Recruiting your volunteer team – how we do it in Barnstaple South
We all know the saying that many hands make light work. In my experience this is absolutely true. I love working in a team – it’s more fun, the workload is shared out, and the results are greater than the sum of the parts. Without having built a team of volunteers we would not have been able to take this county seat from the Tories in May this year.
When I first got involved locally though there was no team in place. It was just Brian who did everything, with no help. He was thrilled when my husband and I offered to get involved. Little did we know the scale of the challenge. Five years later we have developed our team to almost 40 people (some far more involved than others of course, but that is fine).
How do we build our team? By being brazen about who we ask, matching people to tasks they are interested in, and through looking after our team. I don’t know of any LD teams that have too many volunteers. We are no different. It’s an on-going process, and I’m happy to say that I recruited a new deliverer only last week – and he joined the party yesterday. He got involved because I asked him, and because he cares about his local community.
Who do we ask? We ask Members and Supporters, family and friends, people who help already (or have in the past), community activists who may share our values or interest in a local campaign, and people we have done casework for. Brenda lives in a different ward but came to me for help and is now one of my most reliable deliverers. We use Connect to create lists of Strong Lib Dems, and target pools of Volunteer Prospects and National Petition Signers.
Basically, it is worth asking anyone who is remotely friendly, and asking a lot of people. The more people we ask the more likely we are to find people to help. What’s the worst that can happen? They might say no, but they might say yes.
How do we ask? It takes a conversation. Emails or letters to members are ok to raise general awareness of the need for volunteers, but a phone call or face to face conversation is so, so much more powerful. I have a rota of Members that I call, to keep in touch, to see if they can help with something, and to seek donations from.
I am planning my next conversation with long time LD member Jane, who I am going to try to take on bundling the delivery rounds for a district ward. I’ve had enough contact with her to know she needs something she can do at home, rather than do deliveries. It would free my time up to speak with residents and deal with casework, and she can feel good about contributing to our work locally.
How do I organise volunteer recruitment? I put blocks of time into my diary for talking with potential volunteers, and I plan what I am looking for. It really helps to have a variety of things to offer, and to be clear about the time commitment. People often respond better to a specific ask than a vague request – because they know what’s expected – and to being given something to do as soon as they agree to help.
Having worked in the voluntary sector for decade, I always try to think about what volunteers get out of it, and how to motivate them. I ask what they are interested in and give them choices. Some people are motivated by being part of a great team, for others it might be about being involved in a specific local issue. Save Westacott Park is a huge one for us locally. For others it is just wanting to stop the Tories or Labour.
What do we do with new volunteers? We make sure our volunteers have clear information about their role, we match new people with more experienced. For new deliverers I always go out with them on their first round. I also give them a very cheap kitchen spatula to make sure they know how to avoid having their fingers bitten by silent, biting dogs, or aggressive letter boxes. They need to be able to ask how to deal with “No Junk Mail” or other situations, and what to do if someone speaks to them. Canvassers always go out in teams of at least two. We do a quick briefing beforehand and debrief afterwards – often with tea or beer. We look after them.
What if they want to step back? It’s also important for people to feel ok about not doing a delivery round, or stepping back. There can be many reasons for this, and we take time to understand why this happens. For example, Angela has stopped delivering for us – because she has taken on caring for her autistic grandson, and is exhausted. That is fine. I make a point of calling her from time to time to say hello and see how she is. She may or may not come back to us.
Volunteering is a journey. Asking is the first step, and from there we can introduce them to the party and other campaigning. Josh joined the party in March and is a Young Liberal. He started out delivering leaflets, then moved on to shadowed me during a by-election in a neighbouring authority, learning about Postal Vote knock ups, minivan, and is now getting going on canvassing. “Its just talking to people” he said. Now he is coming to Kickstart in November. He wants to learn campaigning skills and to meet other like-minded people. We are thrilled. Might he be a future candidate? I’m already thinking that way.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. We look after our volunteers and never take them for granted. I thank them personally for their help. In normal times we would have a summer party, and often one at Christmas too. In recent times we’ve had zoom based socials (with pre-delivery of scones, cream and jam) and a picnic in the park. I always do Christmas cards, easter eggs, and try to remember the names of children and pets. I value the individuals that make up the team, and make sure they know that.
Motivation It’s something people do by choice, in preference to all kinds of other rewarding and fun activities. They have to enjoy the experience of helping, and I think it’s rewarding when they can see how their efforts are contributing to the bigger picture. Ultimately, winning or retaining a council seat is a very tangible reward. Working to a campaign plan helps keep people motivated. We are already working towards the district council elections in May 2022 – and we have set ourselves targets (number of phone numbers and emails collected, postal votes signed up, residents spoken to, leaflets out etc). It allows us to see how we are doing, and for volunteers to gain an understanding of the route to electoral victory.
We love to win. We’ve taken both district and county seats from the Tories in the last 5 years. Teamwork works, and teams that work win.