Creating Volunteer Superstars

by Joe Garecht

Volunteers are the backbone of any local campaign. National campaigns have tons of paid staff, and use volunteers only to fill in the gaps — but for the local campaign, most of the work is going to be done by volunteers. Of course, there are two type of volunteer teams that a campaign can assemble. The first is unenthusiastic, chaotic, and ineffective. The second is energetic, focused, and successful. How can you make sure that your volunteer team ends up looking like the latter?

1. Find the Right Volunteer Coordinator

The volunteer coordinator’s job is a difficult one. He or she must be both a smart, active manager who can head up a small army of volunteers, and a real people person who can soothe egos and ensure peace in the volunteer corps. The single most important factor in ensuring a successful volunteer organization is choosing the right volunteer coordinator.

The volunteer coordinator must be someone who will be able to motivate the volunteers to complete tasks on time, without hurting their feelings or bruising their egos. This is doubly hard when you consider that volunteers, by their very nature, are unpaid — there ‘s nothing holding them to the campaign but their own desire, and the coordinator’s skills. The coordinator must also be comfortable delegating responsibility, and doing so in an orderly fashion. Except for the most local of elections, the volunteer coordinator will not be able to personally manage every volunteer operation, and must be able to recruit and appoint other leaders within the volunteer organization.

2. Keep Your Volunteers Informed

The worst feeling for a volunteer is to feel “uninformed.” If a volunteer is giving his or her time to the campaign, he or she expects to be a real part of the action. Volunteers should be regularly brought up to date, either by meetings with the campaign staff, newsletters, or emails. Even if a volunteer isn’t really the most important person in the drive to election day, he or she must feel like they are.

3. Keep Your Volunteers Happy

The second worst feeling for a volunteer is to feel bored. Always use your volunteers, even if there is nothing for them to do. If the campaign simply has run out of work (which should rarely happen) or if the volunteer isn’t particularly competent (more likely,) he or she should still be given some task to keep them busy. Volunteers in local races talk – to neighbors, friends, relatives, etc. The last thing you want on your hands is a disgruntled volunteer . If a volunteer is having a bad experience at campaign headquarters, everyone they know will hear about it. If the volunteer feels like a part of the team, however, everyone he or she knows will hear what a great campaign they are involved in. A busy volunteer is a happy volunteer.

Similarly, always thank your volunteers, even before election day. Throw inexpensive “volunteer parties,” send thank -you notes, schedule some time for the volunteers (as a group) to meet with the candidate. If your volunteers feel appreciated, they’ll work extra hard to make sure your campaign is successful.

4. Give Your Volunteers Defined Goals and Defined Tasks

Finally, it is important that your volunteer team has a sense of direction. Before delegating tasks, the volunteer coordinator should sit down with the campaign manager or other staff and decide just what goals the volunteer teem will pursue. Some common tasks include registering voters, helping with literature drops, making or receiving calls at campaign headquarters, assisting with get out the vote operations, and helping with fundraising events. The coordinator should set numerical goals wherever possible: The volunteer team will register 100 new voters, assist with the get out the vote effort by taking making sure 2% of our needed votes get to the polls, etc. The volunteer team should perform these goals in conjunction with the campaign strategy, as laid out by the campaign manager. The strategy is always fluid, so the volunteer team must be ready for changes mid-campaign.

Once the goals are laid out, the volunteers should be given defined responsibilities to achieve these goals. Volunteers should be organized by task (e.g. volunteer voter registration team) or by geography (e.g. the 25th precinct volunteer team) and a good leader should be appointed for each group. The groups should be given its defined goal, and taught how to accomplish that goal. The groups leader and volunteer coordinator should continually ensure that progress is being made.

Use Them or Lose Them

In a national campaign, volunteers may be an afterthought (though some may debate the wisdom of that strategy,) but in the local campaign, volunteers are crucial. In order to ensure that your volunteer team moves you closer to success each day, you must not only use them, but use them smartly. By recruiting the right volunteer coordinator, keeping your volunteers informed and happy, and defining goals for them ahead of time, you are well on the way to creating your own team of volunteer superstars.

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