Most Wasteful Types of Campaign Spending
Benjamin A. Katz
Political campaigns cannot afford to waste resources, whether financial, human, or time. An uncoordinated effort will waste all of these directly as well as indirectly through inefficiency. Below are some common examples of wasteful campaign spending, along with advice in how to avoid these situations.
Any successful political campaign depends on the collection, maintenance, and dissemination of accurate information in real-time. Too frequently, however, campaigns are run without the foresight to recognize the advantages of a centralized database. The fundraiser, accountant, and volunteer coordinator each take up their own effort to keep track of and maintain the information they believe to be relevant. However, much of the information that all three groups are maintaining is redundant, which means three Arial the man-power for data-entry and three Arial the chance for error. When information, such as a phone number, changes, there is significant lag time between data entry into one database and that data having populated all three databases. The only way to ensure the new information from one database is disseminated to all three would be to have a meticulously-executed, frequent data sharing practice in place. To further complicate the matter, sharing data across databases raises an entirely other set of issues regarding compatibility. Are these databases all in the same format? In which format is this information then shared? Is it shared via email, with a list of updates which will then need to be manually entered? Are these groups even tracking their information in databases or are they using Excel and Word? If someone had the foresight to coordinate this tremendous undertaking, they probably would just insist on a single database.
Another advantage of a single database is that information which one group might consider relevant only to itself may be helpful to the other groups. Conversely information which one group did not even think to keep track of which could be potentially helpful may be readily available in another group’s data. Trends that may not be obvious from any single database maybe apparent when looking at the compilation of data.
Our company, CompleteCampaigns.com offers BackOffice, a unified web-based database specifically to address this problem. If you are currently using multiple databases you may want to take a look at it. Ultimately, moving from a less organized multiple database model to one that is unified and accessible offers many real advantages to running your campaign including: better use of human resources, better database integrity, and greater access so long as it’s done properly and securely.
Imagine it’s two weeks before the election and your entire budget is spent…just when the final push approaches your campaign has run out of steam. The reverse scenario would be losing the election with money still in the bank – having attempted to hold back until the final push of the election, only to realize you were over-conservative in your budgeting. Both of these situations have happened and will continue, so long as a campaign’s finances are plagued with poor budgeting.
How can the likelihood of these situations be minimized? The finances of a campaign are complex, but unlike a business, where overshooting incoming funds is not an issue, a campaign must time all the finances, in and out, exactly right. In order to help the campaign manager make the most informed decisions, the most information must be at his or her fingertips. The campaign finances must be quickly accessible, and they must be up-to-date. To help ensure both of these requirements, it would be advantageous to use a single database so that the accountant entering the data, and the campaign manager are looking at the same exact data, and when decisions are made, the data can be instantly updated.
Websites are not just a worthwhile investment, but a necessity for any campaign success in promoting their candidate, proliferating ideas, and accepting donations. Any campaign without a website is missing a core piece of its communication structure.
That being said, websites can be an expensive investment. So you really need to ask yourself, “What are the things the web can do for me?”, “How can I make those things give me an immediate or very short-term return?”, and finally, “Do I need to pay a company several thousand dollars to develop this site?
Fundamentally a website can act as a brochure for your candidate with photos, biography, philosophies, news articles, press releases, and contact information, but a website is capable of so much more than just a printed brochure. The website contains information which can constantly be updated, such as the campaign contact information, lists of supporters, donations raised, tour calendars, and blogs. Its ability to keep voters in the loop should not be under estimated. Maintaining a campaign blog (a chronological web log containing current events and photographs) is kind of like a newspaper dedicated to your candidate, published and distributed instantaneously. Weekly broadcast emails (discussed in a later section of this article in more detail) containing blog highlights, and links to the full blog articles should be sent to large groups of potential voters and donators. A website can also contain media clips (video and/or audio) of your candidate giving speeches, discussing an issue, or doing other noteworthy things. In addition to all your general contact information, the website must contain several voter collection forms that allow visitors to ask questions, donate their time to your campaign, opt-in to your e-newsletters, or express any general concerns they have. Lastly, but most importantly, a website must have a way for supporters to donate. There should be a “donations” button posted not only from the home page, but from all the pages, as an ever present reminder to the visitor. Furthermore, the method for accepting payments should not be Paypal, which is cumbersome enough that your campaign will chase away many potential donations. If you’ve ever used Paypal you understand the necessity to make this donation process more user-friendly. A simple donation method, such as CampaignContribution.com, will help you make more money. In order to make this website give you immediate and very short-term returns, the site should be promoted in every way possible including radio ads, television commercials, direct mail, all printed materials, speeches, interviews, press releases, e-newsletters, signage, search engine optimization, and click-through ads. The more people you drive to your website, the more donations you will receive through it.
The final question regarding cost has a short answer. “For the vast majority of campaigns, you do not need to pay thousands of dollars for a website that meets these needs.” You could, but you don’t have to. There are many affordable web creation services, including our SiteBuilder, which can create your site quickly and will satisfy most or all of your web needs. True, these alternatives may be more “cookie cutter” than if you had a site developed for thousands of dollars, but these site-from-a-box solutions will make a very cost-effective solution.
Any Marketing 101 course will tell you that you have to know your audience and tailor your message accordingly. The message that an undecided voter hears may very likely affect their decision to vote or not vote for your candidate. Most people don’t support even their favorite candidate on 100% of the issues, which makes it clear how important it is to make sure the message is customized for your audience. Not to do so is like shooting into the dark hoping to hit something. If you did hit something is it what you wanted to hit? Could you do it again? And there is a real potential of doing damage that you didn’t intend.
There are three groups NOT to spend much or any resources on. Those groups are people who won’t vote at all, people who won’t vote for your campaign, and people who will definitely vote for your campaign. The best piece of direct mail or commercial will do nothing to persuade someone whose mind is made up, and over-marketing towards people who will vote for you may annoy them into not voting for you.
You want to focus your resources on all the voters who MAY vote for you, but who have not yet made up their mind. To determine such a factor, as well as the other three groups, you must know as much about a voter as possible including demographics and voting history. It is also important that as voter preferences by individual voters is collected from email, mail, or direct conversation that the information is added to the voter information in your system. An interactive system that allows you to keep track of this information, and preferably integrated with all the other parts of your campaign data, will more effectively allow you to target your message to hit these audiences where it counts. We offer a product called VoterManager, allowing voter tracking, contact, and other useful tools. If you’re not using VoterManager, make sure you have something that will allow you to both track and target voters
Not Marketing By Email
88% of adult internet users have personal email accounts and estimates that nearly 147 million people in the US use email daily1. What’s more is that email is virtually free. An email campaign executed correctly will carry much of the function that direct mail has historically had, saving your campaign tremendous costs while reaching the voters more quickly, more effectively, and more directly connected to your website. Where as direct mail marketing requires printing and postage fees and takes several days to reach its destination, email is nearly instantaneous, incurs no printing or postage costs, and can be hyperlinked directly to your website and other online media. Furthermore, since the timeframe is shorter and the cost is so much less, you can contact your voters more frequently.
A “rush letter” for donations can easily becomes a “rush email.” The additional advantage to a rush email is that a “donation” link can be tied directly into the email requiring little more than a click to donate (see more in Uncollected Donations regarding “rush letters” and “rush emails”). Printed newsletters become e-newsletters with links to full articles online.
There are, however, things to consider when marketing by email including spam laws and annoying your potential voters, so care must be taken to follow the laws and maintain courtesy. There are many legal and appropriate ways of collecting email addresses which turn spam into a personal communications, including voter opting-in through your website, door-to-door approval, approval by phone, or by inbound emails from voters and donors.
Many of the people who contribute to your campaign may be willing to contribute more, so long as they haven’t hit their legal maximum. Basically anyone who has donated anything to your campaign, but who hasn’t reached the legal donation maximum is your target here. In fact, the closer they’ve come to that cap, the more likely they may be to give you more. So in a case where a donor can be persuaded or is willing to give more, you must make sure to ask for more and then follow up with persistent reminders.
There are several standard ways of reaching donors including phone calls, direct mail, door-to-door, and emails, and it’s important to utilize all of them. However, if your solicitations are too persistent you may turn off potential donators. There must be an organized effort to know exactly who is receiving which types of communications, and how often. Another advantage to using BackOffice is that it gives you tools to keep track of this kind of information.
All of your e-communications, including e-newsletters and email, should have a small reminder about donating along with a donate link, which is unobtrusive and as persistent as your communications are frequent. Anyone who has donated to your campaign but not reached the maximum should be put on a phone list for follow ups calls about donations. People are more willing to donate and donate larger amounts with someone on the phone asking them. Send “Rush Letters” and also “Rush Emails” explaining that your campaign is close to reaching an important goal and just needs a little help to get there. The easier you make it for people to donate through your site (and in general) the more donations you will receive. Thusly, do not use Paypal, as it is time consuming, unintuitive, and requires a Paypal account on the donors’ end to use.
If someone does not want to donate to your campaign there is little you can do. But if someone does or can be persuaded, than it is your job to make sure that you collect those donations and they are as large as possible.
Penny Wise & Pound Foolish
Spending campaign funds efficiently is important, but all the penny-pinching in the world will not give your campaign back the resources it has already spent. While you should be concerned with resourcefulness and efficiency, you should also be concerned that you are doing all you can to grow your resources. NOT investing in these things is like wasting money.
For example, hiring a fundraising consultant will cost your campaign a commission of what they raise, but even an average consultant will help you raise several Arial as much as you would without them. They will help coordinate your effort with experience and expertise that your campaign may lack.
Another example of getting returns on campaign investments is utilizing campaign management software. The tools in this software do not just make your life more convenient, but offer options that your campaign wouldn’t have otherwise. They can help avoid costly errors in judgment, like running out of money, or provide powerful insights such as knowing who and how much to ask for donations. It is important to recognize that without the right tools your campaign will begin at a severe disadvantage, so right from the start you have to be willing to invest in the tools to do the job right.
Running a successful political campaign requires every advantage that you can give yourself. Smart and early investments will increase campaign resources and may pay for themselves many Arial over. As discussed previously in this article, there are tremendous advantages to having a secure, easily accessed, unified database of voter, donator, and financial information. Decision making cannot be done as effectively without real-time, accurate and easily-accessible information. We encourage you to look at the products that CompleteCampaigns.com has to offer, but even if you decide not to use our products, I hope that the advice in this article is helpful towards the successful management of your campaign’s finances and in avoiding common wasteful mistakes associated with campaign spending.