It’s Like Tinder…. But For Canvassing

Introducing our new approach for helping volunteers take action

Matt Ewing
Swing Left
Published in
4 min readOct 10, 2018


As organizers, one of our most important jobs is taking the complexity of civic engagement and distilling it down into a format that allows everyone to understand how they can have an impact.

With this in mind, late last week, we launched a new and improved Take Action tool. On the surface, the tool itself is pretty simple and straightforward (hopefully!). But, the strategy and design behind it have been months in the making. So, I wanted to take a few minutes to share why we felt we needed a new way to connect volunteers to action opportunities and what’s going on behind the scenes.

Resolving the Paradox of Choice

Since the very beginning, Swing Left’s central mission has been to make it as easy as possible for our volunteers to strategically engage in the midterm elections. The organization launched with a simple tool that allowed you type in your zip code and learn about your nearest Swing District. Since then we’ve been surfacing simple but powerful ways to donate your time or your money.

But, as the general election campaigns started heating up, the number of actions to choose from has been growing rapidly. For example, today there are:

  • Dozens of campaigns with virtual phone banks set up so you can call voters from home.
  • 84 Swing District candidates that would gladly accept your donation.
  • 2,303 upcoming canvass events in Swing Districts.

Yikes. These are all legitimately great ways to win back the House. But, it’s a lot — and that creates a challenge. It’s counter-intuitive, but for most of us, more choice equals less action. Social scientists call this the Paradox of Choice, and it’s a real problem for organizers.

So how do you help people find what’s right for them, without it becoming incredibly overwhelming?

That’s the question our Take Action tool was created to address.

The Take Action tool in action

The answer is in a dating app?

I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical when I first heard that the answer to this problem could be inspired by Tinder….

But, we’ve got a great product and tech team, and it turns out that they were really on to something. The card-based scrolling layout was exactly what we needed. It allowed us to cleanly present a single option at a time, but then give you space to keep exploring until you find something that sparks your interest.

If you like the idea of canvassing (and we hope you do!), you’ll see a few of the highest impact options that are near you. Meanwhile, if you’d rather make calls, you can get started immediately from the phone bank card. Or maybe you’d like to jump right to making a donation. All these options are at your fingertips.

Instead of showing you a long page filled with tons of options and explanations, or a map filled with events all over the country, we’re helping you choose your own adventure — and as a result, more of us are taking action.

Strategy expressed algorithmically

While the results of this page vary considerably, there are a set of opinions hardcoded into the system that don’t change at all. These opinions are the expression of our political strategy for winning back the House.

For example, figuring out the right canvass event to recommend to someone is actually pretty complicated. How far away is it? How important is the district in terms of flipping the House? Is it particularly important to the campaign? How many other people have already signed up? What day of the week is the event? Do you want to drive or take a bus?

You probably don’t want to be dealing all that complexity, you just want to know where you should canvass this weekend. So, our tech team took all these variables and build a recommendation engine that spits out personalized events just for you. If you don’t like the first recommendation, just keep swiping until you find something else.

And it’s not just canvassing. If you see a phone bank card, it’s there because our team handpicked a critical district that needed more help on the phones. You’ll notice that the donation card takes you to our Immediate Impact Fund, focused solely on the districts where your dollar will have the highest impact.

In short, each card on this page reflects a set of decisions that were made to ensure volunteers were having the maximum impact on winning back the House.

Stepping back, we’re living in a moment when it’s easy to be absolutely overwhelmed with information and things to be angry about. This can be paralyzing. But, if we’re able to focus on the actions that will actually move the needle, we can have an incredible impact. We just need that focus. Hopefully tools like this one makes figuring that out a bit easier.

Thanks to Aaron Huertas and Michelle Finocchi for the helpful edits to this piece. And to the extremely talented tech, design and product team behind this new tool: Jonathan Strauss, David Miller, Josh Wiseman and Jonathan Goldman.



Matt Ewing
Swing Left

Chief Community Officer @SwingLeft. Former Director of Engagement @SolarCity & Founder at @ScootNetworks. Doing my best to build stuff that matters.