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Democratic group urges more investment to catch up to Republicans in building campaign talent pipelines

A report by Dalberg Advisors found that a small shift in resources could lure Democratic campaign staff members for years to come.
A pedestrian walks past the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters.
Hundreds of Democratic campaign staffers work at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new report commissioned by a Democratic “pipeline-building” organization is urging the party to put more money and effort into such efforts to counter Republican groups that work to train staff and increase diversity ahead of the 2024 election.

Pipeline-building groups recruit and train staff for campaigns up and down the ballot, with the goal of building talent that will work future campaigns after working their way up from the bottom.

“It takes great candidates to win elections, but great candidates can’t win elections on their own,” said Lauren Baer, the managing partner of Arena, the group that commissioned the study.

“In particular, they need qualified, well trained teams around them, and teams that represent the diversity of the places that they’re running, and the diversity of the Democratic voting base," Baer said.

But the report for Arena carried out by Dalberg Advisors argued that “the Democratic talent pipeline is neither as robust nor as diverse as it needs to be in order to consistently win campaigns and govern effectively,” she added.

Matt Frazier, a partner at Dalberg Advisors, told donors at a presentation about the report on Wednesday that one thing that surprised them about the report's findings was that, going in, they had "a hypothesis or assumption that the explicit focus on diversity, especially when it comes to racial diversity, is something where the Democrats have a natural advantage."

“And we heard very clearly that that is something that Republicans are taking very seriously. And a lot of their pipeline efforts are working very hard to try to close that gap.”

The report also argued that Democratic pipeline-building organizations are underfunded. 

Specifically, the report said, “Our analysis found that Republicans invest more than four times as much as Democrats in supporting this crucial work,” when comparing the top five talent pipeline-building organizations on both sides of the aisle.

“Democrats have a problem with this pipeline, and it will matter not just in 2024, but beyond,” Frazier said at Wednesday’s briefing. 

The report suggested that a minimal shift in donor investment could put Democrats on parity with Republicans in this field.

“Republicans invest around four times more in their biggest pipeline organizations when compared to Democrats. And what’s interesting is just a 1 to 2 percent shift in Democratic donor spending could close that gap,” Frazier said in his presentation.

Frazier and his fellow researchers recommended multiple ways Democratic talent building organizations could increase their ranks.

The recommendations included strengthening recruitment, including in diverse communities, and training campaign staff in areas including campaign strategy, digital strategy and fundraising. They also include maintaining “safe, sustainable, and inclusive workplaces” for staffers and candidates.

“The other thing to note here is to also pay attention to the culture of campaigns, to make sure that the campaigns are walking the talk when it comes to the sorts of values that we, as a party, believe in,” Frazier said, adding, “Often we hear stories of campaigns being very difficult in terms of compensation, in terms of the work hours, in terms of sometimes having toxic cultures, and we believe that by working explicitly on that issue, we can help to ensure that the talent pipeline is diverse and successful.”

The last major recommendation was about retention and making sure trained staffers have work in between campaign cycles.

“If you do want to put dollars and cents on it — from a purely ROI [return on investment] perspective — we are investing so much in bringing people in and then when they’re able to now be successful, be trained up and go work on more campaigns, we’re losing a ton of people,” said Girish Pendse, an associate partner at Dalberg Advisors, during the presentation to donors.

He added, “I would almost argue that the highest ROI investment you can make is keeping those well trained folks with experience in the pipeline so they can move on into leadership roles and just kind of, you know, continue to stay in politics and we don’t lose them to other industries. So that’s I think the value proposition of investing in retention.”