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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Always send in invoices

First and foremost, in any campaign or political organization, you should never ever use your credit card. Not only is it difficult to get the money back, but you can hurt your position in the organization by doing so. People look at reimbursements as gifts and not paying you back what you already spent. As well, people are taught to be such penny-pinchers that they'll scrutinize whatever was purchased and conclude that it was frivilous, even if you spent the money at the direction of another.

Never use your credit card, it's a recipe for disaster. It's also considered a donation by the FEC, so you run into all sorts of problems and reporting problems when you use your money to finance a campaign for a federal race.

In any event, since you'll probably do this despite my best advice to the contrary, be sure to send in your invoices immediately. Keep a template invoice on your computer and use it to quickly send in an invoice. I've had to suffer several thousand dollars in lost reimbursements through several campaigns and organizations because I violated this rule, waited too long, and it became impossible to get the money.

Here are classic things that will happen, that you often won't see coming:
1- The campaign will fold
2- Your manager will change
3- A new accountant will come in
4- You'll get a new project or job that will cause you to get busy and distracted
5- You'll get fired

A broke campaign can't reimburse money it doesn't have, and among their creditors you'll be the last to get paid. When new managers come in, they won't want to pay for things they didn't approve, and you'll have major difficulties getting the money. When a new accountant comes in, they become another person to get your charges approved and will often use you to set an example to others or to show that they're checking the books for every penny. If you get a new job you'll be excited, distracted, and months will fly by before you remember that lingering reimbursements and by then it'll be too late. And once you get fired, even though it's probably illegal and certainly unethical, most groups and campaigns will just deny your reimbursements, as a nice extra penalty and punishment for whatever it is they fired you for, never underestimate their penchant for spite.

These things can hit fast and out of the blue, and they each mean that your chances for getting that reimbursement are slim to none. Get them in as soon as you can, and you won't have to worry about it. The best option is, of course, to never spend your money in the first place.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Don't disqualify volunteers

Many groups and campaigns say that they want as many volunteers as they can get. They claim they want an endless stream of free help. They proudly wear the mantle of "grassroots" -- yet they don't always embrace the spirited volunteer because of their often many eccentricities.

Real people don't wear suits in daily life, and often show up to your campaign looking frumpy, uncouth and a general mess. Many of them have a variety of problems. In politics one gets to deal with well-coiffed donors, well-dressed businessmen, and well-heeled politicians. But it's also an opportunity to deal with people who have never dined at a five-star restaurant, people who feel privileged to eat at a buffet.

Don't let latent classism or elitism ruin the chance to get real people involved. It's a Hollywood myth that Ivy-league educated students volunteer over the summer on campaigns. Most often it's a neurotic housewife, it's a cranky retiree, it's the weird guy who attends the matinee at the shopping mall theater every Thursday.

These people are great people, they are worthwhile people, they are usable people to further your campaign or organization, if you can look past your prejudice and bias.

These are also voters, whose votes carry the exact same weight yours does.

I've run into a significant number of campaigns who look down on people like this, who treat them like they're obnoxious and can't get away fast enough. But these people do hard work, they know what real work feels like. Instead of the stereotypical college student who wants to write speeches and blog, many of the eccentric people will do what you need, like literature drops, making calls, stuffing envelopes, canvassing a neighborhood and the like.

These are people whom you should appreciate. You want to find the right role for them, but you should always find a place for a motivated volunteer. Their hard work is important despite whatever their eccentricities. Don't let their quirks drive them away, they'll be great workers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Good mentors, Bad mentors

In the book, I recommend finding a great personal political mentor who can give you feedback and advice.

But there are bad mentors out there as well. These are the people who will lead you astray, the people who will recommend a bad position, and may insist on you working on their failing projects.

I had one woman who was constantly referred to me as a mentor. We worked together once, and she was always nice and amiable. I enjoyed her company. Then, during a period where I was trying to line up major donors for a separate organization I worked with, I naturally went to her to ask her for ideas, thoughts and possible ideas of people who might fund such an idea.

She came up blank, she couldn't think of anyone. She said it generally seemed like a good idea, but didn't have much more to say.

A few weeks later, as fate would have it, some of the other people in the organization found someone who might fund the project. They set up the meeting, I went and presented, and several months later a very major donation came in and started things off on the right foot. It was a wonderful development.

When I reported this good news back to this woman, she said "oh yes, he funds many things, he does many great things like that" and then curtly ended the conversation and moved on. Later, it dawned on me, that this woman also moonlights as a fundraising consultant. That she has an enormous personal stake in controlling access to those kind of big donors. No doubt when she saw my proposal, she saw the budget for it, and thought of a few donors, and was deciding how she could broker a deal which would include a handsome payday for her.

There are many desperate people in politics. Many people desperate just for money, but many others desperate for relevance, to feel important, to be in the middle of the game, to be the center of attention.

Be careful in dealing with these people and in dealing with mentors. There are bad mentors out there. One yardstick I use when assessing mine, is knowing that mine has never lied to, deceived or played any sort of game like that with me. I've never felt even the minor tinge of betrayal from him. That's the sign of a good mentor.

When choosing a political mentor, be aware that the desperation of many people in politics can cause them to be a bad mentor, and avoid them at all costs. Find a mentor who will help you for the right reasons, and not because they're working some angle.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Gerald Ford!

Gerald Ford, born on July 14, 1913 in Omaha Nebraska, would have been 99 today.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Keep data backups

If you're a candidate, campaign manager or just working in a political organization, your data is enormously valuable. Your contacts, emails, graphics, all represent hours of work and thousands of dollars of effort.

And you can lose all of it in a minute if your laptop gets stolen, your hard drive gets infected, or if you get fired without warning.

Keeping a smart backup of your data is always valuable.

The easiest trick is to schedule a time to burn a dvd of your data on at least a monthly basis. Put it in an envelope and keep this off-site, perhaps at your house or somewhere safe. Don't tell other people about this, because friends can be snoopy and want to look through your confidential information. But keep a monthly or at least every-other-month dvd backup of your critical data, including any databases.

Another smart trick is to email important documents to yourself. Just to have a backup in case you need it on the fly.

A campaign I worked with, where a crazy spouse was a major factor, decided that it would be best to shut down their database. On purpose. The crazy spouse thought it was a frivolous expense to pay for professional data management.  And so, like the scene in Ghostbusters where the EPA shuts down the containment field and everything goes wrong, so did it here when she deleted the database and cancelled the contract without telling anyone. When it came time to file FEC reports on donations, all the donor information which had been in that database was gone, except for the backup that I had kept. They actually never asked for this backup, and I didn't generously offer it because it was a mistake of their own making, so they spent a few weeks trying to futilely reconstruct their donation history from scratch.

The FEC is not shy about handing out several thousand dollar fines for late filings. Such is the cost for being a penny wise and pound foolish, and also for not being smart enough to back up your data.

And don't keep these backups at the office. Offices can burn down, or you could get fired. You want access to that data if its going to be a secure backup. While you shouldn't keep internal information after you get fired, it's best to give the company only those files which are theirs to keep once you separate. If you let them decide after your separation, they'll likely just decide to send you nothing.

Keeping data backups can give you peace of mind, and save thousands of dollars in lost work. Make it part of a monthly habit to burn a dvd of your information and store it somewhere off-site and safe.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

50% of recent college grads are fired from their first job, here's why...

If you're a recent college grad, I'm glad you're reading this.

It's a common experience for an employer to hire a recent college grad, and then fire them shortly thereafter. There are a multitude of reasons, but you should consider each and make sure you aren't making these mistakes in your job in politics.

These are seven things that often come up. If you feel like you're doing any of these, they're fixable problems. The first step is to identify which ones you're doing, and then make a plan to correct each one.

1. Tardiness/Absenteeism - In college you get an outrageous number of absences. Since you're paying to go there, they feel bad about tossing you out when you're gone a few times. In the workplace, on any job, not showing up to work one day without proper notice will often get you fired. Even when you're sick and unable to move, they still expect you to give a generous notice. It doesn't make sense to you, but it makes sense to them, they don't want to be inconvenienced by your absence. Also, sliding into the back of class ten minutes after class starts doesn't matter to an adjunct making 22k a year teaching "English 242: The Appropriations of Shakespeare", but being a minute later matters a great deal to your boss. Being chronically late comes across as rude to them, as though you don't care about their schedules. Be on time and stay employed.

2. Sloppy work product - College fosters procrastination. The first time you get an A- for a paper you did the night before, you lose all motivation to spend weeks on assignments. In the real world, they don't want you to waste all your time and then blitz at the end. They want consistency and regular work. They want your focused effort all the time. Your work habits in college are a bad model for the workplace. On a campaign, you can't canvass a city in one night like you can write a paper in one night. Politics requires consistent hard work over a long period of time. You can't complete it the night before. This is a major adjustment, and a major wake up call for most people. Working every day means doing work each day. Sloppiness and procrastination can also, easily, get you fired.

3. Insubordination - You might feel you have a great relationship with your boss, and you can tell him when he's being "stupid." You can tell him he's flat out wrong on most of his ideas. At a certain point, though, this becomes insubordination. It's very easy to go from "I'm just being honest" to being perceived as a chronic bad attitude worker undermining your boss' authority. Management is largely about controlling employee morale and the appearance of authority. When you flaunt it with your words, realize you risk your job. Compliment your boss, agree to implement their bad ideas, and keep your criticisms to a minimum. Insubordination can easily get you fired.

4. Breach of confidence - It's so easy to gossip. It's so easy to tell your friend on another campaign, or the guy you eat lunch with every day from state party about the internal drama on the campaign. But when you do it on a serious issue, and almost any issue can be perceived as a serious issue, it's a breach of confidence. When your employer finds out you're spilling the company secrets over lunch, they won't realize the context, they will only see you breaking their trust. Be careful.

5. Self-dealing - If you have a conflict of any kind, disclose it. Are you giving work to a friend with the expectation that he has to buy Tuesday night beers? That's self-dealing, and it's essentially a kickback. You can get fired for this, and you will when they find out. Be aware and be careful.

6. Theft - It's easy to take a few office supplies for home use, but are you realizing that's theft? Many employers will fire you on the spot if you get caught taking a few post-its home from work. As a recent grad you might be thinking, "what's the big deal, they're cheap" and an employer will tell you two things: 1) those who steal post-its steal bigger things, 2) those little things add up. Other common theft items include wasted time/personal time at work. You're stealing your paycheck when you lie about whether you took a long lunch today.

7. Not working as a team - Remember all those teamwork projects you hated in school? There was a reason for it: working as a team is a learned skill. Learning how to deal with people who are lazy, ineffective and hard to deal with is very tough. In college, you're usually graded only on your work product. You turn in a paper you did yourself, and you get a grade. In the real world, you face daunting challenges working with others, relying on others, meeting your goals through the work of others. When you try to do it all yourself, or when you make everyone else angry and resentful, you become a workplace problem. Eventually the workplace will get you fired because getting rid of you is easier, no matter how much better of a worker you are, than replacing the rest of the office. Be a team player. Be a radical individualist and prepare to be self-employed.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Always assume a workplace computer is being monitored

For many, college is the first taste of real freedom from authority. Your parents aren't hovering over you, you live in a dorm and enjoy food when you want, class when you want, and occasional studying. It's a unique time in your life. You expect the workplace, then, to mirror that environment. Just as you were productive in your dorm room cramming for finals with ramen everywhere, papers messy, and managed to pull it off, you think the workplace must be a slightly less messy place to work.

You'd be wrong. And it's a misconception that can get you fired very easily.

Assume all your workplace items are being monitored. In 2008, 2/3rds of workplaces were monitoring their employee computers. Assume your computer is monitored with stealth programs that track how productive you are, how many hours surfing youtube for movie clips and how many actually doing the assigned data entry. Everyone knows to be careful about what you post on Facebook, but you should also be concerned with the things you write over email, even the things you text over a work phone.

People in politics are often very paranoid, so assume they're monitoring you. Use this information as a way to separate your work-life from your personal-life. Try to keep the two worlds separate.

Not only should you be worried about the things you upload, download and send, but you should also be worried about the things you receive. If you're working as a low-level person on a campaign and you know many reporters, and your campaign suffers a big hit in the local newspaper and by checking emails they don't find anything incriminating against you but it looks like you know all the right people to be guilty, they might fire you anyway.

And that's the hardest part of workplace monitoring, it's not just avoiding making a stupid mistake like clicking a porn link at work, it's also the appearance of things. It's an inside joke that sounds like you're ridiculing your boss' wife, but it's really a joke about some obscure movie. Since your supervisor isn't going to admit to you that they're reading your emails, you have to worry about how things appear to be, since you aren't going to get a chance to clarify confusions.

You're probably thinking, "well, I send too many emails for my boss to possibly have the time to read" and you'd be right. But what you're forgetting is that they can be searched. And that Family Guy reference you just sent made it sound like you were mocking your boss and his slacker son.

Always assume you're being watched in the workplace and separate your personal life from your workplace. You can suffer serious career setbacks for a small indiscretion or even something that's nothing more than a mere miscommunication.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.