Working with Volunteers

Connect and Build Your Relationships

It's much easier to ask someone to do something (like volunteer) if you already have established a relationship. 

Particularly for volunteers that will be taking on significant responsibility, it is critical that you sit down and have an initial meeting with potential volunteers to learn more about them. In organizing work, we call this a "one-on-one".

A one-to-one is an intentional conversation. It is not an interview, but a chance to learn more about potential volunteers and what motivates them. It should feel like a natural two-way conversation, with one person leading and listening. 

In your one-to-one conversation, you should pay attention to 3 key things that will help you understand what motivates the volunteer and how to engage them in your group - their issues, interests, and values.

  • Issues are the concerns that are important to us. There are many issues that motivate us - good jobs at decent wages, health care for our families, and more.
  • Interests speak to our stake in a particular outcome. Our interests are what we get out of the issue and what our personal connection to it is. My issue might be improving educational opportunities in my community, but my interest is different if I am a parent, a student, or a teacher.
  • Values are the core principles that motivate us to act. One's issues and interests may shift over time, but values tend to be more unchanging.

Now, of course, you can't just sit down in a coffee shop with a potential volunteer and ask them, "Hey, what are your issues, interests, and values?" 

Rather, understanding these elements that make up each person and their motivation for this work is your job as an organizer. Take information you might learn in the course of an everyday conversation:

  • "I grew up on a farm"
  • "My kids are smart, but they're struggling in school"
  • "I went to college here because they gave me the scholarship I needed"
  • "We moved here because my wife got downsized from her job at XYZ corporation”

There is powerful information in those points of conversation that tells you about that person's connection to the campaign and what motivates them. It turns a volunteer into a real person with real personal values, rather than a cog in a wheel. 

Create Roles

In addition to paying attention to potential volunteers' issues, interests, and values, you should have learned two other things about them: their capacity and their commitment.

Capacity speaks to what we are able to do. Consider the different resources (or lack of resources) that potential volunteers have at their disposal. Are they retired, and have a lot of time? Are they a parent that cannot volunteer after their children get home from school?

Commitment speaks to what we are willing to do. How invested is the volunteer in the campaign? Commitment might be higher if they have a personal connection to the issue or candidate. Be sure not to make assumptions about who will have a high level of commitment. 

Commitment and capacity can often be aligned (people who have many resources to offer also are very committed to the cause), but often they are not. It is your job as an organizer to find a way for people to plug into your campaign, wherever they fall on the scale of capacity and commitment. Understanding this balance is key to making a successful, respectful ask for volunteer participation.

People will want to do different kinds of things, so be sure roles are clear and that there are enough of them. Some volunteers may feel that the most valuable use of their time is to provide a key skill that they have - cooking for large groups, for example, or designing a website. 

Others may not know what they can offer but enjoy talking to people. Still others may have limitations that make certain volunteer activities difficult, such as an elderly person spending three hours doorknocking.

Create "points of entry" - different levels of participation to accommodate different levels of capacity and commitment.

Make the Ask

Now that you've identified potential volunteers, gotten to know them, and figured out a variety of roles for them to play, you're all ready to get hard commitments from folks.

Here is a time-tested formula for recruiting volunteers and mobilizing people.

Mobilizing rap:

  • Introduction - who you are, what you are doing (“Hi, my name is Maria and I’m calling with Move to Amend.”)
  • Problem - what it is you're trying to solve (“Because of Corporate Personhood, corporations are able to spend unlimited money in elections.”)§ 
  • Solution - how your campaign can be the answer to the problem (“Move to Amend is working to pass a Constitutional amendment to abolish Corporate Personhood and make clear that the rights in the Constitution are meant for human beings.”)
  • Urgency - provide slight agitation for change (“Our community resolution in support of the Constitutional amendment is on the ballot next week and we need to make 3,000 more phone calls to voters before election day.”)
  • Ask for Action - a concrete, specific ask for what you want them to do (“Can we count on you to join our phonebank this Tuesday at the campaign headquarters?”)
  • Record Data - not technically part of the rap, but it is critical to keep track of all information for future use!

Borrowed heavily from – thanks!

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