Saturday, March 05, 2005

Care and Feeding of Volunteers

If you're a precinct chair, you're going to need volunteers to help walk your precinct. If you're a candidate, you're going to need volunteers to run your campaign. If you're any kind of committee leader, you're going to need volunteers to do the work. And you want to make sure that you take care of these volunteers and give them the best experience possible. Because you want them to volunteer for you again next time! So, here's how to do that:

Here's the most important thing. Make it as easy as possible for your volunteers to participate. They probably have busy personal lives or are involved with other causes, and are not necessarily self-directed with regards to the particular event or cause that you may be organizing. So, once they've been recruited, you need to lay the plan out for them, in an A, B, C method.

For example. Say you're organizing a precinct walk. First, you have to recruit your volunteers. You do this by phoning your friends, getting the word out over any local internet groups you may have access to, or using whatever other resources you have. And, when you're planning your walk or other event, give your volunteers at least two weeks notice. Three is better. People's schedules book up and they get busy. Also, plan something fun in conjunction with your walk, like a cookout. This might be the deciding factor. If they're hanging out in bed on a Saturday morning, deciding between staying at home and relaxing or getting up and coming to your precinct walk, knowing that coffee and a nice breakfast (or at least bagels or something) will be waiting for them might well help them make up their minds to attend.

Second, communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure they know where and when they need to be. Send a follow up email or phone call. Make it as easy as possible – send a link to a map or directions so they know where they're going. Tell them what they need to bring to the activity, if anything. And, make SURE to add a phone number they can call with questions.

Third, make sure the event itself is planned to run as smoothly as possible. Have everything Xeroxed and printed beforehand. Have pens, clipboards, bottles of water, and all of the supplies you'll need. Sit down and mentally think through everything and make a list. Collate all of your materials. If your volunteers arrive, and you are still putting your walk sheets together, this is a BIG PROBLEM. Respect your volunteers' time so that they will be able to walk in and get right to work. They are taking hours out of their schedule to do this, so don't waste it.

Fourth, paradoxically, if the volunteers themselves seem inclined to waste their OWN time by being social or chatting, there's not much you can do about it. You can gently encourage them to get going, or make a suggestion, but you MUST never, ever treat them like they are your paid employees or any other kind of subordinate. This is the best way to ensure that they will not come back, and they will ALSO badmouth you to any other people they know to make sure that THEY don't come back either. Remember the A, B and C types in the "Taxonomy of Activists?" Some volunteers are equally interested in the social aspects of volunteering as they are in the work you're trying to get done. The most you can do with these cats is gently herd them toward the work you're trying to get accomplish.

This ties in with Fifth, which is, always, but ALWAYS, treat the volunteers well. (You'd be surprised at the horror stories I've heard.)

Sixth, if you're doing something like a precinct walk, leave yourself or somebody free during the walk or activity to support the volunteers. Give your cell phone number out to the walkers, and get theirs. Make sure there's someone at the rendezvous point if they come back early. Let them know they can and should call you if there's a problem.

Finally – it's over! Enjoy your cookout or other fun activity following the volunteer session. Provide a vegetarian option if you're cooking a meal. A lot of folks these days would also prefer a low-carb or a low-fat option as well. Think about who you've got coming.

And get ready to plan your next volunteer work session. You'll find it's quite addictive!


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