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

  • how to recruit student volunteers;
  • what motivates student volunteers;
  • what kinds of projects student volunteers can help out with;
  • how to develop a volunteer or internship program; and
  • the ideal outcomes of including students in your campaign.

How do I recruit student volunteers?

  • 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!
  • Recruiting through schools: Another way to recruit students is through high schools and universities. For example, you can reach out to the Political Science or Policy department and professors of a local college or university, College Democrats, or local Young Democrat chapters and ask them to send out an open call for volunteers to their students. When RFS endorsed candidate Nida Allam was running for Durham County Commissioner, her field director sent a recruitment message to the University of North Carolina Political Science listserv and was able to reach an estimated 1,000 students. You can also try speaking to high school Government and Civics teachers about incorporating volunteer campaign work into their curriculums, or reach out to high school clubs that have a community organizing focus. Through these channels, you can reach many students who already have an interest in politics.

What motivates student volunteers?

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

  • 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.
  • Graphic Design and Website Building: Along with a social media presence, you will need a website for your campaign. It is likely that some of your student volunteers have experience with web design or can quickly learn how to use website building software. Utilize their expertise to ensure your website is visually appealing, well organized, and informative. They can also help with graphic design or taking photos for your website.
  • Community Building: As Eli Stone says, one of the best parts about working on campaigns is the relationships you build. While working on a gubernatorial campaign, Eli met RFS Programs Associate Flonja Hoxha, and their manager Allie McRaith later was the campaign manager for RFS alum Bob Morgan. In 2019, Eli worked as the campaign manager for RFS candidate Marianne Lalonde and later joined RFS as an intern, and Allie now works at the National Democratic Training Committee, a RFS partner organization. This goes to show that campaigns lead to long lasting personal and professional ties, and these connections in the political world lead to more progressive infrastructure. Campaigns are hard work, and you’ll be spending a lot of time with your team, so you want to create a positive work environment. Students can be an essential part of team building by facilitating exercises, planning social events, creating a team group chat, or designing friendly competitions.
  • Policy Analysis: Many student volunteers may be studying policy or they will want to help out as you decide on your own policy platform. As members of your community, they will likely have a personal stake in your policy decisions as well. Give students the opportunity to read agenda packets, learn the material, and make voting recommendations so they can gain valuable political experience and you can have a student’s perspective. This is especially important when it comes to policies that directly impact students in ways that may be different from how other constituents experience them. On issues like school budgets and curriculum, abortion access, student loan repayment, health care access, and climate change, it will be essential to gain insight from young voters as you develop your platform.
  • Fundraising: Whether through event planning, phone banking, or email writing, students can be a big help to your campaign fundraising. They may have new and creative ideas on how to fundraise and can also share with donors why it’s so important to get you elected.
  • Recruitment: Student volunteers can also play a key role in recruiting other volunteers. Some students, like Sarah Zhang, have even gone on to run their own student intern programs on campaigns and have done a successful job guiding and managing their peers. Students can tap into their academic, organizing, friend, and family networks to find new people who will be enthusiastic to join your campaign and support your election.

How do I develop a volunteer or internship program?

  • 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.
  • In addition to helping the campaign, Klitzman included an educational aspect to the program. Interns were recommended films, TV shows, and books about campaigns and elections in advance of the program. Klitzman then facilitated a discussion about what they watched and read so the interns could learn more about campaigns and voter turnout. He also invited guest speakers, including current and former elected officials, to share their perspectives. If you have the capacity to do so, offering educational experiences to students on your campaign can really heighten their experience and better prepare them for the work ahead.
  • Interns were expected to make a certain number of calls per week to substitute for in-person canvassing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in summer 2020, whether on their own schedule or on Zoom with other interns. Since this was a virtual campaign and knocking on doors was not an option, making phone calls was especially important and Klitzman made sure that the calls were as organized as possible. Be clear in your expectations for your students when they are making calls or sending texts so they know how much time they need to set aside.
  • Interns can also take on volunteer training and management. Klitzman had his interns train new volunteers on phone calls and texting, and had them act as a primary contact for volunteers. This gives interns valuable management experience and is a great way to lighten your load.
  • Interns on Klitzman’s campaign were also given a research assignment for which they had to research a topic of their choosing and write a report. This helped enhance the interns’ research skills and gave them a writing sample they could use in the future. If the students on your campaign don’t have the time or capacity for a project like this, you can still encourage them to conduct research for the campaign and give them opportunities to write or create other meaningful work samples.
  • Interns were given opportunities to socialize outside of regular campaign hours. They attended virtual game nights and movie nights to bond with their peers and have a fun outlet in a more casual setting. Try to set up similar activities for the students you’re working with, or encourage them to organize their own social events!
  • Interns were regularly given constructive feedback on their performance. Give both constructive and positive feedback as you see fit, as it will help your students with their professional development and show them that you’re noticing their hard work.
  • 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!
  • Mink has created many entry points for students in her campaign. There are students running social media, helping with events, using VAN, and moderating Slack, so don’t be afraid to include student volunteers in any aspect of your campaign.
  • There are now over 50 high school student volunteers working on Mink’s campaign, and these volunteers are consistently recruiting their friends to join. Some students carpool to grab donuts and canvass together, and are excited to be doing campaign work since they have made it such a fun, community-building experience. You can also encourage volunteers on your campaign to work in groups and socialize to boost morale and prevent burnout.
  • Student volunteers on Mink’s campaign are seeing how the problems they’re facing can be addressed by local government and learning how important it is to have elected officials they can count on. Make sure you are responsive and transparent with your volunteers to build enthusiasm for your campaign.

Why should your campaign include students?

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Run for Something

Run for Something

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