It’s May – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

May political campaign plan

May is quite possibly my favorite time of the campaign year; It’s warm and sunny but not blazing hot like mid-summer, and the campaignable (I totally made that word up) events are starting.  “But the Memorial Day Parade is weeks away,” you say, “what is there to do before then?”  Plenty, my friend, plenty!  And enjoy the sun while you’re doing it!  Because after May your entire life unravels….

  • Door-to-door!  Yay!  It’s finally time to start knocking on doors!  I know I said to do this in April, but April weather is hit or miss so you probably didn’t get enough time pounding the pavement, and people are much more likely to stand on their porches and chat in warmer, less rainy May.  Make this a fun activity and take a kid or two along.  This is the most important thing you will do in your whole campaign, so you have to make it enjoyable if you intend to win.
  • Get your campaign materials!  This is one of my favorite campaign activities, maybe because it’s kind of like shopping, or maybe because I have a hoarder-like obsession with collecting campaigning paraphernalia.  Be sure you order this stuff in time to receive it before you have any big events (parades, festivals, etc).  You also want to make sure your local GOP headquarters has materials available.  Read my post on the best and worst campaign materials to buy, it’ll steer you in the right direction if you don’t know where to start.
  • Parade prep!  If you live in America, and I’m guessing most of my readers do, there’s undoubtedly a Memorial Day parade in your town or district, and it’s very likely your local Republican group has a spot in it.  Get in touch with them and get on the list!  Get a banner, some T-shirts, and maybe even some of those awesome parade bags, and lots and lots of candy.  Get out and talk to your voters.  I promise, it’s fun!
  • Hold a fundraising event.  A barbecue themed Memorial weekend fundraiser is actually fun!  Friends and family can help out with food, decorations, and prep, making it a cheap and minimally time consuming way to get a fast infusion of campaign cash.  Just don’t forget to record any cash or in kind donations as well as your expenses for your campaign finance reports.
  • Enjoy your family a lot!  Ideally they’ll be running right along side you for the duration of your sprint on the campaign trail, but you’ll still spend a lot of extra time away from them.  May is likely your last opportunity to plan real, quality time with your spouse and kids without the stress of feeling like the clock is ticking and there are a million things to do.  Make. It. Count.  And for the love of Pete, do not forget Mother’s Day.

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How to Run for City Council – Show Me The Money! Fundraising Money, That Is.

how to run for city council political campaign fundraising

Alright, enough him-hawing over the campaign plan.  Let’s see some action!  We’ll start with fundraising, because it’s really never too early to fundraise for a political campaign.

For a city council race, it’s terribly unlikely you’ll need all that much money.  Why would you?  In an average city, your district is still likely to be small enough that you can drive around the whole thing in ten minutes or so.  Are you going to buy a television ad that reaches the entire tri-county region just for that small, targeted audience?  No.  There are enough political ads cluttering up commercial breaks during campaign season.  Don’t be the jerk I can’t even vote against!

Chances are you’ll be spending your money where it has the most bang for your buck – attending events, campaign literature, and materials to support your grassroots efforts (but we’ll get to budgeting later).

How Much Money Do I Need to Fundraise?

A good place to start when determining your fundraising goal is to take a look at the campaign finance reports of previous city council candidates in your district from prior elections – including your opponent’s, if he’s an incumbent – and shoot for a figure in the same range.  You can also take a look at how they spent the money and get inspiration to either replicate or do something different.

I can tell you right now, however, that unless you’re in an unusually large city, you are likely looking to raise $5,000 – $10,000, ball park.  There’s a really good chance $1,000-$3,000 will actually cover it.

How Political Candidates Raise Money

The Fundraising Letter

You are going to start your fundraising campaign the same way everyone else does – a fundraising letter.  I call this the “Friends and Family Letter” because in most campaigns, those are the people you’ll reach out to first.  If you were running for a state or federal election, you would branch out to PACs and other political organizations, and local and statewide individuals and businesses that support your agenda.  But for the purposes of running for city council, you won’t need that kind of money, and those types of donors aren’t paying attention to municipal races anyway.

So who do you send your Friends and Family Letter to?  This is where you and your campaign teammates pull out your rolodexes (just kidding!  I mean open your smartphone’s address book) and begin putting together a contact spreadsheet.  You’re probably not going to send a letter to every single person you know, but chances are if you have their address, they fall into the category of people you would ask for a little money.  If you’re having trouble, ask yourself – would I send this person a wedding invitation?  A Christmas card?  If the answer is yes, put them in the spreadsheet.

The letter should be a simple, one page letter that let’s your folks know you’re running for city council, and that you need some initial start-up funds to get things going.  I always like to include a reply envelope with your campaign’s name and address already on it, if at all possible.  Don’t forget to put “paid for by <Your Campaign’s Name>” at the bottom of the letter.

The Fundraising Event

Bigger campaigns – for, say, governor, congress, and some statewide races – can throw their own parties.  You can, too.  But I am of the mindset that, like a bridal or baby shower, someone else really ought to do it for you.  I don’t know why, but having your own fundraiser just seems tacky.  Is it just me?

You can, however, co-opt virtually anyone else to do it for you.  Regardless, you’ll be sending out the invitations, coordinating the itinerary, and doing all the other planning work.  Just find someone to allow you to list them as the ‘host.’  It’s particularly useful if you know someone up the ballot – a candidate for state senate or an established elected official – to be either ‘host’ or ‘guest of honor’ at the event.  It gives your campaign more credibility and gives invitees more of a reason to pay to attend.

As for what the event actually is – it really doesn’t matter.  Pick a theme, any theme.  Independence day celebration?  Weekend barbecue?  Golf outing?  Whatever suits your fancy.  Do something unique, fun, and well suited to you.  Don’t plan a black tie affair if the candidate’s only worn overalls every day of his adult life.  Be true to who you are, and what your campaign is.

There’s no set number of fundraising events you should have, or when you should have them.  You should definitely have at least one; make it early enough to get money into your hands that you can start using on the things you’ve budgeted for, but late enough that people are actually thinking about political campaigns.  A fundraising party in mid-January after the days and days of holiday gatherings will not be well attended!

You also don’t want to plan to have too many events.  You likely have only a small pool of people to invite, and tapping that resource too often will just lead to wasted money on poorly attended events.  One or two events, well spaced out, is plenty for a city council candidate.

Personal Solicitation

This is the tough one.  If you’re lucky, maybe you won’t even have to do this one at all.  Generally, you’ll personally ask a donor – usually a politically involved business owner in the community – for an amount in the $500+ range.  If, as noted above, you’ve determined you only really need a few thousand bucks, you may be able to save yourself this step with one or two great fundraising events.  If your fundraising goal is closer to the $10,000 mark, you’ll likely be calling some of these high dollar donors up for a meeting.

Here’s how it’ll go down:

  • Call the donor, introduce yourself and tell them you’d like to talk to them about donating to your city council campaign.  Ask them if you can come and meet with them at their convenience.
  • Always confirm via phone (email might work) the day before.
  • Show up on time, and plan to spend 30 minutes – no more! – going over your executive summary (the Campaign Planbook helps you put this together), covering your basic platform, and making the actual ask.
  • Actually ask for money.  And a specific dollar amount.  If you think the person you’re approaching can give $500, ask for $1,000.  This is a situation where it is flattering to high ball the other person, and you never know – maybe they’ll give you the $1,000!
  • Leave.  Once the donor has given you a solid verbal ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ get the heck out of there.  Follow up with them by phone in 2-3 days if they don’t give you a check on the spot.  If they give you a wishy-washy ‘maybe,’ or seem reluctant to say ‘yes’ but unwilling to say ‘no,’ ask them what they need to see from you to be confident in giving a donation.  But don’t waste a bunch of time trying to convince someone unwilling to commit.  If 30 minutes has passed, find an opportunity to exit and tell them you’ll follow up with them later in the week by phone.  Also keep them on the list to hit them up the second time around.

There are other creative ways to raise money for your campaign, but the vast majority of your fundraising will fall under these three categories.  Now, go get that money!

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Political Technology: Why You Probably Shouldn’t Care

Quick story:

One fine day, I was managing a campaign for a typical Republican candidate in a slightly left-leaning district when, about 48 hours before Election Day, I was informed that I’d need to take 30 of my volunteers off important jobs like phone banking, door-knocking, and giving voters a ride to the polls, and have them sit in the polling stations next to the Big Book of Registered Voters, using their cell phones to tick off the names of the Republicans who came in to vote for some new technological doo-hickey thingamabobber…apparently the state party had put this all together for all the Republican candidates.  I still don’t know what it was, because it probably hasn’t been used since.

Anywho, I tried to cobble together some kids to do this incredibly boring task, but when E-Day came, I had better things to do and, whoops, apparently my race was the ONLY one not popping up numbers on their fancy new thingy they probably spent WAAAY too much money on, and boy did I get an unprofessionally worded phone call from my napoleonic boss!

Oh, but I won that race.  By a significant margin.  And you know who didn’t win?  Every. Other. Republican. In the state.  Well, running for a contentious seat in the state legislature.  We lost a ton of seats that year.

And what did I get for my insubordinate success?

you're fired political campaign

Except Trump is way better looking than my then boss.

But I was like –

Whatever political campaign

Whatevs, sucka.

And I moved to DC and never looked back.  Luckily, this experience was on-the-job learning gold.  After that, I had a whole new set of rules and tools that helped me avoid future techno mistakes.

So without further ado, here are the 5 rules of political technology:

  1. Don’t be distracted by shiny new gadgets or digital online thingies that promise to make Election Day run smoothly and give you the biggest win since GW the original was nearly crowned king of the USA.  
  2. Facebook likes and re-tweets are not votes.  And they never will be.  Even national level candidates still need to learn this fact.  I’ve actually seen campaign plans that based their numbers on the idea that maybe they were.
  3. If it’s not already in the budget, don’t spend money on it.  
  4. Yes, there are a few ‘technologies’ that you should invest in, the first being a website.  But not a $3,000 website some scheister tries to sell you on.  One your teenage son makes for you for like $10 a month through Hostgator (like this one!) and then uses to double as his final project for computer class.  You should have a presence on Facebook and Twitter because it’s fun and it’s free and it’s a great way to communicate, but it is NOT worth spending ‘real’ time or money on.
  5. Don’t let the state party, local party, a special interest group, or any other entity or person outside your campaign push you into spending time or money on something that’s not in your campaign plan.  You may be a Republican, but that does not make you beholden to them!
  6. Bonus rule!  You are running for county commissioner (or an equally local race), dude.  You do not need some crazy start up business sending texts on your behalf to every cell phone in your area code!  Do not pay for that $h*t!
At this point you are thinking, “Great!  I now know to be leery of political technology.  But I’m really not sure what that is.”  Ah, well, I’m glad you brought that up!  The term ‘political technology’ doesn’t really have a definition yet, but what you’re on the lookout for is -
  • anything online, including email and online fundraising
  • anything on cell phones, like apps voters can have on their phones, or texting services.
  • most things that give you ‘data’ that you can’t somehow dig up yourself, like a voter database.

These are the types to avoid, at least, because at the local level they’re really not worth the money.  If you’re in a really hot race and they really are worth the time and money, I guarantee a friendly special interest group will be more than happy to shell out the cash and manpower to make it happen.  If they aren’t willing to pay for it themselves, it’s probably not worth paying for.

In conclusion, while technological advances have definitely changed the way campaigns are run and won at the congressional and presidential levels, they simply don’t make much of an impact below that point yet in most of the country.  In more urban areas, *free* technology (not specifically political in nature, however) like Facebook has proven to be a method of breaking through the noise to get some attention, but still has no real impact on election results.  Stick to the basics, the methods that have worked from our nation’s Day 1, and you’ll carve out a clear path to victory.

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Campaign Calendar Planning: Campaign Finance

Naturally following a discussion on fundraising, we must cover our bases on campaign finance.  A missed deadline for a political candidate at any level will most certainly leave you open to criticism from your opponent and scrutiny from the media, not to mention that it’s not unusual for the public employees that run the elections office to mess up or completely lose vitally important forms and documents (accidentally or otherwise). Luckily, this part is fairly simple.

For your calendar, simply look up the list of campaign finance reporting due dates on your state’s campaign finance or secretary of state website.  If you have a Campaign Planbook, there’s likely a link to your state’s resource website in there.  If not, it’s easy enough to find through a Google search.

Once you find the information you’re looking for, jot down the due dates for every campaign finance reporting requirement.  To be completely sure you’ve got everything, stop by your local elections office and ask them for a list of all the due dates as well – sometimes local entities require more information or have more stringent requirements.  Don’t bother calling – in the case they actually answer the phone (unlikely), it’s too easy for them to give you a wrong date or miss one.  Generally speaking, all interactions with election divisions should be in person.

Other than the due dates themselves, you may want to schedule time to enter in all your fundraising and expenditure data, preferably in chunks rather than all at once – that usually leads to a last minute frenzy to get it all done in time.  Some campaign finance websites will allow you to fill in the forms online and let you save them.  There’s also online software like BackOffice that can help you, if you want to pay for it.  I recommend finding a trustworthy and mathematically-inclined intern to input the data once a week or so.

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Campaign Calendar Planning Part 2: Voter Contact and Fundraising

I was once asked in an interview, “If you had to pick one, which would you consider more important: Grassroots or Fundraising?”  I think I him-hawed for at least 10 minutes before choosing grassroots.  In reality, they are both incredibly important – so much so that it’s hard to even put into words.  That’s why I’m lumping them together in this campaign calendar planning series.

Voter contact is immensely important, but very, very tricky to plan.  There are a few factors that must be taken into consideration:

  • Voters have short memories, therefore contact closer to Election Day is more valuable.
  • There are (usually) so many voters, it takes several months to sufficiently cover the district.
  • Personal 1-1 contact is exponentially more effective than group interactions.
  • Group interactions are still more effective than relying on advertising alone to make contact with the voter.

There are equally important factors to consider in fundraising.

  • Fundraising can be done very early – before you even ‘officially’ start your campaign.
  • A solid campaign ‘war chest’ relieves a ton of stress and worry.
  • Money = advertising = name recognition and message control.  The sooner you have it, the better.

Now on to the work of scheduling these tasks.  Generally, you’ll want to front-load your fundraising and back-load your grassroots.  Start with grassroots/voter contact and work from Election Day backward.  And in case you were wondering, you should be doing nothing but voter contact on E-Day.  Go ahead and put “meeting voters at the polls” in big red letters on that day for you and all your family members.

In the 4-8 weeks preceding the election, you’ll want to hold several campaign events that allow voters to come and meet your candidate.  These can be ‘meet the candidate’ events held by other organizations, debates with your opponent, community events that allow political candidates to use the venue for voter contact, or town halls, block parties, coffees, meet & greets that your campaign holds itself to get in the face of many voters at once.  Pencil all these things in first.  Depending on the size and scope of your campaign, you may have 3 per week or just a couple throughout the whole campaign.

Next, pencil in door-to-door walking for every evening and weekend.  Every single one.  Yes, some of them will get cancelled in exchange for a different activity, event or just because you need a break – that’s why it’s in pencil.  The idea is just to drill into your head that when you’re not actively involved in some other aspect of the campaign, you need to be talking one on one with voters.

And that’s how you schedule a killer voter contact campaign.  Obviously there’s a lot more that goes into planning voter contact, like strategizing where to do all that door-to-door, but that’s another post.

Fundraising needs to start as soon as your campaign does, ideally.  Ironically, fundraising is less formal when it comes to scheduling, because most of it involves working around other people’s schedules rather than your own.  So when you’re scheduling fundraising, you’ll want to chronologically put things in the following order:

  1. Send a fundraising letter – you’ll need to plan when you’ll write, print, stuff and send the letter, and schedule follow up phone calls and meetings.
  2. Call potential donors, including PACs.
  3. Meet with potential donors.
  4. Plan and conduct fundraising events.

Fundraising is an ongoing process.  A campaign always needs more money.  The idea here is to get as much fundraising into the start of the campaign as possible, when it’s really too early to do much voter contact.

Remember, fundraising and voter contact are the most important ways you will use your time.  Be generous in scheduling time for them, and before you erase a fundraising call or a door-to-door session from your calendar to do something else, ask yourself, “Is this really important?  Will this get me more votes than door-to-door will?”

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12 Steps to Getting Big Political Campaign Donations

political campaign fundraising asking for donations

“Making the ask,” as it’s called in the biz, really need not be as intimidating as it may sound.  It comes down to making a list of potential donors, meeting with them in person and asking them for $1,000 to $10,000 (or whatever the maximum contribution is), and being prepared to answer any legitimate question they might throw at you.  It’s really that simple.  For this type of fundraising, however, you’ll need to do some upfront grunt work to maximize your time with actual donors.  If you complete all these steps thoroughly, you will soon build up a campaign war chest that would make Solomon blush.

  1. Write a campaign plan.  This should always be your first step in every aspect of your campaign!  You can spend a week at your computer researching and typing away, or you can save a ton of time and go the easy route and buy my Campaign Planbook.  Either way, make sure you have this document in a presentable state before you even dream of asking anyone for money.
  2. Write your campaign budget.  Be researched, specific, and to-the-penny with your estimates.  Make sure you know your budget in and out, and be prepared to justify or explain any spending you plan to do.  If someone is going to fork over thousands of dollars to you, they want to know you’re darn well going to be responsible and judicious with the money.
  3. Know your path to Election Day victory.  You’ve created your strategy in step one, but when you’re meeting with potential donors you need to be able to verbally walk them through that strategy step-by-step.  If they can’t visualize a path to victory, there’s no way they’re opening their checkbooks to you, so make sure you’ve got the plan down pat.
  4. Be able to answer the question: Why are you running?  Aside from having a clear strategy, you need to have an air of confidence.  Be sure that you’re able to look into another person’s eyes and give them an honest and heartfelt reason for why you have chosen to run for this particular office at this time.
  5. Create a potential donor list.  If you’ve been involved in campaigns in your area in the past, you may already have a list started and network of  conservatives to tap for names of other potential donors.  You can also do research through your state’s campaign finance website to gather data on people and PACs that have donated to campaigns similar to yours in the past.
  6. Send an introductory letter.  Especially for potential donors that you don’t already know personally, it’s nice to break the ice with a letter announcing your candidacy, giving a few details about your race and why you’ve determined now is the time to run, and inviting them to become actively involved.  Go ahead and ask for a donation in the introductory letter and if you can afford to include a self-addressed stamped envelop, do so.  Also make sure to mention that you’ll be calling them soon to talk about getting involved in your campaign.
  7. Call your donor list and set up meetings.  Meet them at their office or home.  Don’t meet them at lunch.  The purpose of the meeting should be clear upfront, you are there to ask them for money.  Don’t drag it out, make it 30 minutes – 45 max.
  8. Practice your pitch.  Over and over and over and over.  Do it with your wife, your campaign manager, your communications director, and any random volunteer who’ll listen.  This is essentially a sales call, after all, and the product you’re pitching is YOU.
  9. Let them in on all the secrets.  Naturally there are going to be details and specifics that you won’t be sharing with your donors because you don’t want to get into the muck of it all in a 30 minute meeting.  But they need to feel like insiders.  They deserve to really know what they’re investing in.  Many candidates worry that their ‘strategy’ is going to be ‘leaked’ to the ‘competition.’  Let me tell you, the chances of that happening anywhere but on TV are like .00002%.
  10. Actually ask them to write you a check.  Believe it or not, there are plenty of candidates who refuse to do this.  They will meticulously follow steps 1-9 and then fail to actually say the words “Can I count on you to write a check for $5,000?”  It’s like they really think that they’re so amazing that people will just hand them a check with no prompting whatsoever.  Um, no.  Even presidential candidates have to suck up their pride and point blank ask donors for money.
  11. Write a thank you note.  Whether you get a check/pledge or not, always send a thank you note.  It’s just good manners.  Try to mention something specific that you discussed, either personal or political, and use the best penmanship you can muster; don’t type.
  12. Follow up.  If you got a promise for a donation, call back in a week and get them to put the check ‘in the mail.’  If they’ve already given the donation, check back 2 weeks later to touch base, let them know what’s going on with the campaign, and remind them that they haven’t hit the campaign finance limit yet.  If they rejected you, call them 2 weeks after the meeting to touch base, let them know what’s going on with the campaign, and enlighten them that the campaign is ‘on a roll.’  Sometimes the enthusiasm of a vibrant campaign or the peer pressure of knowing others have donated significant checks is enough to change their minds.  Unless you can tell the door is completely closed, try to set up another meeting after about a month – if the potential donor accepts and keeps a second meeting at all they really want to donate, but they want you to convince them.

Now go get that money!

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Campaign Budgeting 101: Unexpected Expenditures And Tying It All Together

political campaign budget

Just a quick note about unexpected expenditures:  they are going to happen.  Once you’ve ironed out the rest of your campaign budget, add a line just before the grand total labeled “Unexpected Expenditures” and throw on another 10% of the total of the expected costs.  So, if all the other sections total up to $100,000, your unexpected expenditures would be $10,000, making the grand total for your political campaign budget $110,000.

Throughout this process you’ve most likely collected all your dollar data in an excel spreadsheet or some sort of table, and now you can make a pretty ‘summary chart’ to tie it all together.  Don’t be surprised if your budget takes up several pages once you’ve broken all your anticipated costs and listed everything out into categories and sub-categories.  It’s just a sign that you’ve meticulously researched your needs and your market and you’re prepared now to go forth and beg people for money.

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Campaign Budgeting 101 – Voter Contact & Volunteers

I saved the best for last, y’all!  I happen to love everything to do with voter contact and caring for volunteers, even budgeting.  I covered paid communications earlier because a lot of the physical materials you’ll be buying in that category you’ll really be using as part of your voter contact strategy.  But since there’s still a Voter Contact & Volunteers section of the budget, obviously there’s still some more money you’re going to have to spend to get things into gear.

So what belongs in the Voter Contact & Volunteers section of your campaign budget?

  • Estimated food costs for feeding volunteers during events throughout the campaign
  • Any fees associated with gaining access to databases like Voter Vault that store key political information on specific voters
  • Cell phone minutes or additional phone lines needed for big phone banks during GOTV
  • Random stuff your volunteers should have, like bottled water if they’re walking door-to-door on a summer day, clipboards, paper and pens
  • T-shirts for volunteers and supporters
  • Admission costs to get volunteers into events where you need them to work

There are probably other things you can put in this category; a lot will depend on your region and what is ‘customary’ for campaigns in your area.  Just be sure that this is an area where you do not skimp.  Volunteers are your absolute greatest asset – do not squander it by being stingy!  Recruiting and retaining volunteers is a key component of every campaign, large or small.

This is a pretty straight-forward section of the campaign budget and doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning, but it’s the last place you should cut costs.

Remember that volunteers are already saving you a bundle by doing work you’d otherwise need to pay someone to do.  Especially for those volunteers in ‘regular staff’ type positions like Campaign Manager or Fundraising Coordinator, you should side aside funding for them to be treated like professionals.

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Campaign Budgeting 101 – Paid Communications

political campaign budgeting for paid communications

We’ve finally gotten to a point in our campaign budgeting series where I’ll actually let you spend some money!  Paid communications includes all the flyers, brochures, stickers, buttons, notepads, fridge magnets, radio and TV ads, yard signs, a web presence, billboards, etc. – you name it.  Anything you could call ‘advertising’ is what you put under the ‘Paid Communications’ section of your campaign budget.  And while there are steals and deals you can find, this is one category where you really have to put your money where your message is.

Planning your communications strategy is a huge task in itself, and that process needs to be at least outlined before you can really start assigning dollar figures – this is where getting the full dish in the Campaign Planbook is handy – but once you’ve done that, you can sit down and start budgeting.

You’ll need to start with what you believe will be the absolute most effective communications method, list out all the things you plan to do in that particular medium, and research the cost of each.  Be reasonable and use average costs for your budget – if you can get it cheaper when it’s actually time to buy, well that’s a WIN of course – but for the purposes of the budget stick to realistic, average numbers.  After you’ve completely covered everything in that medium, move on to the next.  Continue this process until you’ve got a grand total for all the paid communications you think you’ll need to do to win.

When you’re first putting together your budget, you need to be a little greedy in Paid Communications.  It’s an important piece of the puzzle, and since you’re setting fundraising goals based on your campaign budget, your budget  needs to be well-rounded and contain everything that you believe will help you win in your particular district for your particular election.  Some day, you’ll need to rationalize the budgeted needs/wants with what your fundraising efforts have brought in.  Today is not that day.  Don’t worry if the bottom line is a bigger number than you expected, or smaller, for that matter.  Just go with it and move on to the next section.

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Campaign Budgeting 101 – Fundraising

True or False:

You have to spend money to make money.

False!  Well, sometimes it helps, but it’s certainly not mandatory, especially in the beginning.  The amount of money you set aside for fundraising purposes will largely depend on how you plan to fundraise.  Many candidates hear about $1,000 plate dinner fundraisers and get it in their heads that this is a ‘normal’ way to fundraise.  Not at all, my friend, not at all!  Here are some typical fundraising methods real, down-to-earth, local candidates use:

  • Sending a fundraising letter to friends, family and potential donors
  • Calling people who’ve donated generously to candidates in the past and asking them to contribute to you as well
  • Asking people for money in person (specifically people who can afford to give $500+ to start with)
  • Hosting an event and charging people to come to it
  • Accepting donations online
There are about as many ways to fundraise as there are candidates running for office.  Creativity is a very useful talent in this category, because you’re going to have to think up some creative ways to fundraise without spending a small fortune on a ‘traditional’ fundraiser.

Here are some of the things you’ll need to spend money on under the ‘fundraising’ category:

  • Stationary, envelopes and thank you notes (this could be considered an administrative cost instead)
  • Postage
  • Event invitations
  • Food
  • Venue rental
  • Transportation, in the case you have a meeting with a PAC Director considering donating
  • Admission to GOP networking events where you intend to meet potential donors

As you can see, the real spending doesn’t happen unless you decide to hold a formal event, and even in that case, there are plenty of ways to cut costs.  The goal of fundraising is to bring money in, not send it out, so remember that when you’re planning your fundraisers and make sure you’ll getting the most bang for your buck. However, budget yourself a realistic amount – the last thing you want to do is give yourself such a tight fundraising budget you can’t actually raise any funds.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you exactly how much to budget for fundraising – after all, a great deal of that will be determined by your fundraising goals.  I can tell you that raising $100,000 doesn’t have to cost that much more than raising $10,000.  I can not stress enough that the bulk of the money you raise will come from sitting down with donors and asking them for money.  And it costs zero dollars to do that.  The difference between a $100,000 goal and a $10,000 goal is not how much money you spend on a fundraising event, but rather the people you ask for money and how much you ask them for.

So what are the steps to developing the Fundraising section of your budget?

  1. Research potential donors through your state’s online campaign finance directories and with the help of former candidates’ lists.
  2. Compile a list of potential donors, including friends and family, complete with name, address, phone number, notes on how much they’ve donated in the past and what you intend to ask them for.
  3. Compile a list of PACs that may donate to your campaign and research their requirements.
  4. Estimate the costs of sending an initial introductory fundraising letter – include paper, printing, envelopes, postage, etc.  I recommend doing this by hand – your list will likely be somewhere between 50 and 200 addresses.
  5. Set tentative dates for fundraisers – front load them into the schedule if possible to save room for grassroots/GOTV efforts closer to election day.
  6. Estimate the costs of venue rental and food based on a ‘typical’ number of attendees – you’ll need to talk to former candidates and local GOP leaders to get a rough idea.
  7. List all your potential costs and total them up.  Then start looking for ways to save money.

How do you save money on throwing a real fundraising event?  Here are a few examples I’ve used in the past – bear in mind these are mostly for city council up to state representative level campaigns:

  • Have a relative/friend/supporter throw a backyard barbecue and charge $25-50 per person to attend.  The buns and burgers are a small in-kind donation from the host, so be sure to note it in your campaign finance paperwork.
  • Have a supporter who owns a restaurant?  I’ve been lucky enough on a couple of occasions – they’ll often provide the space and food (note the in-kind donation!) during non-rush hours.  Depending on the venue, you could charge anywhere from $20 to $200 for the event.
  • Host your fundraiser at GOP Headquarters if it’s relatively nice.  They’ll probably let you use the space for free.
  • There are often big supporters who can’t shell out tons o’ cash in donations, but have spaces that would be perfect for themed fundraisers, such as:
    • Pro-2nd Amendment party at the gun range.  It’s wise not to have an open bar at this one!
    • Pro-life rallies at church facilities
    • Pro-Israel rallies at synagogue facilities
    • Barn dances in districts with lots of farmers (my favorite districts!)
And here are just a couple of bonus tips for you:
  • A good rule of thumb about fundraising event admission: Charge at least 2 times and no more than 5 times the cost of a regular meal at the venue.  So if your fundraiser is at McDonalds, charge $10-25 to attend; if it’s at Ruth Chris Steak House, charge $150-$375.
  • Make sure your donors are aware of any limitations to how much they can contribute – the last thing you want to do is return a check because it’s over the legal limit you can accept from an individual.  If a donor has already reached a federal or state mandated maximum, you should let them come to any event for free – usually they’ll bring paying friends!
  • Dress to impress, but don’t always make your supporters.  Black tie fundraisers are, eh, okay I guess, but the boot-scootin’ kind are way more fun, and cheaper to pull off, too.

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