Every political campaign needs resources to succeed. People, money, and time are the key components that every campaign depends on. And to connect all of these components, your campaign must recruit, train and manage volunteers.
Volunteers are often called the lifeblood of political campaigns. No political party can hit its vote goals without volunteers.
Volunteers have plenty of reasons to be a part of campaigns. Some support a specific candidate because they like her or him, some volunteers might support a candidate’s view of important issues, or they’re part of a larger group that endorses a candidate. What matters is that all volunteers want to see their candidate win.
Regardless of the size of your campaign, once you start thinking about getting volunteers, you will typically find yourself asking:
In this complete guide to volunteer management for political campaigns, we will share tips and tricks to get your volunteer program going. After reading this article, you will have enough knowledge to start working on your volunteer program.
Volunteers are the backbone of political campaigns. They are the ones who make things happen on the ground level. Without volunteers, getting the word out about the campaign would be difficult and impossible to reach out to all the voters in time.
Without their support, it would be nearly impossible to win. Any campaign type you plan will need volunteers to:
But perhaps the biggest reason to have volunteers included in a political campaign is that they show voters that the candidate cares about their community. And if a candidate cares about people, she or he is committed to making a difference.
When other people see volunteers taking time out of their busy lives to work on a campaign, it can also inspire them to get involved. If this support is big enough and comes in different formats, it can be the difference between winning and losing come election day.
So what specifically can volunteers do during a political campaign?
In short, every part of a campaign can benefit from volunteer engagement. Volunteer practices show that political campaigns of all sizes depend on normal people, not only paid TV ads and political consulting industry.
Effective volunteer management depends on many aspects, but having a good volunteer coordinator is always key to maximizing volunteer impact.
Volunteer coordinators must be active and participate in all aspects of a campaign. And this position is also one of the most demanding among the campaign staff.
Volunteer coordination is a full-time job that also includes nights and weekends. Campaigns are operating 24/7, which means volunteer support is needed 24/7. The volunteer coordinator is responsible for managing those efforts across the board.
Campaign managers have to decide how they allocate their budget. For instance, they can hire a skillful volunteer coordinator to manage hundreds of volunteers. Or, they can outsource the work to third parties. And more often than not, you’ll see a combination of the two approaches ebbing and flowing throughout the campaign.
Most campaigns have no choice but to start with a volunteer program (as it’s free). To succeed, the campaign officers need to ensure they have the best possible volunteer coordinator on board.
So what kind of skills do volunteer coordinators need to have?
Volunteer coordinators have to work and keep track of many projects simultaneously. In addition to that, a volunteer coordinator must think in advance about all the tasks that will need to be given to volunteers and prepare accordingly.
Volunteer coordinator tasks include finding a backup when someone is unavailable, sending people to radio stations, picking the right team for political phone banking, and similar activities. Project management skills are paramount for any volunteer coordinator.
Volunteer coordinators often work as a mediator between campaign leaders and volunteers. If volunteers need to do something to support a political fundraising activity, the coordinator must ensure that all volunteers are prepared and aligned with the larger campaign efforts.
Volunteers will normally hand over projects and special requests to the volunteer coordinator. Experience is crucial when considering project deadlines, volunteer allocation, or anticipating potential bottlenecks when executing field activities. Campaign officers must have trustworthy people with some of the most demanding tasks.
Flexibility and being able to improvise when needed are what every volunteer coordinator must posses. And most of the time, plans change, and it is up to a good coordinator to think about plan B and adapt to new challenges and situations.
Volunteer coordinators communicate with volunteers all the time. If volunteers see that their supervisor is nervous and rude and screams at people, they will get discouraged and may decide to leave the campaign. A responsible, professional, and friendly volunteer coordinator will motivate and inspire volunteers when they do their tasks.
Understanding why people volunteer helps bridge the gap between campaign staff and volunteers. Paid or not, they are all united behind the same mission. And a mission-driven team is critically important when campaigns face inevitable challenges and obstacles.
And if you understand what motivates people to work with you for free, you can assign them suitable roles and create a stronger volunteer program overall.
Why do people volunteer? What motivates them to spend their free time helping campaigns without looking for financial compensation?
Typically, five big elements motivate volunteers to join your campaign – policy, social elements, political aspects, personal opportunity, and recognition.
One of the most powerful volunteer drivers is policy. People that strongly care for your candidate or don’t agree with the opposition will often be very motivated. Even though they sometimes won’t be enthusiastic about other campaign topics, their initial motivation will make them strong contributors.
Social elements refer to spending time with people with similar interests or meeting new people.
Political aspects are important to people who strongly support certain political agendas. These people often have volunteer experience and have been motivated to act.
Personal opportunity matters to people who want something in return for their time. An opportunity can be a permanent job, a financial reward, or a letter of recommendation. For instance, students often volunteer to get a reference when they apply for internships.
Recognition is another reason why people volunteer. Some people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and be recognized for it. If you notice that you have volunteers on your team that seek recognition, always try to give them respect and support. Even small gestures from your side will keep them happy and motivated.
As much as finding and recruiting volunteers is crucial, it is equally vital to how your volunteers fit into the larger campaign operation.
Similar to regular employees, volunteers also want to progress and be promoted. Some volunteers will want to take on new roles and responsibilities fairly quickly, while some will want to stick to their comfort zones.
Effective volunteer management means promoting from within. Having capable and responsible volunteers in more demanding positions upgrades your internal campaign capabilities.
Just like at regular jobs, volunteers can climb the campaign staff ladder. For instance, entry volunteer tasks may include simple phone banking calls or canvassing. From there, a volunteer could evolve to take on more responsibility by leading a phone banking session or coordinating canvassing efforts.
And the responsibility of the campaign staff is to delegate duties to the most capable volunteers early on. Delegating duties on time frees campaign staff to focus on larger goals while allowing capable volunteers to grow their role with the campaign.
One effective strategy is creating different volunteer teams based on the task. And each volunteer group should have a captain or a similar role that reports to the supervisor.
An example of volunteer organizing is the Neighborhood Team/Snowflake Model that Obama’s campaign used. The model consists of units of volunteers that organize their communities. And those volunteers communicate with potential voters from their neighborhood, basically people they see regularly and with whom they have personal relationships.
The Neighborhood Team model shows how effective relational organizing is. Organizing volunteers based on social networks means that potential supporters are more likely to take action when they communicate with someone familiar with shared values.
In short – having volunteers in the same area where they already live can help spread the message more efficiently because local people know and trust each other.
To recruit and assign roles to the volunteers, you must first know the activities your campaign needs help with. Think about the specific needs and ask yourself different guiding questions:
Once you understand what your campaign needs now and in the future, you can make some predictions about the roles you need to fill.
It is important to consider the number of full-time and paid roles needed for your campaign, including how many volunteers can be utilized for other positions. The size and scope of the campaign determine the number of paid roles required and the number of volunteers you need to recruit.
For example, a smaller campaign may require fewer full-time roles and rely more on volunteers, while a larger campaign may require more paid roles and use volunteers to focus on field activities only.
From our experience at HubDialer, we often see that our clients have volunteers working as:
Recruiting volunteers is the most demanding and intense phase of volunteer management. As a campaign leader relying on volunteers, you need a strong recruitment process, guidelines, and overall strategy.
Let’s start with a volunteer recruiting strategy and quickly check which elements to consider.
By now, you should understand why volunteers matter for political campaigns and why you must start recruiting early. Having a clear strategy for recruiting volunteers will ensure that you have the support you need to keep your campaign running smoothly.
Here are four steps to consider when developing your volunteer recruitment strategy:
Here are some things to consider as you work to recruit volunteers:
To maximize your volunteer base, ask everyone to get involved. While some may decline your request, you will only know if you ask. Once you have recruited volunteers, it’s important to acknowledge and thank them for their support within a few days.
If you are still deciding whether to put volunteers to work in their preferred roles, find other tasks for them to do until you find something more suitable for them. Remember, it is important to keep volunteers engaged and motivated.
Recruiting volunteers is an opportunity to grow your campaign team and connect with members of your community. By building a diverse team of volunteers with different backgrounds and experiences, your campaign becomes more representative and effective in reaching your community. This diversity makes any campaign stronger and more impactful.
Note: recruiting volunteers for general campaign teams differs from recruiting volunteers to lead smaller teams focused on canvassing and phone banking tasks. It’s important to consider each role’s specific needs and requirements when recruiting volunteers and to think carefully about which people are best suited for each job. Some volunteers help with campaign strategy, while others help lead teams focused on contacting voters directly. That is why you need to make sure to include different recruiting channels when looking to fill out specific roles.
While volunteers can bring a wide range of skills and experiences to a campaign, it’s important to remember that they are only sometimes fully prepared for some roles.
Don’t be discouraged if a potential volunteer doesn’t have the necessary experience – in campaigns; you often have to make the most of what you have and work with what you’ve got. Make sure to have experience in a specific area, like digital media, to consider an excellent volunteer prospect. The “perfect” volunteer doesn’t exist, so it’s important to be open to working with and training individuals willing to contribute.
Your volunteer recruitment needs to focus on a set of skills that can’t be easily trained, such as:
Combining these skills with volunteers’ experience and knowing what motivates volunteers is the winning formula. Remember, volunteers want to contribute – they care about communities and like working with people with the same values.
Recognizing and promoting volunteers who excel can be a powerful way to motivate and retain top talent. But how do you know who to highlight for their outstanding work? Here are some qualities to consider when identifying potential candidates for promotion:
When looking for volunteer leaders, it’s important to involve them in decision-making by asking for their feedback and input on campaign plans and goals. This sort of team approach exposes volunteers to different parts of the campaign, which increases the likelihood of finding the right fit for everyone.
Another way to test and nurture leadership potential in volunteers is to provide opportunities for them to take on new tasks and responsibilities, such as training other volunteers or developing guides and material. By providing these opportunities, you can help volunteers grow and develop their skills, which benefits your campaign.
To build a team of skilled and dedicated volunteer leaders, focus on recruiting passionate individuals about your campaign and its goals. These volunteers are more likely to take on leadership roles and commit to pushing your campaign forward. Remember, the key to building a strong team of volunteer leaders is carefully selecting individuals who believe in your cause.
As you begin your campaign and recruit volunteers, you may find the process more hands-on and personal. It’s common for a campaign’s first volunteers to be individuals who are already close to the candidate or staff and have been supportive from the start.
These early volunteers can serve as valuable campaign promoters and help attract future volunteers. The first group of volunteers can also set the tone for the rest of your campaign.
To get new volunteers, start by gathering the contact details of all individuals in your network. This network includes anyone you come into contact with, from your closest friends to old connections. Centralizing this information will make it easier to determine who to approach for volunteer opportunities. It will also allow you to track who you have contacted and their responses.
To find new volunteers that could join your campaign, we suggest you start looking at your existing contact network and community organizations:
Once you consolidate your contacts, it’s crucial to start identifying and approaching potential volunteers. Ideally, your next step is to consider where to meet potential volunteers, who these people are, and how to share the right messages with them.
Having contact information on hand to share with potential volunteers is always helpful. Information like this could be a website link, a business card, or a petition for people to sign.
But recruitment is about more than distributing information. It’s also about gathering data. Don’t just hand out flyers with your campaign’s contact information – actively collect names, phone numbers, emails, and text opt-ins so you can follow up and successfully recruit those individuals.
Recruitment is an ongoing process that requires proactiveness when seeking out new volunteers.
Before moving forward with your recruitment efforts, ensure that your volunteer team consists of people you can trust. Have a clear understanding of your direct voter contact needs (by calculating your vote goal and determining your persuasion universe). These steps will be invaluable as you work to recruit more volunteers through canvassing requests, recruitment calls, or targeted texting.
Properly build and organize your team, and you will have a greater chance of achieving your campaign goals.
Effective voter recruitment and conversion into volunteers rely heavily on targeting specific groups of people. Two groups to focus on for volunteer recruitment are your core (base) voters and identified supporters. As with persuasion efforts, targeting these groups can help you build your volunteer team efficiently.
People who already donated or endorsed the candidate you support probably share similar goals. When looking for the best volunteer candidates for your campaign, these are the people you should get in touch with. Our experience shows that people with volunteer experience are the perfect fit for the initial group of volunteers.
Recruiting campaign volunteers is an ongoing task that every campaign needs to do. However, keeping those same volunteers happy and engaged is an entirely different task. If volunteers feel connected and appreciated by the people around them, they will put more effort into their work.
Effective communication is the foundation of all relationships. Regular one-on-one conversations with volunteers foster open and consistent communication. These conversations, similar to employees’ check-ins with their supervisors at work, ensure that information is consistently shared between people.
The person responsible for overseeing a volunteer’s daily work should be the one conducting regular check-ins. That person can be a campaign manager, volunteer leader, or even a candidate.
The field volunteers are often responsible for making calls and going door-to-door. Check-ins help maintain engagement and commitment from volunteers for the campaign.
There are a couple of one-on-one conversations that campaign managers should regularly conduct with volunteers:
Although time is a precious resource for any campaign manager, we can’t stress enough how important it is to reserve time to talk to your volunteers.
Proper training for volunteers is crucial in ensuring they fulfill their responsibilities effectively. Certain strategies and best practices help your volunteers receive the training and resources they need to succeed. Without investing time in training, expecting volunteers to perform to your expectations is unreasonable.
Proper volunteer training is essential for setting expectations and providing volunteers with the necessary skills and knowledge. Training will vary depending on the role – leadership teams require different training from regular volunteers.
For instance, volunteer leadership training should cover high-level strategies, team building, and ensuring everyone is involved in the campaign plan. The person in charge of the campaign is the best person to lead this training.
Every campaign will have unique training experiences, and having a dedicated person in charge of all training sessions is optional. Any prepared candidate or campaign staff member can effectively coordinate a training session.
However, some campaigns may choose to have one person lead all training efforts. This person may be a member of the field operations and be responsible for integrating training into their work.
A good real-world example of this would be relational organizing. Relational organizing relies on volunteers to bring in more people and form volunteer teams. For this to work, volunteers must be able to train other volunteers.
To ensure that your volunteers can become leaders and trainers, provide consistent and high-quality training at the outset. The more comprehensive and frequent the training, the more volunteers will be able to grow their team’s capacity and, by extension, the campaign’s capacity.
By empowering volunteer leaders to become trainers within their communities, they can use what they have learned to train new volunteers. Rinse and repeat; you’ll have a large volunteer network before you know it!
Volunteers can be used in various campaign areas, including field operations, finance, administration, and media relations. As a campaign supervisor, you need to find roles for volunteers and retain them so they can make valuable long-term contributors to the campaign.
It is important to manage your volunteers to track their progress, answer questions, and address any issues that may arise. However, the ultimate goal should be to retain volunteers and keep them involved in your campaign.
One way to do this is by giving volunteers a sense of belonging within the organization and helping them find fulfillment in their work. While every volunteer is an important part of your team, they may have different needs and preferences. Make sure that all volunteers feel comfortable and supported in their roles.
Regular check-ins with your volunteers help assess their sense of fulfillment and accomplishment in their assigned tasks. If a volunteer is struggling or unhappy in their current role, working with them or finding a better fit within the organization may be necessary.
Keep an eye on volunteers who are unhappy and looking for alternative tasks that align with their skills and interests. Someone in the campaign must communicate the value of volunteer contributions, no matter the assignment.
A simple rule is that it’s much easier to retain a current volunteer by finding him/her a more suitable role than to recruit and train a new volunteer together.
It’s important to recognize and engage volunteers who are enthusiastic and effective. These individuals may be great candidates for leadership roles within the campaign. Promoting volunteers to management and leadership positions brings valuable perspective and insight to the team.
When you recognize and reward top-performing volunteers, it can inspire other volunteers to work towards similar achievements. Celebrating success and highlighting opportunities can reinforce the campaign and encourage teamwork. That is why we recommend promoting volunteers who excel in helping others to follow their example.
We have repeatedly mentioned the importance of motivated volunteers working on campaigns. Here are a few tips for keeping volunteers motivated:
A final piece of advice is to remember to be friendly to your volunteers. Just because volunteers aren’t part of the campaign staff dealing with the biggest tasks, that doesn’t mean that you can be rude to them.
Maintaining accurate and consistent volunteer data is crucial for the success of any campaign, including the data on the recruitment and retention of volunteers. Accurate information provides effective identification, recruitment, and engagement of new volunteers and the ability to find people for urgent tasks quickly.
A well-organized volunteer management system helps ensure smooth operation and efficient use of resources. Implementing a volunteer management system early on pays dividends down the road.
Using a database provides clean, consistent, and accurate records of important metrics related to volunteers and their activities. A database is especially helpful in avoiding issues such as accidental data loss during simultaneous activities. A well-maintained database allows you to track progress toward goals and objectives easily.
If you are unable or unwilling to use a database or have a smaller number of volunteers, you can use a spreadsheet to organize and track your team. A simple spreadsheet is often enough to track the most relevant volunteer data as long you maintain and keep it protected. Spreadsheets can be used together with a database or as a standalone tool.
Tracking volunteer activities, their progress, and overall performance allows efficient allocation of resources such as time, money, and staff.
Having a larger number of volunteers gives a campaign more options when reaching out to voters. Additionally, a larger number of volunteers can lead to a “recruitment cycle,” which produces more voters to persuade and mobilize.
The opposite is also true – the more volunteers work in your team, the more time you need to engage with them and track their progress.
Remember – volunteers aren’t only numbers on a spreadsheet but also valuable team members.
Consider dismissing your volunteers as a last resort. If there is an issue with a volunteer that behaves inappropriately, try to find him/her a new position within the campaign before releasing them.
You should clearly define acceptable behavior and have open, honest, and transparent communication with all volunteers that don’t behave accordingly. If dismissal becomes necessary, ensure that it does not come as a surprise and that the reasons are clearly communicated.
Some campaign projects require a good understanding of budgeting for volunteers, particularly when you have many volunteers.
Voter contact is one example of a task that may require many volunteers. When determining the budget for a task such as this, estimate the number of volunteers required and the time needed to complete the task.
For example, let’s look at the factors to consider when budgeting for a task involving phone calls, such as voter contact. These could include:
There’s a myriad of factors that contribute to how long a specific calling campaign may take. And it’s hard to know for sure. That’s why many campaign officers often prefer the pay-as-you-go model. You can underestimate how many minutes you may use and then purchase more in real time if needed.
We also recommend some trial and error regarding volunteer math, and we’ve pledged 500 free minutes when you sign up for a HubDialer Free Trial so that you can do just that. You can take HubDialer for a test drive and clarify your budget expectations without spending a dime. Sign up today and enjoy 500 free minutes on the house!
It helps to check the typical availability of volunteers on evenings and weekends and any local customs that could affect calling times. Furthermore, it would be best to consider the length of time that different types of calls may take since this can impact the potential number of contacts that can be made in a given period. For example, persuasion calls typically take longer, while ID or GOTV calls take less.
Using data from past phone bank operations can help provide a conservative estimate of the number of contacts that can be made.
Volunteers are not paid and have other priorities that could affect their commitment when working on a campaign. With that in mind, recruiting twice as many volunteers as needed for a given task is often necessary to ensure you can implement your plans.
While reminding volunteers of their commitment the day before can be helpful, you still need to expect that only half of the volunteers recruited may be available. In the unlikely event that every volunteer does show up, you’ll find yourself pleasantly ahead of schedule.
At HubDialer, our most successful clients pay close attention to budgeting and volunteer allotment.
Here is a quick and simple checklist for working on your campaign budget and calculating how many volunteers you will need. Use these suggestions as your budgeting formulas.
If you know your critical campaign activities that require volunteer engagement, we strongly suggest creating your budgeting formulas. Also, good advice is to be realistic and always consider the 50 percent rule when planning the required volunteers.
The individuals involved in recruiting volunteers and coordinating activities must receive training on reaching and engaging prospective volunteers effectively. This training should focus on the campaign’s recruitment plan, the specific needs of volunteers, the recruitment message, and exercises to practice these skills. The training ensures the campaign can better prepare individuals to recruit and engage volunteers effectively.
When planning a training session for volunteer recruiters, it may be helpful to have something like the following agenda:
By following a prewritten agenda, campaign recruiters will be informed and prepared to engage prospective volunteers effectively.
Volunteer recruiters need to have written materials that outline volunteer roles and responsibilities and any instructions or guidelines they need to follow. This can include materials such as
These materials can help ensure that volunteers have the information they need to succeed in their roles.
In addition, it may be helpful to have multiple training sessions for volunteer recruiters. These sessions can take place conveniently and may be followed by a social event.
We hope this guide will inspire you to plan, implement and celebrate your campaign’s success thanks to volunteers.
As you can see, effective volunteer management for campaigns can be complex, but it is worth the effort. If you understand why volunteering is essential and how to recruit best, manage and retain volunteers for your campaign, then you’re well on your way to victory.
And once you have volunteers ready to phone bank, start a free trial of HubDialer and equip your volunteers with the most friendly phone banking tool in the market.