Ask a Field Director with Saumya Narechania

This issue’s “Ask a Field Director” is with Saumya Narechania! Saumya recently began a new position as the Florida GOTV director for the For Our Future PAC. When we chatted with Saumya, he was serving as the national field director at Enroll America, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that works to maximize the number of Americans who enroll in and retain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In his role as national field director, Saumya oversaw Enroll America’s field program in eight campaign states, aided and supported the other 42 states, and led the organization’s national training program.

Like many others, Saumya was initially inspired to begin working in politics and organizing after hearing then-Senator Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Listening to someone who had a funny name just like him, Saumya really connected with Obama’s message and applied to become an intern in his senate office—not once, not twice, but three times! Saumya didn’t get accepted the first two times, but he didn’t let that stop him.

When his application finally got accepted, Saumya began the first of many years spent working for Obama. He would later become an organizer for Obama’s first presidential campaign, working all across the country, even in Alaska. Next he would work for the White House before serving as deputy field director in Florida for the 2012 reelection campaign.

As an organizer, Saumya would learn the management skills, trust, and delegation he would need to be successful on any campaign and at any organization. These skills, learned at a young age in strange, difficult, and diverse scenarios, have helped him every step of his career, especially as he led Enroll America’s field and training efforts.

Earlier in his career, Saumya got to help read letters sent to President Obama, so many of which were uplifting stories of individuals who for so long didn’t have access to healthcare because of a pre-existing condition, who now could afford to see a doctor. Stories like this and of others positively affected by the change we make as organizers, motivate Saumya to keep working so hard.

Saumya gets to hear stories every day that keep him grounded in how organizing work actually affects people’s daily lives, and he uses this inspiration to be an even better leader.

We wanted to learn from Saumya’s wisdom, so we asked him to use his experience as an organizer to answer some of your toughest questions. I know you’ll be able to apply his advice throughout GOTV and into the future!

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I feel almost embarrassed to say this because all of my fellow organizers seem to be going strong, but I feel like I am so close to burning out and we still have weeks left! What can I do to feel less near my breaking point?

SN: If you feel like you are going to burn out now, take a break, now. Talk to your RFD, and ask for a day off. Ask to adjust your goals by a day this week, and sprinkle them over the next three to four weeks to make sure you don’t lose ground. But if you don’t address your exhaustion now, it will only get worse. (Believe me.)

Do you have any tips for an organizer about to face their first GOTV? I’m pretty nervous.  

SN: GOTV isn’t as scary as it’s made out to be. It’s the same job, with a slightly different tilt.

You know about organizing your turf, how to make calls, how to knock doors, how to stage a canvass kickoff, how to refresh a list. Now you just have to combine these things to make a whole machine.

I find it’s easier to break it down into its component parts—it’s definitely less stressful that way. It’s also less stressful if you have a great team leader or fellow you can lean on, as well.

I just got assigned a deputy organizer to help in my turf. Any advice on quickly getting our relationship strong and making sure I’m managing him well?

SN: The first way to make sure you have a strong relationship with a direct report is to show them you care about them and want to know what motivates them.

I know it seems like you have a lot going on, but you should absolutely take half an hour to get to know them and why they joined up over coffee. An investment now will pay dividends when you have them running their own staging location.

In terms of management, you should ask them what sort of management style they prefer and be sure to be responsive to their needs; e.g., do they like to communicate via email, text, or phone? Whatever they say will be the quickest way to make sure you are getting the reports you need or that they are delivering water to the right canvass kickoff.

And make sure to check in with them one-on-one at least once a week!

I’m definitely staying focused on the work in front of me, but I can’t help but think about November 9th. Is there anything I can do now to prepare myself for opportunities after election day?

SN: Yes, think about tomorrow and this week’s goals. Then, next week’s. Then, the week after that.

You are in a strong network of people on your campaign now. Those people want to see you succeed, and want to succeed themselves, but all of you are results-driven. The best thing you can do for your future is to get a reputation as a hustler, and the way to do that is to hustle.

People will take notice, and it will help you after November 9th. Plus, it will help you for November 8th too.

My turf is tougher than a lot of other areas in my region. It’s hard not to get frustrated when I have to claw out every volunteer and others get walk-ins all the time. Any advice on how to stop being discouraged?

SN: I can tell you’re the competitive type. Two things here:

1) Compete with yourself by setting standards or goals against your previous weeks. No reason to look across turf lines.

2) Take solace in the fact that the work you are doing has an extreme degree of difficulty. Every success will be all the sweeter, when you are up front with yourself about that.

Closing advice for organizers?

SN: Enjoy the next few weeks—they’ll be some of the best and most impactful of your life.

And always take some time—in the morning, evening, or whenever works for you—to reflect on why you wake up every morning to grind it out and to think about the reasons you got into this fight. Remember your own personal story, and also think about the broader narrative you are now a part of.
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