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5 Lessons That Nonprofits Can Learn from Political Campaigns

This election season was a circus. Tweets, TV interviews, and big public events took all of the air out of the room. Gone are the days of a stump speech taking a candidate from a town hall meeting to center stage of a national debate.

However, amidst all the chaos we’ve seen in the political campaigns of 2016, one thing remained constant: active, dedicated volunteers were central to the success of political campaigns. Nonprofits should take note of how political campaigns leverage their resources and volunteers to support their mission. Their methods of volunteer management and recruitment can be easily implemented into your own nonprofit strategy.

Here are the five lessons that we’ve learned from political campaigns that will strengthen your nonprofit:

1) Successful Campaigns Use Social Media To Increase Awareness

  • Post to social media: Publish your events and volunteer needs to widely viewed platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Create shareable content: These are resources such as pictures, infographics, and articles that your supporters will feel compelled to share on their social media platforms. That’s free marketing for you, and a broadened audience for your cause.
  • Share live moments from volunteer events:  Video is immediate and engaging. Facebook Live, a new tool for live-streaming video to an audience, is an easy (and free!) way to reach out and engage volunteers.

2) Successful Campaigns Always Point Back to the Shared Mission

Remind your supporters of their end goal.

If they are volunteering in a garden, they are not volunteering for the garden. They are
volunteering for the community, which will be supported by the garden’s fruits and vegetables.

When a volunteer is reminded of the larger mission, they are more likely to return because they have something they believe in. Stick to your message and remind them why they supported you in the first place. Tracking and sharing results with your volunteers will help them to understand their contributions to the greater cause.

3) Successful Campaigns Recruit Student Volunteers

College students are usually at the center of political campaigns. Volunteer opportunities are key for students because they need internships and résumé material. For the most part, they also have more free time for the causes they are passionate about. Reach out to your local university and find out if they have a civic-engagement office or job board where you can post opportunities.

4) Successful Campaigns Give Flexible Volunteer Opportunities

Not every volunteer is the same; volunteers have different skills, passions, and visions for how they can best make a difference. Successful political campaigns offer a variety of service options for the volunteer  (i.e. phone bank, sign painting, or photographing a local grassroots campaign). If you provide multiple opportunities for differing skill sets, you will cultivate a more engaged volunteer who is likely to return in the future.

5) Successful  Campaigns Leverage Volunteers for Future Donations

Political campaigns are the masters of asking volunteers for future donations. They are not scared to request donations because they know if a volunteer is giving their time, they are likely to give money as well. Campaigns are now asking for recurring contributions. It is far easier to ask for $20 a month than $240 a year. This is something to keep in mind when your own nonprofit asks for the community’s support.


Political campaigns are the masters of cultivating volunteers who are passionate. There’s a lesson to be learned here. When political campaigns leverage social media, their mission statement, student volunteerism, flexible opportunities, and their volunteer’s loyalty, they gain a pool of people who are willing to engage in their cause multiple times  If you incorporate some of these practices into your non-profit strategy, you will begin to recruit new volunteers and better engage the ones you already have. Your future volunteers are out there. Go get ‘em!

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