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Morning Feature – Planning for 2014, Part III: Plans Into Action (Non-Cynical Saturday)

February 9, 2013

Morning Feature

Morning Feature – Planning for 2014, Part III: Plans Into Action (Non-Cynical Saturday)

A sound plan that recognizes your group’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and turns them into specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely goals is only worthwhile if you turn that plan into action. (More)

Planning for 2014, Part III: Plans Into Action (Non-Cynical Saturday)

This week Morning Feature invites you to start planning for the 2014 elections. Thursday we began with an honest assessment of your group’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Yesterday we looked at setting specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely goals for success in 2014. Today we conclude with getting from where you are to where you want to be.

Note: This series assumes you are working with a grassroots group such as a local Democratic Executive Committee or club, Organizing for Action, Democracy for America, or a labor or issue-oriented group. If you are not a member of any local political organization, I encourage you to join one. The challenges and plans of the Purple County Democratic Executive Committee, as presented in this series, are hypothetical. Any resemblance to any real organization is purely coincidental.

“Who’s going to do it?”

“So this is our overall plan,” Charlotte said, pointing to the poster labeled ‘Goals for 2014.’

“It looks like a good plan,” Vicki said, nodding. “Who’s going to do it?”

Charlotte smiled. “I’m so glad you asked. My next poster is labeled ‘Committee Assignments.'”

“Assignments?” Tom asked. “We’ve always just asked for volunteers.”

“We had,” Charlotte agreed, “until last year. If you remember, I asked you to make sure the campaign office was staffed on Tuesdays and Fridays.”

“Sure,” Tom said. “That was fine. We had it covered every day.”

“And Vicki,” Charlotte continued, “I asked you to make sure our phone bank data went into the system.”

“I got a team together and we did that,” Vicki said proudly.

“We got a lot done that way,” Charlotte said. “So this year we’re not waiting for members to volunteer. Call them ‘Assignments’ or ‘Invitations’ … but we’re asking each of you to be responsible for some specific goals and tasks.”

Ask for help

Many political groups fail because they don’t have explicit goals or explicit plans. But even more fail because all they do is set goals and write plans. Ask them what they want to accomplish or how they intend to do it, and they can boldly cite chapter and verse. Ask what action they’ve taken, and the mumbling begins. Call it Aesop’s maxim:

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

To get from talking to doing, you need people to accept responsibility for specific goals and tasks. In most groups, only a relative handful will volunteer. Some hold back because they’re shy. Others hesitate because they don’t know exactly what they can contribute.

The good news is that most of those non-volunteers will help – and do well – if you ask them. Your request should include specific tasks, explain how those tasks fit in the group’s overall plan, and let them know you’ll provide the support they’ll need:

Bad Ask: “We need a lot of volunteers for voter registration. Can I put you on our list?”

Good Ask: “Would you help with the Purple College voter registration booth in June? We need to add 4000 new Democrats by next August and reaching new college students will be an important part of that. We’ll do voter registration training in May, and make sure you have all the forms and instructions.”

In deciding which members to assign which tasks, Amy Schollenberger’s Action Circles Model. People will usually help if they feel confident about the task, and gain confidence when they complete tasks well. Find tasks for new members that get them used to working in the group and help them gain confidence for the more challenging tasks of the election campaign season.

Help your helpers

To keep members active, leaders must remember the three Ts:

  • Training – Invite members to training sessions that provide them the opportunity to practice the tasks you’ve asked them to do. Ensure they understand any legal requirements, and know whom to call if they have questions. When practical, use the “Watch One, Do One, Teach One” system that lets members observe, then perform, and then teach a task to someone else.
  • Tools – Provide members the materials they’ll need for that task: scripts, voter contact lists, a leader contact list, a tip list (Smile, Listen, Don’t Argue, etc.), phone and/or computer access and, for longer tasks, snacks and drinks.
  • Thanks – This is the most important T of all. Always thank each member, personally. Invite them back to help again. For group tasks, you may want to award token prizes for categories like most contacts, enthusiasm, etc. Practice Vince Lombardi’s maxim: “Praise in public, criticize in private.”

“Let’s get started!”

“That looks really good,” Vicki said.

Charlotte smiled as she saw heads nodding around the room. “Thanks, Vicki. And thank you all for your comments and support. I’m sure you’ll all be thrilled to know I’m almost finished.”

“Promise?” Tom asked with a wink.

Nods turned to chuckles. Charlotte picked up her final poster. “Here are our tasks for the next month. You can see how each one fits our overall plan. Vicki and Tom, I have a box of materials for each of you. Members, if you’re not assigned to a group this month and you want to help, I’m sure Vicki and Tom would be delighted to have your help.”

“Absolutely!” Vicki agreed.

Tom nodded. “It looks like we have a lot to get done before June.”

“We sure do,” Charlotte said. “So let’s get started!”


Happy Saturday!

  • Jim W

    Virginia’s election every year gives us a lot of opportunities to train leaders, a lot of time to identify volunteers and a lot of practice. The combined campaign has the advantage of last year that the new candidate lacks.

    The more times a challenger runs, the more times the challenger has to build a campaign organization and identify volunteers.

    • NCrissieB

      Do Virginia Democrats support repeat runs by the same challengers, Jim? Not all state and local groups do, and I think the too-common One And Done rule is a bad policy. While we should try to replace clearly flawed candidates, good (or promising) candidates can and do lose races for reasons that have little to do with their individual political skill.

      Many states do hold municipal elections in odd-numbered years, with county and state elections in even-numbered years, and that does give groups more opportunities to build and hone campaign skills.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

      • Jim W

        Virginia Democrats support incumbents. One of the weaknesses is support for challengers which means that we give away a lot of elections to unopposed Republicans..

        One rule is that the party does not pick a favorite for primaries.

  • winterbanyan

    Asking is a far cry from assigning. I hope asking specific people to do specific tasks will be the choice of any volunteer organization. Simply assigning people causes problems.

    But the tasks must be specific and help must be offered as you state here.

    • NCrissieB

      The difference between “asking” and “assigning” is a matter of phrasing:

      — “Joe, Lisa, Mandy, you’re assigned to do This.”

      — “Joe, Lisa, Mandy, would you help us do This?”

      The latter is, obviously, a better approach. Either way, group leaders need to identify specific people for specific tasks, rather than hoping people will offer to help.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • addisnana

    I think it is much easier to get volunteers when the tasks are specific (i.e. we need volunteers who will each call x people to …) and when they are reassured that they will be trained & supported before doing whatever the task is. An open ended “will you volunteer?” is a hard question for people to say yes to.

    I was a member of a non-profit group where volunteers for standing committee assignments were not forthcoming. The officer group just assigned members and sent out the assignments in a heavy autocratic voice that basically blamed people for not volunteering. It did not go over well at all. This group had lots of issues but this really didn’t help membership at all.

    In organizational development language the process of people believing in and sharing the vision and thus wanting to do something to help make the vision real is called “enrollment.” I think we do have lots of great progressive principles that let people want to enroll in our vision. We need to sell volunteers and make it easy for them to buy-in. The idea that we can’t do it without them is a good thing. The grassroots are the response that big money and Citizen’s United cannot buy. Translated, your time and commitment as a volunteer is your gift to reshaping the political landscape.

    Just a few random thoughts. Great post and thank you.

    • NCrissieB

      I completely agree with this, addisnana:

      I think we do have lots of great progressive principles that let people want to enroll in our vision. We need to sell volunteers and make it easy for them to buy-in. The idea that we can’t do it without them is a good thing.

      In the hypothetical meeting described in this week’s series, Charlotte invited the members to add to her SWOT lists and SMART goals. I didn’t detail their responses, but a good leader will include members in developing the group’s plan. Those conversations will also help identify which members seem most inclined toward which tasks, so the assignments-as-invitations can flow naturally:

      “We should have a voter registration table at the start of each semester at Purple College,” Erica offered.

      “That’s a great idea,” Charlotte said, writing it on her poster. She turned to Erica. “Would you help us with that?”

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::