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.
Support your team. You’ve set a goal, built a program and made sure your campaign is ready for its field program. Now remember that most campaigns are broken down from one long, daunting slog into manageable blocks—quarters fill years, weeks fill quarters and days fill weeks. Build backwards from your report as a manager. If you need to give your candidate or client a report every Sunday, your field director should prepare his/her report on Saturday and their regionals will need to report to them by Saturday morning.
Your field director has a tough job and needs your support. Respect their relationships and work through them, not around them. Even if it’s easier to call an organizer directly, work with your field director to do it instead. And ensure that the rest of the campaign supports field. Is the finance staff collecting names on solicits? Will the social media team promote field events? Is the communications director exploring how to pitch grassroots events? All of those answers should be yes.
Ensure accountability. Good managers take a few steps to deal with problems, and to manage in a way that keeps fewer problems from developing. It’s your job to push back when a client or candidate makes the unreasonable asks, something dreaded by field staffers everywhere. A good manager sets reasonable expectations and protects the field staff against unreasonable expectations from the candidate or client, and from the wide range of distractions that will come up.
You can gage the field staffers’ performance by analyzing their data. Ask questions when the numbers don’t add up and be weary of the appearance of round numbers—they’re rare. You’ll likely see data in two places—a nightly report that your staff completes and the IDs and results once this data is entered into the voter file.
Compare these two numbers and when they don’t line up, ask questions.
You also need to be prepared to fire staffers. Sound harsh? Not as harsh as it feels to lose a campaign by a few votes and wonder if Johnny could have made a few more calls. Some folks aren’t cut out to work in field and it’s better to part ways quickly. If a staffer isn’t meeting core requirements in his or her first week, give them a clear warning and describe the steps they must take to get back on track. Make sure they’re supported and then, if things don’t improve in a week, make the change.
Dan Kelly has consulted on, managed, or led field operations on 24 campaigns in ten states and managed nearly 300 full time staff. In 2010, Kelly managed Dan Malloy’s campaign for governor in Connecticut, defeating two of the top ten self-funders of the cycle.