How to Manage Political Volunteers

Volunteer handsAmerican politics and public policy is moved by its citizens; specifically, ACTIVE citizens.

It’s all about people.  People work for candidates in their campaigns, cast ballots on Election Day, and then lobby those elected officials to help shape public policy once they get into office.

But given that so few people actually do participate in the political process, the few who do are at a premium, so it is important that leaders at all levels understand some basic principles of how to manage political volunteers.

Building and managing a network of willing volunteers requires skills that are different form how you would manage employees. You know, because they’re not being paid. The following are some general principles that you should keep in mind.

Share the Vision

Do they know the vision? Don’t assume volunteers understand how your campaign or group operates and why. Share the vision so they will understand what the goals are and how they can help achieve them. The bigger the vision, the more motivating it will be.

Clearly communicating the vision creates a spirit of unity and purpose, and good leaders will always make an effort to motivate volunteers by keeping them focused on the importance of the cause they are involved in. Keep their “eyes on the prize”, so to speak.

Remember, people who aren’t being paid have to motivated by something other than money. Without a vision, there is no leadership on your part…and no motivation on their part.

Keep it Simple

It seems that the more complicated a plan is, the more the planners tend to like it. The tendency seems to be that, if it’s big, intricate and impossible to understand, then it must be a great plan. With most things in life, the opposite is true; much more so in grassroots politics.

Complex plans usually fail because they have too many moving parts, too many places where they can fail (or people can fail) and are too difficult to understand, implement and fix. All of which leaves too much extra room for Murphy’s Law.

A simple plan makes it easier for volunteers to see how they fit in, how to execute, and how their involvement makes a difference and connects with the vision.

Just remember the KISS method of planning: “Keep it simple, stupid”.

Be a Leader

One of the most important rules is never to ask someone to do a job that you wouldn’t do yourself. It’s a simple idea based on human nature, but you would be surprised how many people overlook it in politics. Building and running a campaign or grassroots organization can require a lot of “grunt work”, which means a lot of volunteers and a lot of hours. Lead by example. Show them how the job is done and that you’re willing to pitch in to help do it.

If you’re going to get the most out of a team, then they need to know that you’re a part of the team as well.

Aim for Success Not Perfection

Grassroots organizing is inherently “messy” because it involves people. And people can behave in all kinds of funny ways, which impacts how well you’re able to get things done. In other words, for the sake of your own sanity, you have to recognize that things will never be perfect. In fact, trying to be a perfectionist will likely leave you short of your goals and missing out on many opportunities – not to mention run off a lot of volunteers.

Don’t stress so much on one area that you’re never able to take care of anything else. There is limited time, resources and volunteers in order to get most of the things done that need to be done.

Your job is not to run a perfect operation, but rather something that can outmaneuver and “out hustle” the opposition. You can’t let the small details get in the way of the big picture. Remember the old saying, “the best is the enemy of the good”.

Pass it On!

People don’t do what they don’t understand. The more knowledge a volunteer has, the more confidence they will have and the more effective they will be. Don’t keep what you know to yourself. Make a point of passing on what you know to people who are motivated and want to get even more involved.

Every grassroots leader should work to identify and train other leaders. Keep in mind that the best place to identify future leaders is from the group of people who are already willing to help. From a conservative grassroots standpoint, the goal is a network of trained, experienced activists who can impact the things we care about participating in political parties, helping good candidates get elected, and lobbying for our conservative principles.

Without their support, nothing happens.

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