NPI's Caya Berndt interviews Samantha Boucher
NPI's Caya Berndt interviews Samantha Boucher, co-founder and CEO of Shire, a digital volunteer office for progressive campaigns & organizations, at Netroots Nation 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Photo: Rich Erwin/NPI)

Wel­come to our eighth install­ment of NPI at Net­roots Nation 2022, a spe­cial lim­it­ed pod­cast series record­ed live from the David L. Lawrence Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Pitts­burgh. NPI staff jour­neyed to Steel City this past week to par­tic­i­pate in the nation’s largest annu­al gath­er­ing of pro­gres­sive activists.

As part of our con­fer­ence cov­er­age, we’re bring­ing you a series of con­ver­sa­tions with key move­ment lead­ers and elect­ed officials.

In this install­ment of NPI@NN, we’re hon­ored to be joined by Saman­tha Bouch­er, Co-Founder and CEO of Shire. Press play below to lis­ten to the audio, or read the tran­script below.


Read the transcript

(Note: this tran­script has been edit­ed light­ly for clarity) 

CAYA: Wel­come to NPI at Net­roots Nation 2022, a spe­cial lim­it­ed pod­cast series from the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, record­ed live from the David L. Lawrence Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia. I’m your host, Caya Berndt. We are glad to have you with us! For this install­ment, we are excit­ed to be joined by Saman­tha Bouch­er, founder of Shire.

Saman­tha, thank you for join­ing us!

SAMANTHA: Thanks for hav­ing me! 

CAYA: Yeah! So, can you tell us a lit­tle bit about your­self and what it is that you do? 

SAMANTHA: Sure. So, I orig­i­nal­ly have a back­ground in tech. I’ve worked with a num­ber of tech star­tups over the years. And then, when I moved back home to South­west Ten­nessee, I am a trans woman, and I got involved very heav­i­ly with with local orga­niz­ing on the streets, but also at the city coun­cil lev­el, and, like, local pol­i­cy work­ing groups, and orga­niz­ing to try to like win civ­il rights reform at the local and state lev­el there.

And I end­ed up being the first open­ly trans cam­paign man­ag­er on a fed­er­al race in 2018 when I man­aged a con­gres­sion­al race in my home dis­trict, and then man­aged a U.S. Sen­ate cam­paign in Iowa in 2020. And I also worked on a num­ber of oth­er cam­paigns in the gen­er­al. So yeah, I’ve kin­da got a back­ground as a tech­nol­o­gist, but also as a cam­paign man­ag­er and organizer. 

So, Shire was sort of the brain­child of that combination. 

CAYA: So tell us about Shire. What is it?

SAMANTHA: Sure! So what we are build­ing is real­ly the first dig­i­tal office for pro­gres­sive cam­paigns and causes. 

What we mean by that is, right now, the way that, his­tor­i­cal­ly, vol­un­teer­ing has been done for pro­gres­sive cam­paigns, or cam­paigns in gen­er­al is: you walk in the front door of an office some­where… in your local cam­paign office, right? 

And there’s a guy with a clip­board there and he’s like, “Hey, nice to meet you. Like, let’s be friends, you wan­na make some phone calls, you wan­na go knock on doors? What do you wan­na do? And that expe­ri­ence, espe­cial­ly when it’s done well, is trans­for­ma­tive in its com­mu­ni­ty build­ing and it builds rela­tion­ships, right?

But espe­cial­ly after the COVID pan­dem­ic hit, but also just in gen­er­al, there’s been a move towards more dig­i­tal and remote orga­niz­ing, where we wan­na be able to have vol­un­teers, no mat­ter where they are or what their cir­cum­stances are, get togeth­er online and do the same kind of work.

But right now, the tools that exist to do that are designed for cor­po­ra­tions, for com­pa­nies. You have tools like Slack, you have tools that are, that are real­ly meant for when you’re an employ­ee somewhere. 

And they have such a huge learn­ing curve for a lot of peo­ple that if you have a less tech-savvy vol­un­teer, often­times they can get over­whelmed and quit as a result. Or not even get start­ed. So fix­ing that is super impor­tant, because we know that there are cam­paigns out there, like here in Penn­syl­va­nia with the John Fet­ter­man race, where the con­trol of the U.S. Sen­ate hangs in the balance. 

They need all the help they can get! And it does­n’t have to just be peo­ple that are here in Pitts­burgh, or in Philadel­phia, or in Penn­syl­va­nia, like any­body across the coun­try or around the world should be able to come help make phone calls, and send text mes­sages and do that sort of thing remote­ly. But the tech just has­n’t been there to sup­port that yet.

CAYA: Okay, so this is not only a plat­form for orga­niz­ers being able to con­nect with each oth­er, but it’s also a plat­form that would allow orga­niz­ers from oth­er states to help a cam­paign, even if they’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly in the same state?

SAMANTHA: Right, exact­ly! So there’s a lot of dif­fer­ent tools out there that you can use remote­ly to vol­un­teer for campaigns. 

There’s things like tex­ting tools where you can send text mes­sages to vot­ers. There’s phone bank­ing tools where you can call vot­ers and have con­ver­sa­tions with them for the cam­paign or the can­di­date. And you can do that from any­where. But the prob­lem is, how do you get con­nect­ed with the cam­paign in the first place? How do you get trained? How do you build that com­mu­ni­ty and not feel alone? And I think that’s the piece that we, as pro­gres­sives, and as the left, in our cam­paigns have not been doing very good job at.

It also has a sig­nif­i­cant impor­tance from an acces­si­bil­i­ty per­spec­tive, because we talk a real­ly good game in pro­gres­sive spaces about acces­si­bil­i­ty, but not every­body can go to a local cam­paign office. Like, I expe­ri­ence some chron­ic health issues as a result of long COVID. I used to be able to be go out [in the] out­doors all day long, in the streets. But we’ve got a lot of folks that have health issues or con­cerns like that, or they had acces­si­bil­i­ty trou­bles, or they’re get­ting old­er and they can’t nec­es­sar­i­ly make it out all the time anymore.

So it’s not just about the acces­si­bil­i­ty in that regard, but also loca­tion. So if you’re in a deep red Wyoming dis­trict some­where, or you’re in down­town Man­hat­tan, maybe you don’t feel like that local race is real­ly where your efforts are gonna be best used, or maybe you don’t even have a local can­di­date that you can sup­port, for some of those seats like gov­er­nor or Con­gress, or what have you. And Shire is gonna give those folks a way to be engaged, to help the move­ment, and to build com­mu­ni­ty with each oth­er from across the country. 

CAYA: Ear­li­er, off the mic, you had said that you had done quite a bit of research, or you had been involved with research, about vol­un­teer­ing, specif­i­cal­ly why vol­un­teers stay and why they leave?

SAMANTHA: Yeah. So back a few years ago now, the cor­po­ra­tion for Nashville and Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vice, it’s this con­gres­sion­al­ly char­tered orga­ni­za­tion that runs pro­grams like Ameri­corp all across the coun­try, folks like Feed­ing Amer­i­ca, all those dif­fer­ent con­gres­sion­al­ly fund­ed pro­grams, they did a lot of research on what makes vol­un­teers quit, right? What makes vol­un­teers stay? What makes them wan­na be a part of some­thing, and what makes them leave? 

And they found, in that report, that the top three rea­sons that vol­un­teers will leave an orga­ni­za­tion is feel­ing under­uti­lized. So not hav­ing enough to do, not feel­ing like they’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, right? Two, the envi­ron­ment they’re in, not sup­port­ing their efforts. So things like the tools that they’re using or not hav­ing access to the resources that they need to actu­al­ly accom­plish that mis­sion. That’s anoth­er rea­son that peo­ple get frus­trat­ed and quit. 

And the third rea­son is a sense that the envi­ron­ment is imper­son­al, or cold, or dis­tant, or not hav­ing the abil­i­ty to have that com­mu­ni­ty and a sense of con­nec­tion with peo­ple. And I think as pro­gres­sives, espe­cial­ly in our polit­i­cal cam­paigns, right now we are nail­ing all three of those in a bad way, in the sense that we are doing a bad job at engag­ing peo­ple and mak­ing them feel like they have per­son­al con­nec­tions and com­mu­ni­ty. We’re not doing a great job at pro­vid­ing them tools and resources to do the work. And also, we’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly uti­liz­ing peo­ple the most effec­tive­ly either, because it’s a brave, new world of remote, and peo­ple are not quite sure how to do that just yet.

So that’s real­ly impor­tant because, like I said, it real­ly mat­ters at the end of the day, espe­cial­ly to these races, like John Fet­ter­man’s here in Penn­syl­va­nia, because remote, real­ly good dis­trib­uted cam­paigns – there’s great exam­ples: Beto in 2018, the Bernie 2016 and 2020 cam­paigns, they did amaz­ing jobs at this, but the tech­nol­o­gy that they were using was just duct taped and hacked togeth­er. It was sort of not real­ly effi­cient. And they had to kind of fill those gaps with peo­ple pow­er that could have oth­er­wise been used to talk to vot­ers, or build those rela­tion­ships. And so that’s why we’re try­ing to make things eas­i­er for them. 

CAYA: Yeah. So can you tell me about what influ­enced the devel­op­ment of Shire, and what real­ly sets it apart from oth­er platforms?

SAMANTHA: Total­ly. So, it’s real­ly a first of its kind in the polit­i­cal space. There real­ly isn’t any­thing of this nature that is specif­i­cal­ly built for polit­i­cal cam­paigns and orga­ni­za­tions. And one of the rea­sons that’s impor­tant is because polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions work real­ly dif­fer­ent­ly from your aver­age cor­po­ra­tion, or even small busi­ness­es. They’re gonna go from maybe a few staff and a hand­ful of vol­un­teers to a few thou­sand, or more, overnight. 

And as the elec­tion gets clos­er, they start ramp­ing up their efforts, and build­ing part­ner­ships. And so the scal­ing that hap­pens so fast means that tools like Slack, for exam­ple… with the Bernie Sanders cam­paign in 2020, they had 72,000 dig­i­tal vol­un­teers in their vol­un­teer Slack. And they used the free ver­sion of Slack, which had a mes­sage cap of 30,000 at a time. 

So you would send a mes­sage there, and then like six hours, or a day or two lat­er, it would be gone, because they have that cap, because Slack is like, $8 per per­son. If they would’ve had to pay for that, and got­ten the full fea­tures they need­ed, it would’ve cost them like, half a mil­lion dol­lars a month, which…

CAYA: If you’re not real­ly get­ting a return on invest­ment, in terms of votes, you’re just throw­ing mon­ey away. 

SAMANTHA: Exact­ly. And it’s not just that. Slack has a real­ly intense learn­ing curve for peo­ple that are not tech-savvy. Its not real­ly designed to…like, let’s say how social media plat­forms are designed, like Face­book, et cetera, where they real­ly want peo­ple to be able to under­stand that design sys­tem, and know where to go, and how to inter­act with it. Peo­ple have learned how to do that for 15-plus years, right? Even old­er folks are on Face­book at huge rates. 

So, Shire is designed from the ground up with that in mind, to feel, in the inter­face, more like a social media plat­form. The things that peo­ple are used to doing, to send mes­sages or texts to each oth­er, the things that peo­ple are used to see­ing on their news feeds, that is the kind of design think­ing that we have to apply to these tools to make it easy for peo­ple to under­stand how to use them with­out hav­ing to spend time to deal with that learn­ing curve.

CAYA: So, when can we expect to see this pro­gram launched? 

SAMANTHA: We’re work­ing as hard as we can to get it out before the midterms this year. We’re shoot­ing for a Sep­tem­ber launch, so we can get that out to cam­paigns that need it. We’ve got a wait list of close to a hun­dred cam­paigns and orga­ni­za­tions now, includ­ing John Fet­ter­man here in Penn­syl­va­nia! And also a cou­ple state Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties. We’ve got the Greens Par­ty from New Zealand! We’ve chat­ted with them a bit, it was crazy. That just shows you how ubiq­ui­tous this prob­lem is. Every­thing down to a local city coun­cil race on our wait list, all the way up to entire nation­al polit­i­cal par­ties, are try­ing to fix this issue.

And we’re so excit­ed to be able to join the fight and help the move­ment in that way. And we’re real­ly excit­ed that we actu­al­ly just won the Best New Tool cat­e­go­ry at the pitch com­pe­ti­tion [New Tools Show­case] here at Net­roots Nation.

CAYA: Congratulations!

SAMANTHA: So yeah, it’s just a ubiq­ui­tous prob­lem and every­body gets why it is a problem. 

CAYA: Yeah. That must be such a good feel­ing, see­ing so much pos­i­tive feed­back from your idea already. 

SAMANTHA: Yeah, def­i­nite­ly. And I mean, you know, and I think what we’re doing now is impor­tant, but it’s also only the begin­ning. We also know that there are oth­er chal­lenges, you know, as a cam­paign man­ag­er myself, I know the things that I strug­gled with because there weren’t tools to do these things. 

So we’re gonna be doing things like build­ing a learn­ing man­age­ment sys­tem, so cam­paigns can actu­al­ly build train­ings and eas­i­ly give those to any­one, right? They don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be on a Zoom call, espe­cial­ly if you’re deaf or hard of hear­ing, it’s an acces­si­bil­i­ty issue. But if a cam­paign can build a real­ly easy-to-use train­ing work­flow that’s in the same appli­ca­tion, it’s gonna be real­ly easy for them to get peo­ple trained up and get them access to the knowl­edge that they need to go out, and talk to vot­ers, and use these oth­er tools that are out there.

CAYA: Thank you very much. So we are just about at time here, so before we wrap up the pod­cast, I just wan­na ask you a ques­tion that I ask every­body at the end of our inter­views. There’s a lot of real­ly freaky stuff going on out there! It can be… there’s a lot of uncer­tain­ty. So dur­ing these gloomi­er times, what’s bring­ing you joy right now? 

SAMANTHA: What a ques­tion… I’ll tell you what, one of the things that I think is so amaz­ing about hav­ing been here, and also hav­ing been in the Are­na con­fer­ence back in June, in Austin, is, you know, we’ve all been, a lot of us, have been fight­ing this fight for years. And espe­cial­ly dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, we’ve been in our own bed­rooms, or our home offices, doing all of this real­ly hard work with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly see­ing each other. 

And I’ll tell you, get­ting in a room full of 4,000 oth­er peo­ple that are work­ing just as hard as I know I am, and my team are, to advance the move­ment, to pro­tect, espe­cial­ly as a queer per­son, to pro­tect our civ­il rights and try to be that bul­wark against this fas­cist out­growth that we’ve seen, that is….that’s real­ly ener­giz­ing. It’s refresh­ing. It feels like we’ve talked about, right? 

There’s not real­ly a great way right now to build that sort of com­mu­ni­ty online nec­es­sar­i­ly. So we feel, I think, as cam­paign orga­niz­ers and even tech­nol­o­gists, like this is an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence, and it’s some­thing that we walk away from feel­ing juiced up and ready to go to the next fight.

CAYA: Yeah. Thank you very much. I def­i­nite­ly agree. 

SAMANTHA: The only thing I’d share with folks out there is that, if you’re work­ing on a cam­paign or you’re vol­un­teer­ing for one, or even if you’re just run­ning a local orga­niz­ing effort, for any rea­son, any kind of non­prof­it or advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tion, we wan­na help you if you’re on the pro­gres­sive side of the move­ment. Our web­site is at It’s S‑H-I-R‑E.

It’s a fun ref­er­ence, but

CAYA: Lord of the Rings….

SAMANTHA: Cot­tagecore! But the oth­er thing is that from now until Sep­tem­ber 15th, we’re actu­al­ly doing an equi­ty crowd­fund­ing cam­paign, because one of the things that I’m pas­sion­ate about is mak­ing sure that we’re in this for the long haul, we’re in it for the move­ment, not to sell it off and make a quick buck in a year or two. So we’re doing this equi­ty invest­ment, you can actu­al­ly invest mon­ey and own a piece of Shire! 

The min­i­mum invest­ment is only a hun­dred dol­lars, and that’s through Sep­tem­ber 15th. I think we’ve already got about thir­ty grand that folks have invest­ed from around the move­ment so far. We have to get to at least fifty in order to make that crowd­fund­ing work. And then beyond that, we’re real­ly excit­ed to share the own­er­ship with peo­ple who actu­al­ly care about what we’re doing.

CAYA: Thank you very much! And I will drop the infor­ma­tion for both of those things in our post on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate when this is published.

SAMANTHA: Awe­some, yeah! So that’s and then you can go to and, yeah. Check us out, say hello! 

CAYA: Thank you very much. That was Saman­tha Bouch­er with Shire on this install­ment of NPI Net­roots Nation 2022! Join us next time for our oth­er fan­tas­tic inter­views. For NPI, I’m Caya Berndt.

To learn more about Shire, lis­ten­ers can vis­it Investors and indi­vid­u­als can donate or show sup­port here.

About the author

Caya is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor based out of Spokane, Washington, writing about Lilac City politics, the Evergreen State's 5th Congressional District, and related politics. She previously hosted the inaugural episodes of NPI's PNWcurrents podcast. She works at the Unemployment Law Project and is a graduate of Central Washington University, with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences. Caya also has a minor from CWU in law and justice.

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