When I first got involved in politics in 2015, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.
I was never a part of student government in school, so all I had to go on was what I saw on television or Netflix. I imagined myself as getting in a world of expensive suits, slicked-back hair, and cunning political maneuvers. Instead, I found out very quickly that real life politics is much more mundane, but still incredibly important.
When I began my political career in Northeast Houston, I realized I needed more help than I thought to reach my campaign goals.
In that search I discovered that the real lifeblood of American politics is people.
From Presidential campaigns, all the way to down to local school board and utility district elections, it’s not the consultants, or paid staff that do most of the work on campaigns, but rather the volunteers who selflessly dedicate their time and energy.
I have identified three kinds of volunteers.
In a moment I'll spell out what those are.
First, it's important to understand the importance of volunteers. If you don’t have a group of dedicated volunteers who spend their evenings and weekends working for the campaign, you won’t have a functional campaign, let alone a winning campaign. Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes.
During my years as a Field Staffer and Campaign Manager I have had volunteers from all levels of society volunteer on campaigns. From lawyers and hedge-fund managers, to retirees and mechanics, the one common attribute that connected them all was their passion for the candidate or issue at hand. It is that passion that drives the campaign forward and it is that passion that gives the campaign its energy to push it over the finish line on election day.
During the 2016 election, and with a controversial candidate at the top of the ticket, it was difficult to find and maintain volunteers in the early months. But as the summer went on, my team and I were able to develop a solid core group of volunteers who would come back day after day. We developed a rapport, and they became “my team”. It quickly turned into an organic cycle where our dedicated core would train the new volunteers coming in. That’s when I knew my team was going to be successful.
When your volunteers buy in just as much as your paid staff, that’s when you know you’re running a successful campaign. Success in campaigns come from integrating volunteers and their energy into your campaign. If you treat volunteers as tools to do a job and not as integral team members you are more likely to not retain them. Everyone needs to feel important.
Remember this: volunteers are the most important tactical resource you have, because it is their passion and hard work that drives the campaign. Without it, you don’t have a campaign at all.
You can group volunteers in roughly three different categories. Each of which have their individual motivations to volunteer, and as a field staffer or campaign manager it is your job to find those motivations and push the right buttons.
The first group are those who believe in a higher cause. Some issue or belief system that transcends and connects them to something bigger than themselves.
It could be gun rights. Religious freedom. Maybe pro-life or pro-choice. It is the passion about their personal favorite issue that as a manager you must harness and direct towards the campaign.
These are the volunteers who make it “us vs. them.” This spirit of competition comes in handy when you’re running a tight race. The motivation for these volunteers comes from the competitive nature of politics. If you keep them in the loop with the campaign goals, objectives and make them feel part of an inner circle, they will work. Hard. And often they will exceed your expectations. They will also likely enjoy the election night party more than anyone else!
These volunteers were not unlike myself when I first entered politics. They have an interest in politics and campaigns. They are always looking to learn and have new experiences. They might look at your campaign as a "try-out" for a job in government or politics. The motivation you can use with this kind of volunteer is to be available to teach. Since they are coming to learn, if they do not feel like they are accomplishing their objective, they will feel like working for your campaign is a waste of time.
These three groups make up the the bulk of the people that will fill the volunteer roles in your campaign. Each person has a different motivation that drives them. It is up to you to align those volunteers' motivations to the needs of your campaign.
Do this, and your field program will run like a well-oiled machine.
Matthew Desguin is the Political Affairs Manager
at Minnick Group and a veteran field operative