Key Attributes of Good Conservative Activists and Leaders

As you’ve surely noticed there are a lot of people involved in politics with many different strengths and weaknesses. But what kind do we need MORE of?

What kind of people should you seek out and try to work with? What kind of people should you actively try to recruit and get involved in politics as you (hopefully) help build the conservative farm team in your area? What kind of people should you support for leadership positions (or even elected office)?

The answer is what we need more of in the conservative movement as a whole. Generally speaking, there are three attributes that we need in conservative political activists – whether they are brand new to politics, or have been around forever. People who are principled, passionate and politically savvy.

Principled

Sometimes we are too lax about making sure that the people we work with, recruit or support for leadership are actually principled conservatives. We don’t do good “due diligence”. Why is that important? Because principled conservatives are the kind of people that you don’t have to wonder about when it comes to what they will do or support in a given situation.

Regardless of which particular issue may be their hot-button, principled conservatives have an all-around conservative philosophy, and they’re not the “hi-maintenance” type that you have to constantly worry about or prod to do the right thing.

Needless to say, it saves a good bit of time and energy when you don’t have to worry about people who are supposed to be on your side.

Passionate

In addition to having the right principles, we need people who are passionate about those principles, because if they are passionate they will be persistent. And persistence is a critical key to long-term political success.

Passionate people are can usually be counted on to stick with it and get the job done because they care about something they see as bigger than themselves. They are more likely to sacrifice their time and do things that other people just won’t do because they’re committed. And they won’t “burn out” easily over the long-haul, or wilt at the first sign of resistance or controversy (which is always in abundance if you’re principled).

Politically Savvy

Lastly, and just as importantly, we need people who are politically savvy. People who know how to passionately advocate for their principles in a way that’s more likely to be successful. It’s one thing to believe the right things, and another to be passionate about it, but people who don’t know how to be effective in the political system (or are unwilling to learn) won’t have much success in the long run. They won’t be much help to you or your cause, and it goes without saying that they will certainly make poor leaders.

People who are politically savvy know the “system” and can think strategically, as well as tend to have a good understanding of people and how they will act (and react) in given situations. These are people who can help advance an agenda by organizing others and playing political “offense”.

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Notice that each of these attributes builds upon the others. Someone with principles but no passion or savvy is useless. Someone with passion but no principles or savvy will get themselves (and maybe you) into trouble. Someone who’s all savvy can’t be trusted.

The conservative movement desperately needs more activists and leaders who are principled, passionate AND politically savvy.

Be one. Support others. Help recruit more!

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.

Are You Building the Political Farm Team?

uncle samMost every professional baseball player that you see has spent time in the minor leagues before they got a chance to play in the big leagues. Nobody lasts forever, and eventually somebody has to move up and take someone else’s place. It’s why teams spend so much time and money recruiting and developing new talent.

It’s called the farm system, and it’s the same way with politics.

Most elected officials have spent time in the political version of the minor leagues – local grassroots organizations, party organizations, civic groups, school boards, etc. Players at this level are usually “recruited” to run for office at higher levels, or to work in campaigns or as government staffers.

While you have surely seen local activists go on to become leaders or even elected officials at various levels, what’s not always evident is the recruiting and training of the volunteers that made their campaigns successful – and the past leaders that recruited them to the cause.

Politicians come and go, but politics is forever.

Think Local

All too often people allow themselves to get distracted by national issues, or what’s going on in Washington, DC and they overlook what’s going on right in their own neighborhood. As a result, they miss opportunities to leverage their activity and have a real impact on things they care about.

The fact is that local politics is the training ground for everything else. It’s the farm system. Practice at this level prepares you for the next. Participation builds the network of conservatives who can collaborate together on a state and national basis. Fundamentals are learned.

The result is that thinking locally serves two purposes: 1) it focuses and leverages attention and resources to have an impact on things that impact where people actually live and 2) it builds a healthy farm team for the conservative movement.

Recruit New Players

Politics is a game of numbers – whoever has the most usually wins. It’s amazing how many people overlook that fundamental point. As a result, one of the most important functions of any grassroots activist is to recruit others to their cause by identifying those who share their beliefs and concerns.

But the job doesn’t end there. It also involves teaching those like-minded citizens how to effectively engage in the political process and remove the mystery that surrounds it for most people. The more knowledge a new recruit has the more confidence they will have, the more likely they will be to actually do something, and the more effective they will become.

As Yoda put it to Luke Skywalker, “Pass on what you have learned”.

Groom New Leadership

This process is even more important for grassroots leaders. You can’t be much of a leader if you don’t recruit…and you can’t be sure that whatever you do will go on without you (because eventually you WILL be gone) if you don’t focus on replacing (or even multiplying) yourself.

There’s an old saying in politics that, “You can’t beat somebody with nobody”. In other words, if you don’t have a candidate, or better yet, a candidate who is viable based on experience, exposure, network and resources, then you you’re probably not going to win. To beat the “somebodies” on a regular basis, you need a deep bench. And you only get that with a good farm team.

That’s why every good leader should work to identify and train the next generation of leadership.

The success of the conservative agenda hangs on bringing new people into the process, and then promoting them up the ladder and grooming new leaders and potential candidates.

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Take a moment right now and make a note of anyone else who needs to get involved with you, or who might have leadership potential. Then make plans to reach out to them soon.

Four top qualities of great political volunteers

qualities of great volunteersIf you’ve ever run or worked on a campaign, been a candidate for office, or just pretty much been involved in politics in almost any capacity, you’ve seen how important volunteers are to political success.

And you’ve no doubt noticed that all volunteers are not created equal.  Some are worth more than others, some better than others, or some are just better at certain things than others.

So what makes for great volunteers?

There are at least four qualities that stand out as the marks of really great volunteers.  Of course, few have them all, but they’re a standard you should reach for when trying to find people to help – or if you’re thinking about volunteering yourself.

Four Top Qualities of Great Volunteers

1) A commitment to the cause

Do they believe in the campaign?  The level of commitment from the people involved in any effort is usually the greatest contributing factor to success or failure.

No matter how desperate a campaign may be for help, if “the help” doesn’t really believe in the cause, then you’re really not going to get much out of them and they’re not going to help you motivate other people.

2) A willingness to sacrifice

Great volunteerism is based on sacrifice.  But good volunteers don’t think of it as sacrifice, but rather as an investment in the things that they care about.

That’s why you’re going to get more support from people who really believe in the cause to begin with.

3) A sense of humility

Who wants to hang around someone who thinks that they’re “too good” to be there?  The type of person who lets everyone else know they should feel “blessed” that they’re around.  They will be less “help” and more “hurt”, in the sense that they can run off people who actually do want to help.

A good volunteer is someone who is able to set aside their ego in deference to the cause that they’re involved with.  Pride and volunteering don’t go well together.

4) A positive attitude

Attitudes are infectious, (both good and bad).  And since nobody wants to work around people with “jerky” attitudes, this is another type of person who can quickly run off the real help.

Good volunteers maintain a positive attitude that encourages others to keep going regardless of circumstances.

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Even though any political effort is usually extremely grateful for any volunteers that it gets, these are some of the qualities of great volunteers that you should keep in mind when looking for people to help your cause.

Run down the checklist. How do you or your volunteers stack up?

Over the long run, it can actually pay to be picky.

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You can find out more tips on volunteers and volunteer management in my Grassroots 101 Training Series.  Check it out!