This Is How I Recruit – With Janice Rottenberg

Every issue of 63 Magazine, we will take a look at the skills that every organizer needs and ask experts exactly how they do it. For this issue, we talk to Janice Rottenberg about how she recruits.

As the organizing director for Ohio Together, Hillary Clinton’s grassroots campaign, Janice leads a team of organizers as they build relationships, create neighborhood teams, and connect with and move voters to action. Now, she leads the organizing efforts for a presidential candidate in one of the most important battleground states in the country. But in the summer of 2008, she was just an 18-year-old who stumbled into an Obama campaign fellowship without any clue what organizing was.

Sunburnt, confused, and exhausted, this brand new Obama fellow fell in love with organizing when her regional field director urged her to turn her frustration with persuasion calls into something more powerful—to recruit, connect with, and empower volunteer teams to take over, organizing herself out of a job.

Since her first organizing job, Janice has been busy: working as a regional field director for Obama’s reelection campaign, a regional field director for Terry McAuliffe’s successful Governor’s campaign, the coordinated campaign field director for the Iowa Democratic Party in 2014, and as a regional organizing director for Hillary in the Iowa caucus.

She stays inspired to keep working so hard by remembering all of the incredible organizers and volunteers who make up the progressive campaign family. The stories she’s heard, the lessons she’s learned, and the relationships she’s built with volunteers and teammates of all different backgrounds keep her working any time she’s exhausted.

“You can’t predict what challenge organizing will throw your way, nor can you prepare for every one of them. Organizing teaches you to think on your feet, be unafraid of unconventional solutions, and practice patience.”

As an organizer, Janice has learned to use these skills to build strong relationships, helping to develop a lasting community of progressive organizers and volunteers. She knows that recruitment, that first step in relationship building, is a crucial part of being an organizer. This is how she does it.

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My mindset when recruiting a volunteer for a new role is to:

Just be patient. I think organizers can get antsy about building the perfect team and can lose sight of the goal—to build a team that works, owns their turf, and helps us win more votes while having fun.

You may ask a volunteer to take on a specific role or task, but they have something else in mind. I’d encourage you to go with the flow if it’s something that will benefit your team overall.

The key to being a successful recruiter is to:

Not apologize! You are extending folks an opportunity to be part of something pretty amazing—a community bigger than any of us that has the capacity to make a difference. Getting past your fear that you’re bothering someone or asking them a favor is important to building the confidence you need to make multiple asks or push through a no.

I keep my recruitment asks from sounding formulaic by:

Always writing a script for myself that sounds like me, instead of using a pre-written script. I keep that script in front of me when I recruit, since I know I’m likely to make a better ask if I can default to reading. The big thing is making sure the language you’re using sounds like language you’d use!

Confidence is also so key—knowing what you’re asking for and why goes a long way in making your recruitment personal.

The hardest part of recruitment is:

Getting past the fear of rejection. So many new recruiters are afraid to go for the big ask because they think someone will say no and the conversation will end. The trick—it won’t end, as long as you don’t let it!

The best part of recruitment is:

Seeing a newly recruited volunteer realize how big an impact they can have on this election and their community. So many people are afraid to make that first phone call or knock that first door, and knowing you helped get them through their fear and into organizing is incredible.

I know when it’s the right time to make a big ask of someone by:

Getting to know them. I always 1:1 with new volunteers after their first or second shift to get to know their personal story and a little about their life. It not only makes this job rewarding and interesting, it also gives me a better sense of what kind of asks I can or should make of them. I always want to make big asks that line up with what my volunteers like to do—and getting to know them better helps me target asks well.

My top three recruitment tips for organizers are:

  1. Make a lot of calls, practice your ask on the barista at the coffee shop, grab a buddy and role-play before you get to work. The more time you spend getting comfortable with your asks, your urgency pitch, and your responses to hearing the word “no,” the more confident you’ll be as a recruiter.
  2. Ask for the Cadillac. You have to know as an organizer that you did everything you could to get that next shift on the door or that next leader confirmed—it means you have to fearlessly ask for those things, even when it seems like a big request to make of someone.
  3. Leave no stone unturned. Until you have asked someone if they will come shred paper in your office, you have not exhausted your asks and you should keep going. I have seen so many amazing volunteer leaders join the team as a data entry volunteer—they didn’t know anything about phone calls and wouldn’t say yes to that ask, but were willing to come into the office. If you can get people in the door, you can get them to stick around—but you’ve got to get to that first yes.

 

I got comfortable learning to ask more and more of someone when:

I realized that the volunteer leaders I knew and loved only got to that point because someone on my team asked a lot of them and they said yes. We don’t get what we don’t ask for, and there’s really very little harm in asking for the Cadillac. When you don’t make that big ask, you sell yourself and your volunteers short. Maybe that volunteer who you keep asking to come to a canvass shift could be running the whole canvass—but you won’t know until you ask.

The best advice I’ve ever received on recruitment was:

Treat every phone call like it’s the last time you’ll talk to this person before election day. Take the time to ask everything you possibly can of them—every call should be a no-holds-barred effort to get this person to come join your team.

When I’m training others to be good at recruitment:

I try to teach them to be really thorough. Have you thought of every ask you can make? Have you made a system for yourself that reminds you about all of those asks? Have you been as thoughtful as you can be about who you’re making those asks of? And are you confident that those asks are the asks most likely to get you to your goal?

When I’m working with organizers to help them recruit, I’m always encouraging them to think about how their goals connect—and what they can ask of a volunteer that will get them the closest to their goals.

When someone commits to a new leadership role, I:

Thank them aggressively, constantly, and exhaustively—and brag on them a little! I love sending statewide emails to welcome a new Team Leader to our organization or tweeting at a volunteer to thank them for taking on a new role.

I keep those I’ve recruited motivated by:

Working hard myself. They say volunteers come for the candidate and stay for you, but folks work hard when they feel a responsibility to you and the team. Take the time to get to know your team and help them get to know each other—they’ll keep each other motivated even when the going gets tough. If they feel invested in each others’ lives, they’ll show up even when you can’t.

My closing advice for organizers is:

This job is the weirdest and best job in the world. Remember that you call the shots in your turf—your organization will be shaped by the values you hold and will be as efficient as you make it.

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