Meet Craig Grella: husband, dad, elected official, and NGP VAN program director

May 27, 2024

At NGP VAN, we’re proud to have a team of dedicated campaign pros, advocates, and activists working to help elect more change makers and propel progressive causes to victory nationwide every cycle. Our collective passion and hands-on involvement ensure that we are not only providing the best tools and support for our clients but also actively contributing to the progressive movement we all believe in. Our staff is on the front lines with our customers knocking doors, making calls, entering data, placing yard signs, or like Craig, they may be running for office or serving as elected officials themselves.

From serving on Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign to helping hundreds of local campaigns to running for office himself, Craig Grella is a dynamic and dedicated campaign expert who holds quite a number of titles: husband, dad, elected official, and program director at NGP VAN.

We sat down with Craig to learn more about what inspired him to get involved and stay involved in progressive politics, and how he felt called to serve to make his community better.

Craig with Senator Bernie Sanders at a presidential campaign rally
Craig with Senator Bernie Sanders at a presidential campaign rally

Can you walk me through how and why you got involved in progressive politics?

I planned to study engineering in college, and in high school, a neighbor who worked with our local county sanitation department offered me an internship. He came by my house one weekend to pick up my resume. He handed me a voter registration card and made it clear that the internship was predicated on my registering with his party — the Republican Party. That sleight of hand didn’t sit well with me, so I turned him down on the spot. I thought, if that’s how the Republican Party plays politics, I want no part of it. A day later I registered with the Democratic Party. A few weeks after that, I ended up landing the internship without his help anyway.

After college, I worked on President Obama’s presidential campaign as a fellow, served as a national distributed organizing manager on Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, and helped hundreds of candidates get elected to various offices in California, Washington, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, and New York.

After the 2016 election, I served as the digital director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party because that’s where I felt that I could do the most good. In that role, I planned and executed major distributed organizing efforts that led hundreds of volunteers to write letters to the editor in their local papers, make thousands of calls to their elected officials, and shame lying Republican congresspeople in-person and on social media.

Soon thereafter, I put all that education and experience to work on my campaign and ran for local office in my hometown, and won — twice.

Craig gathering petition signatures in Florida
Craig gathering petition signatures in Florida

What led you to run for office?

I hated how our municipality communicated with residents, how they enforced some policies but not others, and how some people got services and others just got friction. I feel a very strong connection to civic duty, and after helping so many candidates change their districts for the better, I understood how much change could occur at the local level if the right people were behind it. That kind of change doesn’t happen until someone steps up and gets things done. I started thinking, if not me, then who?

I also wanted to set an example for my kids — to be able to tell them, not to brag, but to say, here's a policy that I thought would change our lives for the better. I ran a small DIY campaign in a town of 35,000 people and won by nearly 20 points organizing coalitions of people who, like me, wanted to change those policies we thought were unfair.

After seeing the positive impact on people and families across the district and because there were more things that I wanted to get done, I ran for a second term and won that race by nearly 30 points. Now, I'm in my seventh year in office and I’m still working to create policies that make our government run better and our local community a more welcoming place.

What does it mean to you to work at NGP VAN, a company that has been (and continues to be) integral to the success of so many historic victories across the country?

I’ve worked with a lot of local candidates and while each race was unique, there were a few common issues and challenges that would come up often: a lack of understanding of the steps in a political campaign, an aversion to fundraising, and no idea how to source voter contact information.

They often used disparate tools like CRMs, spreadsheets of voters, budgets they hacked together from losing candidates of years past, and a bad Facebook page that was a sorry excuse for a personal website. Those candidates spent most of their time on administrative inefficiencies rather than talking to voters.

Having used NGP with hundreds of candidates and on both my campaigns, I saw how the different parts of the platform work together to help you complete every task that needs to be done on a campaign. After a candidate decides to run — and sometimes even before they make that decision — it’s the first investment I always recommend. It helps with research and planning, calculating how many votes you need to win, and understanding whether a district is even winnable or whether it will be an extreme uphill battle.

We would always get NGP and then move from there. It helped us get rid of disparate tools that didn’t talk to one another, and those efficiencies wouldn’t have been possible without tools from NGP VAN. Working for a company like NGP VAN has been really eye-opening because it’s the software that has meant so much to me in my career, not only as an elected official but also helping hundreds of candidates win their races and change their local communities too.

Who or what inspires you to keep working in the progressive political space?

If you believe in something so strongly, you need to bring attention to it and fight to change it. I try to bring awareness to some of the things that affect a municipality and the lives of the people within it.

I also like working on smart policies and creating local laws that plug gaps in state and federal laws. I like creating policies that make our community a more sustainable and welcoming place — which creates and activates spaces for all members of a community — not just a few people who can afford more expensive things. I stay involved because more things need to be done.

And when my time in office has come to an end, I’m still going to fight to bring about the changes I think are needed. We fight for the change we want to see, and when the change happens, we check it off our list and move on to the next fight. That’s how we make progress.

Craig at the Democratic National Convention waiting for then President Obama and Vice President Biden to speak
Craig at the Democratic National Convention waiting for then President Obama and Vice President Biden to speak