Many groups would like to have a “grasstops” network of volunteers – those with significant expertise and political connections – but few have successfully built one from scratch.
Late last year, we helped build a team of A-list volunteers for a national patient advocacy organization. We recruited 78 volunteers from 43 states with significant health care and political experience. Their goal is to deliver the organization’s message to key decision-makers in their state.
We focused on four things when building our Elite council.
- Developing Application Criteria – We started by asking, “What do you want people to do? What skills do they need? ” These questions formed our application. We also asked, for example, how far applicants lived from their state capital. That’s because we want them to meet with state officials, like the governor, so being close to the capital is key. Diversity and educational attainment are also important, so we asked that too. All told, our 20 questions were answerable in about 5 minutes.
- Finding the Influentials – We also wanted applicants who are influential in their community. So we asked a series of 12 questions modeled on those developed RoperASW research firm. The questions are designed to identify the 10% of the people in a community that “convinces the remaining 90%” how to vote, shop and give. By finding local connectors, we can work with their connections to reach public officials.
- Looking Internally – Finally, we organized an internal recruitment campaign. Our “concentric circles” strategy began by building a list of 250 names recommended by Board Members, staff and sponsors. Friends of friends are easier to recruit, already know about you and help spread the word. We then contacted our 3,500-strong advocacy mailing list. So strong was the response, we never needed to contact our broader list of 250K supporters.
- Picking up the Phone – Collecting applications online is fine. But applications can look good on paper, but not in real life. That’s why we personally interviewed every member before admitting them to the team. A 15-minute phone call is all it took, and in addition to quality control, the calls established great rapport with staff from Day 1.
Over a five-week period we received 276 applications. Of them, 90 were interviewed by telephone and 78 accepted into the program. Now these 78 elite volunteers are beginning to engage with key decision-makers through the 2012 Presidential campaign.
But we were even more excited by the quality of the volunteers joining the team Among the 78 members from 43 states….
- 80% have a college degree (3x national avg.).
- 45% have a post-graduate degree (10x national avg.).
- 60% live within 75 miles of state capital; 40% live within 30 miles.
- 55% personally know a local, state or federal elected official(s).
- 90%+ were already involved as a grassroots volunteer.
We also succeeded in recruiting Influentials. According to RoperASW, anyone answering “yes” to 3 or more of the 12 questions we posed is considered very influential in their community (top 10%). Our elite volunteers answered, on average, “yes” to 9 of 12 questions. Here’s a snapshot of their community connections:
- 84% have served on a local committee or board of directors.
- 83% have written a letter to the editor or called a live TV/radio show.
- 76% have made a donation to a political party or candidate.
- 71% have been interviewed on live TV or radio.
- 61% have participated in a Washington, DC lobby day.
While this approach was specifically developed for a network of political advocates, there could be many more applications. For example, you could follow this model to recruit a Board of Birectors, Walk Coordinators, Research Ambassadors, Public Spokespersons and more. Let us know if it works for you too!