How do you manage a political campaign budget?

How do you manage a political campaign budget?






If there’s one thing the progressive movement and Democratic campaigns have in common, they both have to do a lot with a small amount of money. Setting up a budget for a political campaign is crucial because you need to be smart about how you use your resources and make the most of every dollar. There are an infinite number of ways a campaign’s budget could work. But many drives fail because they need to have a written budget or set too high goals. 

Here are some tips for creating a reasonable budget for a political campaign.

How much do I need to donate to a political campaign?

Check out how past campaigns planned to spend their money:

It’s essential to calculate how much money you’ll raise; it’s a good idea to look at how much money similar campaigns have grown in the past. Remember to consider how their budgets compare to other campaigns’ budgets. Did the primary and general elections have a lot of candidates? Either it was a race between two people or a group of people.

Start with your goal for the election:

When making a budget for a political campaign, the number of votes is the best place to start. Look at how people voted in the past, figure out how many votes you’ll need to win, and set a vote goal. See our blog post on determining vote targets for help with that number. After that, you can start making a budget to help you reach your goals. During this process, you should consider which voters could work well together. How would you recommend I get in touch with them?How much money do I have to get before I can talk to them through this channel?

Make three different parts of your budget:

We recommend making three budget levels when making a budget for a political campaign: a “Cadillac” budget for the best-case scenario, a “midrange” budget that is very realistic, and a “worst-case” budget in case fundraising doesn’t go as planned. The next step is to make a decision—an approach. Use your money to help you succeed in these budget situations.

How does the money get there?

Figure out how much money you can get from people you know:

One of the first things we ask campaigns to do is to create a spreadsheet with a complete list of their networks. This includes people on your phone and email lists and people you know on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Give each person on your list a monetary value based on what you know about them and how close you are to them. This will show how much you think they can help your cause. When you’re done, add everything to find out how much it all costs. If the total is one-third of what you think you need, you’re headed in the right direction (likely your mid-level budget). If your campaign works and shows it will work, you can get two-thirds of the money from your community or donor networks. You should only enter this race if you have done at least a third of the things on your list.

How are power circles used?

Power Circles are a quick and easy way to narrow your list of possible donors and determine who you should call. These are the best people to ask for money from and the ones you should spend the most time contacting. The next layer comprises people who share your ideas but may not be as close to you personally. There are a lot of donors, activists, and PACs that back you on a particular issue. After you’ve talked to everyone you know, this should be your top priority. The last layer is called the “ax to grind” coating, which comprises people who will vote for you because they have a solid reason to vote against your opponent. This layer is hard to predict because they might need to learn or agree with you. However, they might be willing to give you money, and you should call them.

When do I have to have the money in hand?

Think about getting points:

When you get the money could be just as important as how much you earn. Start with where you’ll be getting cash and work backward when planning your budget. You could use the due dates for your campaign finance reports or the actual election dates, like early voting, absentee voting, and Election Day, as collection points. These are the dates by which you must have money to show that your campaign is viable or has already used the money to reach out to voters.

Making money quickly:

We know from past campaigns that most of your money will come in near the end when donors pay the most attention. Getting cash in the door earlier can take a lot of work. When you ask for money, many people say, “I’ll think about it again when it comes.” But it’s essential to develop a plan for early funding so you can pay your team, make a website, and lay the groundwork for a successful campaign. This could include making early calls to friends and family (in your circle) or keeping potential donors up to date on your campaign’s endorsements and progress to get them to donate.

What should I buy with the money I have?

70% of your budget goes to reaching out to voters:

Because many competing campaigns are trying to raise the same amount of money, having a solid budget can give you a significant tactical edge. This is because where your money goes is just as important as where it comes from. What counts as “voter communications” is always up for debate, but what doesn’t, like costs for employees, rent, office supplies, etc., is clear. Also, for budgeting purposes, signs should be seen more as a way to get people’s attention than as a way to talk to voters.

Figure out what your main or most important media are:

The best way to sway voters is to control at least one way for them to get information. This doesn’t mean you have to spend more money on a medium than your competitor. Instead, you must put enough money into a single communication channel to reach saturation. If you spread your budget thin across many different types of media, you won’t be able to get enough voters often enough to make an impact.

Choose a medium for a backup:

Your second way of communicating should support your primary method of communicating. You can decide which secondary channel to use by asking yourself which will best reach your target audience. Is it a good direct mail campaign with digital advertising on top? Is it a strong TV buy that also includes direct mail?

Where can I get money for less?

Spending less money on office supplies:

Use MiniVAN and other tools to enter data directly whenever possible to save paper and toner. Use lists that have already been printed and the backs of those lists (be sure it is clear which is the old vs. new side). Depending on the printer or computer, there may also be ways to make each print using less toner. You can also ask your super-volunteers to bring things from home if you run out of supplies. Many people have extras of these things at home and are happy to give them away.

Voters have enough phone numbers to call:

Depending on the race you’re in, burner cell phones could be a significant investment for your campaign. When the phone bank runs out of phones, ask volunteers with unlimited minute plans to make calls from their phones. Some people will say no, but others will do what you say. If you run out of phones, have extra packets for canvassing ready and ask volunteers if they’d instead do that than run the phone bank. As a last resort, you can show volunteers how to use Google Call to make calls, but remember that the area codes on these phones won’t be familiar to the people who get the calls. This will make it harder to get in touch with voters.