Getting to a Person’s Why

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The most powerful motivation tool organizers have is activating a volunteer’s personal motivations. Humans are passionate people; we want to help when we can. As organizers, it is part of our role to guide people from that passion to action, helping people channel their energy into volunteer work to have an impact.

Some will know exactly why they want to get involved, what they want to do and they are ready to dive in. Great! Get those folks set up right away. However, most others will feel the pull to do something, but won’t know exactly what, why or how to start. Helping someone pinpoint exactly where their frustrations or desire to take action comes from and drawing a connection between that passion and how to achieve the outcome they want is the best way to develop a strong, committed volunteer.

For example, if a potential volunteer mentions, “I am really frustrated by what’s going on right now,” we can dig deeper and ask what specifically is frustrating to them. Whether it’s lack of action in Congress, the restrictions on abortion rights in different states, a broken medical system, or whatever else, we can help them see that in order to make progress on that issue, we have to start by electing state officials that represent our values and will fight for that change. We can help them channel that frustration into impact.

To learn a person’s “why”, you want to get beyond the opinions they have to the experiences that have shaped those opinions. This will help us move past the politics of the moment, and find what motivates them at a deeper level. Finding this deeper level why helps us maintain volunteers beyond just when the issue they care about dominates the headlines and creates a volunteer community that lasts beyond just an election cycle.

Here are some good questions to go deeper. As much as possible, ask follow-up questions that get to telling stories.

  • Who is a person you are bringing into this work? Who are you doing this work for? Who do you think of – a child, a friend, a parent, a mentor, a co-conspirator?
  • Have you been involved in political work before? If so, what was the very first time you decided to get involved in political work? What happened?
  • What was an important value that your parents or guardians instilled in you? How did they do that?
  • What is a moment that you feel most proud of in your organizing work? What happened?
  • What do you fear might happen if we’re not successful in our work? Paint a picture of what that looks like.
  • What do you dream might happen if we are successful in our work? Paint a picture of what that looks like.
  • Who is your hero (not in your family) and why?
  • When was the last time you got REALLY ANGRY at the world, and why? What happened?

Use these questions to get to know your volunteers, build new relationships with potential volunteers and strengthen your community.  Personal connection is your best tool for success.

Based on work by Sarah Turbow, Good Guys at the Barricades
Presented at the 2020 Sister District Summit