Organising Metrics: Flake Rate

Contributor: Weronika Paszewska

Imagine you’re having a birthday and inviting your friends to the party. It is an important event for you, so you decided to make it more personal and send them text messages or email invitations instead of creating a Facebook event. You’ve recently been using Facebook a lot less anyway, so it was natural that you’d reach out in another way. Some of them wrote back to tell you they can’t make it that day; out of all 30 invites, 25 confirmed. How many of them do you expect at the party? Let's say 23. We’ll assume that two of them have an emergency and were unable to let you know in advance they couldn’t make it. In this piece, we discuss how a birthday party can teach us some key lessons about keeping the percentage of people who ultimately don’t show up at an event as low as possible (at Tectonica we love the birthday party metaphor - if you are looking for more general advice in digital organising, check out this article Welcome to the party! What birthday party planning can teach you about digital organising).

Let’s bring in the concept of the “flake rate”. Flake rate is the percentage of people who signed up for the event (made an initial commitment) and in the end, didn’t show up. They flake out. Here you can find a comprehensive definition of flake rate in Political Dictionary. Your flake rate for a birthday party in this example is 8%. Most electoral campaigners would say this is a very good flake rate (it’s good because it’s low, which means very few people who initially committed ended up not showing up). A campaign should want to keep its flake rate at around 50% which is considered the average for US-based electoral campaigns - as you can see, campaign participants are usually less reliable than your party guests.  

Flake rate is commonly used in field organising and electoral campaigning, when campaigns organise events for volunteers. Usually, the objective for these meetings is to prepare supporters for canvassing or phone banking, and at the meeting they receive instructions and are motivated for the work that is ahead of them. This could apply to any volunteer shift, limited only to your field of work and imagination of your volunteer program. 

For organisers and campaigners, some level of flake rate is inevitable and we should concentrate on mitigating and minimising it. I would argue that as we move from just communication, and even mobilisation in the direction of organising (for clarification see our Five-Part Framework), we should expect to have a lower flake rate, as this reflects deeper connections and true relation building in your movement or supporter base (however you call your constituency). As in the case of your birthday party metaphor, you prefer your friends to let you know if they’re coming or not, and you expect them to do so. 

So even if 50% is the average, let’s consider what we can do to bring down the flake rate. There is a set of easy things that can be done, like:

  • Clear instructions on how to attend (especially true for remote events) that are sent ahead of time, so people can plan and prepare mentally to do so.
  • Communicating clear ToC (Theory of change) for people’s participation. Why does it matter if I show up or not? Does my presence make a difference? These are questions that volunteers who signed up should be able to answer easily.
  • Explicit urgency connected to the event. Why now? Is there a political calendar and other external factors that make it important to attend the event at this particular time?
  • Confirmation calls decrease the flake rate and improve attendance. 
  • Increase accountability by assigning pre-event tasks. This can mean asking people to bring food for the event, or to come earlier to set up chairs, be ready to help with handing out the pens and paper, or present a small report on the topic at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that they know they matter and that their absence might negatively impact the quality of the meeting.
  • Personal invitation coming from trusted people, rooted in principles of relational organising. As a consequence, signed up supporters will know other people who are planning to attend. This increases their chance of showing up.
  • Report back on people who didn’t show up. In the long term, it gives a message that their absence was noted and that they were missed and that they are important even if they don’t show up.

The above are useful trucks that can help keep a flake rate low. But at Tectonica, we believe that what matters the most is creating the right culture in your organisation or movement. In terms of of flake rate this means:

  • Creating a culture where volunteers and supporters’ time and dedication are highly appreciated and truly valued. This means that their work is recognised and that gratitude is clearly expressed and present in communication.
  • Showing and sharing excitement about upcoming events and challenges. We do believe that work done out of joy and adventure is much more tempting and consistent than the work coming from a feeling of obligation or (even worse) guilt. This, of course, requires having the right people in place with the right attitude. 

Of course what all campaigns dream of is a negative flake rate, meaning, in practice, that more people showed up at the event than signed up for it. We wish this for all progressive campaigns. If you are on this path and would like a hand to move your efforts forward, feel free to book a 30-minute free strategic consultation with the Tectonica team.

Here are a few more resources that you might find interesting (we did!):