From casual observers to political buffs, working on a political campaign seems to be a mysterious, exhausting, and challenging experience. While there’s a certain level of truth in the latter two, it’s important to demystify the world of campaigns and the people who run them.

First, we’ll hear from some seasoned campaigners about their experiences. Then, we’ll take a look at the top five myths about working on a campaign.

Let’s dive in.

Myth #1: Working on a Campaign is a Regular 9-5 Job.

Let’s be real: campaigns are hard work. When you decide to start working on a campaign, you’re making a much bigger commitment than your average 9-5 job. The hours are long, the work is demanding, and there’s very little downtime. It can be both extremely exhausting and incredibly rewarding.

But, it’s important to understand that each day on a campaign will be different. Depending on your role, you might be trudging through a neighborhood knocking doors, or making countless phone calls to potential supporters and donors. One day might have you organizing volunteers for a canvass, while another could have you putting together a rally for the candidate.

When you sign onto a campaign, be ready for a new adventure every day. You may start with a set schedule, but you can bet on it being scrapped pretty quickly.

Myth #2: Only “Folks with Money” Can Run for Office.

Far too often, great potential candidates decide against seeking elected office because of the misconception that only wealthy individuals can afford to run.

Financing campaigns is an important part of our political process, but you don’t have to be wealthy to build a winning campaign.

That begs the question: how exactly do people without buckets of cash run for office? For most candidates, a lot of the money they spend on their campaign comes from fundraising efforts. They largely don’t spend their own money – they raise money from others.  Candidates spend time during their daily schedule contacting donors and raising the funds needed to run.

In U.S. elections, fundraising is an essential skill. Raising money helps your campaign afford staff, buttons, literature, and other campaign items. Fundraising is conducted in a variety of ways (such as phone calls, email, in-person events). This activity helps to make your campaign’s vision a reality.

Fundraising, though often a daunting part of seeking public office, is how “regular folks” can win elections. Our electoral process is designed to allow people from all backgrounds to compete for a seat at the decision-making table.

Myth #3: No One Gets Paid to Do Organizing Work.

On any campaign, there are numerous organizers who perform their duties as unpaid volunteers. These organizers provide extremely valuable assistance to a campaign.

Candidates and their staff rely on them for a good portion of the campaign’s contact with voters.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a campaign who pays their organizers.

You’re not going to be making the big bucks working on a campaign, but you don’t have to do it for free, either. In fact, political field organizers on average make about $35,000 per year.

Bottom line: you can make a living as an organizer. You won’t break the bank, but you can get a paycheck.

Myth #4: You Can Only Organize Communities You Belong to.

It’s typical for people to assume that to be an effective organizer, you must be a member of the community you’re organizing. However, there are countless examples in politics where this isn’t the case.

At its core, organizing is about passion. You don’t need to identify with a certain group to care deeply about the issues which impact them. People will respond to your drive to create change.

You don’t need to be a Christian to help Christians address issues of importance to them. You don’t need to be a woman to care about and involve yourself in the women’s rights movement.

Political and social movements are strengthened by the diversity of ideas and backgrounds. If you have a passion for a particular issue, get out there and organize. Focus on building community, not on finding one you fit into neatly.

Myth #5: Campaign Workers Deal with Policy.

Conventional wisdom assumes campaign staffers spend their time formulating public policy positions. It’s common in interviews with potential staffers to hear them express a desire to join a campaign because of an interest in policy.

At the end of the day, campaigns are about showcasing and making the case for a candidate’s policy proposals. A campaign is about helping someone with policy ideas win an election so they can implement their vision.

The goal of a campaign is to get as many people to vote for a candidate as possible. So, a major part of this effort is the field work. This is about engaging with voters, so field organizers spend their days making phone calls, setting up events, and knocking on doors. As a result, campaigns are more about marketing than policy development.

If you work on a campaign, realize that your experience will likely be centered on voter contact, not policy details. Governing is about policy, campaigning is about earning the chance to govern.

Take the Leap

We hope that we’ve set the record straight on some of the realities of life on the campaign trail. There’s no doubt that working on a campaign is a challenge, but having a positive effect on your community makes it all worth it.

If you’re passionate about the issues facing your neighborhood, town, state, or country, then think about joining a campaign.

Take the leap and check out NDTC’s Staff Academy training program!

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Conor Hicks

Conor is a seventh-generation Oregonian, born and raised in the Central Oregon town of Redmond. While he has deep roots in both the Northwest and Midwest, he currently lives most of the year in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, where he studies Political Science at Boston College. At NDTC, Conor is a member of the Communications team.