OFA’s Winning Strategy: Retaining Volunteers Without Providing Monetary Compensation

Hello all!

Attached is my final paper. This final 20-page paper was submitted to my politics professor upon completion of my time at OFA. Just a warning – this is definitely a long piece. But I hope you’ll find the time to peruse the paper to extract even a gist of what 2.5 months in a campaign can teach ya!

This year’s presidential election featured Governor Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, and President Obama, the Democratic incumbent running to be reelected. With $6 billion as the projected total amount spent for this year’s presidential election (Confessore), Governor Romney and President Obama executed different campaign strategies–but only one was lauded and recognized for its strategy and effectiveness in the use of its most important campaign resource: the volunteer base.

Governor Romney, capitalizing upon his strengths as a businessman and claiming to be a job creator, ran a campaign focused on Obama’s unsatisfactory efforts to lower the unemployment rate and create jobs at a faster pace. Laying out the specifics of his plan to boost the economy in his “5 Point Plan” (Anderson) and trying to gain traction with undecided voters by producing a referendum on the President’s economic and foreign policies, as well as the newly implemented Affordable Health Care Act, Governor Romney invested in executing a strong persuasive campaign strategy. By promoting himself and the GOP as a better alternative to an unsatisfactory Democratic administration, Governor Romney’s campaign strategy exploited the vulnerabilities of undecided and/or swing voters, who were unsure how to characterize the past four years under President Obama. Asking provocative questions in his ads, such as “Are you better off?” (Bouie), Romney’s campaign attempted to mobilize the white vote in the south, appealing to racial tensions on several occasions. His media strategy was psychologically potent, widespread, and effective, while his ground game suffered as President Obama’s flourished.

President Obama, on the other hand, produced an entirely different campaign. Creating a technologically advanced campaign focused on calculated mobilization efforts, President Obama built a unique coalition of supporters. Understanding that the critical issue he faced was his inability to convince the American people that his economic policies were truly effective and productive, he attempted to shed light on his past accomplishments–such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Affordable Health Care Act, and the Stimulus Package –all of which were not just progressive, but objectively improved the financial situations of the middle class. In addition, to frame Governor Romney in a poor light, President Obama successfully waged an ideological battle against Governor Romney. Producing a paradigm, provoking voters to choose between himself–a middle class man, or Governor Romney– a man he painted as an elitist and apathetic businessman, President Obama effectively elicited the trust and vote of many swing and undecided voters. But this was only one aspect of an incredibly powerful and well thought-out campaign. In addition to distributing this message throughout conventional mediums–such as television ads and radio ads–President Obama’s national grassroots campaign, called Organizing for America (OFA), played a major role in reelecting the President.

OFA relied on extensive resources for survival–such as money, paid staffers, and most importantly–a loyal and large volunteer base. However, out of these three, key factors, the most critical and salient factor that has given OFA’s reputable status as a widespread and successful national grassroots campaign is its perpetually growing volunteer pool.

In 2008, OFA executed a historically impressive campaign. With a volunteer pool estimated at 1.5 million volunteers (Berman) blanketing the nation, the size and scale of OFA’s ground game made McCain’s campaign jaw drop in envy. Promoting a candidate who offered “hope” and “change” to a disgruntled and desperate America, OFA recruited and sustained a record-breaking number of active volunteers who enthusiastically relayed this promise to voters throughout blue, red, and purple states alike across the 700 established field offices (Masket 1023).

Four years later, OFA faced a different situation. Americans were eager to see the recession launch into self-repair mode in a nanosecond. Many desperately wanted to see the unemployment rate dip below 8%. People were looking to blame someone for the slow, but promising, pace of the economy. Americans witnessed a Presidential Obama’s approval rate decrease to pit-bottom lows. The national mood dwindled into an abyss of pessimism, dissatisfaction, and self-pity. But somehow, despite the overwhelming amount of pessimism and negativity in the air, OFA managed to do the impossible: It created an even more impressive, larger-than-life scale of a grassroots campaign than in 2008. 

To expand the electorate and create an even more well-coordinated, and succinct grassroots campaign than four years ago, the 2012 OFA campaign featured an even greater number of field offices–813 as opposed to little more than 700 in 2008–and a 47% increase in its volunteer pool–2.2 million active volunteer as opposed to 1.5 million in 2008 (“Obama for America”). Within these field offices, OFA built hierarchical neighborhood teams, fully equipped with the necessary training, materials and knowledge to execute a successful mobilization and persuasion effort across the board: Effectively registering “1,793,881 voters”, making over “150 million calls and door knocks”, exerting last-minute efforts to contact voters by making more than “25 million” calls door knocks from November 3rd to Election Day (“Obama for America”), President Obama could not help but shed a few tears during his post-re-election visit to Ohio as he attributed his reelection and overall success and edge in voter outreach, persuasion, and mobilization to his dedicated volunteer army that worked endlessly and diligently, especially those who tirelessly carried the OFA flag in key swing states.

In Pennsylvania, a key swing state where I worked to secure a Democratic win for Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, the effort to mobilize, persuade, and re-contact voters was phenomenal. Taking the time to inform locals about the implications and repercussions of the newly installed (but last-minute halted) strict enforcement of the Voter ID law–which disproportionately affected minorities and potential Democratic voters–was an aspect that urgently and patiently drove many volunteers to emphasize and communicate the importance of this election with local residents. With so much at stake, including the increasing feasibility of Governor Romney winning Pennsylvania’s electoral votes despite Pennsylvania’s status as a blue state during the past five presidential elections, many Philadelphians felt morally obligated to ensure the enfranchisement of voters despite being hindered and negatively affected by the previously imposed voter restrictions. Many volunteers realized the weight and the gravity of their efforts–from every door they knocked to every call they made to every result input into the database–and understood the importance of standing by the President, confident that his accomplishments in the past four years overshadowed the dreary national mood hovering over America.

Serving as local surrogates for the President, many of the volunteers completed a variety of activities during their time with OFA. Distributing Obama memorabilia throughout their communities, providing critical and relevant information about the election and Obama’s  administration to residents, informing residents on up-to-date information about voting restrictions, and phone banking and canvassing on a consistent basis, OFA volunteers demonstrated an unparalleled loyalty, dedication, persistence, and determination for the reelection of our President. Working hours similar to a part-time employee, or sometimes even to that of a full-time/over-time employee, volunteers ambitiously and fastidiously worked alongside paid staffers in the routine of canvassing, phone banking, and data entry. They even shared the anxiety and pains over volunteer flake rates, printer jams, and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) preparations–all without receiving monetary compensation. 

Without monetary compensation, many individuals remained steadfast until the very end. Whether dedicating their lives to the campaign for a three weeks or three months straight, many volunteers understood the gravity of their work and the efforts of those around them. And in the end–it worked. Securing 85.2% of the vote in Philadelphia as opposed to Romney’s 14.1% (Levy), Obama won 557,024 votes while Romney barely secured less than 100,000–91,840 votes (Levy). But in reality–realizing that the work paid off after seeing the metrics was not the only source of fulfillment to sustain OFA volunteers for a long-term period of time. Meticulously executing a variety of strategies to retain a diverse and reliable set of volunteers, OFA provided both current and new volunteers with easy access to various paths of fulfillment. 

Effectively serving individuals needs, primarily volunteers’ psychological, social, and/or practical needs, OFA maintained and satisfied its diverse volunteer base without the lure of monetary compensation. Whether people were motivated by one or more of the aforementioned causes, volunteering for the campaign evolved into an activity that we proudly participated in for our own individual reasons.  Ultimately, OFA succeeded in team-building and wielded neighborhood teams as the most cost-effective and productive weapon against a Republican campaign. 

To demonstrate how I arrived at this conclusion and the implications of arriving at this deduction, I will endeavor to answer the following questions accordingly: How did I realize that a substantial volunteer base was absolutely necessary in our turf? How did my neighborhood team target likely prospective volunteers? How did we communicate the benefits of volunteering to them? How did we continue our correspondence with them, sustain their commitment, and encourage them to become more involved in the campaign? How did this affect their volunteer habits? How did offering several sources of fulfillment affect the efficiency, productivity, and messaging of the volunteers? By exploring the answers to these questions, we can unravel the implications and unearth the repercussions that such a complex campaign strategy can have upon the future sustenance and promotion of democracy.

My First Week in Kensington: Realizing the Importance of an Effective Ground Game

From the beginning of my time with the OFA campaign in North Philadelphia, I realized that OFA desired and expected volunteers to do more than simply reiterate Obama’s successes and strategically avoid conversing about his failures with locals. Instead, as I was greeted by my Field Organizer (FO) for the first time, I slowly discovered that being a “fellow” was the equivalent of the combination of a data entry volunteer, voter registration drive staffer and facilitator, canvasser, phone banker, and FO-assistant in charge of miscellaneous responsibilities and duties. Upon hearing what was expected of me, I felt overwhelmed. I had never canvassed or phone banked before. I had attended a few political rallies in Los Angeles, voted in midterm elections, educated myself on state propositions and local politics, and attended a social justice training workshop before–but never had I been expected to complete such a vast set of heavy duty responsibilities on a daily basis. 

Anxiety was at its peak on my first day on the job, especially considering that I was expected to be a main facilitator in organizing a neighborhood that I had no familiarity or previous experience working. All I knew were a few basic elements: We were working in North Philadelphia, particularly an area called Kensington. Our turf consisted of 5,000 doors, and the demographics were largely black, Dominican, and Puerto Rican. Kensington is an impoverished neighborhood, and it is noted for being a crime-heavy part of Philadelphia. My FO explained that the biggest issue would merely be turnout; most residents were already Obama supporters. We just needed to ensure that they had a way to get to the polls, knew their polling locations, had an agenda for election day, and understood the weight of their vote.

Upon canvassing for the first time with another fellow on our neighborhood team, many of the facts revealed to me by my FO were confirmed, but also oversimplified. The most pressing issue about our territory was that a significant portion of the Kensington residents did not have access to the Internet. Instead, the main modes of communication for most residents was via their  television, radio, home phone, and/or word of mouth. If it were not for paid ads, canvassers, and phone bankers, establishing a high percentage of voter outreach with them would be impossible. 

This worried me. Romney’s campaign, which was supported by incredibly potent Super Political Action Committees (PACs) and various outside shadow groups, flooded Philadelphia with a diverse set of television ads. My email was flooded with OFA emails claiming how Romney has outspent us 2-1. How was the Obama campaign expected to wage a more fair and equitable battle against these powerful modes of communication? I realized that we had to opt for the traditional method of campaigning: canvassing. We had to canvass more, see people face-to-face more often, and we would only be able to execute this plan if either one of the two following events occurred: All the established fellows needed to complete multiple shifts a day to establish voter contact. Or, we needed to acquire more dedicated volunteers between then and Election Day to ensure that all information from headquarters was disseminated. Worrying that we might be understaffed considering our ambitious mobilization goals, I communicated my anxiety about this particular issue to my team. My coworkers, which consisted of two other full-time fellows who joined the campaign a month ago and two new part-time fellows, nodded in agreement. However, my FO did not seem phased by the issue–and it is only now that I can understand why. 

The Phases of Volunteering: The Haski-Leventhal and Bargal Model

In a study conducted by Lesley Hustinx, Hustinx investigated why turnover amongst volunteering organizations tends to be high. To justify high volunteer turnover, Hustinx declares that a volunteer has a specific set of requirements and standards that have to be met in the following manner: “…[i]ndividualized conditions and volunteer experiences have to be reconciled in an active and permanent way: motivation, occasion, and opportunity have to match in a particular biographical stage or situation” (Hustinx 238).” The politics behind volunteering are incredibly complex, calculated, egotistical, and dependent upon a variety of factors working together as a cohesive and succinct unit. To recruit a volunteer and encourage him or her to remain on site for an extended period of time, the volunteer must undergo the alignment of “motivation, occasion, and opportunity” during the following process as proposed by Haski-Leventhal and Bargal.

According to Haski-Leventhal and Bargal, authors of The Volunteer Stages and Transitions Model: Organizational Socialization of Volunteers, the path to becoming an established volunteer consists of a few key steps and transitions. First, the prospective volunteer experiences the “nominee phase” upon entrance into the employment site. Upon permeating the “organizational boundaries” by entering the OFA office premises, the prospective volunteer becomes recognized as a “new volunteer.” Once the new volunteer is accommodated by the organization, it is vital and crucial for the volunteer to develop an “emotional involvement”. If not emotionally invested in the mission within that critical period, the volunteer is most likely to “eject” himself or herself from the employer, and decide not to volunteer again with the employer. However, if the employer explicitly provides an easily accessible avenue for the volunteer to establish an emotional connection with the employer and communicates the individual volunteer’s purpose within the employer’s organizational structure, the volunteer is more likely to identify with the employer and feel affiliated with the employer’s mission. In turn, the “new volunteer” is more likely to become an “established volunteer” for an extended amount of time–provided that the volunteer’s “emotional involvement” is enhanced and/or volunteer’s expectations are met consistently (Haski-Leventhal and Bargal 74).  Through this model, Haski-Leventhal and Bargal demonstrate how an exchange of receptivity and sensitivity between an employer and volunteer requires heavy maintenance: the employer needs to listen to the new volunteer’s desires– particularly to the volunteer’s emotional needs–and supplement the volunteer’s needs accordingly.  

In the OFA campaign in North Philadelphia, we maintained a healthy relationship between the new volunteer and our team by remaining considerate to the volunteer’s needs, starting from the recruitment process. During the initial stages for volunteering, my FO required our team to remain attentive, persistent, and alert when engaging with prospective volunteers. To recruit volunteers, my FO instructed us to request all Obama supporters in his target zone to volunteer. Afterwards, upon taking note of the interested parties, we followed up with a second call. During this exchange, we scheduled a time for the prospective volunteer to visit the office at his or her earliest possible convenience, particularly during a phone banking session or a canvassing weekend of action. Upon arrival, a full-time fellow on our team discussed the prospective volunteer’s strengths and weaknesses followed by an in-depth training session.

This discussion and training session were absolutely critical to reeling in the volunteer and easing the transition from becoming a prospective volunteer to a regular volunteer. During the discussion regarding the skills and fortes of the prospective volunteer, fellows listened to the newcomer speak about his or her past volunteering and working experiences, and then established an agenda carefully tailored to the prospective volunteer’s availability and preferences.

Establishing a personalized agenda with reasonable goals in mind was incredibly critical to establishing a high retention rate. To combat a low recruitment rate, we approached this stage of the introductory phase with conscientiousness and utmost consideration. According to The New Volunteer Workforce, which provides a brief overview upon the identity of volunteers, their causes for leaving an organization, and the ways to combat a low volunteer retention rate, there are five main reasons why volunteers eject themselves from an organization or quit half-way through their commitment: The five common errors include mismatching “volunteers’ skills with assignments”, “failing to recognize volunteers’ contributions”, “not measuring the value of volunteers”, “failing to train and invest in volunteers and staff”, and “failing to provide strong leadership” (Eisner et al. 34-35). Amongst the five errors, we could not afford to make two of the errors during the introductory phase: mismatching “volunteers’ skills with assignments” and “failing to train and invest in volunteers and staff”. 

To avoid the occurrence of the latter process, the facilitator opened the training session by introducing the volunteer to OFA’s mission statement and familiarizing them with OFA’s volunteer expectations and available resources. In terms of OFA’s mission statement, fellows emphasized the invaluable nature of establishing voter contact via canvassing and/or phone banking. These two tasks were critical to empowering and enfranchising local voters, and more effective and productive than any other campaign strategy. We constantly drew comparisons between our campaign style versus Romney’s–particularly noting that we ran a campaign dedicated to organizing, uplifting, and educating the American voter–not hindering the American voter via vicious and micro-targeted Voter ID restrictions. We engaged the prospective volunteer by drawing such a harsh paradigm: OFA, a grassroots campaign composed of a coalition concerned with educating the American public about the election, or Romney’s campaign dedicated to preventing the “47%” from their right to accessing government-funded programs. Admittedly, it was unfair to draw such a stark contrast between two campaigns by condensing each campaign’s motives into a few words, but ultimately, we executed this strategy so that volunteers could understand their purpose, importance, and role in positively altering the community. 

Afterwards, we exclaimed that participating in the campaign reaped many benefits–including gaining access to exclusive Obama memorabilia, learning new leadership skills, and being the first to know about HQ-conducted training sessions. In addition to these offers exclusive to volunteers, we enticed individuals by stating the effects that volunteering can have upon character-building–such as the pride of identifying and associating with the President and the satisfaction of knowing that he or she contributed to the development of social justice for the surrounding community. To conclude the introduction portion of the training session, we added that the volunteer’s responsibilities were inherently enjoyable to complete. Most of all, completing assignments always directly helped others. Tasks always produced visible, immediate, and self-evident results; they were productive, purposeful, and rewarding. 

By phrasing a volunteer’s rewards in the aforementioned manner, we began one-on-one training sessions by communicating the ease in which prospective volunteers could access two interdependent forms of rewards in exchange for their time and effort: “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” (Meier and Stutzer 41). According to Meier’s and Stutzer’s article, Is Volunteering Rewarding in Itself?, “extrinsic reasons” can be condensed into the following three statements: “Volunteering can be undertaken as an investment in human capital…People can volunteer in order to invest in their social network…People might undertake volunteer work to get social approval” (Meier and Stutzer 41-42). These extrinsic motivations lead others to volunteer not because of purely humanitarian reasons, but because the act of volunteering is an “instrument” (Meier and Stutzer 41) that can be wielded in a profitable fashion. On the other hand, to explain the “intrinsic motivation” of a volunteer, Meier and Stutzer assert that volunteering can have altruistic layers. Whether the volunteer “care[s] about the recipient’s utility…benefit[s] from intrinsic work enjoyment…[and/or] the act of helping others gives enjoyment per se” (Meier and Stutzer 41), volunteering can result from the inherent satisfaction in helping others.  Often intertwined and interdependent upon one another, offering extrinsic and intrinsic rewards engaged the volunteer’s “altruistic motives” driven by “rational choice” (Steen 59). 

At OFA, we acknowledged the following perception as valid: 

“The insight into the reasons why people volunteer exposes the impure altruism, which resonates with the rational, self-regarding reasons why people enter the government sector. It also demonstrates that the same motives to serve the community, be benevolent and caring can also be satisfied in a multiplicity of non-public organisations” (Horton and Hondeghem 10).


Often not mutually exclusive, extrinsic and intrinsic motivations intersected to create the normal devoted public service volunteer. Therefore, to sustain our volunteers, we occasionally satisfied both categories to produce and perpetuate the “emotional involvement”–the make-or-break critical factor determining the length and extent of a volunteer’s pledge to OFA.

The Composition of Our Team and the Ways the Campaign Catered to a Volunteers’ Needs for Fulfillment

There was a grain of truth to Romney’s post-election day statement when he claimed that Obama won on behalf of providing “gifts” to minorities. After the campaign, I later realized why my FO was confident in the capabilities of his team: He effectively elicited a unique “emotional involvement” from his volunteers. We were heavily emotionally invested in the campaign for our own individual reasons. We acted as dynamic participants in the transaction that the campaign facilitated and perpetuated. 

As I introduced myself to the other fellows other neighborhood volunteers, I realized that the Haski-Leventhal and Bargal model was validated: we were motivated by more than the desire to pursue social justice and demonstrate our altruism to the community. We also wanted to be emotionally satisfied. We completed our daily duties assuming a grain of evidence of gratitude or justification at the end of the day in return, after all the hard work was done, no matter how small it was. This sense of fulfillment can be compartmentalized into the following categories: social, moral, psychological, practical, and tangible fulfillments. 

For volunteers who were eager to network and meet new people who shared the same interests, the campaign lifestyle adequately catered to these social needs. As expressed by Baines and Hardill, authors of ‘At Least I Can Do Something’: The Work of Volunteering in a Community Beset by Worklessness,  Baines and Hardill describe the sustenance of a social life as key to maintaining healthy organization-volunteer relations: “Volunteering needs to be situated within networks of informal support, especially family, neighbours, and friends” (Baines and Hardill 311). To encourage a higher productivity rate amongst his volunteers, my FO constantly reiterated the significance of phone banking hundreds of individuals, multiple times a week, despite how many times the same person appeared on our call lists. Therefore, the OFA satellite office became a regular destination for our volunteers to gather, converse, and meet in order to receive their weekly or daily dose of an enjoyable extra-curricular activity. We gave volunteers the freedom to complete the tasks at any time of the day, entrusted them with heavy duty responsibilities, and encouraged them to complete the tasks under their own provisions and conditions. As a result, many considered work as a refuge. Many volunteers planned phone banking circles/events amongst themselves, and enthusiastically expressed how they transformed traditional phone banking events into pot lucks, dinner parties, television marathons, and/or coffee dates. Previously strangers to one another, volunteers were excited upon seeing their relationships with one another evolve into inseparable ties. 

Morally, some of our volunteers wanted to do something for their own community and produce life-changing, positive results. Martinez and McMullin, authors of Factors Affecting Decisions to Volunteer in Nongovernmental Organizations, explain the importance of efficacy to volunteer recruitment: “Fueling the belief in efficacy of one’s actions and providing adequate information about commitments necessary to volunteer is crucial to successful volunteer recruitment” (Martinez and McMullin 125). Joining the Obama campaign was the easiest route to achieving that goal for many people within Kensington. A few of our volunteers flocked to Kensington to work with our team and enjoyed seeing the immediate effects of their work. Fully believing in the cause, they engaged with residents in our turf on a weekly basis, trying to understand their personal reasons for either supporting or rejecting Obama. Other times, they patiently waited to understand why an individual refused to vote or remained undecided even on the brink of November. After completing a canvassing packet or calling through a phone bank list, some of our volunteers took the time to explain how they had effectively persuaded x amount of undecided voters, energized previously unenthusiastic Obama supporters, and convinced apathetic individuals to consider voting in this past election. Some outlined the development of the general mood and tone of their current phone bank list and drew up suggested tactics. Others were genuinely concerned about the negative ramifications of the previously implemented Voter ID law, and prioritized relaying new information regarding the Voter ID Law’s status. If someone sought to satisfy their moralities and ethics, joining the campaign was a gratifying way to achieve satisfaction at the end of each campaign-related activity. 

Psychologically, the campaign provided individuals with a way to feel connected and intimate to the President.  As stated by Laverie and McDonald,  “Dedicated volunteers strongly identify with the organization to which they donate their time and energy. Therefore, it is essential that professional associations and nonprofit organizations strive to develop an identity importance in their volunteers” (Laverie and McDonald 285). To promote “identity importance”, or “the intensity with which the person see herself or himself in a particular role” (Laverie and McDonald 279),  optimism and pride should be enhanced as the volunteer extends his or her stay with the organization (Laverie and McDonald 285). Applied within the context of the OFA campaign, the introductory statement used before every phone call and/or door knock, “Hi, I’m (insert name here) and I’m with the Obama campaign”, was incredibly potent and psychologically powerful. After repeating that opening hundreds of times throughout the course of the campaign trail, it was impossible to separate a volunteer’s identity from the campaign, the Obama administration, and everything OFA represented. As stated in a GOTV training session held by our Regional Field Director (RFD), “Obama is [our] last name. Be proud of it.” The power of association to the President, whether that association was made between President Obama and a volunteer, a fellow, or a field organizer, reminded everyone of the lasting impact that every individual would make on the campaign and their assigned neighborhood. Constant reminders of what we stood for on a daily basis refocused our thoughts: We were working towards a goal much larger than ourselves, and we were proud to associate ourselves with the President–a privilege we worked so hard to earn. 

Practically, volunteers, particularly youth fellows like myself, valued acquiring leadership skills required for entering a competitive job market. As expressed by Baines and Hardill in their concluding statement to their study, “In all this it is important to ensure that volunteer involving organisations and policy makers continue to recognise and nurture the relational and intrinsic rewards of volunteering, as well as its potential to support pathways into paid work” (Baines and Hardill 315).  Being trusted with such heavy and sensitive responsibilities on a daily basis, we learned the art of flexibility, adaptability, representation, and quick-thinking. When informed that headquarters (HQ) expected our team to produce x amount of completed voter registration forms, we voluntarily assumed that goal as our own. When requested to arrive at the staging location early, only to find out that the other staging location was not fully staffed–there were no complaints– only anxious nods to execute the necessary steps in ensuring the fluidity of that “Weekend of Action”. Lucky to have double digit hours of sleep and riding off the campaign diet consisting of pizza and/or Chinese food from the neighbors, we constantly questioned how our nutritionally deficient bodies could survive such a strenuous workload everyday. But ultimately, we proved gravity wrong, and acted as the gradually rusting nuts and bolts of a campaign that drove in overdrive with no shame. 

Tangibly, volunteers found the guarantee of Obama swag as a major motivation to completing their duties. As Laverie and McDonald justified, “possession commitments” serve as symbols that foster a connection between the organization and the volunteer (Laverie and McDonald 285). By providing volunteers with merchandise, “the opportunity for appraisals [and] attachments” opens (Laverie and McDonald 285). Understanding the importance of fostering pride in associating oneself with President Obama, many FOs reserved the limited amount of memorabilia to volunteers. Various FOs had to respond to passersby requesting for free Obama lawn signs and/or posters, stickers, and buttons with declination:  “Sorry, that’s reserved for the volunteers.” As our field office received boxes of Obama merchandise as election day was approaching, many FOs could not wait to keep a few Obama signs for themselves, and give the rest to their loyal volunteers. Upon receiving a few buttons, a shirt or two, and a few posters, many volunteers expressed their overwhelming amount of gratitude towards the campaign for granting free souvenirs to them. In their minds, they understood that by working on the campaign –these were free, but exclusively to them. Receiving such items was indicative of how well the volunteer was regarded and respected. Obama merchandise provided the perfect avenue for volunteers to associate themselves with OFA and distinguish themselves in public as proud workers for President Obama.

From offering a variety of means of fulfillment, my FO recognized that his volunteers were determined participants in the campaign’s transaction, and therefore, established a special loyalty to the team and him. This loyalty was not taken for granted by my FO. But rather, my FO facilitated these transactions in a calculated manner. He determined how and when such transactions should happen despite how limited the amount of resources were, and utilized them within certain contexts in order to recruit a select group of volunteers, mobilize them to their fullest extent, and sustain them for a long period of time.

Results of Offering Several Sources of Fulfillment

By tailoring the rewards according to the volunteer’s individual preferences, we reaped a high productivity rate from our volunteers. Often topping statewide charts in regards to the number of conversations produced while phone banking, number of doors knocked on by volunteers, and number of completed registration forms acquired during a certain week, our volunteers became our team’s most important asset in preparation for GOTV. 

During GOTV, the enthusiasm and the activity throughout our two staging locations ran rampant. That 4-day intensive program, which consisted of knocking on our turf four times throughout the period from November 3rd to Election Day, proved how we effectively fueled our volunteer base. By frequently continuing an engaging, healthy, and sound trade with our volunteers until the end of the campaign, we fostered the development of an eclectic set of leaders, community organizers, and activists within Kensington.

We provided a sound organizational structure within which adaptability was our highest virtue. We sustained our volunteers by appealing to their intrinsic and extrinsic causes. We acknowledged our volunteers as altruistic and “self-interested” (Baines and Hardill), which we planned for, welcomed, and accommodated. By staying true to these aforementioned commandments, we had unknowingly concocted a team destined to execute a successful GOTV all along. 

Implications Upon The Sustenance of Democracy

By providing a stable and strong system of support for the volunteers, we executed a successful mobilization effort. Heavily involved in the manual labor of our grassroots campaign, we disregarded media and public opinion as irrelevant and insubstantial to our cause, and encouraged our volunteers and constituents to do the same. We promoted democracy by exerting an extraordinary amount of effort to enfranchising, informing, and educating voters. But simultaneously, we upheld democracy with an alternative, self-interested goal in mind: We worked to re-elect President Obama, in a heavily premeditated, purposeful fashion. 

To combat the waves of media ads, we established a strong hold upon our volunteers using a variety of bait–from psychological to social rewards. Although participating in such transaction may be deemed from the forefront as a hindrance to democratic principles, we regarded that transaction as valid in the face of an election in an era of “candidate-centered campaigns” (Green and Gerber). In fact, we shamelessly prolonged that transaction for as long as possible as we ventured in our quest to establish a ground game blanketed with Obama supporters. 


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