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

The beginning of campaign season!

It’s September!  Welcome to the semi-official beginning of “Campaign Season!”

“What?!?” you say?  “But I’ve been working my tail off for eight months already!?!?”  Yes, yes you have.  But not highly visibly campaigning.  Labor Day weekend kicks off yard sign, billboards, tv ads, and all the highly visual aspects of a political campaign, so let’s get to it!

  1. Door-to-door!  Hasn’t this been number one for the past 5 months or so?  That’s because face to face voter contact, real conversations, and hey, stumbling into barbecues!
  2. Yard signs!  Communications comes into play in a major way starting in September and continuing on through to Election Day.  All those people you talked to (and hopefully kept track of on a spreadsheet or something) that said ‘yes’ to having a yard sign – go deliver them!  In most towns the earliest you want to do this is around Labor Day weekend.  Some towns have ordinances dictating how early signs can go out – 30 days before Election Day, 60 days, etc.  If there’s nothing written in stone, Labor Day Weekend is the general rule of thumb.  Make sure to keep 10-20 in your trunk for giving them out when the opportunity arises!
  3. Coffees and teas.  Having a ‘coffee’ meeting in someone’s home with a handful of neighbors is a good way to come inside and have some deeper conversations on issues that are affecting your constituents.  Sometimes these events manifest themselves in other themes, but the general idea is to get together with a handful of voters for an hour or two.  Make a lasting impression and these people will be your biggest supporters, and the excitement will spread.
  4. Campaign Events.  I’m talking here about public events created and sponsored by your campaign.  This could be reserving a large room at the library or senior center and posting flyers inviting the public to a ‘town hall’ or ‘meet the candidate’ type event.  You can focus on a specific issue, if there’s a meaty one, or leave it open to respond to voters’ questions.  It’s basically an opportunity for direct conversation with the voters, and also, possibly some media attention.  Be sure, of course, the local papers and radio and TV stations are aware of any such campaign events.
  5. Fundraising.  Yep, this is STILL something you have to think about.  Money propels the campaign forward, and in the next two months, you’ll likely spend MUCH more than you did in the previous eight.

Post to Twitter

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

Political Campaign schedule june

June is the eye of the political hurricane in most parts of the country.  Up to now, it probably feels as though your campaign’s momentum has been steadily building, excitement is bubbling, the volunteer list is growing, and campaign funds are beginning to flow.  After the thrill of Memorial Day, however, many communities experience a lull in activities, since July and August are the hot and happening summer months, kids are still wrapping up school, and there aren’t any major holidays to celebrate.  Your campaign, too, will have a sort of plateau in June.  So what do you do?

  1. Family first – take advantage of the break in events and plan a couple of long weekends with your spouse and kids.  Take off early on a Thursday and escape everything for just a few days before crazy time in July, especially if you started to feel the heat with all the hoopla at the end of May.
  2. Door-to-door – You should still be pounding the pavement!  Go talk to voters.  It’s lots of fun, and keeps you in tune with what issues resonate in your community.
  3. Fairs and Festivals – In some parts of the country, county fairs and 4-H events are in full swing in June.  Your local Republican Party will likely have a booth where you can hang out and greet voters, and you may even be able to participate in some publicity – goat milking contest, anyone???  In other parts of the country, festivals are big fundraisers and there’s a new one every weekend, all summer long.  If there’s an opportunity to meet and greet voters at any in your district, you should be there.
  4. Fundraising -The need for campaign cash grows ever greater as Election Day looms.  Fundraising is something you’ll have to continue throughout the duration of your run for office, so you might as well get used to it.
  5. Start working your PR.  That’s Public Relations, in case you didn’t know.  This can be as simple as writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper (or newspapers if your district is big enough to cover multiple papers’ areas) about current issues, or it can mean holding an official press conference to “kick-off” your campaign and layout your agenda for the media and the public.  Whatever fits the bill in your district, you need to get started on it to build name recognition and lay the groundwork with reporters for future communications.

Post to Twitter

Three Keys to Successful Political Fundraising

vote

Fundraising plays a very important part in getting a candidate elected into public office. Political campaigns and events are critical for raising awareness among voters, and often take large sums of money. Therefore, political fundraising is very important to a candidate’s success. These 3 keys will help ensure that your candidate is well known, and that your political fundraising events are a success.

Key #1: Raise Awareness

Public awareness is the first essential key to successful political fundraising. After all, people won’t donate to a candidate unless they know not only “who” the candidate is, but details about their background, education, beliefs, etc. So what’s the best method of making people aware of your candidate and of your fundraising efforts?

Raise Awareness through Technology

When it comes to building awareness, the latest technology is your best friend. Social media and the internet allow you to reach a large number of people quickly and effectively. These methods are often less expensive than more traditional media like television or newspaper ads, so they are great for when your campaign is just starting out.

Start by building pages and accounts on social media for your candidate. Find out what your target audience uses the most – it might be Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram. Create pages and profiles on the best networks, and use these accounts as platforms to get the word out. Use social media to open dialogue with local business, voters, and others who can assist in spreading the word.

Set up a custom fundraising website where people can come to learn about your candidate and why they are running for office. This is also a great place to process and receive donations from supports. A website like this is often very easy to setup, and can more than pay for itself in the long run. Offering an easy, simple, secure way for people to donate can really help your fundraising efforts – both online and offline.

Microtargeting

When it comes to successful political fundraising, microtargeting is one of the latest and greatest methods. Microtargeting is based on a technique called data mining – combing through collected personal data to extract what’s useful to your campaign. The data is then used to microtarget specific people, with tailored messaging that can really help to get their attention. For example, an unemployed dock worker might receive a message about how your candidate supports the local construction industry, while a mom of 4 might receive messaging about how education or family care is important. These customized messages really help to catch people’s attention, and improves the chance these people will support your campaign as your message is something that speaks to their specific values and concerns.

Traditional Media

While social media and the internet offer a lot of potential for building awareness, don’t discount the effectiveness of more traditional media. TV advertising, while it can be expensive, is a great way to bring your candidate into the public eye. Billboards, leaflets, and direct mailings are other traditional methods to draw attention. Place lawn signs on highly trafficked areas and roads to get people used to seeing your candidate’s name.

Key #2: Host Political Fundraising Events & Get Involved Locally

Once people are aware of your candidate and your campaign, it’s time to start getting involved locally and hosting events. Both of these methods are wonderful ways to build even more awareness, and will often even attract local journalists which results in more PR and free advertising.

Get Involved

Getting involved in local movements and events is a wonderful way to build awareness for your candidate and to potentially gain free advertising. Look for events that your candidate can attend, like a clean-up day at a local park, or the opening of a new local business. Often times, journalists and local news crews will already be at these events to cover the story, and may give your candidate the chance to be interviewed or mentioned on TV or in the newspaper. Post your candidate’s schedule and which events you’ll be attending online and on social media as well as your fundraising website.

Host Events

There are many people who may not respond or donate because of advertising or a direct mailer, but will be happy to donate for the chance to attend a party or a dinner. Hosting major fundraising events like formal dinners is a very effective way to target high level donors and raise a large amount of funds. Send out invitations at least 4 weeks in advance, with clear instructions on attire and venue. Low, medium, and high donation levels should be available for guests to select, with what’s included at each level. For example, a high level donor might attend the dinner and have access to a VIP party afterward. Allowing for these distinctions helps keep donors happy and able to contribute to a successful fundraiser. Learn more about fundraising event ideas.

Key #3: Stay Connected

Staying connected is the last key that is absolutely critical to your political fundraising success. Thank each and every donor promptly for their contribution. For higher level donors, a personal hand-written thank you note from your candidate can be very effective. It lets donors know that they are appreciated, and that you truly care about them and their involvement in your campaign.

Remember that you will often ask for donations multiple times throughout your campaign, so make sure first-time donors feel appreciated and acknowledged. This will make re-solicitation much more effective. You may even want to call some donors out by name, especially if it’s a local business or someone who’s well known. Thank them with a note, as well as publicly on your website and on social media.

 

Guest post provided by DoJiggy – a company that’s been helping nonprofit and community organization achieve success in their fundraising efforts by utilizing affordable, easy-to-use online fundraising software solutions. DoJiggy.com / @DoJiggy

Post to Twitter

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.

Post to Twitter

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!

Post to Twitter

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.

Post to Twitter

5 Quick Tips on How to Throw An Awesome Campaign Event

  1. Book a space (hopefully for free!) that is smaller than you think you need.  Remember those middle school dances with dozens of kids huddled by the walls in a vast gymnasium?  Looks lame, right?  Pick a space that will look packed – it will make you look popular.  BONUS:  Find a space that has one of those flimsy walls you can open up to adjust the room size if needed.
  2. Beg, borrow and steal (well, don’t really steal) food for your event.  Restaurants and catering services will often donate food (not the in-kind donation on your campaign finance report!)  Or you can find some great cooks among your supporter base who are willing to cook up food for your event out of the goodness of their hearts.
  3. Always have decorations – decorations really set a happy/fun mood for any type of campaign event.  As a person who does this stuff for a living I stock up on tons of red, white & blue patriotic themed decorations when they’re on clearance the day after Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.  Don’t forget celebratory streamers and noisemakers after New Year’s – for your victory party!
  4. Always address the crowd.  Make sure to:
    • Say a genuine thank you for attending/supporting/volunteering/donating
    • Outline the campaign’s goals briefly – a fire-up-the-troops type of spiel
    • Give a call-to-action – ask them to do something to move the campaign forward directly after the event.  Be specific.
  5. And MOST IMPORTANT:  Always have a PURPOSE for your event.  Don’t schedule a press conference and figure out what you’re ‘announcing’ later.  Have REAL news to announce; don’t waste the media’s time or else you’ll become the candidate that cried ‘press conference.’  The same goes for fundraisers and volunteer events – themed events or raising money for a specific purpose/cost is better than a general fundraiser for general campaign spending.  Never have a volunteer event that doesn’t have a piece of real campaign work assigned to it (otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time).

Post to Twitter

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.

Post to Twitter

Campaign Budgeting 101 – Administrative Costs of Running for Public Office

office-supplies campaign budget run for public office administrative costs

What are administrative costs?

Because “administrative” covers the bare bones basic supplies you’ll need to run your campaign, and because it’s a category that is essential in practically any business-like venture, we are going to start your campaign for public office here.

First thing’s first.  What are administrative costs?  Administrative costs start with everything in the ‘office supply’ category, like ink, paper, a printer, a computer, a stapler, etc. and can lead all the way up to the costs associated with staffing.  I like to include staff salaries into the ‘administrative’ category rather than making them a part of other categories, because it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re actually spending money on when you include your Communication Director’s pay check along with all your paid advertising.

Set a budget limit for each category.

Here is my number one, never-ever-break, rule of assigning administrative funds:  Administrative costs should never exceed 10% of the total budget.  And ideally, you should strive to spend less than you budget in this category.

Why do I set this rule?  Primarily because it keeps you from wasting money on hiring people and renting an office.  You don’t need an office.  No candidate needs to pay for an office.  If you really think you need an office, borrow one, or turn the spare bedroom into an office.  You don’t need to pay for an office.  Comparatively, it is a huge waste of money.  I don’t care if someone is offering you a serious deal.  Don’t sign a lease, don’t rent an office.  Just don’t.

Don’t assume anything.

If you’re reading this blog, the chances that you’re running for president or governor or even Congress are pretty slim.  So you don’t need an office.

You really don’t need staff.  At least certainly not in the beginning.  Unless you are indeed running for one of the above mentioned public offices, the only paid staffer you may eventually need is a campaign manager, and even then that’s a big ‘maybe.’

Just because a ‘traditional’ campaign has a ‘campaign headquarters’ and an ‘office manager’ and tons and tons of notepads with the candidate’s name and logo on it does NOT mean YOU need those things.  In fact, none of those things will have any impact on whether or not people vote for you.  And isn’t that the real goal here?

Guesstimate, research, and cut.

So what the heck should your administrative costs be?  Using the rough figure we determined earlier of $50,000, a 10% administrative budget would be $5,000.  That’s a lot of paper, right?  For now, we are going to say that’s the absolute most your campaign will be allowed to spend on administrative costs.

Now you need to:

  • Make a detailed lists of supplies your campaign will need
  • Research the cost of each item on the list
  • Find ways to reduce or completely wipe out the expense of each item

Hopefully you can cut that number down even further by using office equipment you already own or can borrow, building your own website, etc.  Here’s a list of typical administrative costs and some suggestions on how to lower them:

  •  Office Equipmentbeg, borrow and steal your own and any that other folks will lend you.  If you have some supporters in business, ask them if you can use their office equipment after quittin’ time.
  • Office Supplies – you probably have a healthy supply of pencils, pens, paper, binder clips, etc. that you can claim for your campaign HQ.  Those will run out quickly, however, and you’ll need a source for cheap supplies.
    Always ask supporters and volunteers for extras like this – you’d be surprised how many people have a ton of envelopes, leftover thank you cards, pencils, post-it notes, and other random stuff that they have been trying to ‘use up’ or get rid of somehow for years.
    After that, assign a volunteer to watch for deals at office supply stores and places like Target or Walmart – back to school sale time ironically coincides with when you’ll need to start stocking up on this stuff!
  • Office Space – I’ve always been able to score free or insanely cheap office space.  You don’t really need an official campaign headquarters outside of your home until about 3-6 months prior to your election, and you can push that later if need be.  You will have to dedicate some space in your home or garage (or that of a good friend or volunteer) to the campaign just for organization’s sake.   However, when you’ve reached the point that you’re utilizing large groups of volunteers or need to run operations on a daily basis, there are several ways to avoid actually paying for it.  Here are some examples of how I’ve managed this; maybe one of these will spark an idea for you:
    • I once had a candidate that ran his own small business out of a rented office.  There was another office in the same building that hadn’t been used for months; we asked the landlord if we could use it for the campaign until he got it rented, and he let us!
    • In one county I worked in, the GOP HQ along with the congressman’s campaign HQ and a couple of state reps’ campaign HQs were all offices within one large building owned by a fairly well-off landowner/businessman in town.  He let the GOP and local candidates use it for next-to-nothing.
    • When I travelled to manage campaigns for PACs and interest groups, I would ask them to rent a small apartment month-to-month instead of put me up in a hotel.  This way I was able to use the space for anything from envelope stuffing parties to yard sign storage.
    • Lots of business owners, lawyers, accountants, etc. are Republican and will gladly lend their space – often already equipped with multiple phone lines – for activities after business hours, which is when most volunteer activities happen anyway.
    • Important Note:  Anything donated to or borrowed by the campaign, including ‘free’ rent, must be listed on your campaign finance reports as in-kind donations, and there is often a limit to the total dollar value that can be given.
  • Paid Staff – most local campaigns don’t need paid staff, either full or part time.  Some, however, will.  As with the office space, wait as long as possible to make this expenditure – aim for the final 3 months of the campaign and no more than 6 months of the campaign.
    Utilize natural resources for free staff – offer internships to high school and college students, for example.  There are always people out there who want to ‘get into politics’ and are looking for hands-on, real world experience.  You can give it to them.
Those subcategories cover anything that may fall into the administrative section of your budget.  Remember these 3 budgeting keys:
  1. Make the first draft of your budget based on actual costs at the best price you can get them, and then cut and save as much as you can.
  2. Never spend more in administrative costs than absolutely necessary.
  3. The more money you have for making contact with the voters, the better!

Post to Twitter

Campaign Budgeting 101: How Much Does It Cost to Run for Public Office?

crunching the numbers for your campaign budget running for public office

How much does it cost to run for public office?

How much money should you expect to raise through your fundraising efforts?  What should the ‘total’ line on your campaign budget look like?

Like every other website that attempts to answer this question, I’m going to say “it depends.”  But don’t worry, I’m not going to stop there.  And I’m not going to give you some crap answer like “the average cost of a campaign is $3 per voter.”  Because there are extremes at both ends of those numbers that throw the real ‘averages’ way off.

Compare Your Election to Past Elections

Let’s start with a generic example campaign.  Let’s say Joe is running for state representative and lives in a ‘typical American’ town, not really close to a big city and yet not totally in the sticks either, and he’s in a state that isn’t particularly high-priced to exist in.

The first thing Joe needs to do to determine an approximate total budget number is look at his state’s campaign finance website, where he can find the finance reports for anyone who’s ever run for state representative in and around his district before.

Some candidates in some districts will run and handily win a similar race for less than $5,000 because there was no opponent or the district was so heavily skewed Republican that the Democrat didn’t have a chance anyway.

Some candidates will have spent $200,000 on the exact same sort of race, but that was influenced by a sudden uptick in state or national interest in the campaign – perhaps that particular election was at a time when the change of a single seat would affect a change in control of the state house, and it was a re-districting year in which whomever controlled the house controlled the district lines as well.  Or maybe there was a super-hot issue coming into play after the elections and national level interest groups were pumping campaign cash into the candidate’s coffers, totally bloating the realistic number.

Joe has to look at all these numbers within the context of the time and circumstances of the elections.  Chances are if there is an extreme low or high amount spent in a particular campaign, it will be an anomaly, and Joe should easily find a ‘trend’ for what elections like his ‘typically’ cost.

Establish A Total Budget Baseline to Start From

Let’s assume Joe, however, has an opponent in a fairly evenly split district, but it isn’t getting any ‘special’ attention from high-level outsiders just yet.  Given all of the conditions we’ve set so far, I’d ‘guesstimate’ that Joe could reasonably use $50,000 as his base line total.

Now, does that mean that the final version of Joe’s budget will be $50,000, not a penny more, not a penny less?  Not at all!  This is only a starting point.  It’s a place for you to begin to breakdown your campaign budget into parts in order to ascertain how much you should reasonably spend in each area.  All too often I see candidates and campaign treasurers looking at their final baseline numbers and just assuming that they can spend a little extra here, without realizing that in doing so, they are shorting another aspect of the campaign.  First, you must find a ceiling for the total budget with which to limit yourself.  Then, break that number down into each category and assign a hard limit for each of those as well.  No money should be shifted from one to another unless you’ve already underspent significantly.

In actuality, I have seen races fitting this description spending anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000 (and the main difference there is that TV production and ad-buying are included in the higher number).

Once you’ve studied your local campaign finance history and  determined your reasonable average, we can move on to the next step, which is breaking that total budget number down into categories and figuring out just what you need to buy.

Buy the campaign planbook

Post to Twitter