Hard-to-recruit Volunteers

dreamstime_xs_54565472How to Recruit Door-to-door Political Campaign Volunteers…
and Other Hard-to-recruit Volunteers

On the first day of the Democratic convention Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren challenged the delegates to mobilize teams to go door-to-door and campaign for Hillary Clinton.

Yes… door-to-door!

A few weeks ago I received a call from a staff member of a national organization asking me how to recruit teams of volunteers to go door-to-door to get people to vote for Donald Trump.

Which do you think is more difficult: door-to-door campaigning… or recruiting the volunteers who will do the door-to-door campaigning?

Don’t start feeling overwhelmed… there’s good news. Although door-to-door volunteering may seem like old-fashioned- Kirby Vaccuum-20th-century-salesman work that would never appeal to the The New Breed volunteer, a political campaign is can appeal to the 21st century volunteer.


Because 21st century volunteers are “episodic.” They are looking for short term and one-time opportunities… and election campaigning door-to-door is short term.

So how do I get this episodic, short-term, volunteer to say, “Yes, I’ll do it,” especially in an election year when three-quarters of voters say their pick for president is motivated by a desire to cast their election day ballot against Clinton or Trump, more than those who say they’re voting for the candidate who is the most qualified to hold the office (PBS report—Polls show Americans Fear This Year’s Contenders)?

It’s a hard sell, but here are five steps to help you build your door-to-door election team in this passionless election.

Step One: You Must Believe that door-to-door works and is actually an effective 21st century method of campaigning. Most your volunteers might not know this, so show them the research. Gerber and Green experts in researching these campaigns, conclude that “personal canvassing overall has a far greater influence on voter participation than ‘professionally crafted mail delivered within two weeks of election day.’ Phone calling was the least effective way to reach out to voters and increase voter turnout, especially because many of the phone calling is cold-calling. Canvassing is important, but mostly when it is done locally.” You not only have to believe this, but let the volunteers know how effective their work is.

Step Two:  Develop your Prospecting Gold Mine:  All sales begins with prospecting—developing a list of potential volunteers. Why do I keep getting invitations to a free dinner to look at investment opportunities? Sales professionals know that in that meeting there are prospects who will say “yes.” The following are effective ways of developing your prospecting list– your list of people who will actually go door-to-door:

  • Throw a Party:  Joe Garecht suggests a great way to have your volunteers help you find more volunteers is by throwing a campaign “party.”  This party could be the grand opening of your headquarters, a volunteer-only party (with a street-taco bar), or any other type of event you can imagine.  Invite each of your volunteers, and encourage them to bring 3 friends.  To make your party even more exciting for volunteers, give them actual VIP tickets they can give to their friends.  At your event, ask the friends to help you win the campaign by volunteering as well.  The grateful guests will often be glad to help your campaign (5 tips for recruiting political volunteers).
  • Speak up:  Get on the speaking circuit at local events to give a powerful, motivational talk about issues that that group and the candidate care about. Make your pitch for team members at the end and provide a sign up list for more information.  Work carefully to develop a “big idea-mantra” for your speech that is going to awaken the passion of the potential volunteers.  Bill Clinton’s “big idea mantra” at the Democratic convention was, “Hillary is a change maker.” And Donald Trump has been promoting his “big idea mantra” for the past six months, “Make America great again.”  Come up with a big idea mantra that will resonate with your audience and build your speech around it, illustrating it with powerful stories of hope.
  • Happy Hour:  Millennials will often come for free food and drinks.  By sponsoring a happy hour, it will give you an opportunity to engage them and pitch them to make a difference with your team. (Just don’t send them door-to-door immediately after the happy hour.)  (Tips for recruiting best canvassing volunteers).
  • Tap into Passion. Build your prospective list by tapping into passion. Passion is what drives all volunteers; however, this is so much more difficult this year because so much of the passion is negative. But it is still passion, so use it. Look for people who are passionate about a particular candidate, no matter what the reason, like the ones who have a sign in front of their house or a bumper-sticker on their car.  Ask them.

Step Three:  Mine the Golden Prospects: Develop a prospecting list from the above methods.  When you have developed your prospecting list, target the best people that you met. Make a tailored, personal invitation in person. It’s harder for someone to resist your request face-to-face, plus you are able to give him or her a heart felt invitation on why he or she is the best person to join your door-to-door team.

Step Four:  Look for Bev — It’s not who you know. It’s who she knows.  Each person in your network has a whole group of contacts that you don’t know, and there may be a go-getter in that network of volunteers. In the New Breed, we tell the story of Bev, a retired school principal, who began tutoring at the local elementary school.  In a few months she had 40 volunteers tutoring at that school. The key to this story is that Bev was not a recruiter.  She was passionate about tutoring—not recruiting.  But she became our best recruiter by just telling her story. My conclusion—look for 10 Bev’s to become your best recruiters. Each Bev has a whole network of possible volunteers. You already have a team of people dedicated to the campaign—use them to get more team members.

Step Five  Rejection—get over it: When you are turned down ten times in a row, it is devastating. But you can manage rejection by these three keys:  First, examine your method of recruiting.  Are you ignoring the “Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting?”  Are you developing prospecting lists?  Are you framing your sales pitchSecond, don’t take it personally.  It’s not about you.  It’s the nature of all recruiting.  And third, learn your “acceptance rate”. Do you need to ask ten people before you get your first yes?    

The bottom line:  In summary, I would hold parties, sponsor events, use the social media, and  speak at local meetings to gain a hot prospecting list of potential campaigners.  Then I’d look for as many Bev’s as I could to recruit and train to go door-to-door.  Lets be honest. Door-to-door campaigning is hard work with tons of rejection.

Oh, and by the way, in case you haven’t figured this out—you are in sales. Recruiting is sales 101. Accept it.

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2 Responses to Hard-to-recruit Volunteers

  1. Andrew Yarrow says:

    Do you have any data on who volunteers for political campaigns by gender and age?

  2. Pingback: Recruiting Resources | Volunteer Power Newsletter

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