From the ground up – that’s the spirit of grassroots campaigning. The method has been widely used since Teddy Roosevelt campaign in 1904 announced that it would organize in every locality, beginning “at the grass roots.”
(To be fair, no one knows who originated the term, but the Roosevelt campaign is one of the earliest documented uses.)
So what is grassroots campaigning, exactly? It’s a very broad term to describe campaigning that begins at the local level. A movement starts person to person and then – ideally – grows to the state or national level. Typically, grassroots campaigns are based heavily on volunteer efforts.
How Campaign Volunteers Win Elections
There are only so many staffers and consultants that a political campaign budget can support. Enter the volunteers. Volunteers not only supplement, but enhance, a campaign’s effort to spread the message to voters. Because they’re not being paid to make claims, voters tend to take their opinions seriously. In fact, some campaigns are bucking paid consultants altogether in favor of grassroots campaigns led by volunteers.
Volunteers can turn a small team of campaign staffers into an army of political supporters. But that requires a talented (and paid) volunteer coordinator to recruit, train and direct them. The right personalities need to be selected, and volunteers need to be assigned to the tasks that suit them best. Properly executed, a volunteer campaign can give a strong and well-managed campaign the edge needed to win the race.
How to Find Volunteers for Your Political Campaign
Start with family and friends. These are the people who are likely to be your biggest supporters, which gives them the ability to speak about your cause honestly and naturally. This is key because authenticity is everything.
Next, reach out to your local political party to see if they can recommend volunteers. Chances are, the local party groups have a long list of people who are more than willing to volunteer time to support their beliefs. Contact these people directly and ask them if they’d be willing to volunteer their time. Develop some key talking points about your candidate’s credentials and goals to get volunteers excited, but don’t push anyone who’s hesitant. A half-hearted volunteer might hurt your campaign, not help it.
Then, reach out to friends and acquaintances of volunteers. Again, these are people who are likely to be warm to your cause. Often, politically active people surround themselves with like-minded folks.
Finally, don’t forget to take advantage of social media. Send out Facebook and Twitter posts seeking campaign volunteers, and reach out directly to people who post positive messages about your candidate.
How to Train Volunteers
When you recruit political campaign volunteers, you’re asking for a big commitment. These people are agreeing to give up their nights and weekends – unpaid – to help support your cause. The best volunteers are more than willing, but it’s important to be sensitive to their schedules and time constraints. Always ask how much time they can spare each week – and respect those limits.
Spend some time getting to know each volunteer, learning about their preferences and strengths. Have a marketing expert on board? Ask them to help out with social media posts. A natural talker? That’s the person who should go door-to-door. And the shy volunteer? Maybe they’re more comfortable stuffing envelopes or sending out email blasts. It’s always a good idea to play to the person’s strengths, rather than talking them into tasks.
No matter what the volunteer will be doing, it’s important to educate every volunteer on the campaign’s platforms and talking points. Even if a volunteer is behind the scenes, you never know when they’ll run into someone who learns they volunteer and wants to know more about the campaign. Everyone on the team should be prepared to answer basic questions.
Finally, spend some time with each volunteer training them on the task they’ve been assigned. Even if a volunteer is a social media expert, for example, train them on how your campaign handles social media. Don’t assume that any volunteer knows exactly what to do without some gentle guidance.
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