Limited Time and Money? Here’s How You Can Help Your Candidate Anyway
HOW TO HELP YOUR CANDIDATE IF YOUR
TIME AND MONEY ARE LIMITED
(HINT: ONE THING IS SOMETHING YOU DO EVERY DAY)
The general election is just a few months away, so campaigns are really kicking into gear right now, and they need a lot of help from their supporters. They need money. They need volunteers. They need for you to tell your friends and family that you are voting for them and why.
A friend recently told me that she was discouraged by how many people said they don’t want to get involved because campaigns and politics are so negative. I understand how she feels, and I believe that those people are an important reason that our politics are so negative right now. Because good people aren’t getting involved. That can be as easy as voting. If more of the discouraged raised their voices, I am willing to bet that the candidates and politicians would be happy to stop fighting each other and actually get to work for their constituents.
Shame on anyone who has the privilege to vote and doesn’t. Even worse are those who don’t register to vote because they don’t want to be called for jury service. I am shaking my finger at you! Lecture over.
During the 2008 elections, I did not have money, but I had time. I volunteered for several candidates by holding signs, walking door-to-door, and I even housed a couple of out-of-state campaign staffers. I also registered hundreds of voters. It was very rewarding, even though not all of the candidates I supported won.
I always believe that I have a stake in elections, because they affect my life in every way. Even if you don’t have the time or money to get involved, you can vote. But before you do, educate yourself enough to feel satisfied that the person for whom you vote has ideas you reasonably support. We don’t get to have everything we want, nor should we.
We talked to a few politicos about how people with busy lives and family obligations can help their candidates. Sarah Scanlon is a community organizer and strategist; Michael Cook is a Democratic campaign consultant; and Little Rock City Director Stacy Hurst is a Republican running to be elected to the state House of Representatives in District 35.
Here’s what we wanted to know:
1. What are the top three needs for campaigns?
2. If someone doesn’t have a lot of money to donate, what can they do?
3. If women want to volunteer, but have fairly limited time, what can they do?
4. Can you talk a little about the importance of telling your networks about the candidates you support?
5. What if they’re not sure about their support yet and have questions for the candidate? Is it possible to talk to them? How do they do that?
What are the top three needs for campaigns?
SARAH: Campaigns run on three resources: time, volunteers and money. Time is the only finite resource in campaigns. You can recruit more volunteers and you can raise more money, but the number of hours in the day and the number of days between beginning and finish in a campaign won’t change.
Well-run campaigns and successful campaigns manage these resources well. There are many roles for people to fill. Understanding the priorities of each role helps the candidate and campaign manager use their resources successfully.
The candidate has two jobs – raise money and talk to voters. Any distraction from these two goals is an impediment. Most candidates search hard for distractions from their first goal. Raising money is hard and at times uncomfortable. The second job is the fun job.
In an initiative campaign, the resources are the same and everyone’s job becomes raising money and talking to voters.
A) Strong fundraising operation;
B) Active and motivated volunteer base; and
C) Clear and compelling message
1. Boots on the ground;
2. Phone calls/postcards/personal testimony; and
3. Financial support.
If someone doesn’t have a lot of money to donate, what can they do?
SARAH: Money is just one resource. Volunteers on campaigns can sometimes make up for lack of money if they are doing the things that the money is intended to do. Money in campaigns allows more people to hear the candidate’s message, at least vaguely, through mail or broadcast media (TV, radio, and sometimes phones).
A volunteer talking to voters on behalf of candidates is actually more effective than a radio ad or TV ad; the problem is that fewer people hear the message. It is hard to compete with an audience of thousands if you have ten people calling twelve people an hour and only connecting with three of those twelve. Do the math: In an hour, 120 people would be called and hopefully your volunteers will talk to thirty. A 30-second ad during the news or a Razorback game could potentially reach thousands of voters. The only way to make up for that is if you have 1,000 volunteers working three-hour shifts talking to a very targeted audience with a very targeted message that is personal and compelling.
The answer to the question is, do all the voter contact that money tries to buy. Make phone calls, be visible, support the volunteer efforts, support the staff, and support the candidate.
MICHAEL: All campaigns need volunteers. If you don’t have money, you can still donate your time.
STACY: Numbers one and two above. Volunteer support like administrative assistance and organizational skills are helpful, too.
If women want to volunteer, but have fairly limited time, what can they do?
SARAH: This all depends on the plan for the campaign. Campaigns are pretty sophisticated these days. In most cases they have VoIP components (internet phone service) for their field efforts that allow people to call voters from any computer in any location. Just an hour making phone calls is a great help.
Also, helping organize and keeping the campaign running smoothly is a great gift. I call these super volunteers “Campaign Moms and Dads.” You may not have time to bake goods for the volunteers but maybe you can help organize a squad of people who will supply snacks and food for volunteers.
The other thing is being available to support the candidate. With the influx of women candidates there are a few new volunteer roles, such as picking up kids, babysitting, carpooling, etc. That may sound sexist, but the reality is that until there are as many men staying home to take care of the kids this role will be viewed as more of a woman’s role. These days we still hear that women are more reluctant to run for office because they carry the day-to-day care needs of their family. Addressing this concern may help us see more women running for office. [Editor’s note: Hear, hear! This is a subject which deserves its own post.]
MICHAEL: Some campaigns have work volunteers can do at home, such as calling targeted voters. And volunteers can use social media to push their candidate’s message
STACY: Set aside an hour or two during a weekend or after work. Walk door-to-door or host a neighborhood gathering. Write postcards, or make phone calls or send emails.
Can you talk a little about the importance of telling your networks about the candidates you support?
SARAH: This is the most successful way to assure that a volunteer’s hours on a campaign are not wasted.
We are herd animals. We are more likely to act if we know that we have a personal connection to the effort. My friends know they can call me and ask about candidates if I haven’t already tried to recruit them to help on campaigns. I used to leave my outgoing message on my phone like this: “Hi, this is Sarah and I am sorry to miss your call. For those interested, here is the list of candidates I am supporting this election….” Most of the time people were calling to ask anyway.
The most effective messenger for a candidate is the candidate herself. The next is someone who is willing to talk about why it matters to them that the person you are working for is elected.
When Paul Wellstone was running for office he asked volunteers for three things: their time (a dedicated time every week for the duration of the campaign); that they ask their friends and family to help; and for folks to take Election Day off to work for him (because he planned on working for them every day for the duration of his time in office). Whether it is asking your friends to volunteer or vote, in most cases a candidate’s success depends on it.
MICHAEL: In a small state like Arkansas, positive “word of mouth” still goes a long way. A voter may not know a candidate, but if a friend shares positive information about the office-seeker it goes a long way in garnering votes. A friend asking another friend to vote for a candidate is more powerful than any thirty-second television commercial.
STACY: Word of mouth is very important. One friend telling another friend that “this is who I’m supporting and why” is very effective.
What if they’re not sure about their support yet and have questions for the candidate? Is it possible to talk to them? How do they do that?
SARAH: Pick up the phone or send an email. Candidates are just people. You SHOULD ask questions.
MICHAEL: The wonderful thing about our state is you can often just call the candidate directly and ask for their positions on various issues. This is especially true for candidates on the county and legislative level. Moreover, you will find that candidates at this level are excited to hear from a voter since it gives them an opportunity to visit directly with someone who could vote for them. For Congressional and statewide candidates, voters can call the campaign headquarters and visit with the campaign staff. The staff should quickly get the information you need.
STACY: Absolutely! Constituents can contact me through Facebook, at home, email, cell phone, at Tipton & Hurst. As a City Director, I’ve always tried to be very accessible and responsive. People know how to get to me, and can. I welcome their calls and questions.