I recently spoke with a friend coordinating efforts to prepare a Republican candidate for a future run for governor. Her first goal was not mammoth amounts of fundraising, or volumes of media coverage (though those things are certainly important.) No, her first priority was making sure she had a coordinator in each of the state’s counties. Those coordinators would then recruit on the city and township level. Winning elections requires strong local organizations. Whether running a local, statewide, or national campaign, local organization is integral to a campaign’s success.
The local organization a campaign creates is so important because it is involved in all of the key activities the campaign participates in, from fundraising to voter contact to getting out the vote. The organization is integral to winning the election. In fact, a local organization may be better suited to carrying out these activities than any other campaign apparatus because of one distinct advantage: proximity. The local organization is simply the closest contact the campaign can make with the voters. Think about it: who would you rather give money to, or vote for? The guy who calls from campaign headquarters reading your name from a list, or your neighbor down the block who tells you how wonderful his or her friend, the candidate is?
The Plan: Winning Elections with Strong Local Organization
There are three main components to creating a local organization that is strong and effective: preparation, recruitment, and contact. Each component must be completed to keep the local organization potent.
Before recruiting volunteers for the campaign’s local organization, the campaign team must decide what it is that it expects from it’s volunteer precinct captains and leaders, and what shape the organization will take. Local organizations are often broken down by the smallest possible electoral unit: the polling place (precinct.) When the election is for a local enough race, the campaign should aim to have a captain in place in each precinct, who can (and should) recruit additional volunteers to help with the local tasks. When the election is for a higher office (statewide, major city, etc.) the campaign will still want to have a volunteer leader in each precinct, but may only select leaders for a broader area (ward, district, etc.) and leave precinct recruitment up to them.
The campaign must also decide what activities will be left up to the local organization. Such activities are based on the campaign strategy, and generally include circulating nominating petitions, literature drops, get out the vote activities, door to door campaigning, working the polling places on election day, and fundraising activities (such as small group meetings or selling tickets to a fundraiser.) Local leaders should also keep the campaign abreast of political developments in the precinct.
The campaign should prepare a packet of necessary materials and directions for completing activities, including “street lists” (lists of registered voters in the precinct arranged by block — usually available from the local board of elections.)
Possible volunteers abound, and the campaign should look for them in all of its activities. Sources for potential volunteers include: the campaign staff’s friends and family, local leaders, friends of the candidate, people who have called the campaign asking to volunteer, politically active neighbors, political science students at the local college, etc.
After recruiting a local precinct captain, the campaign should make sure to detail all of the activities that the captain should perform, as well as give him or her the packet that was previously prepared. Winning elections requires informed precinct leaders. The captain should be encouraged to recruit other responsible volunteers, as well as utilize those provided by the campaign. Often, campaigns also give the captain a “vote goal.” That is, if the campaign strategy calls for 200 votes in a particular precinct, the captain should be given this number (or a slightly higher one, say, 225) as a number to shoot for — then the campaign and the captain should talk about how that number of votes can be garnered from the precinct.
One other strategy that few campaigns use, but which proves highly effective and is highly recommended, is to host a “campaign school” for its local precinct captains and/or volunteers. This “school” should be held at a convenient time and limited to a relatively short period of time (one to two hours for local volunteers, longer for actual campaign staff) During this seminar, the campaign team could bring in local political experts, consultants, or highly knowledgeable staff or volunteers to teach the captains strategy for winning elections, and provide them the tools necessary to reach the voters. For great tips and information you can use in your campaign seminars, sign up for The Local Victory Newsletter. It’s full of valuable information you can pass on to your volunteers.
After the precinct captains are out in the field, it is extremely important to maintain contact between them and the campaign. The volunteer coordinator or applicable staff should check in regularly to make sure they are doing what they should. Remember: the goal is winning elections by using the local organization. So use it! The captains must be kept abreast of campaign development, either by newsletter or e-mail. The candidate’s visits to their area should be coordinated with the precinct captain. In short, the local organization needs to be kept engaged and active. Doing this will ensure that the organization is chugging along towards its ultimate goal: election night victory.
For more great information on building your campaign organization, check out How to Win any Election, Local Victory’s complete guide to running and winning any political campaign.