How to make a campaign job into a campaign career

Courtesy of LOOP
Susy Bates

Susy Bates describes it as her political “aha moment.” After working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Iowa — her first job in politics — she didn’t have a plan for what to do next. She ended up in Minnesota in 2010 working for the DFL Party and the gubernatorial campaign of Margaret Anderson Kelliher. After that cycle, Bates realized she could make a career out of campaigning.

“The moment I realized I could do this long term, working for candidates that I believe in — that was a really big moment for me,” she said.

She’s now the political director of Women Winning, a Minnesota liberal advocacy and campaign group, but Bates admits she wouldn’t have gotten there without a group of mentors to push her in the right direction. Not everyone has that support system — in fact, many staffers and volunteers for state campaigns are left scrambling after election day.

“A lot of people get into this industry because they are passionate and excited to support candidates, but after a cycle is over, we have staff who are burnt out and who don’t know where to go next,” Bates said. “We see them drop out of the industry altogether and look to other areas to work, or flail for weeks and months before finding something.”

To try and fix the problem, Bates and a handful of seasoned campaign hands from labor and DFL campaigns in Minnesota got together late last year and formed the League of Organizing Professionals (they’re calling it LOOP for short).

The group aims to create a network for campaign staffers who want to find work after the election, as well as establish best practices on everything from wages and reimbursements to health care options for major campaigns and candidates.

“This would be a natural space for people to come to,” Bates, vice president of the group, said. “We can help them make the connections to people who could have their next job.”

It’s a first-of-its kind state-based group in the nation, members say, and part of the emphasis is on treating campaigning for candidates or issues as an industry. Like any growing and successful industry, retaining a well-trained and diverse set of employees is key.

It’s difficult to track how many people are paid staffers for campaigns in a given year in Minnesota — campaigns have a mix of volunteers and paid staff, and many move in and out of the state for work. But the group already has 200 members, and it’s growing. In the coming months, LOOP will be officially registered as a political nonprofit.

There are places for campaign staffers to find work after an election, Bates says. Many congressional campaigns keep campaign staff on year round, and lots of volunteers move on to jobs working in the Legislature. Then there’s the long list of political nonprofits and advocacy groups in the state looking for staff.

For now, the group is only for Democrats and other progressive causes, but LOOP members acknowledge there’s likely a need for something like this on the right.

“This field in particular is very technical and data driven and there are a lot of nuances that go into developing those skills,” she said. “People need to first look at campaigning as an industry and we need people to stay committed to the industry.”

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