January 10, 2019
By Timmy Arnold
Candidates rely heavily on volunteer engagement to reach their campaign goals. In the months leading up to an election, volunteers sit at the forefront of initiatives and campaign strategy enacted on the ground.
They brave the cold to canvass. They log hours phone banking in cramped offices. Volunteers endure endless paper cuts to prepare candidate mailings. Their relentless work results in huge Democratic turnout at polling places across the country.
But, what happens after election day?
Once the confetti clears and the campaign posters are taken down, how do volunteer roles and responsibilities change? What happens to volunteer engagement?
Volunteer Engagement Post-Election Day
Many volunteers struggle to find their post-election footing. Under-resourced local parties are unable to hire them as full-time staff members. In the absence of a concrete “mission”—getting their candidate elected—volunteers often end their engagement with campaigns and return to their daily lives.
Still, there is an abundance of party work to be done after the election. Democratic ideas are not advanced by political candidates alone. Everyone must play a lasting role in improving their communities.
Volunteer engagement is a must if we want to keep up their important work. We must encourage them to pursue a cause before a candidate.
Taking an issue-based approach to one’s work ensures longevity not often connected to one single politician’s campaign. Local volunteers must invest themselves in progressive issues which transcend the careers of individual actors.
These simple steps make this possible:
Identify your Cause
Virtually every politician arrives in office with one or more passion projects. Harvey Milk ran to promote LGBTQ equality. Al Gore ran to raise awareness of climate change. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran to prove healthcare is a human right.
These deeply-held political beliefs fuel policy and create social change. As a result, they connect individuals from around the country in service to a greater cause.
Meaningful political involvement begins when individuals identify the cause(s) they find most important. So, we encourage everyone to take inventory of the personal values, convictions, and life experiences which originally brought them to politics.
Maybe it was a mission trip to Africa that demonstrated global food scarcity. Maybe it was one’s own struggle locating affordable psychological services that inspired them to redesign our nation’s mental health system.
Whatever the cause, we all have something that keeps us going.
The trick is to pin down our cause so it may serve as a point of reference and a source of motivation for future work. This is the first step to help volunteers find the groups and organizations already dedicated to addressing their passion projects.
Spark Value-Based Conversations
To keep the ball rolling past election day, local volunteers must spark value-based conversations with fellow citizens. They must reframe the speeches used to support specific candidates during the election so they instead promote shared community values.
Local volunteers know their communities better than many officials. Therefore, it is their responsibility to determine local sentiment and mobilize their neighbors to advance/reject certain policies.
Talking about people can be limiting; titles and personal opinion often take too much of the attention. Talking about ideas, on the other hand, is incredibly powerful. However, if local volunteers format their outreach around issues and values, they can excite traditionally non-political constituents into action. Without such polemic ties to individual candidates, it is much easier to inspire the average citizen to address an issue that impacts one’s community.
Collaborate with Elected Officials
Of course, we do not expect local volunteers to abandon the candidates they helped get elected. On the contrary, we invite them to continue working with elected officials to promote their causes. The key is to allow the cause to drive this relationship, guiding it beyond the candidate’s elected term.
Such collaboration can develop through organizing community service projects with direct impact on a volunteer’s cause. For instance, if a volunteer cares deeply about improving care services for the elderly, they can use their campaign contacts to plan a meet and greet with the candidate at a local nursing home. This could allow the candidate to learn more about the needs of their elderly constituents so that they may give greater public resources to the issue area.
In this way, empowered local volunteers can act as connections between elected officials, community members, and prospective volunteers. Above all, having a passion project develops an area of interest and expertise for any volunteer looking to contribute to long-term community improvement.