Winning elections and building a successful party organization requires planning and outlining the action steps necessary to implement the plan.
Those steps cannot be limited to the election year. As soon as one election is concluded, preparing for the next election begins. It’s time to get organized and get moving!
Developing a Plan
Gather the Committee and other interested people together to make a list of what the group is striving to achieve. Some goals of a County Party/Caucus/CD Committee are to:
- Influence voters year-round
- Raise funds to build the party and assist endorsed candidates
- Offer issues-based programs to voters in the district
- Recruit well-qualified candidates
- Expand participation in group activities
- Build a local Neighborhood Leader Program or similar outreach program
- Host social events and activities to build party unity and attract new people
- Update and maintain Voter File data
- Raise Democratic visibility in the district
- Have a strong presence at the county fair and in a local parade
- Register new voters
- Encourage early voting
- Establish more lawn sign locations
- And more…
The next step is to break down each goal into specific tasks, budget, timeline, etc. Form committees to manage overall projects and assign specific tasks and timelines to each committee member. Keep tabs on progress and require committees to provide regular reports. An overall plan, with a detailed timeline, is the basis for developing a budget and fundraising strategy. When donors know what specific activities are planned and what they will cost, they are more likely to provide support.
Some basic principles of leadership:
- Talking face-to-face is the most effective way to communicate.
- Effectiveness depends on group decisions and reinforcement.
- People have reasons for what they do, or fail to do. These reasons must be understood before it’s possible to lead effectively.
- Personal interest makes a big difference to people. They like logic and efficiency, too, but their loyalty goes to leaders who understand their needs, problems and accomplishments.
- Effective groups don’t just grow and persist, they must be carefully maintained. Good group work requires organization: keeping records; making clear assignments; holding regular meetings; and periodically reviewing the results.
How to get people to do a job:
- Ask them. Don’t wait for someone to volunteer. People want to be noticed and appreciated, even if it’s just for showing up.
- People will respond to a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or a person with standing in the community (such as an elected official). But, it’s the act of asking that is important.
- Once recruited, a volunteer should be welcomed by the leader of the group. This effectively seals the deal: first being asked by someone they know and respect and, second, being welcomed by the person in charge of the activity.
Where to start:
- Let each person know their help is needed. If a person hears the group is just “looking for people,” the message is that they are easily replaceable and not responsible for doing a job well.
- Explain how each person’s job fits with the goals of the Democratic Party. People want to understand things they are part of and they work best when they know others are depending on them.
- Clarify the task and that it has a definite beginning and end. People are often reluctant to sign up for an open-ended assignment, fearing they might over-commit.
- Assign people to jobs they can do well at the outset. They will be more willing to take on things they are confident in doing. Later, when they are established in the group, they might be more willing to try new things.
- Encourage questions and discussion before work begins.
- Be enthusiastic about the importance of the work, rather than apologize or belittle the task. Conveying a positive attitude to the group keeps people motivated.
- Recognize success — acknowledging a volunteer’s success is always appropriate and a good idea.
Tips for Leading Effective Meetings
- Establish a schedule and location for regular meetings that people can easily remember, such as: Second Tuesdays of every month, 6 p.m., at the Community Center, Room 1.
- Send official notices by email, postcard, or both, for every meeting, at least 10 days in advance to a broad group of strong Democrats (reminding them all are welcome!). Include an agenda, guest speakers, and other upcoming activities — as well as where the after-meeting get-together will be (see below).
Make It Fun
- Invite special guest speakers from the Democratic Party, the community, local colleges, etc., and promote the topic in advance. For example, give them 10-15 minutes at the start of the meeting to speak and answer questions.
- Give every attendee 1-2 minutes to introduce themselves and respond to a “question of the day. For example: “What makes you a Democrat?” or “How long have you lived in this district?” or “What’s your favorite side dish at a barbecue?”
- Plan a regular after-meeting get-together at a local restaurant or popular spot. Include an invitation in the meeting notice for everyone to attend, even if they can’t make the meeting itself. This is where friendships are made, volunteers are recruited, ideas shared and politics can be enthusiastically discussed.
Keep It Short
- Hold the work and “mechanics” to an hour or less. Encourage reports from officers and committees to be brief and to the point. For example, there is no need for the Treasurer to read through the budget report if it is printed and available to attendees.
- On the agenda, include minutes allowed for each item. If the body wishes to increase or decrease the time for any item, that can be easily decided when the agenda is up for approval.
- Manage discussion time on issues. A good practice is ask for a motion, get a second, and open it up for discussion, alternating 3 pro and 3 con — 1 minute each. Then take a vote. If more discussion is desired before the motion is considered, take a vote on that, as well, before continuing.
- Brainstorming on a project can be a good use of meeting time, but manage the time spent and consult the body for guidelines on how to proceed and determine next steps.
- Be diligent in holding guest speakers to their allotted time.
- Take some discussions off-line — outside meeting time — if someone desires deeper discussion of a matter that does not have to involve the entire body.
- Officers should not dominate the discussion. Take steps to encourage others to offer their opinions and suggestions. Ask them what they think. People will not continue coming if they feel they can’t contribute anything.
- Be open to questions, because they often lead to better ways of doing things. Discourage the saying: “because that’s how we’ve always done it.” Nothing turns new people off quicker than resistance to change and new ideas.
Know the Rules
- Parliamentary procedure (Robert’s Rules) is useful to ensure equal time for opposing views and fair consideration of any issue. Some meetings can proceed more informally without problems, but the Chair should be prepared to invoke parliamentary procedure when necessary. A brief summary can be found in Section 11 of this manual.