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How to Get Involved With Political Campaigns, Part I

Updated on April 22, 2009

Written by a Seasoned Political Staffer

First off, ask yourself: why do you want to get involved? I always ask that question during interviews with interns and volunteers. Aside from the openly honest ones that need a few college credits, most of them provide a variation of the “I want to make a difference in the world” statement. I think that is very noble; I admire that. These volunteers and interns are always great to work with, but they quickly realize the reality of the situation. Many become disenchanted and most do not stick around.

Will you make a difference? I guarantee it. But, what are your expectations? You're not going to end world hunger. You're not going to fix Social Security and you're not going fix our education system. You'll make a difference in getting someone elected, simple as that. You'll become a workhorse and your life will revolve almost exclusively around “the cause”, i.e. the candidate and the campaign. You'll quickly realize that contrary to popular belief, the issues do not make the candidate. The candidate makes the issues. You'll also begin to realize that just because your candidate is right, he or she may not always win. Those realizations are some of the aspects that you need to understand before you clamor to get involved.

Again, I can't say it enough : you need to have realistic expectations. I entered this unique world with realistic expectations. The fact of the matter is, I wanted job experience and sure, I definitely do care about the world around me. Turns out, I got a career out of it. Don't want a career? That's fine. You definitely should still volunteer and get involved. You will learn the most incredible set of business skills to apply to the real world throughout your time spent in politics. I guarantee that you'll encounter the most difficult people. Period. I also promise that you'll want to quit a few times. I know about a hundred campaign and political staffers and every single one of them is jaded in regards to the way things work on campaigns and how humans interact, myself included. You'll work the hardest that you've ever worked in your life. If you can't do that, then you should focus your efforts of charitable organization work; you'll still get experience, but won't have to deal with the greatly jaded world and culture of political campaigns.

There is one last group of volunteers and interns left that I occasionally deal with. These folks are not as common, but oh yes, they're out there. I can spot them a mile away. You can't count on them for much unless you need help staffing a fundraiser and you have to promise them incentives like good seating or a photo op. I never turn away volunteers, but I know I can't count of this select group for very much. Are you one of these individuals? Do you have visions of glamour and lavish fundraisers and opportunities for pictures with famous people? They will present themselves from time to time, but typically they're reserved for major donors or volunteers that are truly dedicated to the cause. Chances are, if you're not Karl Rove or Rahm Emanuel, you're not going to get to attend a lot of lavish events unless you're well entrenched into the campaign, or you or your family has a lot of money to donate.

It is a complex process to get a good political job. It takes a massive amount of hard work. But, I guarantee that you can get involved with politics tomorrow, if you really want to. Political organizations are always looking for volunteers and interns.

So, can you do this? Are you in it for the right reasons? If so, great! Welcome to my new series. In a few days I'll cover how you can position yourself for a career in politics. Stay tuned for Part II.

The author has worked for numerous political campaigns and organizations but cannot name them do to confidentiality agreements.

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