Four Jobs for Difficult Volunteers by Kris Shafer

Every campaign has difficult to manage volunteers. They won't knock doors, make phone calls, or raise money, but they want to be seen as a big volunteer to help the campaign, especially if they think the candidate is going to win. The more people in the campaign office that are not working, the more difficult it is to keep others focused on their tasks.

Here are my top 4 things to have a Difficult Volunteer do.

1.  Research Property Owners: in 2010, I was working on a State House of Representatives Race and we had a very nice dedicated volunteer, who, honestly, was not good on phones or doors. Funds were raised for 4x8 signs, and we needed to start getting them out. He suggested a corner to put a sign on, and I didn't know who owned it. He said he could go down to the Tax Office and look up the owner and contact them for the campaign, and suddenly we were getting signs placed because we were talking to owners of properties instead of tenants. The volunteer became our sign troubleshooter, tasked with finding sign locations and getting signed letters of permission from the owner of a property before he could either put up a sign or have another sign team place a sign. A minus became a big plus to the campaign.

2. Handwritten Notes: In our age of digital communication a simple hand written note shows a personal touch that is beautiful in its imperfection. These notes can be written to Undecided Voters, to Donors, to voters in a precinct you are about to block walk, or just to voters in their own precinct to have a warm introduction. Keeping a stack of note cards and stamps will let you keep difficult volunteers busy, and you can even make a standing rule that volunteers need to write at least one card when they come into the office. The personal touch goes a long way in our disconnected age of technology.

3. Supply Runner: Especially in a small campaign, having someone who can run for supplies while you run the office can be helpful. You have to be able to trust the person will only get what's on the list in a timely manner, and that they will keep receipts. Hopefully you can task the difficult volunteer and at the same time keep the entire office being more productive.

4. Fire Them. This is the last option to keep your time and energy from being wasted and it is hard to do with a volunteer. I had a volunteer who only wanted to socialize and killed all my productivity in my nightly phone bank. She would make 2 or 3 calls then talk to other volunteers. I created a schedule to call for 45 minutes and take a 15 minute break, but she wouldn't do that. I kindly reminded her that we could socialize before 7 or after 9, but she didn't care. After having one of my excellent volunteers have a private conversation with her with no change, I had a private conversation reminding that we had to keep on track during phone banking hours. This had no effect, and after a followup reminder that I needed the volunteer to not distract my other workers or not come in, I had to ask her to leave in front of my other volunteers. There was some fallout, she complained and bad mouthed me at her political clubs, but my steadfast volunteers were glad that the distraction was gone. After about two weeks the candidate and campaign stopped hearing from her. Firing a volunteer is the very last option, but sometimes it is a necessary one.

Drew Ryun