Circles of Influence and Dealing with a Bad Volunteer with Kristina Keats CW 18 Transcript

Circles of Influence Bad Volunteer Political CampaignJohn Tsarpalas: Today on Commonwealthy, Kristina Keats and I discuss two separate topics. The first one is circles of influence. And then, as sort of a follow up to episode #15 “Volunteers in a Political Campaign,” we will be talking about dealing with a bad volunteer because every once in a while that happens. This is Commonwealthy #18.  

Well I am here today with Kristina Keats and we are going to discuss your circles of influence, people you know. How do you use that in your local political campaign? So, Tina, let’s kind of define what we are talking about here and then go from there.

Kristina Keats: I think the simplest concept is imagine you in the middle of a circle. Inside that first circle are all your friends and family, people you know personally, who hopefully will help you in your quest for public office.

So know who those people are and think about who they know because that’s the next circle outside of them. Everyone in your inner circle is part of another group. Who can they connect to? Is one of your friends on the Chamber of Commerce? Someone else coaches baseball. Someone else is in the League of Women Voters.

You know people who are involved in other activities or they work in a local business. Use that information that you know about that first circle to reach the next circle out. You literally are going to want to go to your friends and say, “Hey, I know you are a baseball coach. Would you be willing to send an email to all of the team people or the other coaches supporting me?”

And you have to ask them. Be specific. Maybe they won’t. But if you don’t ask, it won’t happen. So that’s how you want to think about the people you know and who they know and try and get to that next level of connection.

But they have to do it for you. That’s the way this kind of networking in politics works. People you know, know other people, and you need to pull on that.

Then finally there is probably a pretty large group out there of people that you don’t know and nobody you know knows. And yet you still need to meet them in some way or reach them in some way to get your message out.

Those are the people that you will then try and phone or go to their door or meet them on the street. Your best bet is to work from who you know and who they know, and then track it all. Joe Blow knows Jean Green. Okay, let Joe talk to Jean and secure the vote for you so you don’t have to then later go talk to them.

That’s why you want to just think about people you know and how to reach out to people you don’t know. It’s pretty simple, but it is a way to organize your thinking about it.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, this reminds me a little bit of the book, The Tipping Point. I forget the words they used. There were people that were influencers and early adapters and blah blah blah. So that’s using a little bit of that.

But then the other thought I had was I always like to think of politics like high school. There are little groups in high school. There is sort of a leader of that group or someone in that group that knows everyone in that group and talks to all of them, influences them. It’s the same thing in bigger life.

Kristina Keats: Right, absolutely. Especially in politics that is true. I remember one time I was briefly helping a candidate who insulted somebody I knew. I called him to say, “You have to repair this.” His response was, “It’s only one vote.” I said, “You do not know what you are talking about.”

That’s why I ultimately ended up not supporting the person. How could he be so foolish to think that one vote is only one vote? In this particular case, it was an influencer who probably could literally control six or seven hundred votes. That’s how influential this person was.

That’s why as a first time candidate you really need to look at who you know and think about them in terms of who they can influence. Use it to your benefit. Again, you have to ask them. Don’t assume that anybody will ever do anything without being asked.

John Tsarpalas: Correct, you’ve got to ask and you’ve got to hear a yes from them.

Kristina Keats: Right, and you have to follow up. The number one reason why people don’t volunteer and why they don’t do something is no one ever asks them. As a candidate, you have to be the person who asks them to help you. And then they, and this is something you have to ask them to do, have to ask the people they know to help you or support you.

It’s a simple concept and you are probably nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, I already know that.” But it is important to think analytically, make lists of who you know and who they know, and then go down it methodically and ask every single person you know to connect with the people you know they know.

It’s that simple, but it is hard to do. It sounds simple, but people for whatever reason have difficulty asking people to help them. You’ve got to get over that if you want to be in politics.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So, for instance, you could choose churches in your community. Think of who you know in each church. Ideally you are trying to find someone you know who talks to a lot of other people and connects to a lot of people. But maybe you don’t know that person in that church. But you approach the person you do know.

In many ways, it is like LinkedIn. You want to find people who are inside an organization who can help you. But anyway, you want to find somebody you know and if you don’t know someone in that church, someone who might know someone in that church. You are going to connect to them and ask them who they can connect you with.

If they are already in that church but they are not influential, one of the things you might ask is “Who’s influential in this organization? Who knows everybody? Who do people respect?” Get that referral and then try to meet with those people, convince them, and then you have to ask them to then volunteer to talk you up to the rest of community and to go beyond that as well.

Kristina Keats: Right, exactly. It all sounds simple. It is hard to do. What we are trying to say here is quantify it being for yourself. Set goals. Make it something that you understand that you are trying to do. I think lots of times people just get overwhelmed by how much there is to do. Or they think there isn’t that much to do.

John Tsarpalas: Right, I’ve been in a race that we were so naïve we didn’t know there was so much to do.

Kristina Keats: Right, you had no idea what was going on. Even in local elections, it is most likely that there are political forces playing behind the scenes. Probably both major parties are helping. Not always, but it can happen. If you are candidate, you need to be as sophisticated as you possibly can.

John Tsarpalas: Now let me throw a little wrinkle on this or twist to it. There was a candidate back many moons ago here in Cook County. Actually Jack O’Malley. He was all about coffees. He would find someone in a geographic area or within an organization and ask them to host a coffee for him.

So rather than having that person make a lot of phone calls to talk him up, they would invite them over to the person’s house. He had coffees literally twenty a day. Donuts and coffee in the morning, three or four of those in a morning. There was something like a lunch brunch. Then in the afternoon and evening it was cocktails. That’s another way to approach it.

Kristina Keats: It’s wonderful if you can organize it.

John Tsarpalas: That’s a lot of work.

Kristina Keats: It’s a huge amount of work. Coffees were much more effective twenty and thirty years ago than they are now.

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: It is just difficult to get people to come out of their house.

John Tsarpalas: Right, to go somewhere to care and put the time in.

Kristina Keats: To go somewhere. It used to be that people considered it a social occasion, too, to get together with their neighbors. They’d meet their neighbors. This was a fun thing to do.

I worked on campaigns as early as 1982. In that case, coffees were incredibly important. A neighbor would have a coffee and fifty people would show up. By 1996, that was becoming rare. I remember one coffee where the person hosting the coffee sent out a thousand invitations and five people came.

John Tsarpalas: Wow.

Kristina Keats: So you got to know your area. There are some areas. We live in Texas now. Churches are really important. Those are social groups. Try it. Really try it.

John Tsarpalas: Right, try it. I don’t think it is happening in urban areas, but it might still be happening in more rural areas. I don’t know.

Kristina Keats: It might still happen some places. I know in 2010 we tried to do meet and greets in apartment buildings in Chicago with some success, not huge. You would send out an invitation to everyone in the building, which might be eight hundred people, and you might get thirty. Thirty is better than none.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And those thirty theoretically can talk to others. Coffees are hard; they really are. You’ve got to be creative. You know how people behave. You know whether or not they’d come to a coffee. They have Meetup.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah,

Kristina Keats: Right, over particular issues or different things. So you can use those tools. On the flip side, because people just don’t seem to be out meeting people as much, when someone actually knocks on their door, they get a bigger response than they might have twenty years ago because it is so rare; it doesn’t happen. You have to figure out what works for your area.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, and I think play with it. One of the things about the coffee concept is the person who is hosting it pays for the coffee, pays for the donuts. They try to get some people there.

You can, although it is expensive, mail around that area. We did that back in the nineties here. In ’98, we had an ice cream social in park. We leafleted the area around the park.

Kristina Keats: Did people come?

John Tsarpalas: People came. We got fifty people to come. It was a lot of work and we bought the ice cream for fifty people.

Kristina Keats: The other thing to keep in mind when someone inviting their friends to a coffee to meet you is that’s an endorsement. It’s a personal endorsement to that person’s friends.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So that’s worth something, too. Even if the people don’t come to the coffee, they’ll remember, “Oh, Sue Blue supported that person.” It is useful if you can get people to do it. It is harder and harder to do.

It used to be that that was the way people campaigned. It was very personally in people’s living rooms. Our culture has sort of gotten away from that. Lots of times people don’t even know their neighbors. They do not know who lives next door to them. It’s a slightly different world.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Now, when the candidate is at something like this, a coffee for instance, they need to work the room. They need to talk to everyone there, shake hands, etc. There needs to be a sign up list so you can emails, addresses, and names of who was there.

Kristina Keats: And yard signs.

John Tsarpalas: You have yard signs there to pass out. And you are going to have to give a bit of a stump speech. We have a video on the website on how to give a stump speech.

You are going to have to get up. If it is bigger group, it’s a little more formal presentation. If it is a small one, then you just sit, talk, and answer some questions. It depends on how many people are there. I have been in this situation where five people showed up so everyone just sat around the living room and chat.

Kristina Keats: Right, you don’t stand up and give a speech. You’ll look like an idiot.

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: But you try everything you can, any way you can to get out to that final circle of people you don’t know. Just be creative.

John Tsarpalas: It’s a matter of experimenting. Be creative. Keep trying. Doing! Start early. It’s hard to get people out early because they are not interested. If it is a November election, you’ll be lucky to get them to show up to anything in June or July even, let alone the spring before.

Kristina Keats: But you can be in all the Fourth of July parades and shake everybody’s hand. You can go, if you have a sports and sports are big in your town, to every soccer game, baseball game, football game, and shake the hands of the parents as they are there. You have to figure what is going to work in your community based on how your community functions because they are all a little bit different.

Just be creative. Any time you can stop and talk to ten people at once, it is a bonus, even if you don’t know who it is. Ideally, you gather their name, but that’s not always possible. Still you want to be out there asking for their vote. That impresses people, that you want the job. That’s important. They have to feel like you really want to do it.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, good. Well, we gave them some thoughts here on how to network. Begin with who you know and make a list of everyone you know and who they might know and what groups and what clubs they are in. And you go from there. Very good.

And now, for our second topic of the day, a very short one, but something you need to know: Dealing with a bad volunteer.

Well, I am here with Kristina Keats and we are going to talk about something that comes up every now and then, and that’s a volunteer that you don’t want to have. There are negative people. There are people who cause trouble and cause problems for your organization and campaign. Unfortunately, you’ve got to get rid of them. I know I had that experience and I know you have.

Kristina Keats: It doesn’t happen very often, but when it happens, you have to deal with it. Remember, every volunteer is an extension of you. It needs to be things like I’ve had volunteers who were inappropriate sexually, an old man with our young, female volunteers. I have had volunteers who make racists statements.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, that’s not who we are.

Kristina Keats: It’s not. You have to remember your volunteers are a reflection of you. And when that happens, you have to remove them. You can try, if a person is for example the inappropriate sexual behavior, talking to them and saying that you can’t be saying these things. But then say, “If you can’t control yourself, then I am sorry but we can’t have you here. You are offending our other volunteers.”

John Tsarpalas: So you are giving them a warning.

Kristina Keats: You can give them a warning in some cases. If somebody makes a racist comment, just something that if you found out about it, imagine if what that person just said is the headline in your local paper. Then you have to immediately get rid of them.

I had a situation. It was actually a paid staffer who made an anti-Semitic comment to a Jewish person who was coming there to visit with me. I had to fire him. If you don’t, then you are saying you condone the behavior.
It doesn’t happen very often. In a real small local election it is unlikely to happen. But just be aware that the most important thing is every volunteer if a reflection of you. If someone does not reflect appropriately, you have to deal with it.

John Tsarpalas: There’s one other type and that’s the person that is just negative and always sort of bashing the leadership. We had that in our local organization here. Coming in and always negative and not really doing anything to help the organization. It was always about the negative and not helping.

Kristina Keats: I do find that there is an inverse relationship between how much people complain and how much they work. The more they complain, the less they work. The ones who work don’t complain.

I would in a situation like that always try to turn it around. It’s funny because sometimes those complainers, they just need a little attention. They just need you to go up and say, “Oh, Susie, you are just the best. Thank you so much for coming in.” And then they sometimes blink.

If you can’t turn it around, then you have to ask them not to come. But you have to be really careful with that because then they are going to go and complain even more. But if they’re a chronic complainer, most people know to discount their complaints. I’ll take a little bit of complaining if they’ll still work.

John Tsarpalas: Right, and they can be steered into a pile of work and get them working and maybe they’ll calm down.

Kristina Keats: Right. But there are the ones that you have to deal with immediately and the ones that you can try and counsel them. Just be aware that it does happen, but don’t let a cancer in your organization destroy you.

John Tsarpalas: Right. There are those that come that just want to talk.

Kristina Keats: Right. I have a funny story. I would always go up and say, and I meant it sincerely, “Did you come to talk or would you like to work?” Because if they wanted to talked, I wasn’t going to try and give them work. That can backfire where they are offended that you even suggested it.

John Tsarpalas: But they are distracting the others, talking to others, and the others can’t get their work done.

Kristina Keats: Right. And then you have to say, “Well, it’s okay, but you are preventing this other person from working.” That person may leave and be angry and never come back. But really what have you lost?

John Tsarpalas: Right, just a distraction.

Kristina Keats: These are kind of minor organizational problems. You just need to be aware that the most important is that your volunteer organization represents you. If they say things that would not represent you, you have to deal with it.

John Tsarpalas: Right. There are also some people I used to call the back room boys. There were some guys that really weren’t socialable and really not the image you would want. I would get them in a back room somewhere putting together yard signs, away from the other people. There’s jobs like that that can be done.

Kristina Keats: Yeah, that goes back to matching the person to the job.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Alright, enough said on this topic. We will move on to something else.

If you have questions, feel free to write to me at I am happy to answer questions any time. We are here to help. We are here to give you training. We are also interested in wanting to know what you need to know.

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I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. We always have show notes and transcripts on the website at

Kristina Keats: Everyone in your inner circle is part of another group. Who can they connect to? Is one of your friends on the Chamber of Commerce? Someone else coaches baseball. Someone else is in the League of Women Voters. You know people who are involved in other activities or they work in a local business. Use that information that you know about that first circle to reach the next circle out.

You literally are going to want to go to your friends and say, “Hey, I know you are a baseball coach. Would you be willing to send an email to all of the team people or the other coaches supporting me?” And you have to ask them. Be specific. Maybe they won’t. But if you don’t ask, it won’t happen.

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