Every election cycle, thousands of volunteers show up at campaign offices to help Democrats turn out millions of voters. Volunteer development is crucial to a good campaign strategy, because in order to hit your voter contact goals it’s important not only to recruit volunteers, but to make sure that your volunteers come back again and again throughout the campaign. Use these best practices to make sure that your volunteers stick around for the long run.
1. Make a good first impression.
The first few minutes that volunteers spend inside the doors of a campaign office or staging location play a significant role in determining how they view their overall experience, so make sure to start off on the right foot! Have a greeter stationed near the front door to welcome new volunteers as soon as they enter. Many first-time volunteers may feel anxious about campaigning, so don’t leave them wondering what to do or where to go - the greeter can ease that tension by giving them clear instructions on next steps once they have signed in. Don’t underestimate the importance of training to make or break a volunteer’s experience.
A good training will boost volunteers’ confidence, prepare them for the task that they will be doing, and leave them excited about working with the campaign. Unfortunately, too many trainings leave volunteers feeling deflated, bored, or confused. Avoid this pitfall by keeping trainings short, simple, and upbeat. Make sure that trainers are energetic and enthusiastic, and keep the pace of the training quick by covering only the information that is necessary for volunteers to get started.
2. Respect their time.
People choose to volunteer because they want to make a difference, and new campaign volunteers can easily be discouraged by sensing that their time isn’t paying off. Did they have to wait for 15 minutes after arriving to be given instructions? Did they sit through a 30 minute training for a 2-hour volunteer shift? If they feel like their time was wasted, they probably won’t be coming back for a second shift.
If volunteers have to spend time dealing with frustrating administrative issues rather than doing the work they came to do, you’ll have an uphill battle convincing them to return. Make sure that your canvass walk lists are printed clearly and ordered correctly, so that volunteers can easily navigate around their turf and spend time talking to voters rather than figuring out where to go. Turf should always be cut in an easily walkable manner, so that time isn’t wasted walking to an out-of-the-way door. If you’re using MiniVAN (which you should be!), make sure you’ve asked volunteers to download the app to their phone before they arrive for their shift so they are ready to go as soon as they get there. For phone banking and data entry, make sure that your system is organized and easy to understand - your volunteers will thank you by signing up for another shift.
3. Make volunteering fun.
It’s no secret that people are more likely to return to a place or activity where they know they will have a good time, and it doesn’t take much to create an enjoyable campaign environment. If volunteers are doing office work like data entry or packet stuffing, play upbeat music in the background. Make the office colorful by decorating the walls with goal progress trackers (like fill-in thermometers to track number of doors knocked or voters contacted), so that volunteers can see how their contributions fit into the campaign’s goals. Reward and recognize achievements by having a volunteer Wall of Fame, where volunteers who have completed 10 shifts, knocked on 500 doors, or reached some other milestone have their names or photos displayed. And don’t forget snacks - campaign supporters who aren’t able to go out and canvass may be more than happy to bake a batch of cookies for the volunteers in the office to enjoy.
4. Build relationships.
Making sure that volunteers are always in contact with the same organizer provides them with a sense of stability - they know who to call when they have a question or a success story to share. Assigning volunteers to specific organizers also allows those organizers to build long-term connections and relationships with their volunteers. This is critical to building a returning volunteer base, because volunteers are more likely to come back when asked by someone that they know, rather than a stranger.
5. Re-shift ASAP.
Volunteers have busy lives and full schedules - sometimes making sure that they come back through the door is as simple as making sure that you make it into their planner. Before they leave the building after their shift, get the next one scheduled. This is a best practice for new and seasoned volunteers alike, and a key component of keeping shifts filled.
6. Build a ladder of engagement.Volunteers come because they care about the cause and want to personally invest their time in it, and they stay when they feel that their time, skills, and dedication are valued and respected by the staff around them. Giving volunteers increasing levels of responsibility demonstrates that their contributions to the campaign are noticed and appreciated, and increases their sense of ownership and commitment to the work. The term “Ladder of Engagement” is often used to describe the way a volunteer is gradually given increasing levels of responsibility as they continue with a campaign. After they are familiar with the volunteer work, for instance, they can be trained to lead trainings for new volunteers. After serving as a trainer, perhaps they are ready to lead a GOTV staging location. Volunteers who know that they are appreciated and trusted with responsibility will continue to show up when you need them.
7. Make them feel like part of the team.There are many tiny, non-verbal ways that we communicate the way that we view people. Are you communicating to your volunteers that you think of them as an important part of your campaign team, or that they are on a lower tier who do the dirty work that other people don’t want to? Communicating to volunteers that you value the work that they do can make the difference between someone who comes once, and a regular face in the office.
For example: keep volunteers in the loop with what is happening on the campaign by having meetings where campaign staff can share information with them. Regularly ask them for their input on the work that they are doing. Of course, not everyone’s suggestions can or should be implemented, but asking for feedback from the volunteers that you trust can go a long way toward showing them that you appreciate what they do for the campaign.
8. Show gratitude.
It seems simple, yet is so often forgotten. Say “thank you” at every chance you get! Volunteers could be spending their free time in any number of ways, but they have chosen to work for your campaign, so let them know that you appreciate them. For your regular volunteers, simple things like buying them coffee and writing them a short note, can make their work and commitment feel worthwhile. When thanking volunteers, try to name specific things that you appreciate about them.
Volunteers are people who care deeply about the causes that we campaign for, and have the potential to become committed and reliable members of your team. Making sure that they feel appreciated is crucial to maintaining a thriving volunteer program.