How to Train Your Political Volunteers

by Joe Garecht

Political volunteers are an integral part of most election campaigns.  They provide vital support for the candidate and campaign staff, and in some smaller races, the volunteers are the staff.  We’ve previously discussed how to find political volunteers… today, we want to look at how to train your volunteers and maximize their impact on your campaign.

All Volunteers Need Training

First, it is important to note that there are an almost infinite number of volunteer types, jobs, and abilities.  Some of your volunteers will be part time, others full time.  Some will be qualified to answer the phones or stuff mail, others will be exceptional fundraisers, trained political operatives, or grassroots leaders.

No matter the type or ability of your volunteers, they all need training and support from your campaign.  Even if the volunteer in question is already well versed in how to do the job you are assigning them, they will need to spend some time learning the ropes of this campaign, getting to know the campaign’s message and issues, educating themselves about the candidate, etc.

Just as every member of your staff needs to spend some time in orientation / training mode, every volunteer you bring on board needs to be educated and encouraged.  (For more, read How to Manage Political Campaign Volunteers).

Basic Political Education

The first type of training you should offer your volunteers is a basic political education.  While this component isn’t as necessary for experienced operatives / volunteers, for greener recruits, time spent on basic campaign concepts will offer huge benefits down the road.

What type of basic political education should you offer?  Spend time explaining the basic mechanics of a political campaign: What is the campaign structure?  How do primaries and general elections work?  What are the basics of fundraising, grassroots activity, targeting?  What does a typical campaign look like?

Campaign Specific Training

Next, move on to information about this particular campaign.  Every volunteer (and staffer) will require this education, no matter their skill level.  Take the time to give your workers a throughout background on your candidate and why he / she is running for office.  Talk about your campaign message, the key themes you will be communicating, and the important issues for this election.

You should also give a brief overview of your strategy for this campaign.  (Don’t be too specific… remember, anything you say to your volunteers may make it into the press or to your opponent).  You should also introduce the campaign hierarchy and leadership, explain who is doing what, and where volunteers should go with questions and complaints.

Job Specific Training

Once your volunteers understand the basics about political campaigns in general and your campaign in particular, it’s time to move onto more specific job training.  At this point, you should determine in which general areas each volunteer will be working.  For example, you may not know how often you will need envelope stuffing and copying done, but you may know that you need two volunteers assigned to the admin / office manager.  Similarly, you may need a volunteer to help the press secretary, and four volunteers for the grassroots department.

Once you have your volunteers assigned, split them up and offer job-specific training to each.  For example, your admin volunteers should understand how the postage meter works, what the phone etiquette and procedure is, and how to call a local courier service. 

Depending on your needs, you may want to train your grassroots volunteers how to build your yard signs, how to go door to door, and/or how to make get out the vote calls. 

Some of this job specific training will occur at the outset of the volunteer’s time with the campaign, other parts will be on the job leaning, as your volunteers are assigned certain tasks.

Political Training Methods

There are a number of different ways to offer training to your volunteers.  One way is to simply run an in house training program for half a day every couple of weeks to train new volunteers (and perhaps include new staff as well).  Another way is to bring in an outside training group or consultant to run a “campaign school” for your volunteers and staff.  State and local political parties also often run campaign training seminars for candidates, staff, and key volunteers.

Support, Motivation, and Other Opportunities

No matter what training method you choose, one of the most important ways to keep your volunteers engaged and motivated is by offering them constant support, motivation, and other growth opportunities.  (For more on why this is necessary, read Creating Volunteer Superstars).

Providing your volunteers support simply means never letting your team feel rudderless.  Your volunteers should always have something to work on, should know where to go with questions or concerns, and should feel like their concerns and problems are a priority for the campaign.

Similarly, your volunteers will stay motivated if you offer constant feedback, positive reinforcement, and recognition for the work they are putting in.  Offering volunteers tickets to your events, pizza nights, gift cards, and simple “thank you’s” will go a long way to making them feel appreciated and part of the team.

Finally, when possible, offer your volunteers other growth opportunities.  Some large campaigns will create volunteer hierarchies with leadership levels that allow key volunteers to be promoted into volunteer leadership positions, managing teams of other volunteers.

Be creative with this one.  I once worked with a large campaign where the volunteer director created a series of brown bag lunches, held in the campaign’s large conference room, and brought in one of the senior campaign staff one a weekly basis to run a 45 minute seminar on what they do and how it is done.  This let the volunteers get to know the campaign leadership as well as expand their value to the campaign through ongoing political education: a true win / win situation!

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