Campaign Budgeting 101 – Voter Contact & Volunteers

I saved the best for last, y’all!  I happen to love everything to do with voter contact and caring for volunteers, even budgeting.  I covered paid communications earlier because a lot of the physical materials you’ll be buying in that category you’ll really be using as part of your voter contact strategy.  But since there’s still a Voter Contact & Volunteers section of the budget, obviously there’s still some more money you’re going to have to spend to get things into gear.

So what belongs in the Voter Contact & Volunteers section of your campaign budget?

  • Estimated food costs for feeding volunteers during events throughout the campaign
  • Any fees associated with gaining access to databases like Voter Vault that store key political information on specific voters
  • Cell phone minutes or additional phone lines needed for big phone banks during GOTV
  • Random stuff your volunteers should have, like bottled water if they’re walking door-to-door on a summer day, clipboards, paper and pens
  • T-shirts for volunteers and supporters
  • Admission costs to get volunteers into events where you need them to work

There are probably other things you can put in this category; a lot will depend on your region and what is ‘customary’ for campaigns in your area.  Just be sure that this is an area where you do not skimp.  Volunteers are your absolute greatest asset – do not squander it by being stingy!  Recruiting and retaining volunteers is a key component of every campaign, large or small.

This is a pretty straight-forward section of the campaign budget and doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning, but it’s the last place you should cut costs.

Remember that volunteers are already saving you a bundle by doing work you’d otherwise need to pay someone to do.  Especially for those volunteers in ‘regular staff’ type positions like Campaign Manager or Fundraising Coordinator, you should side aside funding for them to be treated like professionals.

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5 Quick Tips on How to Throw An Awesome Campaign Event

  1. Book a space (hopefully for free!) that is smaller than you think you need.  Remember those middle school dances with dozens of kids huddled by the walls in a vast gymnasium?  Looks lame, right?  Pick a space that will look packed – it will make you look popular.  BONUS:  Find a space that has one of those flimsy walls you can open up to adjust the room size if needed.
  2. Beg, borrow and steal (well, don’t really steal) food for your event.  Restaurants and catering services will often donate food (not the in-kind donation on your campaign finance report!)  Or you can find some great cooks among your supporter base who are willing to cook up food for your event out of the goodness of their hearts.
  3. Always have decorations – decorations really set a happy/fun mood for any type of campaign event.  As a person who does this stuff for a living I stock up on tons of red, white & blue patriotic themed decorations when they’re on clearance the day after Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.  Don’t forget celebratory streamers and noisemakers after New Year’s – for your victory party!
  4. Always address the crowd.  Make sure to:
    • Say a genuine thank you for attending/supporting/volunteering/donating
    • Outline the campaign’s goals briefly – a fire-up-the-troops type of spiel
    • Give a call-to-action – ask them to do something to move the campaign forward directly after the event.  Be specific.
  5. And MOST IMPORTANT:  Always have a PURPOSE for your event.  Don’t schedule a press conference and figure out what you’re ‘announcing’ later.  Have REAL news to announce; don’t waste the media’s time or else you’ll become the candidate that cried ‘press conference.’  The same goes for fundraisers and volunteer events – themed events or raising money for a specific purpose/cost is better than a general fundraiser for general campaign spending.  Never have a volunteer event that doesn’t have a piece of real campaign work assigned to it (otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time).

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15 Handy Phone Bank Etiquette Tips

political campaign phone bank run for public office
  1. Have enough phones for each volunteer to make calls.  Do not waste your volunteers’ time by booking 12 volunteers if you only have 5 phones.
  2. Maintain a professional environment.  Phone banks can deteriorate fast if you turn it into a party.
  3. Set clear goals for each volunteer and for the event as a whole.
  4. Have rewards for meeting/exceeding those goals.
  5. Provide food if making calls during a mealtime.  Phone banks are usually 5pm to 9pm on weekdays, for example.
  6. Write a clear, concise and well thought out script.
  7. Provide a scripted response specifically for leaving messages/voicemails.
  8. Train your volunteers to respond appropriately – and always kindly – to abrasive voters.
  9. Always mark voters “DO NOT CALL” who request to be removed from your call list.
  10. Have an easy-to-read way of capturing data collected during phone banks.
  11. Clearly structure your phone banking objectives in your GOTV plan so that your callers have a narrowly focused direction at all times.
  12. Choose volunteers who don’t like calling (or aren’t very good on the phone) to oversee and facilitate phone banks by collecting up used call lists, entering data into your system, distributing new call lists, etc.
  13. Have 1 or 2 high school age volunteers serve as babysitters in a nearby room or office so that parents can participate in phone banking.
  14. Encourage the candidate to make phone bank calls.  It gives him the opportunity to hear from and speak directly to the voters, and buoys your volunteers’ spirits and efforts as well.
  15. Develop a procedure in advance for following up with voters who would like to learn more about the candidate, speak directly to the candidate, or get involved in the campaign.


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15 Tips on How To Be A Volunteer Coordinator

volunteer coordinator political campaign

  1. Be a people-person.  Be extroverted.  You don’t have to know a lot of people already, but you have to be good at making and keeping new friends.  If you aren’t like this already, you can’t make yourself more extroverted and shouldn’t try.  Being yourself is actually more important than faking a personality.
  2. Have a fantastic memory.  People will come back if they feel like you know them.  Remember names.
  3. Set up an amazing volunteer reward system.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, but the rewards have to be worthwhile.
  4. Give them access to the candidate.  If the candidate isn’t willing to stuff envelopes and make phone calls elbow-to-elbow with his volunteers, he’s not a very good person to work with.
  5. Give them a title.  “Summer Schedule Coordinator.”  This is the kid off from school who’s Googling every county fair, strawberry festival, and other community events in your district that you may want to attend this summer.  “Parade Captain.”  This is the person you chose this morning to get your 20 volunteers to the right spot in the parade at start time.  “Precinct Coordinator.”  This person is in charge of plastering one neighborhood with flyers every couple of weeks.  You get the idea.  Everyone has a job, so everyone can have a title.
  6. Get good at spotting special skills and talents in your volunteers, then capitalize on them.  I once had a volunteer invent a new way of unpeeling and sticking on labels that cut envelope stuffing time nearly in half.  I made her teach every envelope stuffer and declared her “Mail Coordinator.”
  7. Make your activities fun.  Add variety and find ways to spice them up.
  8. Feed your volunteers.  Seriously.  Have candy or trail mix around to snack on at all times and buy pizza or subs when you schedule an event during a mealtime.
  9. Offer childcare.  Get a couple of nice young babysitters to volunteer by babysitting for moms that would otherwise be unable to help, or organize a childcare co-op among your mom volunteers.  We lose a huge resource when we alienate the stay-at-home mom: she’s usually more educated and skilled than other volunteers and way more efficient, because moms are the ultimate multi-taskers.
  10. Don’t keep secrets from your volunteers.  It’s an annoying separation of ‘leadership’ and ‘the help’ if the campaign manager and others are running around whispering to each other and acting like the volunteers don’t exist.
  11. Recruit volunteers from volunteer pools that already exist, like Young Republicans, College Republicans, Right to Life organizations, Church groups, and other local conservation organizations.
  12. Develop an extremely streamlined, flexible, adaptable, organized system for keeping track of your volunteers, their contact info, the times/days they are available, what they like to do, what their restrictions are, and any other data you may need.  This could be note cards, or on the computer, or some sort of address book.  Whatever the system, make sure it’s way more comprehensive and cohesive than names and numbers on scraps of paper and business cards.
  13. Find well-trained volunteers.  If you can find college-age kids who’ve gone to YAF or LI events, that’s priceless.
  14. Create a giant master calendar and post it where everyone can see.
  15. Learn how to get by with little or no sleep.  This is crucial in the final weeks leading up to Election Day, because the success of your GOTV effort rests squarely on your shoulders.  I routinely pulled all-nighters the Monday/Tuesday of E-Day, partly because I was too nervous/stressed/excited to sleep, but mainly because I was putting finishing touches on the Election Day volunteer strategy and logistics.


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How to Get Anyone to Wear Your Campaign Sticker

campaign lapel sticker

I first realized I had a ‘gift’ for political campaign strategy about *cough, cough* years ago when I was volunteering for a congressional candidate at a County Lincoln Day Dinner somewhere in northern Indiana.  I was distributing campaign lapel stickers at the entrance of the event, and as part of the pseudo-friendly banter when they awkwardly shake hands and acknowledge each other, the opposing candidate mentioned me to my candidate saying, “If that girl can’t get a sticker on somebody, I tell ya, nobody can.”  He was kinda bitter to see his candidate’s name on like 75% of the attendees, and I recall my candidate smirking at this comment.

Now chances are great that I was just supporting the more awesome candidate, as I also have a knack for choosing winners, but I have to brag that I’ve always been a very convincing stickerer.

So, do lapel stickers at a Lincoln Day Dinner really matter?  Hell yes!  And here’s why:

  • It gives the appearance of massive support
  • Donors are at these events, and are more likely to sign checks with the name they see the most
  • Running for office really is a popularity contest

Here are some of the tips I’ve picked up on event sticker distribution over the years:

  1. Positioning – there will be a line of volunteers passing out campaign stickers, position in this line is critical; you want to be both first and last.
  2. Surround the target – have four volunteers stickering, two at the very front on either side of the entrance and two 10-15 feet back for a second ambush in case the first was unsuccessful.
  3. Block the way – don’t stand in the middle of the entrance but be in far enough that people will have to at least acknowledge the offer of a sticker with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  Don’t ever be so far back that a person would have to walk off the main pathway to retrieve a sticker from your volunteer.
  4. Use female volunteers – girls are better at stickering than boys.  It’s not about being flirtatious or attractive, it doesn’t matter if the female volunteer is 9, 19 or 90, it’s just harder to say ‘no’ to a woman.  I’m sure there’s some deep psychology behind that.
  5. Dress professionally – Most campaigns will have their volunteers in campaign t-shirts.  At an event where the attendees are wearing business casual, you should have your volunteers in business dress attire – suits, preferably.  If you don’t want to ask them to wear a suit or think they won’t have equivalent clothes, have them wear khakis or a nice skirt and provide them with a campaign logo polo shirt.
  6. Have the candidate greet – It’s a lot harder to say ‘no’ to your candidate’s sticker if he’s right there within ear shot.  Unless the event has specifically asked candidates not to, position him in the middle of the entrance area where he can smilingly shake hands with all the attendees as they come in.  Acting like a Walmart greeter, so to speak, gives your candidate ownership over the audience and boosts the impression of popularity.

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GOTV: Planning The Final Push

For the first half of your campaign year, you’ll be canvassing – collecting and organizing voter data.  Over the summer and going into fall, the candidate, candidate’s wife and family and lots of volunteers will be knocking on doors, talking one on one with voters about the issues.  The last 4 or 5 weeks of the campaign, however, are what I call ‘the final push.’  It’s at this point that you want to start up the GOTV mindset.  There are 3 key components to the final push:

  • Phone banks
  • Targeted direct mail pieces
  • Literature distribution
There’s no one way to plan direct mail or literature distribution.  Phone banks will operate differently in different states depending on regulations.  Literature distribution may take the form of handing out flyers at targeted subway stations in an urban environment, and may mean driving door-to-door in rural districts, where houses are separated by acres of farmland.  Your direct mail strategy will be determined primarily by your communications plan, not your GOTV plan.  Whatever your situation, some form of each will take place in any campaign if you’re going to pull off an integrated and well-saturated get out the vote effort.  Since there’s no specific right or wrong way, here is a list of potential “to-do’s” for the final weeks of your voter contact activity:
  • Print walk/phone lists
  • Organize lists by precinct and priority
  • Finalize mail piece copy/design, send to print and schedule mail drops
  • Recruit and schedule extra volunteers
  • Plan weekend lit drops, followed by volunteer events
  • Coordinate lit distribution outside churches and synagogues Sunday and Saturday
  • Buy water, pencils for volunteer walkers
  • Buy/print lit drop materials (I love those little baggies you can hang on doors, but you have to plan time/volunteers to stuff them)
  • Buy cell phones or make special arrangements with the phone company for a ton of new lines
  • Secure an office space for phone banking
  • Organize yard sign distribution
Obviously, many of these items will need to be broken down into smaller action items.  I recommend finding leader-volunteers to handle each segment.  For example, designate a yard sign captain, and field coordinators by precinct (bonus if these folks have trucks or SUVs!).  Put one volunteer in charge of phone banking – this person will keep track of all the lists and distribute them to callers, and also oversee the data entry for the updating process.  Find lit drop coordinator to do the same thing for walk lists.
You can then help your leader-volunteers to break down their jobs into specific action items, then let them loose on the task.

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GOTV Canvassing: Organizing Raw Data

The foundation of a well executed GOTV effort is canvassing.  Canvassing is the process of directly contacting every voter in order to collect data on them, which can then be categorized and organized, then analyzed to form a comprehensive, coordinated, logistical plan to recruit volunteers, supporters and votes.

Your canvassing will determine a number of factors in your planning, so this is another area where your campaign plan needs to be flexible.  You may find a theme-line running through your data that you hadn’t anticipated that actually becomes a centerpiece of your campaign.

It’s also helpful when canvassing to clean up your voter data – the stuff you get from the courthouse is usually outdated, containing duplicates and several moves/deaths that haven’t been accounted for.

So how exactly does one put together a canvassing operation?

Get the raw voter records from the county courthouse.  This is where you will start.  If you have access to a resource like VoterVault, that’s fantastic – but I find that often the data in those databases are still only 60-75% accurate.
Import your raw data into a usable electronic format – usually that’s Excel or Access.  You’ll be making a lot of changes, so it really needs to be electronic.  I personally like to breakdown all data to the precinct level.  This works well if your district is around 50 precincts or less.  If it’s larger, use other political boundaries like counties to create bigger chunks, then breakdown further from there.

For example, if you are running for governor or Senate and have an entire state to deal with, I would recommend sorting your data by quadrant or region, if it’s geographically convenient, or by congressional district, if it’s not a conveniently shaped state, and creating a folder for each one.  Then create county folders inside the region folders, and save all voter data in separate excel spreadsheets by precinct.  Name the excel files by county and precinct, e.g., Madison County, Adams 1 Precinct would be something like Madison_Adams1.xls.  You could also create one excel workbook per county and save each precinct as a different spreadsheet within it using the tabs at the bottom, but that can get complicated and difficult to maneuver.

Clean up your data.  Usually the files you receive from the county courthouse are crude, amateurish versions of spreadsheets.  You might have a few columns that give you names, addresses, registration date, and some other arbitrary information.  If you’re lucky it’ll include things like phone numbers, birth dates, number of times they have voted, and whether they have voted in primaries.  The chances of this information being organized in a logical manner are remote.

The first step is to move these columns around into a logical order.  Consider putting the address column first and sorting by addresses – this will put family members (theoretically) in the same house.  You’ll also be able to weed out people who have moved easier this way.  Names obviously need to be in a prominent place, and I’d put phone numbers, if you have them, toward the front as well.

Next, go through each piece of data and make sure that things like formatting are all in sync, and that all the data in uniform and very readable.  You’ll be using this document as a root for several other canvassing documents and materials, so you have to make sure the data isn’t distorted in the import/export process.  Go ahead and apply a very readable (sans serif) font and font size (at least 10 pt).

Once you complete the above, you should have a reasonably well-put-together platform out of which you can grow a good canvassing effort.  Next post, we’ll talk about adding new data: what to ask and how to capture it.

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GOTV: Building And Growing Your Supporter Base

Every candidate for political office has a “base.”  As soon as you sign on as the Republican candidate, your base consists of staunch Republican voters.  These are people who might vote ‘straight ticket,’ which is possible in many states, and simply punch “R,” casting their vote for every Republican on the ballot.  These folks might also be the type who consider themselves Republican and, while they split their ticket, will default to Republican unless they are really convinced otherwise.

If you live in a heavily Republican district, congratulations!  This alone could be enough to get you elected.  Chances are, however, that you still need to put in a little effort courting voters.  And if you have a primarily, well, that’s a whole new ball game!

Most candidates taking the effort to read this blog are in more competitive areas, I’ll bet.  So let’s get started on padding up that core Republican base.

1. Go where the conservatives gather

Churches and conservative synagogues, local chambers of commerce and other business associations, the farm bureau, pro-life groups, pro-2nd Amendment groups, homeschooling groups, pro-school choice groups, etc.  Speak to their groups, get their endorsement, gather contact info of the members and stay in touch with them as much as possible.  Sometimes the formal organizations will give you their membership lists, and you can try to collect church directories as well – both of which are handy resources for building a direct mailing list.

2. Go where the conservatives live

Start your door to door efforts in heavily Republican areas and you’ll soon find that like-minded folks tend to dwell in the same neighborhoods.  Even if people are not registered, new in town or for some other reason not on your walk list, they’ll be more likely to have the similar voting dispositions as their neighbors.

3. Dig deeper into your extended voter network

Ask your supporters to host ‘coffees’ or other casually themed gatherings in their homes, inviting 10-20 of their friends and family for a meet and greet.  This intimate environment is great for gaining strong support, and even though you’re winning over a handful of voters at a time, their extended reach is worth the effort.

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Why “Paid Volunteer” Is an Oxymoron

campaign volunteers

Volunteer [vol-uhn-teer] – noun: a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.

By the very nature of the word, volunteers should NOT be paid.  The ‘paid volunteer’ is a death nell for almost any campaign, most especially at the local and state levels.  Going the paid volunteer route is simply a bad idea, and here’s why:

Paid volunteers don’t love you. A campaign volunteer believes in your candidate, often times to a fault.  They would do anything to help you win, from going door-to-door to emptying the office trash.  If you have to pay your volunteers, it’s because your candidate can’t rally the traditional campaign troops, so how on earth is he going to persuade the voters?

They don’t know you. Since paid volunteers are there for the money, they probably didn’t study your platform, they probably don’t know your personal biography, your experience, or anything else they’ll need to know when voters ask “Why should we vote for him?”  All the coaching in the world can’t replace the genuine faith a true campaign volunteer has in a candidate.

They aren’t reliable. Paid volunteers show up when it’s convenient for them to ‘work.’  If $10 an hour isn’t enough for them to wake up at 5 a.m. on Election Day, guess what?  You’re outta luck, pal.

You’ll be giving the same tutorial throughout the whole campaign. Since paid volunteers generally stick around for one or two gigs and that’s it, you’ll be giving the same crash course on your candidate every day from about May ’til November.

If you can’t get volunteers any other way than throwing money at them, you probably have a candidate issue or a leadership issue.

What’s the solution?  Take whatever money you would set aside for paid volunteers and find ONE volunteer that is outgoing, energetic and extroverted, organized, enthusiastic about your campaign, and totally in love with your candidate (idealogically, not literally) and make them a paid Volunteer Coordinator.  Even if it’s a small stipend, any amount of money will typically be incentive enough to work their fingers to the bone for you.  Chances are they will be able to fire up 10-20 times as many volunteers as you would be able to drum up for yourself.

If you anticipate volunteer recruitment being a challenge, a Volunteer Coordinator should be the first person on payroll.  If you are running in a large district or for a relatively high office, a Congressional office or statewide race, for example, you’ll need a Volunteer Coordinator from the beginning anyway.

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