How to Work with Volunteers
Thank you so much for joining this fight. Elizabeth is proud to count you among her best supporters. Grassroots teams — made up of people like you — are the backbone of this campaign and at the heart of why Elizabeth is running for president.
You want to cultivate a community and think of your volunteer team as a group where everyone has a role to play. We know this is a marathon not a sprint—we have a lot of work ahead of us! You need to plan ahead and think through how to keep members motivated.
One of the most challenging aspects of running a new team is maintaining interest and activity among your members and volunteers. A team that sees the same faces returning every week, meeting after meeting, is one that is doing something right! What are some things that you can do to ensure that when someone (especially someone outside your network of friends and original members) comes to a meeting for the first time, they want to come back?
Here are some steps to take to retain volunteers and build your team:
- Build a Community. Make sure everyone who joins your team has a one-on-one conversation with an established team member. More on that below. Encourage members to share why they’re in this fight, and create a space for people to share their stories, be open and vulnerable. Also think about how to encourage members to get to know each other. If you can, provide name tags and food at your meetings. If the team is small enough, start with introductions and one or two sentences about what inspired each person to get involved. If it’s on the larger size, make sure to welcome new faces each week. Look for ways to organize social events for your team too! Host a picnic or potluck, or plan to hang out after your meeting to socialize.
- Recognize Hard Work and Skills. Appreciation goes a long way to making people feel like something is worth their time. Thank them! When acknowledging volunteers, be specific and congratulate them on the impact of their work.
- Create Opportunities for Meaningful and Interesting Work. Be open to new ideas and promote them, and credit the originator. Value different kinds of contributions–some people may be great writers, or leaders, spokespeople, or social chairs. Get creative!
- Communicate. Ask team members what they think! Whether it is through informal conversations, check-ins, or a survey, make sure communication is a two-way street. Explain the things that may seem obvious to leaders or core established members, and explain to new members what it means to be a part of the team. Make major announcements multiple times in different forums: for example, email an announcement and then summarize in it in the next meeting as well. Be sure to advertise who is on point for different activity areas and how to contact them so everyone can participate.
- Use Team Member Time Effectively. Run well organized meetings with clear expected outcomes so people feel like their time is valued. Don’t be afraid to set expectations, deadlines, and requirements, but be conscious that team members have different life circumstances too! For more on how to run great volunteer meetings, check out our toolkit.
- Inspire your Members. Take time to remind your team about why this fight is so important. Celebrate successes, even seemingly small ones. Make time for team members to share their stories.
- Assign roles and responsibilities. Everyone likes to feel like they have a specific part to play. Having roles makes sure that members are accountable and bought in. If someone is in charge of bringing the water bottles for a canvass, they’re more likely to show up than if they didn’t have a specific role.
THE LADDER OF ENGAGEMENT
The ladder of engagement is a tool we use to build up volunteers and turn them from a one-time event attendee into a leader in their community.
Use this sample ladder of engagement to build out a ladder of engagement for different parts of your campaign. Start with the easiest one-time volunteer actions and build up to leadership!
Use our ladder of engagement worksheet to plan out leadership development for your campaign!
Whenever someone new comes to a meeting, it is important that you or a member of your executive board or leadership team make a concerted and early effort to get to know them.
The best way to do this is to invite them to meet with you individually, outside the structure of weekly meetings. Share your story and your motivations for doing this work and use this time to gain an understanding of their motivation as well. This is a venue for you to get to know a potential new member and to help them feel like a valued member of the community.
After sharing your story and learning theirs, ask about their interests and gauge how their interests can best align with your team’s needs. Is this person an artist? Maybe they can design posters and fliers for event publicity. Are they a strong public speaker? Maybe they would be interested in setting up and delivering group announcements. Someone outgoing would make a great canvassing volunteer.
Once you learn about their interests and skillset it’s your responsibility to provide them with the opportunities that best suit them, and occasionally check in to ensure they’re enjoying their involvement in the campaign.
If helpful, you can access a training slidedeck on how to work with volunteers and hold one-on-one meetings here.
Here’s a sample one-on-one agenda:
- Listen and learn, build a connection. What brings them to the campaign? Why do they support Elizabeth? What kinds of things do they like to do?
- Talk about campaign based on what you have learned. What’s Elizabeth’s story? What’s your story? What are your goals? Why is it important to be involved now?
- Create options for them to take on more. Use your ladder of engagement! What’s worked about their involvement so far? Why would they be good for a leadership role?
- Set them up for success. One-on-ones are an opportunity to train volunteers, give them resources and toolkits, walk through next steps and your follow up plan.
- Questions/comments/concerns. Give folks the opportunity to ask questions, share feedback on the campaign, and address any challenges or issues they’ve faced.
Here are some best practices and tips for having great one-on-one meetings with volunteers:
- Ask, listen, and learn about the person and their motivations. Ask open-ended questions to learn as much as you can. Probe and ask follow-up questions. Never assume you have the answer. Organizing is about listening. In general, try to listen to 70% of the time and talk only 30% of the time.
- Provide more context to enable a deeper understanding about the campaign and strategy, while tying their work and role to our overall goal. This is an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the campaign and our strategy. Every activity or role needs a clear line drawn back up to the campaign goal. When we’re trying to elect our next president, the small things we all do can feel…well…pretty small. It’s not uncommon to wonder how talking to 20 voters can make a difference. Your role is to provide the context for your team member to understand why their work matters.
- Actively provide opportunities for them to take on leadership roles, develop goals, and plan for new challenges. Never leave a meeting without asking someone to do more.
- Meet people where they’re at. Remember your goals. Organizing is not about compromise, it’s about understanding where someone is coming from and appealing to the things they care about to help achieve a common objective or reach a common understanding.
- Don’t forget to follow up. Make sure that you and the volunteer are on the same page about next steps, what their next event or activity is, when the next meeting is, etc.