What to Expect When You’re Running for Office

Posted: Mar 07th, 2018 Updated: Dec 04, 2020

We don’t all have the power of foresight, although it would be cool to see the future. Instead many of us have to feel our way through our first campaign and hope for the best.

While there is no substitute for experience and every campaign is a little different, the people at FundHero have combined their decades of experience to develop an outline of the typical campaign of what you - as a candidate, manager, or committed supporter - can expect while campaigning.

Even better, download a checklist below outlining the phases of a campaign and some of the major, big picture, to-dos in each phase.

Finally, while we will discuss this more in another blog, there are three basic areas of a local campaign. You can almost think of these as “departments:” finance, field, and communication.

  • Finance - obviously has to do with fundraising and budgets.
  • Field - involves volunteers and directly talking to voters.
  • Communications - is social, earned and paid media done at scale.


Campaign Set Up

In this phase, you’ve made the decision to run for office, and its time to get to work on the mechanics of your campaign. Think of campaign “set up phase” as the “pre-campaign.” Everyone loves to talk about platforms and policies - and whether you can win or not - but this phase of the campaign really is about getting your structure set up so you can succeed.

In this period, you need to work on the basics: draft your campaign budget, determine your vote goal, develop your friends and family fundraising list, and prepare your initial fundraising letter. This is also the time to start your initial messaging by drafting a “why I am running statement” and updating your resume.

Learn More about setting up your campaign.

Capacity Building & Base Outreach

Contrary to popular opinion, no superhero (or candidate) can truly do it alone. The first public phase of your campaign is about building a base of supporters. Those in your base will become your donors, volunteers, and your first committed voters.

After you launch and announce your campaign, now is the time to get on your phone and start soliciting contributions. This phase also involves expanding your friends and family fundraising list to include traditional political contributors in your district and community. You may also want to dig deeper with your friends and family by reviewing your social media accounts, community directories, business contacts, etc... Although it may be a little early to host them, this is the phase you want to ask people in your network to host small, simple events (such as neighborhood parties) on your behalf.

On the field side, now is the time to begin recruiting volunteers. Make hard asks of your friends and family and begin recruiting volunteers on social media and at any events. Although you may not have something yet for them to do, just make the ask and build a list if they are willing to do things like walk in parades, make phone calls, host an event, or walk door-to-door.

Finally, this is the time that you should roll out your website, even if its basic, begin posting and engaging people on social media, develop initial campaign literature and materials, and announce your campaign to the world!

Learn more about building your base.

Community Outreach

With a base of supporters built, it is now time to better understand your community and expand your network to the next circle of people. Unfortunately, this phase can also feel a little bit like a slump and often takes place in late spring through summer when people are traveling and hard to organize. Nonetheless, the roots you develop during this phase will be critical to your fall success.

The community outreach phase is typically when PAC’s (Political Action Committees) and corporate contributions start to arrive. Your campaign will also want to host a series of events targeted at specific communities. These communities can be professional (attorneys, doctors, etc.), issue-based (environment, education), and/or geographic (city, community, etc.).

During the dog days of summer, it's time to attend community events, walk in parades, and table at festivals. As a candidate, you might begin your door-to-door campaign to introduce yourself to voters and get a feel for messaging and how people respond to you at the doorstep.

Finally, community outreach is the time when you develop and launch your initial platform. While it may feel like you needed this at the start, hopefully by this time you’ve done enough listening in your community to get an understanding of what might resonate and engage them in your campaign.

Learn more about community outreach and "The Grind".

Voter Identification

The goal of this phase is simple. Put potential voters into three buckets: voting for you, voting for an opponent and undecided. This is when you are beginning your heavy voter contact. You and your campaign volunteers should by frequently going door-to-door, talking to voters, and tracking what bucket they belong to. If you can’t go door-to-door as frequently, make phone calls to prospective voters.

This is also one of the most critical times for your fundraising. The next phase, persuasion, is where nearly 70% - 80% of your money will be spent. Pinning down major contributors, collecting on pledges, and actively sending emails and fundraising letters is an important part of this time in your campaign.

Finally, now is time to prepare your persuasion materials. Most local campaigns heavily rely on direct mail and digital advertising due to budget constraints and the ability to target specific voters. Work with an ad agency or designer to develop these materials during late summer and early fall so they are ready when you need them.


It’s time to win your campaign! You know all those voters you’ve been flagging as “undecided?” Call them. Now is the time that you personally as a candidate should be engaging those voters, responding to their questions, and winning their support. The persuasion phase typically happens in late summer, mid-to-late August through early October.

The persuasion phase is heavy in door-to-door and direct voter contact. Your volunteer effort is in full swing and you are working nearly every night to earn the support of voters in your district. Your direct mail and digital programs designed in the last phase are hitting voters and people will begin to recognize your campaign and who you are.

On the fundraising side, close any outstanding pledges, re-solicit your best donors one last time, and engage any institutional prospects for the final resources you need to be successful.

Learn more about the Beginning of the End.

Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV)

This is where your hard work pays off! Now is the time to get your voters to the polls. This phase is almost exclusively focused on contacting those voters who said they would vote for you and ensuring they get to the polls. Send out your GOTV mailers. Pay for phone calls and radio and digital ads. Work social media and don’t take a single vote for granted.

Hopefully, you’ve raised most of the money you need by this phase, but contact any outstanding pledges and your best donors if you need just a little bit more. These final two weeks are a great time to send a final thank you note to all of your donors, volunteers, and supporters. Writing these is often hard after an election, and getting them done now will calm your nerves and get an important task out of the way.

Good luck with your campaign. Help keep yourself on track by downloading FundHero’s handy campaign phase to-do list. It is simple, high level, and is a good thing to review periodically to make sure you are on track.

Learn more about Getting out the Vote.

Get in depth information about each campaign phase with our six part series. Start with Phase 1 here.

Matt Lyon

Matt has over 12 years of political fundraising experience. Matt’s experience includes overseeing up to fourteen staff members, administering budgets exceeding $1.1 million annually, directing million dollar paid media programs, raising over $5 million for various causes and organizations, and developing and implementing communications strategies that led to dozens of stories in local and national outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post. Matt is an experienced and campaign veteran always willing to help the next candidate make a difference.