A new startup is helping causes communicate, make change, and TCB.
Muster just made it through its first General Assembly, which isn’t just its Super Bowl but a trial by fire. The startup helps nonprofits, trade associations, professional societies, and other advocacy groups speak to the government with one voice.
That sounds simple, but look at it this way. Say you’re the head of a group called Give Media Professionals Priority Parking (GMPPP), and you have 30,000 members across the commonwealth. Then Virginia’s General Assembly convenes, with legislation on the docket that will require every city block to reserve one spot for journalists. Sure, you could send a blast out to your mailing list that urges your members to contact their various representatives.
But here’s the thing. They’ve got an extra step: find their rep (using databases that may not be accurate), write an email (even if you tell them what to say), send a letter, make a call, whatever. And you have no idea whether or not they actually did it! All you can do is cross your fingers and hope.
Muster works like this:
- You communicate to your members about the parking bill
- If they love the idea (and they will, because they’re your members and because they have a soft spot for journalists), they’ll hit a button that will allow them to email, call, or write letters to the appropriate representative (whom they don’t have to track down).
- The email is automatically generated, the letters are generated (through another partner startup), and the calls are made right then and there.
- You can see what action was taken by your members.
Besides the whole convenience/effectiveness factor, Muster appeals to organizations because of its database, which is manually updated. “It is grueling work,” says Cleo Dan, Muster’s Director of Communications and Support. “But at the end of the day, that’s what powers our platform.”
“The only way to help advocacy groups is to really listen and understand what’s really happening.”
Why a manual database? This way, Muster retains control and can act immediately once political changes happen. “Even Google Civic will be slow about changing an elected official after an election. If a robot is in charge of the data, it won’t realize that a guy resigned because of a scandal, but we will,” says Dan.
When they officially launched last fall, Muster began to seek out causes to approach as beta cases. They’re officially non-partisan, but they looked for causes they felt were important to the Richmond area. That’s another thing, says Dan, that sets them apart from other platforms for advocacy groups–the hands-on approach and support. “The only way to help advocacy groups is to really listen and understand what’s really happening.”
The James River Association was one of the first to partner with Muster, aiming to expand their base and grow their advocacy network. The startup automatically stored all their contacts in the platform, and helped them send messages to their members and prompt them to take action.
After one of the Muster staffers read about 14-year-old Haley Smith, who had an epileptic seizure on the floor of the General Assembly, and contacted her parents, Muster began helping out Virginia Parents for Medical Marijuana with their own goals. They’d had a page on Facebook but had no real way of channeling that support into a viable communication stream.
Muster helped the group engage their membership to send 40,000 emails to their state senators. The medical marijuana bill was passed, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed it into law.
Dan, who used to work in Sen. Mark Warner’s office, has seen the power of constituent communication firsthand, particularly letter-writing, which many people tend to scoff at these days. “If an official gets a stack of letters,” she assured me. “That makes a powerful statement.” Muster’s partner Lob, sends letters directly from their office to the candidate, pulled from Muster’s database.
It’ll be interesting to see where Muster goes from here. Right now, the company isn’t too concerned with national clients, as they’re committed to keeping close relationships with each advocacy group in the system and want to be able to head over to a group’s office to assess needs, provide support, and whatever else they need.
Interested groups should fill out the contact form on Muster’s website and you’ll hear from them shortly.
Interested individuals in joining Give Media Professionals Priority Parking–see you at the next rally.