A Beginner’s Guide to Volunteering for a Political Campaign

Phone banks, text banks, and postcards—oh my! Photo Credit: Corduroy Graphics

With the 2020 election only months away, there’s no better time to get involved in political campaigns. Even if you’ve participated in marches or protests, volunteering for a campaign can seem mysterious at best and intimidating at worst. Immediately after the 2016 election, I knew I had to work as hard as possible to elect leaders who were dedicated to equity—but I had no idea where to start. After a lot of research and some false starts, I’m happy to say that I’ve now volunteered for half a dozen campaigns. Now that I more or less know what I’m doing, I wanted to create a quick-start guide to help others jump right in and volunteer before November.

First, we’ll answer the most obvious question: What do campaign volunteers actually do? The image that pops into most people’s minds is canvassing, or knocking on doors and talking with people about your candidate of choice. According to the Yale Institute for Social and Policy Research, canvassing has long been considered the most effective way to communicate with voters and sway them towards your candidate. Of course, that’s not an option this year due to the pandemic, so if you’re looking to volunteer, you’ll likely have these four options:

Phone banking: This is a lot like canvassing, except you cold call people instead of knocking on doors. The thought of calling people you don’t know can be terrifying, but campaigns actually make it very easy by providing a script that you can personalize depending on your own reasons for supporting the candidate. And if the person on the other end of the call doesn’t want to talk to you, no problem! Just tell them to have a nice day and hang up.

Text banking: I think of this as phone banking for people who really hate talking on the phone. You’ll either download an app or go to a website, and the campaign will assign you lists of phone numbers to text. The initial texts are usually pre-loaded, so you just hit send. Then, as people respond, you’ll text with them and answer any questions they may have about the candidate and their policies. Your phone number is completely hidden since you’re texting through the app or website, so no need to worry about any of these potential voters sending you texts in the middle of the night. This is a super effective way of reaching voters who may not pick up the phone, and since you’re essentially just hitting “Send” a bunch of times, you can reach a lot of people very quickly. I once sent 200 texts in half an hour!

Making postcards: If calling or texting voters isn’t your thing—or if you love crafts—you can try making voter postcards. Campaigns like sending voters handwritten notes because they’re a lot more personal than mailers. Once again, you’ll get a script that you can personalize. You’re free to decorate the postcards, but you can also buy ones with election-inspired designs on Etsy. Sometimes you’ll need to put postage on them, which is an out-of-pocket cost for you, but this varies from campaign to campaign. When you’re done, just return the postcards to a campaign office. They’ll mail them for you!

Donating: You can always donate to the campaign of your choice. It’s technically not volunteering, but all campaigns need grassroots support to be successful. That’s especially true for local and state campaigns, which often don’t have the same big donors as national campaigns. 

So now that you have an idea of what volunteering looks like, how do you find these opportunities? There are a few ways. First, if there’s a specific candidate you’re passionate about, visit their website. They should have a page where you can sign up to volunteer, but if you don’t hear from them, find their socials and send them a DM. Someone from the campaign will see your message and sign you up.

You can also go straight to a political party’s website and sign up as a volunteer. However, signing up on a party’s national website may not yield results right away, since they’re inundated with messages. Instead, try signing up for the state or county chapter of that political party, which will have more local opportunities.

If you’re like me and you want to volunteer for as many candidates as possible, you can also join a political club. Clubs are chartered by political parties, and not only do they offer a metric ton of volunteer opportunities—they’re also a great way to meet new people. Volunteering becomes way more fun when you have a community of people doing it with you. Clubs also have monthly or bimonthly meetings and do endorsements, so joining is a great way to meet candidates and ask them questions directly.

While volunteering can be nerve-wracking if you’ve never done it before, it’s also inspiring. I’ll never forget the first time I joined a phone bank. It was before the 2018 midterm elections, and I showed up at a bustling campaign office in west Los Angeles. Every single person there was a stranger to me, but they answered all my questions and gave me as much time as I needed to read over the script. Of course, nothing could’ve calmed my heart rate while I dialed that first phone number. But after talking to a few people, I started to forget why I was nervous. It’s true that some people won’t want to talk, but a lot of people will, and these conversations really do make a difference. So hold your breath and dial that number, or send that text, or craft your postcard—I promise you won’t regret it.

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