OverviewDo’s and don’ts
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Campaign staff and volunteers

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Multiple allegiances: Often, staff implementing a campaign are part of two chains of command – (i) that of their own organization, i.e. the alliance member, and (ii) that of the campaign, i.e. the coordination and the steering structures. Individuals who juggle several jobs within their organization may be unable to devote sufficient time to the campaign. This risk can be reduced through an explicit, written agreement as to the exact time (i.e. number of man- or woman-days for specified types of staff) each alliance will commit to the campaign. Clear roles and responsibilities, and chains of authority and decision-making; transparent written procedures; and well-recorded notes of meetings, activities and overall campaign planning and implementation can help to minimize the stress and ‘burn out’ of staff members.

Management of volunteers: Managing a growing body of volunteers can be challenging and extremely time-consuming. Any campaign which includes a strong mobilization component should include in its strategy a plan on how to support new activists, which should make clear which campaign team or alliance members are in charge of supporting which activists. Will all activists be directed to a single alliance member, or will all members mobilize activists? In the latter case, creating a specific task force may help to ensure a coherent approach, and streamline the considerable time needed to coordinate volunteers.

Volunteer activists who may be recruited in the course of a campaign need clearly defined roles and modes of communication with campaign management. They also need to know where to find guidance and support, and whom to turn to in the event that conflicts arise.

Public events (e.g. rallies) and activists’ kits should be designed to motivate new campaigners and ensure the campaign message will be passed on accurately and effectively. Activists’ kits should include guidance as to how activists can enroll new supporters and strengthen each other, e.g. through local meetings. Where the internet is easily accessible, e-campaigning provides “virtual” support, e.g. through downloadable updates to activists’ kits and interactive forums. Further information on Activists’ Kits is available in Campaign Communications.

Do’s and Don’ts of managing volunteers


  • Be clear about what the campaign needs volunteers for – e.g. to collect signatures for a petition, to conduct outreach activities with the public, to work telephones and databases for events, to hand out campaign materials, to mobilize people for a demonstration etc. Every person who signs up as a volunteer should have a clear role and responsibility (no matter how big or small). It is better to have fewer volunteers with a definite role to play than too large a group, where several have nothing to do a lot of the time.
  • Develop a volunteer management plan – this should include clear instructions on who will be the point person or team responsible for coordinating volunteer activities, communicating with volunteers and providing them with necessary guidance. In addition, the plan should also include details on what is expected of volunteers, what information will be provided to them (or collected from them), what administrative support is available for their use (e.g. telephone lines for outreach calls, computer access for electronic outreach activities, transportation to events, etc.), and what actions campaign organizers should take to keep them motivated and inspired to continue as volunteers.
  • Provide early training and orientation sessions – this will help ensure that activists not only learn about and understand the campaign issue (s), but are also clear about what they have signed up for (i.e. what is expected of them as volunteers). Each volunteer should be provided with detailed background information on the campaign issue (s) and a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that they can use during public outreach activities. Orientation sessions can also help foster a sense of solidarity among volunteers and motivate them around the cause.
  • Articulate and communicate campaign goals and key messages clearly – this may need to be done several times over the course of the campaign to ensure accuracy and to keep everyone on track.
  • Regularly hold feedback meetings – this not only provides an opportunity to check on progress, but is also a space for volunteers to ask questions, air grievances or make suggestions. By serving as a regular occasion to ‘listen and be heard’, such meetings can go a long way towards limiting frustrations, potential conflicts and misunderstandings that can arise among volunteers and between volunteers and campaign staff.


  • Sign up more volunteers than the campaign can handle. While it may be tempting to have more help for campaign activities, and the enthusiasm of volunteers can be a morale boost for campaigners, it is important to remember that the greater the number of volunteers, the greater the resources and time needed to manage them. Poor volunteer management can be one of the easiest ways to alienate well-meaning activists, and potentially turn them against the cause.
  • Expect too much. Different volunteers may have different skills and time commitments to bring to the campaign. Skills and time should be matched appropriately to tasks – if necessary, rosters may need to be drawn up to ensure continuity for specific tasks or activities requiring a longer time commitment. In addition, volunteers should not be expected to take on roles that should be performed by staff – e.g managing campaign finances, liaising with donors and board/committee members, etc.
  • Forget to say thank you. Because they are providing their time and energy ‘for free’, expressing regular appreciation to volunteers can help keep them motivated and feeling like their efforts are making a difference to the success of the campaign.

Dealing with stress and burn-out

Stress and burn-out among campaign staff (and volunteers) is not uncommon particularly in more complex campaigns that require many levels of coordination and cooperation from different people and organizations, usually within tight timeframes. In addition, traumatic accounts of VAW that staff and volunteers may be exposed to can add to stress, or if they have themselves experienced violence in their own lives, they could be emotionally troubled by memories or feelings from the past.

Yet another stress risk is identity baiting, a tactic used by opponents of social change whereby detractors of a campaign openly or subtly attack social activists on the grounds of their identity or life style so as to undermine their reputations.

“If you have a husband, they think you’re neglecting him. If you don’t have one, they wonder why. If you’re divorced, they say you drove him away. And if you’re a widow, you probably killed him” (B. Lee in Rothschild, C., 2005.  Written Out…).

To prevent unnecessary tension and burn-out, it is necessary to acknowledge that campaigning on VAW can be stressful, and to find appropriate ways of coping with stress. Some organizations working with survivors of violence organize regular sessions with mental health professionals so as to reduce the psychological strain experienced in daily work. A low-cost alternative is presented by New Tactics in Human Rights (2004), the ABCs of Self-Care:

Awareness: Learning to recognize the signs of unhealthy stress, e.g. nervous tension, anger, distractedness, back pain, headaches, a more negative outlook on the world

Balance: Planning for sufficient time to rest and relax, and to cultivate private relationships.

Connection: Building supportive relationships with coworkers, friends, family and others.

Discussing self-care: Discussing experience with stress management among colleagues, and considering what collective measures can be taken to reduce or mitigate harmful stress