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Organizing Your Political Campaign

How to Assemble Your Campaign Team

Benjamin A. Katz

The size and nature of campaign staff varies greatly depending on the office sought and the resources available. A local campaign may be run completely by part-time volunteers while a national campaign could have a staff of hundreds.  

Despite these differences and regardless of size, all campaigns must fill the same key positions While a smaller campaign may depend on a few people doing multiple jobs, it is just as important that all major roles of the campaign are occupied.

For any campaign, the three key jobs that must be fulfilled are fundraising, accounting and voter contact. If these jobs are not done well, the campaign cannot succeed.

The Fundraiser

Fundraisers are typically professional consultants. Smaller campaigns will often contract with a consultant that's working on several local races. Larger campaigns will often have a full time staff member working on fundraising and the largest campaigns will have several staff members in addition to consultants. These fundraisers will employ a variety of methods to raise funds, including:

- Drafting and overseeing direct mail and e-mail fundraising efforts
- Working with supporters to plan and host fundraising events
- Preparing call lists and meetings for the candidate with potential donors
- Soliciting Political Action Committees (PACs)
- Arranging for sitting elected officials and issue organizations to solicit their supports on behalf of the candidate.

While there is no absolute industry standard, most professional fundraisers are paid a modest monthly fee plus a 10 - 15% commission on total funds raised. While many fundraisers come to a campaign with their own list of potential donors, it is critical that the campaign maintains and builds a database of supporters and potential supporters. The more detailed information stored the more powerful and successful your fundraising efforts will be.

The Accountant (and/or Treasurer)

In most campaigns, accounting is handled by a single campaign treasurer or accountant. This may be a professional political accountant, a CPA, a full-time campaign staff member or a trusted volunteer or family member. Campaign finance reporting, while not extremely complicated, does have some very particular rules and it is critical that whoever is preparing the finance reports takes the time to learn and observe these rules. Mistakes can lead to fines and public embarrassment.

Depending on the office sought, a treasurer may be able to prepare the compliance reports by hand or with free software provided by the government agency, however it is almost always more cost-effective in the long run to invest in software that will help prepare reports quickly and avoid mistakes. The treasurer or accountant will also provide basic accounting services to the campaign including tracking total funds raised, cash-on-hand, budget details and should be able to provide these reports to the campaign as needed.

Voter Contact

While it is critical that a campaign raises money and properly tracks and reports this, the true objective of a campaign is voter contact. Voter contact is actually generally broken down into separate pieces based on the method of contact. The primary methods are:

-Field Operations
-Press Relations
-Direct Mail

Other areas, such as recorded or paid phone calls may also be a component of the voter contact.

The field and press efforts are usually handled by campaign staff while the others managed by hired consultants. Regardless of the exact breakdown of staff and consultants, it is critical that this division of duties does not lead to a division of message. A single brand is critical for the campaign's success.

Ideally, the campaign is also sharing a single database, so that the direct mail efforts directly tie into relationships developedd by volunteers working the field program. It is also very important that the campaign makes realistic decisions about the use of campaign resources. TV ads, while more powerful, are extremely expensive and do not allow the level of targeting that is possible with direct mail, field efforts and phone calls.

Other Positions in the Campaign

In some campaigns, there is a designated technology staff, or campaign geek. While it can be useful to have someone with technology skills on staff, technology has, in reality, become part of every job in the campaign. The fundraiser, accountant, field director and the rest of the campaign staff need to be using modern campaign tools. Everyone should share information through a unified database system (take a look at CompleteCampaigns.com's BackOffice and VoterManager) and communicating via email. Likewise, the campaign geek may be in charge of the website but modern tools allow those who are directly in charge of the messaging to update the website without the extra step of going through the technology staff (CompleteCampaigns' SiteBuilder product, for example.)

As a campaign grows and more resources become available, it may make sense to invest some of these into other specialists, in particular: polling and opposition research. These expensive consultants are well worth the money, just as long as you have enough left to make good use of their information. A polling firm should be able to tell you where and how to best direct your message. For example, it may be that women under 50 are very likely to vote for your candidate if they know about his or her position on education. Likewise, a research firm can tell you about important votes or actions of your opponent that might be important to let the voters know about. A research firm might also provide you with valuable information about your own candidate's background and how this might be used against your campaign.

Your campaign team is critical to the success of your campaign. Make sure the key roles are filled with professional and committed people (from management level all the way down to volunteers.)  If they're working together for your campaign, you have an excellent chance of success.

About the Author

Benjamin A. Katz / Givalike.org

Benjamin A. Katz was the founder and first president of CompleteCampaigns.com. In 2008, with the acquisition of CompleteCampaigns by Aristotle, Ben became the CTO of Aristotle International. Since leaving Aristotle, Ben has founded two new companies:

JSX, Inc - a provider of custom information management and workflow systems.

Givalike.org - a platform designed to make giving to nonprofits easy.

You can reach Benjamin A. Katz at:
4858 Mercury Street, Suite 205 San Diego, CA 92111 888-261-3265

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