Managing your field program

Managing your field program
Building your first field program? A few basics will get you on track for Election Day.

Congrats, you’re a new campaign manager or project director, and you’re ready to set up your first field operation. Overwhelmed? Don’t be.

As a manager, focusing on five basics will get you up to speed and help you build and support a strong field operation.

Define the goal. Start with a picture of what you need to win. Which voters need to be persuaded and turned out? What legislative targets need to be pressured, and how?  Start with the big picture of what you hope to see happening -- this is your wish list.  Try to avoid effort duplication. If a coordinated campaign or coalition partner, is doing something, you shouldn’t.  It’s unlikely that you and your partners have the resources to do everything you’d like to see done.  When resources and goals don’t line up in field, targets, regions, or number of passes are the places to cut. 

Build the program first, then the team. You’ve developed a goal to, say, “supplement the presidential field operation with a strong rural persuasion program,” or to “engage grass-tops leaders in fourteen districts for in-person meetings, radio call-ins, and op-eds.” With that goal in mind it’s time to plan the “how.”

Field staff can to utilize many tools—volunteer calls, door knocks, staff calls, paid canvasses, events and more. Figure out what your staff needs to be doing to meet their goal. If it’s all of the above—prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. And once you know just what your staff will be focused on, hire the right people for that job. Good canvass directors don’t always make good volunteer recruiters. Good volunteer recruiters don’t always do grass-tops organizing well.

Remember: You can train staff as long as they’re willing to learn, but you can’t teach attitude and work ethic and you can’t fix bad habits if they’re already ingrained.

Also, be skeptical of “local relationships” warranting a higher level of compensation. Sure, it’s different than your home state, but it’s not that different. Most of your local field activists will have a group of people that love them, and a group that clearly doesn’t. If the former is larger than the latter, then the local staffer brings knowledge and relationships to the team. There’s value in that, just don’t get carried away.

Make sure the campaign is ready for the field. You’ve got a defined goal and a program that will help you reach it. Before you launch, though, make sure your field staff is prepared. If you have a tight and tested message that’s sinking in with the folks that your field staff is targeting, you can check off this box. But realize that your field staff will be more effective if the message has had some time to sink in. It’s one of the reasons why you should hire field after your race or issue has some paid or earned media behind it.

Once the staff hit the ground, they’ll start relaying data back to your campaign headquarters. Volunteer sign ups, voter ID’s, bad addresses and numbers, and everything else in between. Make sure you’re ready to track it and that your database and voter file are ready. Poor use of this data can cost you votes—supporters get turned off by repeated ID calls.

Your field staff doesn’t need much, but they do need materials to hand out and supplies to give away, which doesn’t always have to be expensive. Explore options to have materials available to print and distribute electronically.

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