As I sit on the back patio of my summer retreat and listen to the crickets while smoking a cigar in the waning days of my vacation, I realize that it has been some time since I have checked in and forwarded my thoughts to these pages. Summer has a way of doing that to us: We disengage and get caught up in family endeavors. We enjoy the beach and the woods, and we hit the golf course in an attempt to grab all that summer has to offer.

Campaign volunteers are no different. Summer of an off year can be a tough time to keep folks engaged in any meaningful way. The election is a year and a half away. Candidates should be locked in an air-conditioned office with donor lists dialing for dollars. Everyone is otherwise engaged.

There are great ways to pick up ground in the volunteer ranks though. Now is a particularly good time to re connect with volunteers and to grow the ranks. College students are returning to their dorms and apartments. Folks are planning their fall seasons. Everyone is starting to think politically again.

Now is the perfect time to have a barbecue. I advise all of my candidates at this time of year to have a fun-raiser. No donations needed. Nothing with an agenda: Just an old fashioned good time.

My suggestion is to invite the entire volunteer list to an outdoor event. Get the candidate to work the grill. Fill coolers with sodas and beer. Grill up burgers and dogs and chicken… and ask everyone to bring along two friends.

Just as I’ve slacked off on my Campaign Insider column, volunteers will slack on their commitment. Now is the time to double down and grow the ranks. Reality says that volunteers who begin the race may not be around to finish it. Getting them to recruit their replacements is an easy way to keep the momentum building. I once worked on a campaign that had over 1,500 active volunteers on Election Day. Only 250 of those had been active from the opening 6 months, and this method allowed us to grow our ranks.

It is not easy to convince candidates to spend money on events that are purposefully designed to bring in no money but, if you are recruiting new volunteers, the event can pay huge dividends in the long run. Late season barbecues are a great way to grow commitment, camaraderie and an expanded volunteer force with little effort.

Some people see fall in a negative light and as a sign of the impending winter doldrums. If you prepare properly, fall and late summer can be boom times to move your campaign ahead. Today I have the opportunity to sit on the patio and smoke my cigar. In a month’s time, the leaves will be falling from the trees and I will be back to diligently writing my column. Likewise, today your volunteers will be at the beach but will be looking for things to do in October. Why not engage them now, have a bit of fun and get them to introduce you to their friends?

The expense of an event now could pay off in a big way come the doldrums of winter. All it takes is a grill, a cooler, and some foresight.


Jonathan Scott is president of the Liftline Group, a New England-based consulting and public relations firm. He is also the chairman of Ocean State Policy Research Institute. He can be reached at