Do's and Don'ts of Running for Office

How to Run for Office

March 10, 2020

You have taken the plunge! You are running for office! There will be a million little things you learn along the way, but one will be clear rather quickly: everyone has an opinion on how you should and should not be running your campaign. Some advice is good, other advice is...well… you know in their heart they probably meant it well.

Based on years of experience, we would like to throw in our own two cents on how you can run a more effective campaign and increase the chances of success.

 

Campaign Do’s

Administrative

  • Do create a campaign plan early on that includes a calendar that starts from election day and works backward. 
    • Do use this calendar to set fundraising benchmarks.
    • Don’t be reactionary when something pops up - stick to the plan and only make changes if it makes sense.
  • Do try to hire campaign staff (at the very least, a campaign manager) so that you can have someone manage the day-to-day operations of your campaign. This will free you up to talk to voters and fundraise.

Finances

  • Do start building and contacting your donor list early in the campaign. Early contact gives you more time to build up your reserves.
  • Do buy items in bulk such as letterhead and lawn signs. It is better to have a few too many things than be scrambling at the end of your campaign and paying a premium for these items.
  • Do carve out a specific time for fundraising. Candidates conveniently get distracted by other aspects of the campaign and “forget” to make phone calls - something that ultimately harms your campaign.
  • Do keep excellent records of all fundraising activities using FundHero’s Smart Groups. These tools allow you to stay on top of previous pledges, current donors, and those you need to contact. 

Volunteers

  • Do keep good records of all volunteer recruitment activities. Record contact dates and what volunteers are interested in.
  • Do contact individuals who say that they are interested in your campaign within 2-3 days in order to plug them into your campaign quickly.

Messaging

  • Do build a website early that includes a way for people to easily donate using FundHero’s web-based donor tools. This adds a level of professionalism and legitimacy early on. 
    • Do include the issues you care about, an article about why you are running, a biography of yourself, a way for people to sign up to volunteer, and contact information.
  • Do mention to anyone that is willing to listen that you are running for office - you never know where your next supporter will come from.
  • Do create a campaign events box that you can take to functions. Print out a list of all the items you want to include in this box (literature, pins, sign up sheets, t-shirts, etc.) and restock the box at the end of the event.

Personal

  • Do balance your time well and take personal days. Running for office is hard work, and sometimes you need to take a day for yourself, it really is okay.
  • Do eat food besides pizza and donuts. It is very easy to eat poorly and neglect your health during a campaign, so make sure you are taking care of yourself. One poorly timed illness can set your campaign back by weeks.

 

Campaign Don’ts

Administrative

  • Don’t miss campaign finance reporting periods. Doing so could result in fines or even removal from the ballot.
  • Don’t panic when you discover that you are missing a particular target. Stop, think, and create a new plan.

Finances

  • Don’t go into debt running for office. Sound fundraising techniques and strategies should ensure that your campaign can be financed by donations.
  • Don’t accept money from any organization or person you are not okay being associated with. If you do, it could come back to bite you.
  • Don’t assume that a donation pledge will come in without any follow up. Stay on top of your donors to ensure that you get every dollar that is coming to you.

Volunteers

  • Don’t neglect your volunteers. Volunteers are the backbone of any campaign and a little appreciation can go a long way.
  • Don’t trust confirmations made by volunteers either online or in person that are made days or weeks in advance. Follow up with all “confirmed” volunteers the day before you need them and remind them of their commitment. Even then, don’t plan on everyone showing up.

Messaging

  • Don’t change your position on an issue based on who you are talking to. This will always catch up with you.
    • Do tailor and highlight various aspects of the policies your support based on who you are talking to.
  • Don’t mention your opponent when campaigning. Saying a person’s name adds to their name recognition; always refer to the person you are running against as “my opponent.”
  • Don’t think that you are an expert on every topic - you are not. Admit to voters that you need to do further research on an issue before you can give a solid answer to a question.
    • Do get the question asker’s information so that you can follow up with them once you form an opinion.
  • Don’t waste your time knocking on the doors of people you know won’t vote for you, this just wastes resources.
    • Do take the time to look over the voter file to find this information.

Personal

  • Don’t neglect your friends and family while you are running for office. Serving the public, though important and laudable, is just a job. Your friends and family, on the other hand, are your life.
  • Don’t be too proud to ask for help personally, professionally, and/or on your campaign. There just are not enough hours in the day to do every single thing in your life AND run for office. Ask for help where you need it during this temporary situation.

 

The Biggest Do

When you get right down to it, elections are exciting, scary, energizing, exhausting, and an experience like none other; that is why your biggest “do” is: open yourself to the experience of running for office.

Running for office is a unique experience that only a handful of people will ever know. Win or lose you should use this as a chance to learn and grow from this crazy time in your life.