I encourage you to try this even if you think you can’t talk to people. You can go with a partner and see how it is done. You aren’t knocking on just any door; you are given a list of addresses in a neighborhood for people who are likely voters. Primarily, you knock, no one answers, and you leave a door hanger. You get exercise, soak up a little Vitamin D, and help get the candidate’s name in front of voters. A win for everyone.
Smile when you talk, because it really does help. For every 10 numbers you dial, you might reach one person, so get busy and don’t fret over making that first call. Find out if you are supposed to leave voice messages or not before you start. Sometimes, those are the most fun of all. Campaigns will provide scripts, but don’t be afraid to modify them (for style, not substance) to make them sound more like you. If you start off sounding friendly and identifying yourself as a volunteer, only one in a million people will be nasty to you. Just think of that as payback for the times you’ve hung up rudely on a phone solicitor. Most will be either friendly OR honest about wanting to get off the phone. Once in a while, you have a great chat with an older person (because that’s who has land lines) who will reinforce your faith in humanity and democracy with their passion for your candidate or issue.
Campaigns host phone banks because they work. Try it before you say it isn’t for you.
Do not take down, deface, or otherwise mess with other candidates’ signs. We get calls and emails from supporters who want signs. We also seek out supporters with prime property for big 4′ x 8′ signs: residential or retail corners, fences on key roads, etc. If you can deliver yard signs, great. Go ahead & put them up in the yard, but not in the right-of-way. If you’ve got a truck, you can help with the big signs.
When volunteers return from phone-banking, and when donations come in, someone has to log them into the computer. If you think data entry is your thing, please make a commitment for the long haul. Campaign staff can train you, but to make the most of the time they spend training you, you need to show up on a regular basis. And, accuracy is very, very important. Take your time and get it right. The campaign uses this information to plan future block-walks and phone banks, and relies upon it for mandatory financial reports.
Seriously. If you showed up every couple of weeks and spent an hour doing basic house work, the candidate, campaign staff, and volunteers will consider you a hero. Clean phones, keyboards, tables, and don’t skip the bathroom. Watch the newspapers, get some coupons for cleaning supplies, and invest in a box of disposable gloves, then leave them behind so others can follow your example. If you can pick up a vacuum or dust-buster at a resale store, do it.
(I’d like to get your feedback in the comments on this question: does the option of cleaning toilets make you more or less likely to sign up to phone bank?)
If you’re a good driver and navigator, you can volunteer to drive the candidate to various meetings, debates, and events. This frees up the candidate to make fundraising calls or do other work from the passenger seat. Make sure you’ve got enough gas, know where you are going, and who the contact is (including cell phone number) for the place you are going in case something happens on the way.
Early in the campaign, candidates, especially first-timers or those running for local offices, need name recognition among voters almost as much as they need donations. You can invite your neighbors over for coffee on a Saturday morning or wine on a weeknight to meet the candidate. Ask the campaign how long your event should be, what time works for them, and how many people they would consider a successful event to be. They might look at their records and ask you to include nearby neighbors you don’t know in the invitation. This is a great way to meet new people.
If you can’t host an event, ask if the we are having any in your area, and attend, and bring a friend or two. Hosts are always grateful for a good turn-out
Every campaign needs printer/copier paper, clipboards, pens, highlighters, dry erase boards and markers, and ink cartridges for printers. They need trash bags, coffee cups, coffee makers, microwaves, and toilet paper, too. And, they need stain pens and laundry wipes. Find out exactly what they need, make a wish list, and ask several friends to help you play Santa once or twice during the campaign. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for coupons. Make sure you coordinate with the campaign so that they can track your donation according to campaign regulations, and so that you don’t overwhelm them with things they don’t need.
A campaign, like an army, marches on its stomach. Donuts on the weekend for block-walkers are great, but if you bring real food that comes from legitimate food groups beyond pizza and tacos for the staff and hardcore volunteers, they will worship you for all eternity. You might check, too, because vegans volunteer on campaigns, too, and need your love. Breath mints, hand sanitizer, and napkins, etc., are a nice touch, too.
This is critical. You stand outside, wearing a campaign shirt/button/sticker (and, you know, the rest of your clothes), offering voters small cards (called push cards, probably because you are supposed to push them into people’s hands) with your candidate’s name, picture, and campaign platform reduced to a few snappy words or phrases. But don’t just offer the cards—ask people to vote for your candidate. Be polite, and, despite what the cards are called, don’t be pushy.
“Hi! We sure would appreciate your vote for Tom Palzer for The U.S. Senate "today,” is a great way to start. Most people will walk past you quickly, smiling and nodding or ignoring you. A few might ask you questions. Be prepared for the people who respond by asking why with a few short reasons. “Tom really knows how to build consensus among people with different views, and I think our state really needs someone who can lead like that,” or “Tom has always been a champion for education, and I think it is critical that we have a U.S. Senater who understands how to make school finance work efficiently but effectively.” Of course, you’ll need to know more than that in case someone asks, but they rarely do.
A few might want to get hostile, or at least ask questions to distract you when it is clear they aren’t going to vote no matter what you say. Thank them for their time and walk away.
To earn votes, campaigns have to connect with voters. Those connections are phone calls, emails, handshakes at events, articles in the newspaper, eyeballs on signs, etc., and even with a tremendous volunteer base, campaigns need to spend money to make these things happen. If you can’t write a big check, consider making a monthly gift of a smaller amount to help with cash flow. And, consider bundling. If you get ten friends to each give $10 a month for 12 months, and the campaign finds ten other people to do that, it adds up.
One thing I love about Texas is that you can strike up a conversation with any grocery store checker, waitress, or even a person in an elevator. Reason #39 I’m glad I live in Texas. This horrifies anyone who grew up or lives in the north. I find myself trying to chat people up in New Hampshire, and they get the uncomfortable look of a shy woman who realizes she’s going to be stuck for an entire transatlantic flight next to a man who has modeled his life on Bobcat Goldthwait’s character in Shakes the Clown.
My point is, be friendly and talk to people. Tell them about our candidate Tom. Tell them you are volunteering, what you are doing, and why you think it matters. Be nice, be friendly, and keep it short, but give them a reason to have a strong positive association with your candidate. You never know, but you might convince someone to vote for your candidate just on the strength of that one interaction.
And for heaven’s sake, if you have a car magnet or sticker on your vehicle. Dont drive like a crazy person, Or, take the magnet off before you do.
There’s a famous campaign saying you should know: signs don’t vote. Aside from being obviously true, inasmuch as signs lack opposable thumbs or rights under the constitution—so far, that is—it means that you should never assume that the quantity of signs you see equals the number of votes a candidate will get.
Internet comments don’t vote, either, nor do Facebook posts, tweets, or even hilarious .gifs. Still, all of those things play a role.
Play nice. Speak truth. Be brief. Comment first on an article about Tom, and say something positive without resorting to mudslinging about the other candidate. That helps get the message out, and makes the people who comment after you look like jerks.