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Donal Blaney: Give 'em a title and get 'em involved

Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons' Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell's Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

Political activists are volunteers. Most have busy lives - juggling an increasingly hectic work/life balance. The time that volunteers spend working for their church, a favoured charity or a particular political party is precious. Volunteers are the most prized resource in politics and yet all too often, volunteers are ignored and their efforts are denigrated.

This week's maxim is based on the premise that anyone who volunteers should be given a role (ideally with a title) and they should become actively involved in the organisation or campaign.

While the class system may be increasingly a concept of the past, it is a truism that human beings need to feel wanted and need some form of status. Wise candidates or association chairman recognise this motivating factor and look for ways to involve activists so that they feel that they have ownership of the campaign or organisation, even in some small way.

David Cameron has understood this at parliamentary level: those who have been out in the cold (either by choice, such as Ken Clarke and John Gummer, or forceably, such as John Redwood or Iain Duncan Smith) have been given titles and asked to become more heavily involved. They now feel a sense of ownership as regards "Project Cameron" such that they are likely to direct their efforts and talents towards helping that project succeed. It is a similar concept to Lyndon Johnson's maxim that he would rather have a particular politician inside the tent pissing out rather than outside the tent pissing in.

However at a non-parliamentary level, David Cameron has come in for considerable criticism. Many hundreds of activists who have given hour after hour of their time (and considerable sums of money too, often keeping some associations afloat single-handedly) now find themselves without any realistic hope of being selected to fight a winnable seat at the next election. As those activists are, ultimately, volunteers with many other demands on their time, there is a strong risk that many will simply give up and dedicate their talents elsewhere.

Some Conservative Associations are similarly inept. Instead of giving activists, particularly younger activists, particular functions or tasks (with an accompanying title to make it seem worthwhile) those activists are all too often simply given a bundle of leaflets to deliver. Few activists join a political party simply to fulfill the role of an unpaid and unthanked postman but I can think of a number of horror stories where association officers have forgotten the importance of treating their activists in a manner in which they would like to be treated themselves.

All activists are volunteers. We all need to feel welcomed and appreciated. Giving activists specific tasks, accompanied by a title, results in those activists having a sense of ownership of a campaign or project. It is the best way to keep someone motivated and involved. And yet from the top to the bottom of the Party, too many people forget this basic rule - and they do so at their peril.


Previous entry in this series: Don't fully trust anyone until he has stuck with a good cause which he saw was losing


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