Most political involvement professionals intuitively know that their grassroots volunteers need to be trained. Unless volunteers know what to do and are properly trained to carry out their tasks, you will soon realize that NOTHING will HAPPEN. The same holds true for PAC champions.
When volunteer training is a component part of an overall program, the results tend to speak for themselves. However, even with training the success of a grassroots or PAC program can be less than spectacular. So what is missing? Why do some training activities produce better results?
Understanding where your volunteers are coming from, and that there are competing voices for their political attention, are key. We are living in the most polarized political world the United States has experienced since prior to the Civil War. Instant communications have spawned an industry of often rabid political commentary. Few people do not have strong opinions about politics, political leaders, political parties, and the issues that tend to drive the commentary in our public forums. Inevitably, your grassroots efforts will court the vote of lawmakers that many volunteers are convinced are a real problem to the future of the Republic. Likewise, your PAC is going to give money to candidates that your donors will find objectionable on some level.
Most of us are training grassroots volunteers to advocate issues affecting their business or profession when they may believe there other more important issues that will decide the future of our country. This is no different for training volunteers to solicit PAC contributions when many believe the funds are given to candidates they outright hate. Training that focuses only on how a grassroots or PAC program works and the important role volunteers play is doomed to fail in this era of outrage.
Here are six keys to effectively train your volunteers:
- Keep the issues focused. Recognize that the only focus of your program is to influence issues that directly affect the company, industry or profession and the people that make it up. Make your program a business program first and a political program second by avoiding external factors such as partisanship, irrelevant issues, personalities or controversial national events.
- Stick to the facts. In our country today, you don’t need a lot of facts in order to have a strong opinion. As a result, your training needs to be fact based. What are the issues we face? What will be the likely impact on the company, industry or profession? Who is in a position within Congress or the legislature to affect the outcome?
- Explain the political dynamics of the process. Most Americans have a “Weekly Reader” understanding of American government but graduate school confidence that they know what needs to be done. Basic political education as to how government really works, how a bill becomes law and an understanding of the current political environment which affects that process is a necessity. It is a system that they need to not only know but comprehend.
- Teach civility. Many volunteers need to learn how to communicate “civilly” with their lawmakers and their peers. Lack of civility among lawmakers is real. It even exists in heated political discussions among colleagues in business–but it almost never changes anyone’s mind and can actually make attitudes more rigid and strident. Volunteers must learn that the object of a PAC solicitation or a grassroots effort is to get people to act-–not get mad.
- Clearly describe the program and task ahead. Volunteers need to know how the program works and how to succeed at what you are asking them to do.
- Train with confidence. It takes a strong personality to conduct effective political involvement training. The trainer must train with positivity and confidence and be able to convince volunteers that their involvement in this polarized and competitive process is worthwhile and has real value. Training with timidity in today’s environment is like blood in the water-–and it attracts the sharks.
Political involvement training has never been more difficult, but the reality is that the success of your program depends on doing it and doing it right.