Des Moines recap

March 22, 2019

Last month, we hosted 150 aspiring campaign staffers in Iowa for our first-ever Arena Academy.

Read on to catch up on what happened. Then, consider donating to support the Arena Academy scholarship fund. In 2019, we plan to train 1,000 campaign staffers in person and 5,000 online. We can only do that with your support.

Why Arena Academy?

If we want to win in 2020, we need more and better campaign teams. But for far too long, progressives have underinvested in campaign talent. This has led to poor retention of campaign staff, dependency on consultants, burn out, and brain drain.

Don’t just take our word for it. In our 2018 election debrief survey, which was completed by 82 staff across 62 campaigns nationwide, 92% of campaign managers named staff management or hiring as their biggest challenge. This data is backed up by the Pipeline Initiative’s comprehensive 2018 report, which concluded that the supply of staff training was alarmingly short of demand, at significant cost to our electoral chances.

This is why we launched Arena Academy, a best-in-class training program for political professionals.

Who joined us in Des Moines?

We hosted our first Academy in Des Moines, Iowa just a few weeks ago. Attendees ranged from a teacher from Warsaw, North Carolina, a UPS franchisee from Royal Oak, Michigan, to a manager of the hit Broadway show Hamilton. We welcomed parents, political newcomers, and former staffers looking to level up their skills.

Applications were submitted by 712 people for just 150 seats. Participants traveled from 27 states plus Washington, D.C. They also represented the diversity of our country: 56% of attendees identified as women, 42% as men, and 2% as non-binary, transgender, or preferred not to say. 51% of our attendees identified as people of color. We were proud to offer full scholarships to 51% of accepted applicants, and 70% of the scholarship recipients identify as people of color.

What did they learn?

We built a training program that draws inspiration from training models inside and outside of the political space. Our curriculum is experiential, immersive, and practical. The Management Action Center led a full-day of management training, covering topics ranging from hiring and firing to delegation and feedback. Analyst Institute presented the latest insights emerging from field experiments across capacity-building, persuasion, and GOTV. Dr. Kira Banks led all participants through an unconscious bias training, and all were trained on cyber-security basics.

This Academy offered training tracks for five roles: Campaign Manager, Finance Director, Communications Director, Organizing Director, and Organizer. Trainings were conducted by the best in the industry, on hard and soft skills relevant to their discipline. EMILY’s List brought their time-tested Finance Director training to Iowa, and DeJuana Thompson from WokeVote spoke to her extensive experience in organizing. Two senior staff members for 2020 Presidential candidates, Emily Parcell with Senator Warren’s campaign and Emmy Ruiz from Senator Harris’ campaign, joined us to offer their leadership advice to prospective campaign managers.

The week culminated in the Arena Cup, where participants joined interdisciplinary teams to build mock campaign plans based on real districts. Teams presented their plans to panels of judges, and one team was celebrated as the inaugural Arena Cup Champions.

And Alexander Nazaryan from Yahoo News joined us to cover the Academy. Check out the story.

How did it go?

We asked all participants to fill out both pre- and post-surveys to measure competencies they developed over the week. Attendees overwhelmingly left with increased confidence in core skills within their concentration.

What are Academy alums saying?

“Feeling really excited about potentially working in this field. I applied for Arena after making the decision to leave the organization I founded…Arena really energized me and reminded me how much I love communications work.”

“The speakers/session leads were amazing because of their levels of experience, and their ability to provide real life, recent examples to help us put our knowledge in a greater context.”

“I expected to learn a lot (and I learned more than I imagined) and meet people, but I didn’t truly grasp how phenomenal the people and environment would be. I feel so ready for my next steps largely because of the people around me.”

“Spent a few wonderful, immersive days at Arena Academy, a training conference for progressive political professionals. One of the most transformative aspects: I met so many dope people who showed me that I, too, can succeed in this field.”

What’s next?

On April 12 – 16th, we head to Charleston for our second Arena Academy.

We received over five hundred applications. 52% of these applicants identify as women and 45% identify as people of color. 54% requested a full scholarship. We are reviewing applications now, and plan to accept up to 250 participants.

Partners for our next Academy include The Management Action Center, Analyst Institute, EMILY’s List, and Acronym. And we will respond to popular demand with the addition of two new tracks: Data Director and Digital Director.

As the election cycle continues to gear up, we are building a resume and job bank, along with a system to connect our participants to campaigns and candidates. We are committed to working with participants and campaigns to ensure candidates up and down the ballot get the trained, qualified staff they need. This matching program will allow us to extend our impact long beyond the five days of any Academy.

We need your support

We’ve had to turn away many applicants for both our first and second Arena Academy. That’s hundreds — and potentially thousands — of talented and eager future staffers who need training and support. With your help, we can remove the barriers to access, and build a strong, diverse talent pipeline. Consider giving now to the Arena Academy scholarship fund. We have the funds to offer half the number of scholarships in Charleston that we offered in Des Moines, but with your support, we can surpass our Des Moines numbers.

Give to the Arena Academy scholarship fund.

Thanks for being a part of our community.