A Guide to Managing a Volunteer Workforce
While money matters a lot in American politics, anyone who has been part of a large campaign knows that a strong, committed group of volunteers can be every bit as critical to success. Time and again, an effective ground game that captures the public’s spirit — and its sweat equity — is cited as the reason for a candidate’s breakthrough.
In our experience leading and studying large-scale change efforts of many kinds, from social movements to electoral races, we have come to believe that mismanaging volunteers is one of the most common sources of failure.Research shows that seven out of 10 people who volunteer never come back, severely undermining the energy and continuity a strong effort requires. By contrast, the rare campaign that thoughtfully structures the volunteer experience can build sustained, collective action and generate enormous creativity. In some cases, the result is a volunteer base so capable that it can be reused in perpetuity. The Freedom to Marry campaign, for instance, which helped win the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in 2015, has now become Freedom for All Americans, mobilizing to end all discrimination against gay and transgender citizens.
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