As the old saying goes, those who fail to plan plan to fail. That is why establishing a solid foundation for your campaign is vital to its success.
Your first few months are spent establishing your foundations by building up the administrative and fundraising aspects of your campaign. But don’t neglect early opportunities to meet the voters and get your word out.
When to start: 12-9 months prior to the election (November - February)
Perhaps the most important place to start is with your elections office and political party. Your elections office isn’t just where you go to formally declare your candidacy, but a place that houses valuable data about how many voters are in your district, how many people you can expect to vote in your district, and, from this, how many votes you need to win. The same office most likely is also your source for campaign finance information from previous elections. Look over prior reports to see how much money was needed to run a race in your district and see where they spent the money and see the names of people who have donated to races similar to yours in the past.
Your political party will also be able to provide you with institutional knowledge about how much support you can expect from local volunteers, what events you need to plan to participate in, and advice on how to find interns and staff.
There is quite a bit for you to do in the early days in regards to administrative activities. Perhaps most important is that you are going to want to find out when the filing period opens for your race - after all, it isn’t going to do you much good to run for a race when you don’t even show up on the ballot! Often there is a nominal fee associated with running, so be sure to research this and be prepared to pay when you go in to declare your candidacy.
You are also going to want to create a campaign calendar, with various goals listed with hard dates in mind. This calendar should include events, benchmarks, campaign finance reporting dates, and general and specific campaign goals.
Though we are discussing phases from the beginning to the end, you are actually going to want to start building your campaign calendar by working from election day going backward from there. You should have knocked on all your doors by x day, you should have fundraised x amount of dollars by x day, you should have held x events, and so on. By starting from end to beginning, you will have a better idea of just what needs to be accomplished and by when.
Campaigns are serious operations that require some amount of funding in order to be successful. Be sure to set up a dedicated campaign account for all donations and expenditures to go through that is independent of your personal finances. Save yourself some headaches by creating a non-interest accruing account while you are at it to avoid complicated tax-related issues. Check out the FEC website for more information on getting a tax ID and bank account.
Once you have your account set up, you are going to want to create a budget for all of your activities. Start with bare-bones needs such as supplies, funds for mailers and literature, t-shirt and lawn sign budgets, a website, and paying to access the voter file. Once you have this basic budget in mind, you can start to set fundraising goals for your campaign.
But, you don’t want to just run a bare-bones campaign, right? You want to be able to attend events, perhaps pay for staff, send out targeted and customized mailers, and be able to support a larger volunteer base. With these numbers in mind, you can now find out what your campaign fundraising goals really are and, based off your calendar, be able to determine when you need to hit various fundraising targets.
Congratulations! You have now created a true and proper campaign budget. But, using some of the hints and tips we have provided to you, you might be able to actually exceed your fundraising goals. Plan for this and have some “wish list” items; perhaps you want a billboard or two or be a sponsor for community events - this extra money can be quite useful when it comes to such unexpected, but helpful items that help build your name recognition.
Related to this is the need for you to start building fundraising lists. Start by thinking of every possible friend or family you are even remotely willing to give a call or grab coffee with. It really is okay to start asking for campaign contributions and you are going to need some early donations to get off on the right foot. Take a minute and look at our articles about raising money over the phone to get a feel for what steps you need to take.
But how will you keep track of all of your incoming donations? Well, we might be a little biased, but FundHero is a fantastic resource that is able to provide you with all the tools and reporting items you need to ensure that you stay in good graces with all campaign finance reporting laws. To sign up today and get started click here.
After you receive the voter file and voter history, you are going to want to start thinking about how you are going to use that information. There are many strategies a campaign can use when it comes to initial voter outreach. Some campaigns like to focus on known voters at this stage so that they can start to build name recognition while others begin Get Out The Vote campaigns so that they can start to identify potential new voters.
Each race is different, but the most important thing for Field to be doing during these early stages is to create a workable field plan that includes how many volunteers you are going to need, how many doors you plan to knock on, and budgets for all of these activities.
It is time for you to introduce yourself to the world, and there are some things you are going to want to do in order for you to start off right.
The first thing you are going to want to do is to practice your answer to the all-important question of “why are you running?” This is, by far, the most common question you will be asked by voters early on, so it is wise to have a response that comes out as well thought out and practiced. After all, if it seems like you don’t know why you are running, why would anyone support you? (You can read an article on drafting your "why are you running" speech here)
Related to the question of “why are you running?” is the elevator pitch. The pitch is a 30-60 second speech that you have ready to go when someone, somewhere, asks you to stand up and say a few words about yourself and your campaign (trust us, you will be doing this a lot).
The speech should include background information about you, why you are running, what you would like to change, and a call to action - be it to volunteer for your campaign or for a vote. Always, always, always be sure to state your name and what you are running for at the end of your speech as well so that anyone who might have become interested while you were talking can remember who you are.
It is during this phase that you are going to want to start thinking about the nuts and bolts too. Things such as campaign logos, stationery, envelopes, donation cards, and business cards. Be sure that these items are in your budget because failing to plan ahead means that you will constantly be running off to the local printer to get supplies - and these costs can add up quickly if you are not careful.
Finally, you are also going to want to start thinking about a website. Your website is an important resource for early campaign donors and volunteers. To learn more about how to build a website, click here for some strategies on where to start.
Once you have your ground work set up, it is time for your campaign to truly take off. It is time for you to introduce yourself to the voters!
Check out all the phases of a campaign below!
- Pre Planning
- Making it Official/ Set Up
- Building your Base
- The Grind/ Community Outreach and Voter Identification
- Beginning of the End
- Get Out the Vote