The Long Arm of GovDelivery

GovDelivery now connects more than 100 million people to government agencies around the world.

GovDelivery, the marketing and communications platform for governments and nonprofits, announced today that they have passed the 100 million users mark. First deployed in Minnesota in 2001, GovDelivery has since extended its reach worldwide. Recent acquisitions, notably the open source data software company NuCivic in 2014 and the text-messaging civic startup Textizen earlier this year, have expanded its capabilities.

In a conversation with Civicist yesterday, CEO Scott Burns described what GovDelivery does as funneling—moving citizens toward a desired outcome, like signing up for healthcare, for example.

Burns told Civicist that for the first few years, GovDelivery was mostly about functionality—helping clients send out messages when they needed. In 2007 they made it about reach—about sending out messages at scale.

“If we went to Best Buy and asked if it was better to reach 50,000 people than 25,000, they would of course say yes,” Burns said. “It’s not always that obvious for government—but whatever is at the bottom of the funnel, twice as much reach is good regardless.”

One way that GovDelivery leverages its reach in governments’ favor is by suggesting new users sign up to receive notices from agencies that are geographically or topically related to the agency that first attracted them to the platform.

“Reach is everything,” Burns said, explaining the significance of the 100 million user mark. “You could have the best [communications strategy] in the world and if it doesn’t connect with an audience its like a tree falling in the forest.”

“We could spend all day arguing over the difference between civic versus government tech…but anything that’s impacting those areas at scale is a good thing, whatever you call it,” Burns said.

When asked if GovDelivery is trying to transition from being a one-way email blast system to a two-way conversation between government and citizens, Burns said that thinking about GovDelivery as merely an email blast system is a misconception.

“Citizens talking to government, that’s like a bottom of the funnel activity,” Burns explained. GovDelivery’s strength is pushing people to the conversation, not facilitating the conversation itself.

“There are lots of cases of just amplifying voices that are already being heard,” Burns said. GovDelivery’s contribution is expanding the number of participants in those initiatives.

Another goal of GovDelivery is facilitating positive interactions with government in the hope that those experiences will dispel the cynicism Burns believes pervades American cities.

“For me, you need to distinguish between citizen experience and citizen engagement,” Burns said. “GovDelivery is more about megovernment than wegovernment. What that means is getting citizen services right…making the citizen experience with government more positive.”

Burns points to low voter turnout—only 13 percent of eligible voters in St. Paul, Minnesota, participated in the recent election—as a symptom of cynicism and the belief that government just doesn’t work.

“An extraordinary citizen experience is the only hope we have for promoting more positive citizen engagement,” Burns concluded.