and designated one or two captains to lead the effort. Captains phone-banked and text-banked chapter member lists to recruit individual pledgers, and organized online recruitment events.
An online leaderboard allowed individuals and chapters to find out whether their contacts had followed through to become members, and to see in real time who were DSA’s top-recruiting individuals and chapters. GDC leaders—together with DSAer New York State Assembly member Jabari Brisport—kicked off the drive with online trainings on how to make the ask.
Tim Zhu, a union data specialist and member of Metro DC DSA, developed the campaign’s outline in June, and worked with the National Political Committee and staff to prepare it for launch. Three weeks in, the campaign had blasted past its 5,000 goal, so the goal was raised to 8,000 and the deadline extended a week. By November 14, DSA counted 12,847 brand new members and 2,005 lapsed members who renewed.
It was election season, and DSA was growing, so how many of the new members were the direct result of recruitment? Zhu thinks at least half. Some 4,687 new or rejoining members used the referral links, and others who were contacted joined directly at dsausa.org. In absolute terms, the chapters that had the most tracked signups were NYC (602), LA (344), DC (264), Chicago (200), and Philadelphia (160). But proportionally, DSA saw the largest gains in its Southern chapters, biggest of all in Charleston, Southwest Louisiana, New Orleans, and San Antonio.
“One thing the recruitment drive really shows is that our ideas are popular all across the country,” says Charleston DSA co-facilitator Nick Rubin. “If we make the ask and organize, we can build a presence even in places some people don’t expect.”
Charleston phone-banked its entire membership of about 180 and texted or emailed those they didn’t reach. The chapter had worked in coalition with other groups, so inviting allies to join was a logical next step. The chapter gained 34 new members and doubled the number of active members, says Charleston DSA communications secretary Jasmine Rogasner.
SW Louisiana DSA added 19 members to the roughly 60 it had at the starting line. Drive captain Megan Romer says the chapter had built a reputation locally for its disaster relief work. Now she and others pushed outside comrades to “put a ring on it.”
“I think there’s a cultural attitude of ‘We don’t want to pressure people.’ But people need to be asked. Read your Jane McAlevey!” Romer says.
Meanwhile, on the leaderboard, a comradely competition broke out among individual pledgers around the country to see who could bring in the most new members.
That title went to Janet Hurtado of Los Angeles, who recruited 122 new members. Her secret? “I just ask, wherever I’m at,” Hurtado said. “There’s no other way to do it.”
Hurtado says she recruited among neighbors, at the store, and especially among the volunteers she met as a field organizer for the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign.
Super-recruiter Mindy Isser of Philadelphia DSA was a close second, bringing in 120 new members. Isser used the same strategy she employs as a union organizer: Ask everyone possible—in the most direct way—and follow up with those who commit.
“If you can, ask in person,” Isser said. “If you can’t ask in person, ask by phone. And only if you can’t ask by phone, ask by text. Calling people makes people take it more seriously.”
Recruitment by the Numbers
- 2,165 DSA members signed the pledge to recruit three new members
- 1,004 pledgers successfully recruited at least one new member
- 433 pledgers hit their three-member goal
- 4,335 new members, plus 352 lapsed members, joined via individual referral links
- 88 chapters appointed one or more captains
- 122 members served as chapter captains
- 179 chapters grew by at least 10%
- 12,847 brand new members joined during the drive
- 2,005 lapsed members renewed
- 14,852 total membership growth