Beware the Digital Volunteer
Dr. Daniel P. Beckmann
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What I find fascinating is that you seem to think all the “problems with digital volunteers” that you have listed are solved with a paycheck. They aren’t. I know of plenty of initiatives that have all the same problems with PAID staff. A pay check doesn’t make someone suddenly “know” politics. A pay check doesn’t empower someone to speak up. A pay check doesn’t guarantee that someone won’t leave at any moment, won’t disappear before election day, etc.

Paychecks aren’t magical and won’t take care of many of the problems you’ve outlined here.

Whether paid or volunteer, people should be trained to work on a campaign. Absolutely, give people real, appropriate titles — whether or not they are paid isn’t the point. What their responsibilities are, what their role is — that’s what matters. “Have your shit together,”, absolutely. That has nothing to do with whether or not a person is paid and everything to do with not wasting anyone’s time. Absolutely, give people freedom — but only after training. Make sure everyone with some sort of formal responsibility, whether or not they are paid, is empowered to innovate. Absolutely, feed people — and on this single point, yes, I will agree, it is especially important for volunteers to be fed — it is a very powerful statement to make to volunteers about how you value what they are giving up to spend time with your cause. Don’t assume a volunteer NOR someone you are paying “from a fancy place knows anything about digital in politics.” Absolutely interview volunteers — and anyone you will pay as well. Treat EVERYONE, volunteer or paid person, like a hire. Screening volunteers is a part of volunteer management 101 — something that sounds like more members of the Democratic Party need training in (including you). Absolutely be suspect of White Knights Tech Orgs — whether you are going to engage them as volunteers OR if you are going to engage them as paid consultants.

The power of someone calling me or arriving on my doorstep and saying, “Hi, I’m from so-and-so’s campaign” versus “Hi, I’m a VOLUNTEER from so-and-so’s campaign” is *profound.* I ask people that approach me about campaigns, point blank, “Are you being paid?” If they say yes, I’m less likely to take them seriously. My impression is that they are talking to me about this candidate just for a paycheck — sorry, but that’s what I think. When I have volunteered for campaigns, I make a point of saying, “Hi, I’m so and so and I’m a **volunteer**… I’m **volunteering** my time here because…” And I don’t get nearly as many cold shoulders, closed doors or hangups that so many other people I know that work on campaigns seem to get.

Beware of people that say paychecks turn incompetence into effectiveness, mismanagement into excellence, and on and on. Beware the person who thinks a “volunteer” is automatically someone without expertise. There are great books and workshops out there about just how effective volunteers can be — not because they might save money but, rather, because they are often the best people to do the work. Hope you will get to know them.

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