You’ve certainly heard the saying “all politics is local” before – it’s a tired old political saw, but it’s as true now as it was the day it was first uttered.  People care about national issues and national campaigns, but elections are won and lost street by street, person by person… they’re won and lost at the grassroots level.

The driving force behind your campaign’s grassroots operation will be your core group of supporters and volunteers who are working in their own neighborhoods and on their own blocks to make sure you win.  These folks make up your “campaign organization.”  Building an effective campaign organization (sometimes called “local organizing”) is a good way to segment and streamline your campaign’s voter contact activities.

While organizations differ based on the size and resources of the campaign, the typical volunteer campaign organization may look something like this:

Campaign Org Chart

As you can see from this sample chart, the goal of a campaign organization is to get your supporters to take responsibility for certain areas, give each of them a set list of goals and objectives for their areas, and assist them in meeting those goals.  Let’s take a closer look at each of those three points:

Giving Your Organization Members Real Responsibilities

Most people like to be given real responsibility and leadership roles, and most people want to feel like they are part of a team.  Your local campaign organization provides all of those things to your supporters, who in turn go out and work to get your candidate elected.

The campaign organization takes people who want to volunteer and turns them into part of your team – it makes them feel important and connected to the campaign, and is a prime motivator for volunteers to go out and really do the work of the campaign.  Essentially, in return for taking responsibility for certain jobs in a specific area, you assign key volunteers titles (“Block Captain,” “Area Leader”, etc.) and reward them for their work with recognition and applause.

Caution: The Risks of Delegation

Of course, with the delegation of work and the assignation of titles and responsibilities, there come real risks – volunteers can go off the reservation, think they are speaking for the campaign, talk to the press, and do a whole host of no-nos.  That’s why you have to keep close reign on your volunteer campaign organization.  Town captains, block leaders, and the rest of your organization are not allowed to talk to the press, should stick to the jobs you have given them, and should be well trained and thoroughly monitored by the campaign staff.

Types of “Areas” for Your Supporters to Coordinate

As you can see from the above chart, each person in the campaign organization is assigned an area of purview.  Some people are responsible for blocks, others for towns; some could coordinate whole counties or states. But geography isn’t the only type of area that a volunteer could be responsible for.  You may also have industry captains (High Tech Coordinator, Lawyers Coordinator, Healthcare Coordinator, etc.), demographic captains (Senior Citizens Coordinator, High School Voters Coordinator, etc.), and even language captains (Spanish Speaking Voter Captain, etc.).  The sky’s the limit.

Goals and Objectives for Each Volunteer Supporter

The type of local campaign organization we are describing here won’t work unless you assign each person a list of objectives.  You should ask your volunteer organizers to take real, concrete steps on behalf of the campaign, and to report back to you on their progress.  Some responsibilities that are often assigned to local campaign organization members include:

  • Hold a meet-and-greet for the candidate in your home
  • Find neighbors to put up yard signs
  • Raise $50 for the campaign
  • Work the polls on Election Day
  • Go door-to-door in your neighborhood
  • Send out an e-mail to your contact list pointing them to the campaign’s website

Assistance and Tracking

One of the roles of the campaign’s grassroots staff is to train and support the campaign organization.  If you are going to be utilizing a large volunteer campaign organization, consider holding a campaign “school” to train all of your volunteers on etiquette and tactics.  Also be sure to let them know what is legal and what isn’t, and how to deal with hostile voters.

Your supporters will rely on your campaign staff for direction, encouragement and support.

Once you send your organization out onto “the streets” to do their work, be sure to track their progress, problems, and victories.  All organization members should continue to attend campaign meetings, and the grassroots staff may decide to hold regular conference calls or webcasts with the entire group.

You can also use hierarchical tracking through your organization, for example, your grassroots staff could stay in constant contact with the county leaders, who stay in constant contact with the town leaders in their counties, who stay in constant contact with the block captains in their towns.

Rewards and Recognition

It’s tough to keep volunteers motivated.  Offer lots of help for those who need it to accomplish their goals, and be sure to offer tons of recognition and rewards for those organization members who are doing outstanding work.  Generally, the different levels of the campaign organization are all offered different levels of “benefits” for their work.  For example, block captains may get a campaign t-shirt and an invitation to the election night party, while the state-wide coordinators may attend quarterly receptions with the candidate and get campaign business cards, etc.  Tailor the benefits and rewards programs to meet you individual campaign needs.

Another great tip is to use performance-based rewards for some of your recognition program.  For example, block captains could be told that once they place five yard signs, they will get a free bumper sticker, and that the block captain who gets the most people to attend their in-home event will receive an invitation to a dinner with the candidate.