Election Szn: A Campaign Survival Guide

admin – April 20, 2021

To celebrate National Volunteer Week, Metric would like to recognize the unsung heroes and lifeblood of progressive campaigns: volunteers. 

Whether you’re a rookie volunteer, or you’ve been delivering lawn signs for every candidate you’ve ever supported, you know that campaigns are tough. They are a relentless rollercoaster ride of highs – like: door after door of supporters, seamless sign order and delivery followed by an excellent volunteer-made dinner. They also come with crushing lows like those moments where defeat feels imminent, classic frustration of ‘hurry up and wait’, and plain old exhaustion. 

With both springtime and possible federal election season in the air, Metric’s seasoned campaigners have put together some of their top tips on surviving – nay, thriving! – during campaigns.  Whether you’re about to volunteer for a municipal, provincial or federal campaign, we hope you find this advice useful. 

Leah Ward, Campaign Director 

  • Experience: Field Organizer, Activist, Director of Communications, War Room. Campaigns are fun, energetic, fast, and very demanding. I’ve been in both the central campaign and in local campaigns and learned a lot from both experiences. 
  • Clear your slate. Don’t expect to have time or energy for anything other than the work. Elections are short so treat it like a sprint and know that however hard you push, it’ll be over soon and you’ll be proud knowing you gave it your all. 
  • Find a campaign soul-mate. Some of my dearest friends are people I’ve campaigned with. Find someone who will have your back, build you up when you’re exhausted, and remind you how great you are. 
  • Pre-cook meals and pack your freezer. No matter how lovely it can be to eat campaign food, recovering from a long stint of junk can be a bummer when it’s all over. In the months leading up to the last election I worked, I routinely made a little extra food for every meal and froze the extra so that I had a stockpile of homemade ready-to-go meals for the whole campaign. I’m not being dramatic when I say this was a lifesaver. That said, don’t be too hard on yourself. If all you can do is order fast food or gobble down that delicious volunteer-baked lasagna, do it and don’t beat yourself up.
  • Try not to drink too much. I know I know it’s hard and having end-of-day drinks with the team can seem like a lifeline but doing it too often will make your days longer and your mornings harder. Save the celebration for the victory party and maybe one other time like post-debate.

Michael Roy, Managing Director

  • Experience: GOTV Organizer, Digital Director, Director of Communications, Director of Paid Media, Digital Staffer on local, provincial, national, and international campaigns. I’ve learned at least one big lesson on every campaign I’ve worked.
  • Get everything you need before the campaign starts. From freezing pre-cooked meals to stocking up on coffee and vitamin C, you’ll have precious little time to run errands (and honestly, would you rather sleep 20 extra minutes or go to the drug store?).
  • Simplify your life. Set your bills to pay automatically, add a note to your voicemail for people to text you, and if you have a partner, thank them in advance for all they’ll be taking on for you.
  • Finally, try to  get into your campaign routine (including getting up early for meetings and getting to bed as early as you can) before the campaign starts. 

Maureen Mariampillai, Content Lead 

  • Experience: VCO, Communications, Rapid response: As a former journalist and political staffer, I’ve been able to grow and strengthen my story-telling abilities to support progressive change in two provincial elections. Now, as Metric’s content lead, I’m using those experiences to help labour unions and non-profits mobilize, grow and fundraise through digital advertising. 
  • Drink water. There are going to be some really long and chaotic days during the campaign and the best advice I received was to stay hydrated and look out for each other. (This still applies if you’re volunteering from home!) Photo: Alberta NDP provincial election, 2019
  • Share your story. Everyone has a different reason for volunteering on political campaigns and it’s those stories that help move people– whether you’re on the phone, texting or on the doors. It’s a great way to connect with other volunteers. ✊🏾
  • Make a plan or create a written agreement that all volunteers will be treated with respect. Words are nice but actions speak louder. Promoting a safe space–especially for women, LGBTQ2S+ folx, and racialized volunteers — in a campaign must be a priority. Your volunteers will feel seen. And they will know you’ve got their back. 

Savanna Pelech, Digital Lead

  • Experience: GOTV/E-Day Queen
  • Google Sheets will always be your best friend, there will never be a better E-Day slotting tool than a good spreadsheet. Colour code it, block out schedules, make it visual, use a vlookup to bring phone numbers with names between pages = *chefs kiss*
  • Never run a zone house out of your HQ if you can avoid it! It will only cause unneeded chaos and stress.
  • Budget and plan to have a really good lunch plan for your volunteers on Eday. Make sure you provide snacks and accommodate dietary restrictions.

Brenna Ward, Project Manager

  • Experience: I worked on the digital team for the 2020 Saskatchewan provincial election and the 2019 Alberta provincial election creating organic content for social channels and email writing for fundraising. I have also door knocked in a few provincial campaigns!
  • Give yourself fully to the excitement of the campaign — it’s harder during COVID-19 but leaning into the wins and the positive news helps maintain the stamina you need to get through a rigorous few weeks of hard work. 
  • Recognizing happiness triggers is as important as knowing your stress triggers. For me, I know that a quick cuddle with my cat, a fresh coffee, a bouquet of flowers on my kitchen counter, and a walk in the sun are instant mood boosters. By peppering these throughout my day of remote campaign work, I had little things to look forward to and enjoy. 
  • Have a few key messages memorized for door knocking. It’s helpful to be able to engage in a productive way with voters. Remember empathetic listening and succinct, concise messaging that frames issues in a personal way.