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Friday, September 28, 2012

Link: CampaignSick

A fun tumblr campaign-oriented site.

Always Value your Time

Campaigns and Non-Profits are notorious for undervaluing the time of staff and volunteers. They expect you to work long hours, but also to volunteer for a variety of other projects and events. Be sure to value your time. Put a premium on it. Your time is worth at least $10 an hour, likely more. If a friend asks you to volunteer your time for a project, keep in mind the value of your time. And if you're asked to do work, ask to be compensated. If it's a worthwhile project, more often than not, they have extra money set aside. Your time is valuable.

I was once asked to be a charity bartender for an event. Not only was this uncompensated, but I needed to spend money to be certified beforehand. And there was going to be a spot for cash tips, which would also go back to the charity. I told the fundraiser that I wanted either a portion of the tips or some basic hourly rate. She refused and, frankly, the conversation got hostile. She thought I was trying to milk funds out of her worthy cause. But it was that I valued my time and I didn't want to spend money to work for free, and then solicit tips that would still go to the charity.

One important point here is that your respect is often determined by your wage, rightly or wrongly. If they can get you for free, they'll treat you poorly. If they have to pay you a premium wage, they'll treat you with respect. It would initially seem like the reverse, that people would appreciate people donating their time, but that's never the case. If you'll do something for free, you're often seen as a chump.

Campaigns and Non-Profits think they can always get work for free, and often they're right. But for you, value your time and insist on being treated with respect and compensated accordingly. If they won't pay you for your time especially to do specialized or professional work, it's not worth the effort.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Obama: Pros and Cons for you as a volunteer

Re-Elect Barack Obama for President
campaign: US President
current polls: 47% nationally

The likely scenario is for the President to be re-elected. He's ahead in many states, and seems to be closing up states Romney would need to win, like Ohio. If you want to help out and get involved, and still haven't approached the campaign yet, it would be best if you were in a swing state. When a campaign feels inevitable, many people come to help out, so you might be in a crowded field of volunteers. Many people on national campaigns are looking for DC jobs and 'patronage' positions - but those are going to go to the people who were with the campaign longer than just the last 60 days.

Regardless, if you have the time and Obama is your candidate of choice, you should do it. Try to find the senior people and get to know them, impress them. Show up to scheduled events on time and stay late. If they trust you with anything, even a small task, do it exactly as they asked and do it well.

There's a lot of chaos on any campaign in the last few weeks, so you want to be a reliable, hard-working person for the senior staff. They don't want ideas that might be a distraction, like a major change in strategy, or ideas out of their control, such as some idea on foreign affairs or even something in a different state. Right now, they want to finish identifying voters and turning them out. Focus all your efforts and attention on that.

You can call, email and signup as a volunteer on the website, but the best thing is always just to walk into the nearest office during normal business hours.

Romney: Pros and Cons for you as a volunteer

Mitt Romney for President
campaign: US President
current polls: 46% nationally

If you're a volunteer looking to get involved, going to the Romney campaign would be wise only if: 1) you're in a swing state, and 2) you have a lot of time to dedicate to the campaign. Now is a good time to get involved, because Romney is generally close or slightly down in the national polls. But because of the few days left in the campaign, you risk getting lost in the chaos and confusion of things.

If you are going to get involved, you want to find a few people you like and try to work closely with them. National campaigns often spur consulting groups and anyone working in a swing state is likely to have decent political connections. You want to get to know these people, make a good impression, and stay in contact.

When you walk in, be humble but be direct about any special skills that you have. They don't have three weeks to figure out what you're good at, so just get to the point. Realize that the Romney campaign is likely starved for minority outreach, so anyone with those capabilities would be enormously helpful. People in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are also probably highly preferred.

You can call, email and signup as a volunteer on the website, but the best thing is always just to walk into the nearest office during normal business hours.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Don't alt-tab at work if your screen is visible

If you're a little tech-savvy and used to working in a place where others are present, like off your laptop in a Starbucks, you might be used to using alt-tab to switch between screens. Maybe you don't want journalist friends knowing you read the Drudge Report, or maybe you don't want prying eyes into your emails, but it's a bad habit in the workplace.

What it looks like is that you're doing something nefarious. It seems like you have something to hide. And for people in politics who are already predisposed to unhealthy paranoia, it makes you look shady.

If you're working on a personal email, just keep the browser open, own it. Don't try to appear as God's gift to the workplace. Normal people email too, and normal people check news sites and other sites at work.

As long as you're getting your work done, most supervisors don't mind. But when you use alt-tab to look shady, that becomes an issue in itself.

If you're stuck with a screen that others can see, don't alt-tab when people come by. You look worse by being shady. And even if your monitor isn't visible, also be aware of reflective windows and mirrors that can sometimes show your screen. As always in the workplace, be very careful, it's your career we're talking about here after all.

This might seem in contrast to my previous advice to keep your personal life private and your work life separated, but it's not. You can acknowledge that you have that life without having to discuss it or intermingle your friends. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

First day on the job: bring a relevant book

You've got an offer, you're working in politics, you're headed on your career track either on a campaign, political non-profit or similar group, and you show up the first day excited and ready to work... and there's nothing for you to do.

Expect that there won't be a lot to do on your first day. Most of the time you 1) meet the other people in the office, 2) fill out the payroll information and 3) sit idle the rest of the day.

It's hard to incorporate a new person into the team. It's difficult to manage a new person from the start. The first day can be very difficult, and you can let it erode your enthusiasm and morale if your mind says "this isn't what I signed up for, there's no excitement here, I can't believe they don't appreciate me!"

It is what you signed up for, there is excitement here, and they do appreciate you. But on your first day you'll be sitting and staring at a cubicle wall for the majority of your time.

On my first day in four different political jobs, I have:
1) Had nothing to do and been unable to meet with my supervisor for three days.
2) Walked into a "campaign office" where the only equipment was a desk, a chair and the laptop I brought with me. And I was the only person on the campaign.
3) Given an office with computer equipment that hadn't been used in five years, didn't turn on, and the documents in the office were eight years old and looked like they hadn't been touched since. I didn't see my boss face-to-face for over a week.
4) Literally given a folder of what the predecessor left behind and told "I have no idea what's in here, but make it work" while my boss left for a month.

Bring along a book relevant to your work. If you're on a campaign, bring a book about a political skill like voter persuasion, fundraising, graphic design. If you're working in an organization, bring a book about managing teams, about non-profit successes, about basics of leadership.

Don't let craziness on your first day stress you out or demoralize you. It won't be a smooth or easy transition, politics is too chaotic for that.

Demonstrate to your employer that you already know how to make the most of your workplace time from the start. Whatever you do, don't get caught cruising facebook or twitter your first day. Set the tone that will define your time in that job: that you are smart, you plan ahead, and you're diligent about not wasting time.

Bring a relevant book on your first day on the job. Even if you don't read a single page, it will still make you look like a pro.

You can always, of course, look like a pro by buying "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping It" by Ben Wetmore and bringing it to the first day of work.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Don't Write Angry

Politics involves a great deal of personal frustration. There are frustrations at donors who won't donate to a good cause. Frustrations at voters who won't embrace a great candidate. Frustrations at staffers, volunteers, organizations, and even personal frustrations at yourself.

But you shouldn't put any of these frustrations in writing.

Senator Dick Lugar, who lost a primary race, made the mistake of recently putting those frustrations in writing. It looks low class, it looks spiteful and immature. It looks undignified.

There are better way to vent your frustrations. Take a friend for a beer and let off some steam. Don't write letters like this, don't put things in the permanent record which you're going to regret later.

It may seem fake to always project a positive attitude, but you will go farther if you do. If instead of dwelling on defeats and indignities and righting that wrong, focus on what will help you. Focus on what your next move is, and what you can do to help your career.

You will almost never help your career by writing out your frustrations in the heat of the moment. It's hard to conceive of how it will ever help you. There are many ways it can hurt you.

When faced with defeat, adversity, indignities, don't let your pride overtake your reason. Focus on what will help your career the most, and that rarely involves writing out your frustrations.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Finish your projects

A common problem on campaigns, but also true in other fields, is incomplete projects. Many people are incapable of taking a complex project from idea to completion. You can set yourself apart by being able to implement and execute assigned projects, but it requires a few key things.

1. A well-thought-out planA plan always beats no plan. And the problem is that many basic projects are actually deceptively complex. Getting a mailing out seems simple enough, but when you consider details like who is going to write the letter, who is going to approve the final copy, who is going to print it, who is going to stuff it, who is going to pay for stamps, etc., even the simple things can seem complex. When you get an assigned project, take a minute to write out a plan that fleshes out these details. Such a plan should include responsibilities, tasks, a budget, people needed and necessary, and what skills you'll need to complete the task. Many managers and people on campaigns just assume you know how to buy stamps. They assume you know who to talk to in order to get volunteers. But you likely don't, and you don't want to bother your boss every two minutes to figure out these details. Write out a quick plan and figure out all these details and problems before you get started.

2. Budget
A budget doesn't just include funds, it includes people's time. If you're doing a robocall, and you need a half hour of the candidate's time to practice and record a clip, you need to budget that into their schedule. If you're doing a mailing you need to budget the time of people who are going to read, edit and approve your letter. Time is a item you should budget for, especially when you need the time of other people more senior to you.

3. Focused time
Clear your schedule and spend a significant amount of time finishing a project. Don't let distractions slow you down. Shut off all internet browsers and step away from social media long enough to finish your project. This is often the hardest thing to do, because it requires the discipline to detach from a ringing phone, a busy email inbox or people who need something. But to finish a project and get it done well, you need to spend focused time on it freed of distractions.

4. Practical skills or contacts who have those skills
If you're designing a mailing piece, you will likely need some input from a graphic designer. If you're going to recruit a dozen people, you will want the skills of your field director. If you are going to fundraise, best to talk to your fundraiser. If your plan relies on special skills, you either need to have them yourself or find the person on the campaign or a helpful friend in the community who has those skills. That should be part of your plan and assessment, can I accomplish this task with the skills I have at my disposal?

Young people have an undeserved reputation as inattentive, sloppy, and unable to finish projects without micromanagement and heavy oversight. Prove them wrong. Get your projects done, done on time, and looking great. Hold yourself to a high standard and give them excellent work. These four steps are easy ways to ensure you can finish your projects and look like a professional.