July 24, 2018

By Cheryl Williams

Every Campaign needs them. Every election win has great campaign volunteers behind it.

Volunteers are, by definition, those amazing people who offer their help without expectation of being paid. They do this  because they believe in you as a candidate and want you to succeed.

An active and invested volunteer team is an essential part of great campaign. And every candidate and campaign needs to ensure they recruit, manage, and empower volunteers as effectively as possible.

The following questions are some of the most frequently asked during our in-person trainings, Let’s look at ways to address them!

Should I Ask My Donors to Volunteer?

Short answer, yes!

The truth is donors want you to succeed. They invest their money in you (and clearly you are a good investment). Why not ask for some of their time as well? The worst they can say is no.

First of all, thank them. Then, connect them with other ways that they can get involved in your campaign. Think about their interests and talents, and approach them with a personal ask. An educator might have some great insight on policy, another donor might have legal advice, and so on.

It’s difficult to ask people to do things to support you—whether that be money or volunteer. difficult to ask for money, and it is common to find that people are hesitant to ask their donors to volunteer. But donors and volunteers are more alike than different, so the same basic strategies apply to make a great ask.

There is a rule in retail, never expect your customer to shop with your pocketbook, meaning that your customer will probably have a different budget than you. You are not your donor. If you don’t have money to donate to a campaign, that doesn’t mean a donor doesn’t have money to donate.

It is the same with your donors! They may have resources, skills and time that you didn’t suspect.

Rather than assuming that your donor will only give money, ask for their time as well. These people have bought into your campaign. Let them help you.

How Do I Get More Youth Involved?

There is no doubt that this is a time of renewed civic engagement. Anger and frustration over current events has created a rise in student activism.

And while there have been countless studies that show how youth voter turnout has always been low, new groups that are hyper-focused on bringing voter registration drives to young people. These include organizations like Let America Vote, and the inspirational activism of the youth involved in March for Our Lives.

The word is spreading that getting involved matters.

That involvement and energy also translates into young, passionate volunteers for your campaign!

Where Do I Look?

College age volunteers are often plugged into their campus local parties. If you live near a college, reach out to see if they already have a Democratic student led organization. Politically active students look to these organizations to connect them to campaigns to join, and this should be one of your first places to reach out. Reach out to these groups. Call them, ask to come in-person, and connect with them on social media.

Make sure your social media makes it easy for them to find you. Facebook is still one of the easiest way for people to learn about your campaign. Have a clear way for people to contact you to get involved.

And don’t rule out high school students! This is a time of engagement for people of all ages. One politically active teen on your campaign can lead to a whole task force.

If you don’t have an interested teenager in your family, reach out to other organizations in your network, such as your church or local political group. They are out there, they want to get involved, but first they need to be asked.

How Do I Find Volunteers?

There is no magic trick to finding volunteers, just two simple words.

Look everywhere.

Certainly, look to your family and friends. And ask them to ask friends to join your team.

Friends are often the first and best resource. The Obama campaign was known for their use of relational organizing. Relational organizing is the tactic of asking people you know to reach out to people they know and so forth. It builds relationships that lead back to your campaign.

Those strong relationships build strong volunteer teams. Marshall Ganz, the veteran organizer and senior lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government explains more about personal engagement in this article on the importance of organizing.

Next, make a list of the following:

  • every group you have ever belonged to
  • groups that share your interests
  • groups you have access to that will allow you the opportunity to share your message and get people interested in your campaigns

Some examples include:

  • Boards, charities, and professional groups you’re associated with
  • High school and college alumni groups
  • Religious or community organizations

While you are on the lookout for a way to tell your story make sure you also listen to the people around you! Their story may give you a key into why they might be a wonderful volunteer.

How Do I Keep Them Engaged Throughout the Campaign?

It is an ongoing struggle to keep volunteers enthusiastic and engaged.

As a result, training and information is key.

Who are the happiest employees at any job? The people who have the resources they need to do their job well, and are both encouraged and appreciated.

Volunteers are often enthusiastic at first, but can lose interest when they stop viewing their involvement as necessary. It is the job of the campaign to keep people informed, both of their jobs and how necessary their job is in order for you to win.

Think about it. You are going to ask people to do something that might be out of their comfort zone. Make sure that your volunteers know how to do what you are asking them to do, and that they feel comfortable asking questions if they don’t!

Reflect on the Obama presidential campaign for a minute. They understood the need to educate their volunteers, and made the learning opportunity a fun place to be. Training the team led to ownership of the volunteer process.

People are more likely to stay engaged when they feel like they belong.

Have a plan in place with the information they need to know and who is responsible for getting that information to your volunteers. Make your volunteers feel included by giving them “inside info”. Keep them updated on campaign developments, events, media coverage, polls and the like.

This is where a great volunteer coordinator or manager comes in handy. They are your point person for recruiting and scheduling your volunteers. Then they make sure that everyone has the information and supplies they need to do their tasks well.

The Heart of Your Team

A strong volunteer team is essential for a strong campaign. They reach out to the community and give voice to your message. But, there is one more thing to look for in a political campaign volunteer.

A sense of humor.

The best volunteers are skilled at the services they offer, have some time to give, and are fun to be around.


Former actor, sometimes teacher, and brand new activist, Cheryl is an intern with NDTC. She has lived in every US time zone, illustrated a children's book, and is raising a strong-willed, political activist of a teenager with her incredible husband and two rowdy cats.