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.

HOW to Create Your Own Endorsement List

endorsement listHow many times has someone asked who you plan to vote for in any given election? Better yet, how many times have you been asked “who should I vote for?” Probably more than once.

Of course you’re not the only one. People who are truly paying attention to politics tend to get more than just one vote in any given election, since they influence the votes of others around them.

Many people put VERY little thought into which candidates they will vote for when (or if) they go to the polls. Many will vote for the candidates with the highest name recognition, or the last yard sign they saw on the way to the polls. Some vote for the candidate who sent them the slickest mail pieces, or who called them on the phone or maybe even knocked on their door. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they know anything about those candidates that really matters. They just don’t have much else to go on.

That’s where your endorsement comes in. It’s the political equivalent of “word of mouth” advertising.

If you don’t believe it works, just look at the business world. Think about the products you buy, or don’t buy, or the movies you do or don’t see simply because of what someone told you. Or the books or other products you did or didn’t buy because of the reviews that they got on the internet. It’s the same thing with elections.

So why not take things to the next level and anticipate the question? Create an endorsement list and make it easy for people to know exactly who you recommend.

Creating an endorsement list is as simple as 1-2-3.

1) List each position that will be on the ballot and which candidates you support.

If you want, you could even get into “why” you support them with a brief sentence or two about each candidate, or just an overall statement at the beginning of the list about what you look for in candidates and that you feel that these candidates meet that standard.

2) Give it a title and personalize it.

Something like: “Suggested Conservative Candidates for (election year or name of the election)”, or just “Jim’s Campaign Endorsements” (if your name is Jim). You can add your name and a way to reach you if people have any questions and want to get involved in any way.

3) Share it!

Email it to everyone in your address book (that the election applies to). Post if on Facebook. Share a link to it on Twitter. Encourage others to share it. Even better, encourage other solid conservatives that you know to create and share a list of their own.

The point is that YOU have more influence on the people that you know than campaigns do – and many people will vote for a candidate simply because you suggested that they should.

Keep in mind that most people put little thought into their votes beyond the candidates that are at the top of the ticket, (who are probably running the most TV and radio ads). This means that your suggestions carry even more weight in “down ballot” races, (such as state senate and house campaigns, county or city council and school board campaigns). Even more so during special and/or local elections that are held at different times that federal elections.

Don’t make it easy for people to cast an uninformed ballot. Your recommendations can make a difference. Share them!

The Four Types of People in Politics

types of peopleSo often we can get frustrated by people in politics who do the wrong things (or even stupid things) unexpectedly. But usually that is because we let ourselves expect too much of people without giving much thought to “why” they may do the things that they do.

The key is to know the types of people in politics and what motivates them.  Why did they get involved in politics to begin with? What do they want? What do they care about? Figure that out and you can go a long way towards predicting “what” they will do in most any situation.

Here’s a breakdown of the usual suspects:

Money-Grubbers

A lot of people who get involved in politics do it for the money. Whether it’s the elected official who hopes to cash in by working as a lobbyist one day, or the political hack who just goes to work for the highest bidder. This group grows larger as government gets bigger because the bigger government gets, the higher the financial stakes to businesses who need “protection” or who are “rent seeking”. The higher the stakes, the more numerous the pols who are all too willing to help them out – for a price (whether now or later).

This makes up an even bigger percentage of political professionals and consultants who are often less concerned about issues and principles and more about chasing the candidates (or businesses) who pay the most. And when money is the biggest principle in your life, it makes you very predictable.

Power-Mongers

This is the group that cares more about power – not quite as much as what it stands for or is used for, but just so long as they are the ones who get to use it. They always want to be “in charge” and driving the agenda, regardless of what the agenda is. They spend most of their time chasing whatever brings them the most power and influence over the political process, which tells you all that you usually need to know about what they will do in any given situation.

Egomaniacs

These people are related to the “power” group, but deserve their own category. They like to be recognized and they’re more interested in the ego stroking or attention that comes with being in the political limelight. This is the group that tends to get overly represented in sex scandals, (think interns, campaign staffers or political groupies…yes, they actually exist!).

It’s been said that politics is like show-business for ugly people, which makes Washington, DC the political version of Hollywood. And it explains much of the merger of news/entertainment and politics – celebrities who want to act like pols, and pols who want to be celebrities. Want to know what they’ll do in any situation? Figure out what will give them the most attention.

Ideologues

The last group is comprised of folks who care about issues. Whether liberal or conservative, they’ve got a burr in their britches about something, either a specific issue, group of issues or an overall philosophy. Most everything they do is geared towards pushing that agenda. They’re in it to make a difference.

Ideologues can be the most tenacious of the groups because they usually care about something they see as being larger than themselves, which also can make them harder to deal with and make them less likely to compromise. Sometimes they can be so caught up in the agenda that they lose sight of the wisdom of taking half a loaf today in order to be in a better position to win another battle tomorrow. It’s the flip-side of passion and commitment.

Hopefully you fit into this last category and are involved because you want to make a difference. Be passionate. Just make sure not to let it blind you to using good strategy.

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Keep these types in mind when it comes to your political activism or lobbying campaigns. It can help you understand other activists, political professionals and elected officials.

Do the things that they usually do tend to bring them more money, power or attention? Or are they always pursuing an agenda?

Know that and they’re less likely to surprise you in the future.

HOW to Hold Successful Voter Registration Drives

voter registrationMaking sure that conservatives are registered to vote is one of the most fundamentally important activities for the future political success of the conservative movement.  And that means voter registration drives.

One of the unpleasant truths of political life is that conservatives tend to be just as bad (or apathetic) about registering and voting as the rest of the general public. The result is that we don’t leverage our numbers and have the impact that we should. The simple fact is that if conservatives aren’t registered they can’t vote. And if they don’t vote, they don’t count.

The best way to have the highest rate of success in registering the right voters is to focus your efforts where those potential conservative voters gather on a regular basis.

In other words, church.

Every poll demonstrates that people who attend church hold the most politically conservative views, and vote accordingly when they actually do vote. By conducting regular voter registration drives in churches, we leverage our time and resources by registering voters who are already likely to agree with us and don’t require as much time and resources to convince to vote the right way on Election Day.

Here’s a list of some simple steps that you can take to conduct successful voter registration drives in your church.

Get Permission First

Make sure that you get the necessary permission from the pastor or other church leadership to conduct a voter registration drive. By making sure that they approve, you can avoid any problems or confusion and possible clear the way to having them help promote it ahead of time. Better still, they may even participate!

Get the Necessary Materials

You should be able to easily get copies of the voter registration form for your state from either your Secretary of State’s website or from your local voter registration office. It may even be possible to download a copy of the form and make copies, if that is acceptable in your state, (just be sure to call and find out ahead of time). Make sure to have enough forms on-hand for your church. A good number would be enough for at least half of your membership.

Promote It Ahead of Time

This is where having permission and cooperation from church leadership can be a big help. Place an announcement in the church bulletin several weeks in advance. If there is a bulletin board for announcements, or a time for announcements from the congregation, try to use these as well. If possible, get the pastor or other church leadership to make an announcement from the pulpit and give directions to where the registration table is located.

Set Up the Registration Table

Be sure to set up registration tables in areas that have heavy traffic, such as near the exits. Spread the forms out on the tables in such as way that everyone can easily access them. And make sure to have plenty of pens available.

Be active. Don’t sit down behind a table, but stand near the table and engage people in conversation. If you’re not pro-active, people are more likely to pass you by. Ask if they are registered to vote. Encourage them to fill out their form immediately at the table rather than taking it home where they might forget. Tell them that you will make sure that it gets delivered to the voter registration office.

Have a “Stand-up Sunday”

The most effective method of registering voters in a church is to have the pastor or other church leadership ask everyone to “stand up” if they are registered to vote, then have ushers pass out voter registration forms to everyone who is still seated. People are then asked to fill out their forms in their seat and either pass them down to the ushers or place them in a central location at the end of the service. Let everyone know that the church will take responsibility to make sure that the forms are delivered to the voter registration office.

Follow Up For More Impact

Be sure to make note of the names and contact information of everyone who has registered. This will enable you to follow up with them and make sure that they get important issue education information, as well as remind them to vote prior to future elections.

Other Opportunities:

To be even more effective, you can get a copy of the current voter registration list for your area and cross-reference it with the names in your church directory (and/or other nearby churches) to identify which members are not currently registered to vote. Then contact them about helping them register. Talk about accountability and the civic responsibility to participate in self-government, and the policy changes that could occur if more church members participated in our political process.

While the church is the largest market for unregistered conservative voters, there are other places that should be considered as well, such as religious schools and bookstores.

Finally, be sure to help magnify this effort by reaching out to other conservatives in your area and encouraging them to hold a registration drive in their church as well.

Remember, political success boils down to simple arithmetic. And every vote counts.

How to Have a Productive Meeting with Elected Officials

gearsWhen it comes to lobbying, the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease.  And while many different forms of lobbying can produce positive results, the most effective method is to meet with your elected officials personally.

But if you’re going to have a personal meeting with elected officials, you want to do what you need to do in order to get the most out of the visit. You want them to know what you think and why. You want to know what they think – and what they will do. And you want to make it as likely – and easy – as possible for them to agree to say “yes”.

Here are some simple tips to keep in mind that will help you get the most out of it.

Plan Your Visit

Treat it like you would any important business meeting (or at least the ones that you actually prepare for!). Be clear about what you want to accomplish. Identify which members of the legislative body (or council) you need to talk with to help achieve your goals. Elected officials usually won’t give as much priority to people who are not in their districts, so be sure to meet with the ones who represent YOU. If you don’t live in their district, take someone with you who does. Know what you want to say beforehand. Prepare a fact sheet or position paper that you can leave with them AFTER the meeting is over, (along with your contact information).

Schedule an Appointment

The “higher up” the political food chain the official is, the more staff they are likely to have. For local (and some state) officials, you can probably contact them directly. Federal officials with have a scheduler that you will need to contact to arrange a meeting. Explain your purpose and why you want to meet with them. Make sure that you have an understanding of how long the meeting will last. Elected officials typically like them short and sweet. Fifteen minutes is a good rule of thumb.

That’s enough time for you to accomplish two goals: 1) tell them what you want them to do and why, and 2) get feedback so you know what to expect from them, (and if whether or not they need more pressure from others who think like you do).

Be Prepared

Make sure that you have accurate information and material available on your issue. Elected officials have to deal with many issues, and it’s possible that they might not have the information that you can provide. Remember that there are always two sides to any issue (at least), and the more you know about the arguments of the opposition, the more effective your information should be in countering it.

Remember, frame the “problem” to fit your “solution”. Of course this doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. The most important points for you to get across are why the issue is important to you, and that you feel passionately about it. You’re a citizen with concerns. More importantly (to them), you’re a registered voter.

Be On Time and Be Patient

When seeing any elected official, be punctual. But remember, it’s not uncommon for them to run behind schedule or to have meetings get interrupted. If there is an interruption, be flexible. If possible, continue the meeting with a member of their staff.

Don’t Be Intimidated

Don’t let yourself get nervous or intimidated. Sure, you’re on their turf, but you’re also their boss. They work for you. Just remember to be polite about it. You’ve got something they want (your vote…and maybe even your help).

Pin Them Down

Elected officials will usually try to be noncommittal because as soon as they take a position they probably make someone angry. They would rather just listen politely, empathize, then shake hands and lead you to the door. Your job is to get to the bottom line. Sure it’s nice to have the satisfaction of being heard, but where do they stand at the end of the day? Be polite, but pin them down. (For example, “I’m glad that you’re concerned, but will you vote for or against the bill?” or, “I’m glad to hear you agree in concept, but will you cosponsor the bill?”) They may not like it, but they will respect you for it.

Be Political

Most elected officials try to represent the best interests of their constituents, (or at least the good ones do). Whenever possible, draw a correlation between what you want and the interests of your community, (i.e. their district). Show them that you are not the only one who feels the way you do.

They may not want to take your side in order to avoid taking “heat” over the issue, but you could offer to help solve this problem by working to counteract the heat. Offer to write supportive letters-to-the-editor, phone calls to local talk radio, or even send out a press release from your group thanking them for their support. Find out what “cover” they may need to help get them over the line. Offer to work with their staff to get it done. Be helpful and make it easy for them to say yes.

Be Responsive

If an elected official expresses an interest in your issue or request, be ready to answer questions or provide any additional information they may need. Afterwards, follow up with a thank-you letter highlighting your discussion, (especially if they agreed to anything), and include any additional information they may have requested.

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In our system of government, the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease, and given that the percentage of people who take the time to meet personally with elected officials is so incredibly low, it shows commitment on your part. And it lets them know just how squeaky you might be.

If done consistently and professionally, meeting with your elected officials will help you be a much more effective advocate for the things that you care about. Building relationships with them will not only further your credibility as a citizen (or organization), but it will also provide opportunities for you to have a greater impact for the conservative cause in the future.

Make sure to get the most out of it!