Organized on the fly with volunteer help—much like the event it was designed for—the official app for the Women’s March on Washington is a tale of employee passion pushing an idea forward—and a company following the lead. Here’s how DoubleDutch pulled it off.
Last month’s Women’s March on Washington came together quickly—from start to finish, the whole event was formulated and executed within the span of just a couple of months.
It required a lot of split-second planning, and much of the process was organic in nature. That can be a heavy lift for an organization with a top-down leadership structure.
Which is why I found myself intrigued by the story of a company that actually got involved in the Women’s March. The tech firm DoubleDutch, which produces app-based event platforms for many types of organizations (ASAE included), was able to pool together resources internally and assist the Women’s March organizers. And while the firm didn’t get buy-in immediately, it eventually ended up building the official app for the event. The end result is an example associations could learn from.
Emily He, the company’s chief marketing officer, says that employees at the company were keeping a close eye on the organization process for the march—in part because they were personally interested and planning to go themselves.
“The women’s march, a bunch of organizers are very media savvy, very technologically oriented, they know what it takes to make and mobilize the grassroots,” she explained in an interview. “But they had limited bandwidth, because they had to work on all of the logistics and communicating to the world, and the whole country, about what’s going on.”
The march’s organizers did have a team focused on technology issues, but it was stretched thin, and while an in-house app was discussed, it proved too heavy a lift.
DoubleDutch was in just the place to help, but march organizers were having trouble envisioning what the final result would look like, which delayed approval. So the company’s employees, already supportive of the cause, volunteered their time to help build a demo version of the app.
“People were totally excited about doing it,” He added.
That demo was distributed around to stakeholders in the political sphere by a well-connected employee, which helped them earn the green light. In the days before the release, numerous volunteers helped to put the finishing touches on the app—scraping details wherever they could, including through websites and articles, to ensure the event was useful as well as social.
The result, which the company donated to the march organizers, showed immediate success, says He. On the first day of release, the app received 6,000 downloads; on the second, it had 20,000; and by day four, it had 100,000. It even ranked highly in the iOS App Store: According to data from the analytics firm App Annie, it was the fourth-most-popular iOS productivity app on the day of the march, and the 70th-most-popular app overall. (According to He, the app briefly hit the top of the charts.)
“We were all really excited internally, but we had no idea how big this was going to go,” He said.
But beyond that, He notes that there was a huge amount of engagement within the app itself—particularly around the #WhyIMarch hashtag, which the team worked to highlight during the event.
Intriguingly, the app is still seeing activity weeks after the march, which speaks to the idea of turning a one-time event into a movement. DoubleDutch has shifted the direction of the app to highlight the 10 actions the event’s organizers are recommending in the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“The Women’s March App has become a platform for people to coordinate for political action,” she said.
What They Learned
DoubleDutch produces a lot of apps like the one produced for the Women’s March.
The difference, of course, was scale: When half a million people are involved in a rally in Washington, DC, along with many more globally, it sort of changes the stakes.
But the success of the app—both internally and globally—has the company thinking about trying to rekindle that fire down the road.
“Internally, this gave us a few ideas about how to ignite the passion of our employees around our product,” He says.
Beyond the sheer thrill that came with helping out a cause employees were passionate about, the app proved an effective way of getting people from across the organization involved in physically producing the product.
So now, the company will turn the process into a full program—every quarter, the organization will find a set number of causes to support, build a number of apps for selected worthy events, and provide them to the organizations for free.
“We’re going to make this an opportunity for employees to learn about our product, but more importantly, believe in the product, and believe in the value of the product for supporting these causes,” she explained.
Takeaways to Consider
As He was telling me about how they were able to pull all of this off, I pondered whether associations could move quite this fast in the name of a cause.
Part of the reason why DoubleDutch was able to, uh, double down on this specific product was because of the company’s flat, empowerment-driven structure—which she says has proven a boon for attracting younger employees. Big ideas are dictated from the bottom up, rather than the top down.
“The more you can support them in making tough decisions that empower them to feel like they can make a difference, the more engaged they will be,” she says.
That may not be an easy change to make structurally within your association, but there’s probably room to borrow from this strategy by making room for ideas from individual employees.
Such a setup, He says, goes both ways: Your employees should be willing to stick out their necks, but the organization should enable those ideas and limit the number of layers of approval necessary. If, as an employee, you show yourself as willing to be a change agent, it reflects positively on your personal brand.
Taking part in something that reflects an organization’s values, of course, also has significant effects on an organization’s morale. Especially if the moment is historic, as this one was.
“Being part of this Women’s March on Washington just made us feel that we’re not alone, that there are so many like-minded people. As long as we keep taking action, eventually we can make change,” she said.