Organizing 101: How to Recruit Your Volunteer Base

April 30, 2018 | NGP VAN

My passion for organizing began with a single volunteer shift. I was lured to a campaign office by the promise of free doughnuts and the opportunity to hear from an exciting local candidate. Before I knew it, I was knocking doors for races up-and-down the ballot. As the field organizers kept inviting me to do more (moving me up the ladder of engagement), I became deeply invested in the race.

A couple of months later, I became a staffer on the campaign tasked with mobilizing volunteers from a mid-sized college campus. The advice I got for recruiting volunteers? Try everything – throw something at the wall and see what sticks. Here are a few tried-and-true strategies to get you started: 

Let Your Vision (and Enthusiasm) Be Contagious

Let’s face it – Organizing is a tough job. You work long hours and pour your heart into the campaign. It’s challenging to sustain that level of energy unless you understand what’s at stake and why this campaign matters. You have a clear vision of how your campaign will help strengthen and empower your community. That same vision gets you up in the morning and keeps you going, even when you’re surviving off nothing but coffee and frozen dinners. Now that you need more volunteers, it is time to share your vision and let it be contagious. Talk to prospective volunteers about what you want for your state or district and how they can help you get there by knocking doors and making calls.

(Net)work it

When candidates decide to run, they call everyone they know and ask for money. It is a rite-of-passage. When you are building your volunteer base, you will also need to take advantage of your personal network. If you are organizing a community that you’re familiar with, create a list of everyone you know. Actually write down their names and identify the people who might want to invest their time in your campaign because it aligns with their values and/or because they believe in you. Never underestimate how many volunteers will come to the table because they like you, trust you, and want to see you succeed.

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 4.25.31 PM

 If you’re new to the community, don’t worry. Tap into the networks of your candidate and team. The candidate’s friends and family will be more than happy to show up, once you can show them how easy and rewarding it is to get involved. When you’ve got a solid list of names, it is time to reach out and start scheduling one-on-one meetings with prospective volunteers. 

Schedule One-on-One Meetings

One-on-ones are short, in-person meetings where you learn about the values of your prospective volunteer. These are usually 15- to 20-minute coffee dates. A good rule of thumb is to agitate on their needs, instead of irritating around yours. In short, bring them to the table for all of the reasons that your campaign speaks to and empowers them. Start by introducing yourself and briefly sharing your backstory. Let the prospective volunteer know what drew you to the campaign and why you are passionate about it. Then, get ready to listen. Ask the person about their life, their needs, and their values. Be genuinely curious about what drives them and acknowledge their current involvement in the community. Once they’ve shared their story, educate them about your campaign and what a win could mean for their community. Talk openly about the barriers your campaign faces and how their volunteer help could help propel your campaign forward. Finally, be ready with a call-to-action or ask. Ask them to table at a rally, join a Saturday canvass, or come in for a phone bank. Be prepared to hear no. If they aren’t ready to canvass this weekend, ask if you can follow up about other opportunities to get involved. Always ask ‘Who else do you think I should meet with?’ Most people will be excited to connect you with a good fit.


Reach out to Community Leaders

You will also want to schedule meetings with community leaders who share your values. This can include activists, religious leaders, retired politicians, artists, and philanthropists — anyone with a network and a vested interest in your community. You can definitely recruit these people to knock doors, but consider other needs that they can help you deliver on. These leaders will be able to connect you with their networks, include your organizers in community meetings, and amplify your campaigns’ messaging online. If they have any star-power, considering asking them to speak at a rally, meet-and-greet, or canvass kickoff. People will come to hear from them and stay once they’re fired up about your campaign. Just make sure you’re ready for them when they arrive. (For more on this, check out our piece on retaining volunteers). 

Go Digital

Social media is a great tool to widen your reach. Use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to a broader base of potential volunteers. On Facebook, you can find local groups that are already interested in your issues (like, Kansans for Education). Join those groups, introduce yourself, and post about upcoming volunteer events.

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 3.26.08 PM

Another great way to engage people online is to post the stories of your current volunteers. When people see their friends make time for your campaign, they’ll be more likely to pick up a shift, too. This is also your opportunity to demonstrate how our campaign lives their values by celebrating and supporting volunteers. By working your network and projecting your values, you can get people excited about your campaign and grow the volunteer base that you need.