A political mentor once told me that the success of all political campaigns is largely dependent upon three things: time, money and volunteers. Unfortunately, many political neophytes tend to emphasize the importance of the first two and frequently devalue the third.
As anyone who has ever been in a last minute scramble of a campaign can tell you, time is always in high demand. Whether it’s distributing whip lists, making calls, or organizing flyer distribution, it always seems that E-Day comes faster than expected. Unfortunately, as much as those working in politics so ardently wish, time is not a commodity that can be bought and sold by campaign dollars.
Money itself is always useful in politics. From organizing events to advertising your cause and your candidate, money goes a long way. However, like time, there are certain restrictions on money. While American campaigns are largely based on momentous funding, monetary contributions, and super PACs, Canadian campaigns are generally more limited by certain funding restrictions. This means that while money is definitely useful on campaigns, it can only go so far and there can only be so much of it.
The most successful campaigns that I have seen have been those that fully utilize the third resource – and potentially most untapped of the major political resources. Volunteers help to create “more time” in that more things can be done in a shorter amount of time. While more volunteers doesn’t equal more money, campaign funds can be saved by volunteers with skillsets that can replace hired jobs. Even regardless of time and money, volunteers as a resource are incredibly valuable on their own.
As people who have willingly decided to take time out of their busy lives to do the sometimes tedious work on campaigns (usually making calls and going door to door canvassing), volunteers are already a step ahead of everyone else because they have the motivation to be there, without any immediate benefit like a salary. (That being said, it is important to note that many volunteers, including myself, may feel that volunteering for a cause they believe in is personally beneficial.)
In order to use volunteers effectively, there are a few considerations that must be addressed – a sort of list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, if you will. Firstly, fully appreciate volunteers. When I was in North Carolina this summer as a volunteer for the Obama Campaign the friendliness, approachability and gratitude of all the permanent campaign staff was evident. The Obama Campaign was so effective at organizing communities because it treated volunteers as the most important part of the campaign. It was because every volunteer that walked into the office was met with such a warm and appreciative reception that they came back to pick up extra shifts and showed such strong focus and commitment to their tasks, thereby increasing the efficiency of the campaign.
As a youth myself, I also understand the power that youth volunteers hold. Although we can often be patronized, youths often are the perfect volunteers because they don’t work full time, they are idealistic, and because they have networks that stretch far and wide. Just look at Kathleen Wynne’s campaign for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party and the Premiership, or Justin Trudeau’s incredibly successful campaign for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. Both campaigns were built upon a strong foundation of volunteers, many of them youth.
It is also important to realize that volunteers have special skills that can be utilized to the campaign’s advantage. The more effort spent in trying to connect with a volunteer’s passions, the more successful the experience will be for everyone involved.
And as for the volunteers themselves – keep it up! I strongly recommend that everyone volunteer for a political campaign at least once. I promise, you’ll learn a lot and you never know, you may come back for more!