Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Promising Practices: Recruiting Volunteers
Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere’s promising practices are a key set of recommendations for cultivating civic engagement and access on campus and ultimately sustaining inclusive and equitable campus cultures. This is the fifth post in a Q&A series with Andrew Goodman Campus Champions about our promising practices and how to implement them on campus.
A Q&A with Paul Valdez, Andrew Goodman Campus Champion at Bowling Green State University
Our Andrew Goodman Campus team at Bowling Green State University (BGSU), locally known as BGSU Votes, has set a precedent with a promising practice that others have struggled to achieve—recruiting volunteers. Creating a volunteer program is essential to expanding civic and voter engagement outreach and visibility on campus. With the help of their volunteers, the BGSU Campus Team has been able to incorporate democratic engagement in Welcome Week and Opening Weekend, as well as have greater capacity for weekly tabling and specialized events.
But how do you create a volunteer program? BGSU’s has several key components. For starters, all volunteers receive training and sign an agreement, acknowledging their training and expectations. They are also regularly affirmed for the positive role they play on the larger team and are given opportunities to share ideas about the team’s Campus Action Plan and give other constructive feedback.
Andrew Goodman Campus Champion Paul Valdez attributes both their positive campus environment for democratic engagement and increased student voting rate to the success of their volunteer program. To learn more about how the BGSU Campus Team recruits and sustains volunteers, read our Q&A with Paul Valdez below.
What led the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Bowling Green State University to pursue recruiting volunteers?
At the Center for Public Impact, we often see many students looking for volunteer opportunities, and many are interested in voter and political engagement. Creating volunteer opportunities seemed like a natural fit and progression for us, and we had past experience managing volunteers through other programs. We also found that when we recruited for the paid Andrew Goodman Ambassador positions, more students applied than could be selected. We didn’t want to lose students’ enthusiasm, so we were intentional to design volunteer opportunities to capitalize on their desire to be involved with BGSU Votes. By setting up formal volunteer opportunities, we created a pipeline for future student leaders to serve as Ambassadors, expanded our student leader network so we could connect with more students across campus, and gained more perspective about what works and doesn’t work directly from students.
How did you and the Andrew Goodman Campus Team implement this promising practice? What partnerships or resources did you engage?
After recruiting our volunteers in the spring semester, our implementation was focused on Opening Weekend and Welcome Week. They committed to returning early to campus to serve as a volunteer corps to do voter registration and education with first-year and returning students at strategic campus events, such as our All Campus Picnic, Campus Fest student organization fair, entertainment events, Multicultural Kickoff, and LGBTQ Kickoff. We concentrated our volunteer shifts in these first two weeks because we were unsure if the volunteers would be willing to volunteer year-round.
To support this initial structure, we asked students to arrive to campus before all other student cohorts moved into the residence halls. If students lived on campus, we covered the cost of their early arrival housing fee. This was one incentive, but we found that most students were happy to return early and be involved without the promise of these types of incentives. We provided the students with a half day of training to review voter registration laws, outreach techniques, and team building. This training time also allowed us the opportunity to fill in any volunteer shift gaps and solicit ideas from the volunteer team about other events or activities that they thought would be helpful for our cause.
We relied on longstanding relationships with colleagues from across campus in student affairs and academic affairs to permit our students to have a presence at the various strategic events we identified. Primary partners were our Office of Residence Life, Office of Student Orientation and First Year Programs, Office of Multicultural Affairs, and LGBTQ Resource Center. An off-campus partner, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, assisted us in voter registration training for the volunteers.
Now, our volunteering efforts have moved beyond focusing on Opening Weekend and Welcome Week. For the past two years, a core group of 10-15 volunteers have regularly assisted with staffing tables in our student union and main library throughout the year. These student volunteers directly interface with other students and register them to vote, answer their voting-related questions, and generate visibility for our nonpartisan group on campus. Volunteers help to staff these tables every week of the fall and spring semesters and also assist with larger events like National Voter Registration Day, Constitution Day, and Election Day.
As we continue to grow the number of students involved, we are adjusting our model to welcome specialty volunteers to assist with our efforts beyond traditional voter registration, voter education, and get out the vote activities. For example, we are recruiting students to work on special projects related to producing short videos to broaden our media outreach.
What challenges or obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome these to achieve your goal?
Our main challenge was getting into a regular recruitment, training, and implementation cycle with our volunteers and student leaders. Getting the volunteers to regularly sign up for shifts and follow through on those commitments has been challenging. To alleviate this challenge, we have increased the frequency of our communication with volunteers to remind them about the impact they are having, but also to share more updates with them. We have done this through email and a texting group. We feel this builds their sense of belonging to the group and have seen a lot of great engagement using the texting group.
Additionally, we have built in more in-person contact with the volunteers. We now regularly have a volunteer training at the beginning of each semester and a feedback meeting after each election. This has been helpful in building a team dynamic, communicating updates, and creating a feedback system.
In terms of continuity, we also struggle with the summer and winter breaks. For the summer break, we have hired a summer intern to do outreach at our summer orientation sessions and also to do event planning and logistical preparation for the fall semester. This has helped immensely because it ensures that our efforts continue on smoothly from semester to semester. The first couple of weeks of transition between the spring team and the summer intern is time intensive, but it is worth it to ensure that our volunteers and student leaders can hit the ground running without a startup delay in the fall.
As we have expanded, we have seen the need to ensure consistency in training so all of our volunteers know the Ohio laws and their expectations as BGSU Votes volunteers. Recently we started asking volunteers to sign a volunteer agreement which outlines their expectations and responsibilities and the specific state laws that must be followed when registering voters and remaining nonpartisan. It is a helpful tool and another check-in point with volunteers to ensure they are prepared properly.
Since implementing this promising practice, what impact has it had on your campus?
The main impact of having volunteers has been greater visibility. We often hear from students that they have seen us everywhere on campus and already interacted with us. We would not be so prominent without the aid of student volunteers. The peer-to-peer engagement has a great impact because students engage in different ways and ask different questions. Another impact is that our students see the investment of their peers in voter engagement, and this fosters a more positive environment for political engagement. Lastly, for the 2018 Midterm Election, we had a 23-percentage-point increase in voter participation from 2014. I believe that our investment in volunteers and engaging more students definitely contributed to our participation increase.
What advice do you have for other colleges and universities trying to recruit volunteers?
- If you don’t currently have a volunteer opportunity set up, work with interested students to create a custom experience. This may lead to new and exciting innovations or fulfil needs you didn’t know you had.
- If you have not already done so, creating a volunteer agreement is a good practice to ensure your entire team is prepared and aware of the appropriate laws and expectations.
- Go out of your way to involve volunteers in feeling like they are part of a team. This could be through shout outs, regular affirmations of their impact, reporting impact numbers, and creating special events to engage them in feedback and reflection.
- Don’t forget to let volunteers in on the overall plan and goals for the year. If you have specific goals or targets you have put in your action plan, make sure your volunteers know that and know the progress that has been made on those goals.
- Don’t forget to ask your volunteers to share their concerns and opinions. Volunteers have great perspectives, first-hand experience, and valuable knowledge that can help improve your practices. Additionally, ask them to tap into their social networks to spread promotional materials about events and opportunities.
Now that you have achieved this promising practice, what opportunities will the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at BGSU explore next to advance civic engagement on your campus?
We are creating specialized volunteer roles that are focused on skills-based tasks, relating to areas such as social media, video production, event planning, volunteer management, and institutionalization. We feel this division of work will help get us to the next stage of program development and ensure that we continue institutionalizing of voter engagement. Additionally, we are exploring how we can incorporate work-study jobs into BGSU Votes and hire additional student help. We are excited about what the future holds, and we are so appreciative of the support, resources, and network from The Andrew Goodman Foundation. We wouldn’t have been able to evolve our volunteer practices without their support.
By recruiting and sustaining a volunteer network, the BGSU Campus Team has not only secured a pipeline of passionate student leaders to one day become Andrew Goodman Ambassadors, but they have also increased their capacity for civic and voter engagement on campus. Among other things, because of their demonstrated commitment to this promising practice, BGSU has been elevated to a Leader within the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program. To learn from Andrew Goodman Campus Champions about other promising practices like this one, check out the other interviews in our series.
About The Authors
Margaret Sasser is AGF’s Senior Communications Manager. Margaret is passionate about civil rights issues, storytelling, and helping students to become active members of their communities.
Paul Valdez is the Associate Director for the Center of Public Impact at Bowling Green State University. His research interests include identity development of students who have studied abroad and the impact of service-learning and civic engagement.