Need Volunteers? Use These 9 Simple Steps

Campaigns are powered by people; by the candidate, campaign staff, donors and – if you’re lucky – numerous volunteers. 

Most of your volunteer base will start with those closest to you: your family and friends. Just as we recommend asking those individuals to contribute financially to your campaign, you should also ask them to help with the day-to-day activities that are necessary for a winning race. 

But how do you make that first ask, and how do you keep them coming back? Read on to learn more.



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Step 1: Make the Ask

 This may seem self-evident but almost no one is going to volunteer unless you ask them to. They may think you don’t need their help or that they don’t have skills to be part of a campaign. But with all the jobs that need to be done, there is a task for every everyone – you just need to ask!

The more personal an ask, the more likely someone is to respond. Start by calling those closest to you to let them know how much it would mean for them to give their time. But don’t just say, “Could you help out sometime?” – be as specific as possible for what you want. Have a couple of dates and time ready, with locations nailed down. And then INVITE your friends to be part! Click here for a sample call script to recruit your volunteers.

Once you’ve made that first contact, don’t forget to follow-up. Send them a short email immediately to confirm their participation. Call them a day or two in advance of their scheduled time to remind them. Make a checklist to keep you on track so you don’t forget these important steps!

For repeat volunteers, you may not need to call them every time. You can create an email mailing list to request their participation in future activities (although again, you should always make a specific ask “We’re going to walk precincts on July 10 at 3pm starting at Central Union Park!”). But you should always do individual phone or email contact to confirm their attendance.

Step 2: Provide Options

There’s always something to do on a campaign. Not everyone can walk precincts – those folks might be more comfortable on the phones. Some people are not talkers – but they would probably be able to help you with something else.

Data-entry, stuffing envelopes, preparing walk kits or writing postcards to voters about why they support you…. there are plenty of activities for volunteers. Ask your supporters to help, how they’d like to help and then schedule a specific time right away.

Try to steer them towards the activities that are most useful to your campaign (voter contact, reminders for an upcoming event,volunteer reminder calls), always have alternatives so they don’t feel pressured into doing something they’re not comfortable with.

Step 3: Set Up Your Databases and Establish Goals

Create a schedule and spreadsheet to track your volunteers. Start with your list of prospects and their contact info. Make a note if you were able to talk to them or left a message and on what day you made the contact(If your campaign uses VAN, that’s the best place to track this data).

After they’ve confirmed, track to make sure you’ve done your follow-up and then track the metrics of each volunteer: how many hours did they work, how many calls did they make, etc. This lets you target activities to your most productive Campaign Volunteers and it also helps you implement Recognition programs. (More on that below)

And be sure you know what you’re trying to accomplish and how many volunteers will be needed to reach that goal.

  • CALLING: While it varies, the average caller can make about 40 dials an hour.
  • WALKING: In an urban neighborhood, a walker can hit about 25 doors; take that down to 15 for the less dense suburbs.

Then do the math: if you want to call 800 voters, it’s going to take 20 volunteer hours – you’ll need to recruit 10 volunteers for two-hour shifts. If you want to knock on 250 doors in an urban neighborhood, it’s going to take 10 volunteer hours – that’s five volunteers for two-hour shifts.

Know in advance what target you need to hit; recruit the manpower necessary to meet that goal and then prepare the materials each volunteer will need to do their part.

REMEMBER: Don’t overwhelm your volunteers. Don’t hand a volunteer a list of 1000 people to call. It can discourage them from the start. If you need each person to make 80 calls in their shift, give them a list of 100 names. If they need to knock on 50 doors, prepare their walk lists with 50 addresses and 60 pieces of lit (in case some get spoiled).

Step 4: Be Ready

Volunteers want to feel like they are doing meaningful work that is necessary for the campaign – and if you are asking for someone’s time, you should have that work ready to go.

Don’t be running around trying to find “something for them to do.” Be ready!

If you are asking them to knock on doors, have walk kits and walk lists ready to go.

If you want them to make calls, have phone lists prepared and phones ready.

If you want them to stuff envelopes, prepare walk kits, help set up for an event, etc., make it easy on your Campaign Volunteers by having the necessary supplies on hand so they can get right to work.

Step 5: Make the Time Manageable (and Fun!)

Except with the most dedicated volunteers, people do not expect to spend all day helping a political campaign. You should schedule your volunteers in 2-3 hour blocks and then be sure you have the work needed to fill that time.

Treat your volunteers the way you would guests to your home – you’re asking them to do work but they are also doing you a big favor. Welcome them warmly, offer them something to drink, provide them with a comfortable environment in which to work. The more pleasant the experience, the more likely they are to come back.

Which leads to…..

Step 6: Feed the Beast (Literally!)

As anyone who’s ever worked with high school, college kids, or me, knows that food is a tremendous motivator. It’s a great way to make a volunteer experience more casual and comfortable. 

It’s also a great return on your investment.

  • Three pizzas and three bottles of soda could cost around $50.
  • With three pizzas and three bottles of soda, you can feed up to 10 people.
  • If all ten work 2 hour shifts, that’s 20 volunteer hours.
  • $50 divided by 20 Campaign Volunteer hours comes out to $2.50! What a great price for an incredible amount of work.

And you can mix it up to encourage people to come back. You can even ask folks to help the campaign by preparing casseroles or hot plates bringing down your costs more and giving folks another way to participate.

Like we said in Step 5, treat your campaign volunteers like your guests – and you’d never ask your guests to go without refreshments.

REMEMBER: Don’t forget to feed your canvassers. Walking precincts is hard work – make sure each walk kit includes a small bottle of water and a light snack to keep them going!

Step 7: Gamification!

What’s gamification? Basically, it’s when you take any task and turn it into a game to better motivate participants.

You can do this for your volunteers by offering prizes and incentives for them to give more of their times (and to be more productive with the time they give). Make it a contest! Whoever volunteers the most hours gets a gift card. Whoever makes the most calls gets to join a VIP dinner or event with you. 

Track progress on a whiteboard and recognize the tremendous achievements of your volunteers.

Step 8: Be Thankful

You asked, they came, now show your gratitude. Personally tell every volunteer how much their work means to you. A verbal “Thank you” is great, but also follow-up with a short card or email. Not only is this the polite thing to do, it’s an important part in encouraging people to volunteer again!

Step 9: Grow Your Network

You started with your friends and (hopefully) made it a fun and rewarding experience for them. Now ask them to participate again by bringing a friend or two along. This expands your base of volunteers while also more firmly cementing your existing supporters. They are now your surrogates in the world – and they’ll be even more invested in making the experience great for their recruits.