Volunteer Ideas: When to Say Yes, When To Say No

I like to tell my clients that it is harder to run for local offices such as County Executive, Commissioner, and/or State Representative than it is to run for statewide offices like U.S. Senate or Governor. 

Sometimes Campaign Volunteers Can Kill Your Campaign

It’s true. 

Sure, your competitive statewide candidates have to deal with downsides that come with media scrutiny and toxic party politics…i’ll give you that.  

But do you know what the big campaigns have that the little ones don’t have? 


Think about it. Campaigns are about building momentum. And to build momentum, a campaign has to make meaningful progress fundraising, organizing grassroots volunteers, engaging voters online, and implementing a schedule that maximizes your time around town. 

U.S. Senate and Gubernatorial candidates typically have a team of people dedicated to these campaign operations. 

Local candidates…not so much. (Sorry, interns don’t count)

And to make matters worse, local candidates have the added pressure of having to decipher the “help” that is actually helpful from the “help” that is nothing more than a distraction.  

I’ve seen it a thousand times. 

When supporters decide to get involved in a campaign, they tend to offer ideas. Its a way for them to feel like they are contributing. Local candidates, especially those without experience, find it very difficult to say no. All too often, that’s where the problems begin.

Here’s a real example.

Earlier this year, VOTEGTR provided website services to a candidate running locally for a position on the Board of Education. As his digital support team from a previous election campaign, we were able to quickly take his campaign live with a website that enabled him to raise money online. Things were off to a good start.

A month or two after his website was launched, the candidate contacted our support line asking for his branding to be changed. Sure, swapping the logo images is no sweat, but I was curious as to the motivation behind the candidate’s request, especially since he had paid a local marketing firm a fair amount of money only a few months before to develop his logo for deployment on the website, signs, and print pieces. 

It turns out, the candidate was really struggling to build a team of insiders that could help him manage his campaign operations. One individual offered to help, but that person was insistent that the campaign’s branding be changed entirely. Though that volunteer was a marketing professional, she did not have any previous experience or involvement in a competitive local election. Some of the suggestions were more appropriate for a corporate brand than a local candidate trying to make a connection with a small community.

It was sad for me to learn that our candidate indulged the volunteer and embarked on a six-week effort to redesign the logo. Those six weeks would have been better spent getting into a rhythm knocking on doors or working the phones, both of which are activities that can build real grassroots momentum. While our candidate was choosing new colors and concepts, his opponents were engaging voters both out in the community and online.

In the end, the logo redesign effort was symbolic of the campaign as a whole. Because our candidate failed to build a team of experienced advisors, he didn’t know which options were good ones from bad ones.  As a result, his campaign never got off the ground, and he struggled to make decisions and progress toward campaign goals. 

The strategists at VOTEGTR had offered our candidate several social media strategies that could have taken advantage of Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIN to increase name ID, sign up new volunteers, and increase online donations, but it was clear the candidate got tied up on his new branding effort and was unable to balance management of the rebranding effort with others that could have benefited the campaign in its early days.

The campaign was somewhat active on social media, but it had no measurable digital media strategy, no meaningful message, and no advocacy effort – not exactly a recipe for success. Our candidate lost badly, coming in fourth out of four candidates. 

Had the candidate spent time at the onset of his campaign investing in strategy and messaging efforts, perhaps he would not have felt compelled to listen to inexperienced volunteers. 

To be fair, a lot of local candidates struggle the way our candidate did. Running for local office is really hard and it’s difficult to manage all of the competing decision factors candidates face every day.

How do you know who to listen to? How do you know what ideas are worth investing in? How do you say no to a volunteer without risking negative negativity on Facebook the next day?

I like to remind candidates campaigns are about momentum and that campaigns that have momentum tend to win over the ones that don’t. 

Want to build momentum? Score easy wins from the onset. And at VOTEGTR, we help candidates use digital technology to score tactical wins that can help demonstrate energy.

Want to raise money online? We have a solution for that. 

Want to build and organize your grassroots base of support? We have a solution for that.

Want to use social media and YouTube to engage key voter segments? We have a solution for that, too. 

Give us a call today. 

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