As an experienced political campaign volunteer and from the perspective of a business etiquette consultant and trainer I have some strong opinions on how a campaign should be run as well as how campaign staff, interns and volunteers should be trained and conduct themselves. A few years ago I worked on a Congressional campaign in which I was responsible for recruiting college interns to work in various capacities; I also supervised them and to the extent that I could guided them in the manner in which they should represent themselves, the candidate and the campaign as a whole. This is crucial because a campaign must project a strong and consistent image that reflects the brand of its candidate.
A campaign, depending on its size, generally will have more or less of the following staff:
Start-up campaigns usually do not have a dedicated Volunteer Director so they don’t have time to formally indoctrinate volunteers; and even in larger, established campaigns the Volunteer Director usually is stretched thin and depends on the existing volunteers to train new ones.
Thus, in order to become an asset to the candidate and the campaign the onus often falls on each volunteer to acclimate and tactfully pick his or her way through the organized chaos that is the nature of a campaign. And, depending on the size of the campaign or the stage at which it is currently, there are a number of volunteer tasks in which to become involved. Keep in mind that the earlier someone joins the more opportunities for volunteers who are really interested in growing with the campaign.
To help prepare you to be a top-notch campaign volunteer, from my long experience I offer the following tips:
Do Your Research
Research your candidate thoroughly so you can speak knowledgeably about her or his track record, qualifications and positions on the issues. Newspapers, books, the Congressional Record, TV programs, debates and conversations with friends and family can reveal your candidate’s history, track record, character, strengths and weaknesses. This preparation will help you to discuss your candidate with confidence, knowledge and authority when speaking with voters during phone calls and house calls.
Campaigns generally lend themselves to everyday informal and even casual attire. But no matter how casually you dress your appearance should have a put-together look and reflect flawless grooming and good posture. Keep in mind that there will be fundraisers, rallies and media events where you will be meeting dignitaries or even find yourself on camera; in those cases you should plan to dress in business casual or formal.
As Woody Allen observed, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” So don’t ever be a no-show, for your sake as well as the campaign’s. Know how to contact the campaign and always advise if you cannot keep your commitment or are running late. Be punctual and stay for the period for which you signed up.
- Calling – Calling voters to invite them to events, talk about your candidate or GOTV is an essential part of building support. Many campaigns use technology to make calling easier and more efficient, such as HubDialer, and Democrats and Republicans maintain their own databases to keep track of voter information.
- Canvassing – Canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on doors to obtain ballot signatures, talk about your candidate or GOTV (if no one is home you’ll leave a door hanger), is also essential. Volunteers typically are given a list of names and addresses that are grouped by neighborhood, so you won’t be knocking on random doors. Canvassers usually work in pairs.
- Research – Conducting research on voters to verify or update information, compile lists of large donors for the candidate to call and obtain other valuable information for the campaign helps in fundraising and vote building. If you have the soul of a detective and love digging for information this is the job for you!
- Data Entry – Information to be entered in the campaign’s database include updated voter data and campaign contributions, as well as other items obtained by the research team.
- Organize the Office – This is key so that staff and volunteers can readily locate references, records, supplies, equipment and marketing items (buttons, tee-shirts, yard signs, posters, flyers, brochures, etc.). Other tasks might involve hanging charts and maps, ordering supplies, emptying the shredding machine and waste baskets and stocking the snack room. It’s also important to organize and collect donated items, such as printers, paper, ink cartridges, kitchen and restroom supplies, fans, dry erase boards, cleaning supplies and so on.
- Run Errands – Even in the Internet age campaigns still mail a lot of material, so making runs to the post office is helpful, as well as delivering yard signs or ducking out to pick up emergency supplies or lunch for the staff.
- Handle Correspondence – Set up a template and keep up with sending thank-you letters under the candidate’s signature to donors (usually those who contribute $50 or more) — and have the candidate add a personal note to on letters to donors who contribute $500 or more.
- Be a Chauffeur – Most campaigns need drivers to transport voters who need rides to the polls on election day. And if you are an especially good driver, with a flair for deciphering directions (in case your GPS fails), can get places on time and know how to navigate through bad weather you might want to volunteer to drive the candidate to rallies, events, press conferences, photo ops and other meetings.
- Draft Marketing Pieces – If you have a flair for writing you may offer to draft press releases, invitations, announcements and letters to the editor of local newspapers. The Communications Director is often over-loaded with tasks and will appreciate any help.
Another way to show initiative is once you’ve got the basics in place start to work on your technique for whatever task you’ve been assigned. Perhaps you know a more efficient method of researching, data entry or calling and canvassing. If you are not disrupting the process or violating a campaign practice, customizing your approach will make your project more enjoyable and productive.
Everything you do or say reflects on your candidate, so make sure that you connect with campaign staff, fellow volunteers, supporters and voters in a friendly and professional manner. Put your best foot forward. And, whether your candidate wins or loses continue to conduct yourself confidently, graciously and with gratitude, and no signs of arrogance or bitterness.
Enjoy the people you meet during your work on the campaign, record their names and contact information, connect with them on LinkedIn and keep in touch with those whose friendship and camaraderie you value. You never know when one of your new acquaintances will lead you to a new opportunity.
Working as a volunteer affords less pressure than if you were a paid staffer, and allows you a certain amount of freedom to do what you enjoy doing. So while you are making valuable contributions of your time and talent, have as much fun as possible doing so!
Until next time,