I was at an Ed Markey organizing meeting and there was a discussion of recruiting and working with volunteers. People were talking about how important it is to feed the volunteers. I mentioned that this is “Rule Number Four.” There were originally five rules and when I added a new rule I renumbered and made “Have fun” number four. This caused confusion because people were used to talking about “Rule Number Four.” This would mostly be something along the lines of, “Hey, Kate! Where’s the food? Isn’t that Rule Number Four?”
I last posted about this this topic here on BMG in 2010. Someone asked for them on facebook during the 2012 cycle and when I listed them there in response, people wondered if I was annoyed with a campaign and was publishing them as some sort of hint. So I’m heading that off by saying that these are simply being posted as a result of a discussion, not as a complaint.
BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL VOLUNTEER BASE
1) Welcome us.
2) Give us meaningful and achievable tasks – don’t waste our time.
3) Treat us with respect.
4) Feed us.
5) Have fun.
6) Thank us.
Twenty-two words, which are key to having volunteers successfully participate in a campaign. They are very simple, and with the exception of rule number two, very easy to follow.
1) WELCOME US. Greet people, make us feel welcome. Introduce yourself when a volunteer comes into your office. Ensure that both the office and phones are configured and staffed to ensure that people are greeted and welcomed. A simple way to begin to accomplish this is to put a big sign that says “WELCOME VOLUNTEERS!” at the entrance. Part of the “welcome us” rule includes making sure that new people are introduced to other volunteers. Pair up experienced volunteers with newcomers.
Skipping number two, for now and on to number three,
3) TREAT US WITH RESPECT. It is important to respect the fact that we are giving up time from our families and paying jobs to volunteer. It includes giving us the respect of responding to our phone calls and e-mail. Respect includes something as basic as asking us what kind of work we want to do. Volunteers understand that what we want to do may not be what best meets the campaign needs. Ask us what we want to do and tell us what you need. Most volunteers understand “campaign chaos” and the last minute nature of campaigns; but we still want the respect of giving us appropriate notice when asking us to help. One additional facet of point three is to tell volunteers what our specific task is geared to accomplish – – what the goals are. Part of treating us with respect is to not make people feel like failures, especially when dealing with forces beyond our control. Respect our experience and our knowledge of our community.
4) FEED US. This can be as simple as offering us a cup of coffee during a cold standout or a bottle of water to bring with us on a hot canvass. Granola bars and raisins are easy to manage food. Some of us might find providing homemade snacks to be an enjoyable way to help. There are great cooks and bakers in the volunteer ranks. It saves money and adds a nice atmosphere. A little sustenance will make us more efficient, obviating the need for breaks to buy food.
5) HAVE FUN. If we aren’t having fun, we’re less likely to come back. Whether it’s having a few refreshments together after a volunteer session, or having a theme like “Talk Like A Pirate Day” celebration, people need to have fun. Build a sense of camaraderie in the volunteer corps.
6) THANK US. Make sure we know that our work is appreciated. It is key for staff to ensure that the candidate (or senior staff) knows who is volunteering. Thanking includes everything from e-mails to snail mail to phone calls. The occasional “thank you gathering” is never out of place. Even if we do not attend a thank you event, we appreciate the invitation. Thanking is so important that it needs to have a system in place. The system should include a mechanism for local volunteers to communicate to staff, in a structured way, the names of people who are volunteering in the community and are out of sight/out of mind for the office staff.
2) GIVE US MEANINGFUL AND ACHIEVABLE TASKS – DON’T WASTE OUR TIME.
Rule number two is the most challenging. Some suggestions:
– Plan ahead. Have a job file of tasks that need to be done. These can include photocopying, responding to written requests, filing, data entry, writing thank you notes. Avoid a situation when a volunteer walks in to help and is told that there is nothing to do or a volunteer calls and is told don’t bother coming in.
– Be creative. Every time a staffer thinks, “This is important, but I don’t have the time,” think of how the task could be tailored to allow a volunteer to own it.
– Look at what staffers are doing and think, “Can a volunteer do this task?”
Ideally campaigns should have available a variety of tasks. In some cases, campaigns offer very little in between “Go make calls” and “Go organize a senate district.” If a campaign wants us to do more than we can achieve, give us the priorities. Example: Canvasses are a higher priority than phone calls, if that is the campaign’s strategy.
The corollary, “don’t waste our time,” includes good concise training. Don’t consider volunteer time to be an expendable resource. Some campaigns may consider it more efficient to do one big training, even if it means volunteers who are ready to go are waiting. Train volunteers in small groups, and then get us going. If we are coming to phone bank, have us go straight to the actual location. Going to headquarters to get assigned to a different location can waste time, and in this age of cell phones, can be avoided. Let us call on our way to our shift and give us our assigned site. If people are being bused to a canvass location, utilize drive time for training. Consider a “drive thru” deployment system. If you have experienced people coming in for GOTV, then when the team is en route, have the point person check in. Have a canvass packet ready when the car pulls in. Hand the packets out and send them out to turf. The fewer people there are at HQ, the more efficient you are especially when time is of the essence. Use time earlier in the cycle to do relationship building.
This will look familiar to long time readers of BMG or my newsletter. As I re-read the information, I think it is as relevant now as it was thirteen years ago when these rules first popped into my head in much the way they are here. I told them to a friend who had just been elected to the DNC. She said something along the lines of, “You should write them down and send them to the DNC and get them posted in every campaign office.” At the time I thought that they were so obvious that they really didn’t need to be said.
The examples that I listed in my 2010 BMG post were a little out of date. I’ll use the Ed Markey campaign for a couple of examples from last week. I had done a fair amount of signature collection and when I walked into the new office for the first time on Wednesday, the last day of signatures, someone called my name and started applauding. Everyone in the big room started doing the same. It made me feel both welcome and that my work was appreciated. The next day at an event, one of my friends was volunteering. I happened to be standing next to her as Sarah Benzing, Ed Markey’s campaign manager, came to the door where my friend was checking names. Sarah immediately introduced herself and thanked her for helping. Sarah’s actions demonstrated both respect and thanks. They may seem like little things, but they make a big difference. I don’t mean to slight anyone by citing these two examples. But I felt that they illustrated my points simply. As I read this I think of all the times that I’ve broken these rules. I guess that is one of the changes in thirteen years. Back then I was thinking of what “they” should do. Now I am thinking more of what “we” should do.
I’d like to hear people’s examples from campaigns that have done this well. Bad examples are welcome if they are instructive. If you do have an example of what not to do, please try to also include an example of a campaign that did something you liked.