How to Manage Political Campaign Volunteers

Volunteers are an integral part of almost every political campaign.  Whether you’re running for the School Board or the Senate, chances are that a good portion of your campaign work will be performed by volunteers.

Your volunteers are a great resource for your political campaign, but they also pose additional issues for you: they’re not being paid, so they can’t be fired, and they’re helping you (usually) out of the goodness of their hearts (and because they believe in you), so you have to be careful how you manage them.  That being said, most campaigns need volunteers to do the work, because they couldn’t afford to hire enough staff to do all of the work that needs to be done.

Recruiting Volunteers

The first step in using volunteers in your campaign is to recruit them and get them on board.  For more information on how to find volunteers, read How to Find Volunteers for Your Political Campaign and  5 Tips for Recruiting Political Volunteers.

Setting Expectations

Once you have your volunteers on board, be sure to set expectations for them.  The most important expectation to set is one of professionalism.  You’ll want to make it clear to your volunteers that you consider them a part of your team, and that you expect them to represent your campaign well.

The best way to set this expectation is by creating a professional atmosphere.  Treat your volunteers like your staff whenever possible: give them a decent place to work at your office, invite them to events, and set a good example in the workplace.

Another expectation you should set with your volunteers is what type of work you envision them performing.  I often suggest that campaigns give titles and defined job responsibilities to their most trusted volunteers.

When a volunteer signs up to work a couple of hours each week, shows up on time for a few weeks, and works diligently, bring them in for a meeting with the campaign manager and offer them the chance to “take over” a project (even if it is only answering the phones or sending thank you letters) during the hours they are there.  If they agree, give them a title (“Evening Receptionist” or “Afternoon Mailroom Supervisor”) and a written job description.

Making Team Players

It’s in everyone’s best interest to make your volunteers feel like part of your team.  Your volunteers will feel motivated and grateful for the opportunity, and your campaign will reap the benefits of good work product and happy volunteer staffers.

Let your paid staff and consultants know that they should make the volunteers feel like part of the team.  Of course, you may not want your volunteers to be privy to everything that your paid staff knows or has access to, but it generally does no harm to invite your volunteers out to lunch, cc: them on some innocuous notes and e-mails, and invite them to participate in some off-site events or other perks.

For more information on  making your volunteers part of your team, read Creating Volunteer Superstars.

Tracking Performance

To get the most of out of your political campaign volunteers, track their performance, just as you would with your paid staff.  Hold regular meetings with your volunteers to check on their work, answer their questions, and offer guidance on coming projects.

Also, be sure to thank your volunteers often.  Remember, they aren’t being paid to do this job… they’re doing it because they believe in your cause.


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1 comment… add one
  • Former Campaign Volunteer

    I just quit volunteering for a presidential campaign. I still believe in the candidate. But I felt disrespected as a volunteer. Here are the various things I observed that made me decide to quit volunteering my time. Maybe someone will learn something from my experience and treat volunteers more appropriately:

    1. Do not single out certain people who you think are top performers for public flattery and gifts. This does not inspire everyone else. It just makes the other volunteers feel that their efforts were not recognized.

    In my case, the guy in charge of the volunteer phone center constantly emphasized the number of calls that were made. He singled out a woman who made over 600 calls the day before and she received special gifts. Was this supposed to inspire me to make 600 as well? It did not. It made me feel completely discounted.

    2. Do not allow an insider clique to develop among your volunteers that visibly excludes others. It will make the excluded volunteers want to quit.

    3. Don’t put your volunteers in a bad environment.

    The call center was extremely noisy and packed with people. The phones were terrible, often cutting out and often barely audible. Many volunteers had spent hundreds of dollars (myself included) of their own money getting to the volunteer site from many states. The least that could be done is have a work site that had adequate equipment and was minimally comfortable.

    4. Control the chaos.

    The entire experience was an exercise in chaos. The result was nobody was trained except for a couple minute explanation of how to use the phones.

    5. Do not pressure people to put in more time than they want to.

    Not all people can devote all their time to being a volunteer. Instead of pressuring volunteers to do what they can’t or won’t, whatever time volunteers are willing to give should be appreciated. If it is 8 hours instead of 12, that is still 8 hours that they won’t be giving if they quit because they are constantly being strong-armed to give more hours.

    I can’t imagine wanting to volunteer again because I deserve better.

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