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How to Run a Political Campaign

Benjamin A. Katz

Running a political campaign is one of the most challenging and exhausting activities possible.  Running a typical campaign will mean 12+ hour long work days for several months. 

On Election Day, either you win, or you and your entire campaign team are fired.  As you approach the final days of the campaign, this creates a huge amount of stress and pressure for success.

While nothing can eliminate the stress of the countdown to Election Day, the proper organization of a political campaign can avoid some unnecessary challenges.

Step 1: Get the Right Tools for your Political Campaign

In the modern political age, technology is the backbone of any campaign.  Well designed tools will allow your campaign team to share information easily and efficiently, make well-informed decisions, and easily expand as you approach Election Day.  Putting the right tools in place can make building your campaign effort that much easier.

I'm very proud of the tools my company, CompleteCampaigns.com, has developed for political campaigns: BackOffice and VoterManager.  I hope you will take a look at them.  However, the most important step you can take is finding a system that allows your campaign staff to work as a team.

Step 2: Hiring Your Campaign Staff

Every campaign, from school board on up, needs three positions filled: treasurer, fundraiser and campaign manager.

Depending on the size and budget of your campaign, these can be done either by full-time paid staff, consultants that work on multiple campaigns, or volunteers.

The treasurer is responsible for maintaining the campaign’s financial accounting both for internal purposes and for filing legally required campaign statements.  While this can be done by a trusted family member or friend, hiring a professional political accountant will often avoid unnecessary legal difficulties.  More than anything else, the treasurer must have the time necessary to perform the duties on a daily basis and the attention to detail necessary to avoid any costly mistakes.

The fundraiser's job is primarily to focus on raising the money necessary for a successful campaign.  He or she is also responsible for projecting expected fundraising.  However, the bulk of the work related to fundraising remains the candidate's job.  No paid nor volunteer fundraiser can ever be as effective as the candidate in soliciting donations.  The fundraiser's job is to ensure that the candidate's efforts are properly focused and maximized.  In many cases, the candidate's spouse is an ideal choice for campaign fundraiser.  He or she can both make direct appeals to donors and has the necessary relationship with the candidate to keep him/her on the phone making calls to donors.

The campaign manager's job is to run the campaign.  While many candidates like to do this themselves, they are too distracted by fundraising and public appearances to be effective managers.  For the vast majority of campaigns, a full-time manager is necessary to ensure that campaign problems (and opportunities) are being promptly addressed.  Remember, in a campaign, there are no extensions on the ultimate deadline: Election Day.

With larger campaigns, there will be several other positions to fill including both paid staff and consultants.   Your campaign manager should be able to handle the bulk of these hiring decisions.

Step 3: The Campaign Budget

Running a successful campaign needs a carefully formulated budget.  The very first step is determining a vote target -- the number of votes needed to win. 

Let's look at a hypothetical district with 250,000 registered voters.  In similar past elections, 50% or 125,000 of the voters went to the polls.  If our election maintains this pattern, we'll need 62,501 votes to win.

Our vote target, therefore, would be about 70,000 votes (so as to give us a bit of extra room in case of a large turnout.) 

The plan and budget would be built around this information.   Keep in mind that in order to get 70,000 votes, you'll actually need to talk to a much larger audience.

Many campaign professionals recommend communicating with each potential voter six times.  If each contact cost $.50, then your campaign would spend $3 per voter for this voter contact.  The campaign would also, of course, need to spend money on fundraising, staff and other overhead.

Of course, very few campaigns can actually raise as much money as they would like.  The important thing is to be honest in your fundraising projections so that you can make reasonable decisions about spending priorities.  I highly recommend that each campaign build three different budgets: Must Have, Like to Have, and Luxury.  With three budgets, the campaign can more easily adapt to actual fundraising results.

Step 4: Determining the Right Strategy and Message for Your Campaign

Strategy and messaging vary tremendously between campaigns.  Unlike other portions of the campaign, these tie directly into the candidate's personal beliefs.  Early in the campaign, the candidate and his key staff must have very frank discussions about these issues. 

In many cases, candidates are seeking office due to strong feelings on a single issue.  However, if the voters don't share the candidate’s strong feeling, the candidate needs to determine if he/she is comfortable focusing on other issues.

Likewise, decisions need to be made about comfort levels with negative advertising.  Will the campaign refer to their opponent(s) in voter contact?  If so, what issues are fair game?

Only after these types of questions are answered can the campaign put together a strategy.

Step 5: The Heart of Running the Campaign

After your tools, team, budget, strategy and message are put together, running the actual campaign is mostly just a matter of implementing. Of course, your campaign needs to be prepared for changing circumstances and may need to revise any of these previously prepared items, but with solid planning, your daily operations will run much more smoothly.

For more information on these daily activities, I'd recommend reading some of our other articles.  Visit http://www.completecampaigns.com/subjects.asp for more articles.

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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