It’s a Win-Win: Bring Students Onto Your Campaign Team

In my first year of college in Claremont, CA, I wanted to find a way to be politically active and get involved in my new community. Through a campus organizing group, I connected with a young, progressive immigration attorney running for City Council. I signed up to canvass and immediately found exactly what I was looking for; the candidate took the time to speak to all of the volunteers about the issues facing the community and the policies he was proposing in response. When I knocked on doors, I learned so much from the community members while connecting with my new classmates who were canvassing with me. Each day we canvassed, he gave the student volunteers rides to and from campus and bought us a delicious lunch when we finished. Through this experience, I gained a deep appreciation for local politics and learned what it was like to work with a candidate who really, truly cares about everyone they represent.

As a candidate, you may be wondering how you can engage students and get them excited about politics. Not only is it essential to get out the student vote, but students can offer fresh perspectives on how to address our most pressing issues. While our democracy continues to be attacked, it’s clear that the younger generations will be taking it upon themselves to right this country’s wrongs and build a better future. In your campaign, you have a unique opportunity to increase access to politics for young people, people of color, the disabled, LGBTQ+ communities, and everyone who has been systematically marginalized from political power. Bringing these communities to the forefront has the potential to transform the political landscape for the better.

Now, you’re probably wondering how? In this guide, we will outline:

  • how to recruit student volunteers;

How do I recruit student volunteers?

There are plenty of high school and college students who are excited about politics and ready to get involved in campaigns; you just have to know where to look!

  • Consider your existing networks: Chances are, you’ve already worked with some passionate students in community organizing spaces, whether at a local council meeting or a rally. Reach out to the students you know, and find common ground on the issues you care about. Some students may be interested in solving homelessness in your community, others in creating affordable housing options or increasing access to mental health care. Whatever their passion may be, let them know how you plan to address it and how working on your campaign can help you get there. Once you have some students on board, invite them to bring their friends and classmates too!

When inviting students to join your campaign team, make sure to establish what are the most effective communication methods with this young audience. First, have the students fill out a Google Form with their name, pronouns, school, phone number, and email. Then, consider what communication platforms will be most useful for your campaign, and get insight from the students on what platforms work best for them. Text and email are always reliable, but you can also utilize group messaging apps like Slack and GroupMe. Student volunteer Nina Atrokhov has found that Slack works well as a communication method and for spreading the word about opportunities and events, but says, “​​the best way to get student attendance is to text them directly.” Test these different methods out and see what works, and just make sure you’re clear with your team about your communication style and accessibility.

As you recruit volunteers, be mindful of the racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and ability diversity of the students. Some may be working multiple jobs, have significant family or school responsibilities, or may not have a reliable form of transportation, so be considerate of their time and offer transportation options to in-person meetings. If possible, you can schedule virtual meetings to make working on your campaign more accessible, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, consider whether you can offer some financial compensation to students or help them receive academic credit or volunteer hours.

What motivates student volunteers?

Students are motivated to join campaigns for a wide variety of reasons. They may want to build their leadership and networking skills, add experience to their resume, try something new, or spend time with peers who have shared interests. Campaigns are a great place to learn and hone a wide variety of skills, especially communication and connecting with others. They may also want to gain hard skills, such as learning VoteBuilder and other software, budgeting, event planning, social media, and candidate management, that they can take with them to future political work.

The main motivation for students, however, is that they want to make a difference. Students are concerned with what’s happening in their communities and in the world, and see campaigns as a way to take action. As student intern Sarah Zhang says, “a lot of young people are excited by campaigns because a lot of us are angry at the system, at the politicians who are currently in office that just aren’t representing us.” Zhang also notes that young people are ready to turn that frustration into action, and ready to get inspired by new candidates. Students like college student and career campaign organizer (and former RFS intern) Eli Stone recognize that our institutions and our safety are fragile; with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, rise in gun violence, and the worsening climate crisis, Stone finds that students are turning to grassroots organizing and local candidates to enact the changes they want to see and create a better future.

What kinds of projects can students help with on a campaign?

Once you have recruited students to help your team, you may be wondering what kinds of roles and projects they should take on beyond canvassing and phone banking. The good news — there’s no wrong answer! As with any volunteer role, ask each person about their skills and interests, and see what roles will fit best. Here are some examples of projects that RFS-affiliated students have taken on:

  • Social Media: In the digital age, social media is a key way to attract voters and donations. As a candidate, it’s important for you to have an online presence, especially to connect with young people. The student volunteers on your campaign likely have a lot of personal experience with social media, and this is a great way for them to put those skills to use. They can run your Instagram and Facebook accounts, create graphics, or come up with Twitter hashtags or a TikTok trend for your campaign. This is also a great way for students to spread the word to other students and recruit more volunteers and supporters to your campaign.

How do I develop a volunteer or internship program?

Depending on the capacity of your campaign, you may consider developing an entire program for your student volunteers. In this section, we will go over a successful virtual summer internship program created by Broward County Supervisor of Elections Candidate Chad Klitzman, and a volunteer program created by Montgomery County Council Candidate Kristin Mink.

First, here’s what Klitzman did, and how you can take inspiration no matter the size of your campaign:

  • Interns met three times weekly at a set time. There was a clear expectation of when they had to be available and the number of hours they had to commit to, so no one was left surprised. Whether you need to meet with your interns several times a week or only once, communicate that in advance so they can have as consistent a schedule as possible.

You may be interested in creating a more casual volunteer program for your campaign. Here is how Kristin Mink has engaged student volunteers in her campaign for Montgomery County Council, as described by student volunteer Nina Atrokhov:

  • Nina participated in Rep. Jamie Raskin’s Democracy Summer Fellowship and met Kristin Mink at an event. Mink took the time to approach students, ask them what they were interested in and the issues they cared about, and then invited them to volunteer for her campaign. If you are attending community or political events, try talking to the students present and give them opportunities to get involved!

Why should your campaign include students?

By including students in your campaign, you are setting them and yourself up for success. The City Councilmember I volunteered for has since become the Mayor of Claremont, and his student interns have played an integral role in his campaigns and in his office. Sarah Zhang started working on campaigns in high school, and now as a college student has managed social media for candidates and is a full-time field director on a congressional campaign. Eli Stone, a college junior, has now worked on 15–20 campaigns, managed 3–5, and acts as a communications director, deputy manager, and general consultant for a few candidates.

When you include students in your campaign, you have the power to build a mutually beneficial relationship in which your campaign is strengthened by their help and perspectives, and they can learn from you and utilize their newfound skills in meaningful political work. There may be some trial and error in the process, but as long as you trust your gut and work with your team, you can create a really powerful experience for everyone involved. No matter the scope of your campaign or where you’re at in the campaign process, it’s always a good time to bring on students and see the amazing things that can happen!

Additional resources on organizing and recruiting volunteers:

Lily Lucas (she/her) is from Bainbridge Island, Washington and recently graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, CA where she studied Politics. She is a current Run For Something Community Intern through the Progressive Pipeline Fellowship. She has previously held internships at other progressive political organizations and been involved in campaign work and community organizing. Outside of politics, she enjoys reading LGBTQ+ fiction, listening to music, and playing pickleball.

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Recruiting & supporting young people running for office. Building a Democratic bench. Want to help? hello@runforsomething.net