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Your Pre-Campaign Plan
If you are reading this post about setting up a campaign plan, you either are thinking heavily about running or have committed to running for local elected office. Either way, congratulations!! It is a fantastic step and the world needs more people like you who are engaging in public service for the good of their community.
This quick-start campaign plan is for anyone running for elected office that does not expect to hire campaign staff. This post will help you whether you are new to politics, have a friend that is running, or have been elected 18 times.
In this quick-start guide, you will:
- discover the step-by-step instructions I used in my races to organize a campaign correctly from the very beginning,
- gain a clear understanding of the things needing to be done first in your campaign plan, and
- get your campaign up and running — FAST.
Before you get started with the campaign plan, download this companion pdf below. This pdf will be a place where you can answer the questions, generate your ideas, and record your thoughts as you work through developing this campaign plan (and it also has some things we don’t cover here).
Now that you’ve downloaded the PDF, let’s get started.
If you are reading this, you obviously have either decided to run for elected office or are thinking about it. As I said before; thank you! Having been in your shoes, it is not an easy decision and should not be weighed lightly.
At this point in time, it isn’t really critical to be thinking about the granular details of your campaign. Right now, you need to focus on the broad strokes and setting up an organization (even in small races) that will position you for the win.
Campaigns for office ideally begin years in advance of your election cycle. If push comes to shove, you can get a campaign up and running right before you file to run for office. However, that generally requires a candidate to have a vast existing network and/or a lot of money.
Our plan as we put it forward to you is best begun a minimum of 12 to 18 months before your election.
The number one thing you must consider before running for office is your support system. Campaigns are time-consuming and can devour months of your life without batting an eye.
Even though you are a strong, independent person, having a solid support system alongside you is critical success.
You need to have the sometimes-difficult conversations with your spouse, kids, close friends, parents, etc. about whether this is the right path for you or not. You won’t be a successful leader without the support and assistance of those closest to you.
Most every candidate has a skeleton in their closet (hey – that’s life) or things they would prefer to not discuss. Everyone relevant to those concerns within your support system has to be cool with those things possibly becoming public during the course of an election.
Think carefully about these items and move on to developing your campaign structure.
Depending on your electoral race, your campaign organization could be structured in a variety of ways. The details of your organization don’t matter as much at this point, but there are two key roles that you want to make sure to fill before you go any further: Treasurer and Campaign Manager.
The treasurer is the first role that you should fill in your campaign because – depending on your jurisdiction – this is the part of the campaign that if not done well, will leave you most vulnerable to running afoul with the law.
It is a terrible idea for you – or your spouse – to be the treasurer.
Just like accounting procedures, there needs to be redundancy in your campaign so you can never be accused of pocketing money or misappropriating funds. Having someone not directly related to you as the Treasurer eliminates many perceived and real accounting issues for your campaign.
Who should it be?
Well…we all have that one friend who is an obnoxiously meticulous hardass. She/he is great with details, is organized, and would never miss a deadline if while are still breathing.
That is your Treasurer.
Understand there can be legal liabilities with this role, so make sure that Johnny/Janey Tightwad is cool with that.
This is the second position you need to fill in your campaign. If you are running a smaller campaign, you can certainly serve as the Campaign Manager, but I don’t recommend it.
As a candidate – and I speak from experience – you can sometimes get a little bull-headed and ego can get in the way of a good campaign.
You will need someone as Campaign Manager that you respect and admire along with someone who has the chutzpah to sometimes tell you to “It is time to stop talking now…no, right now” or “No. We aren’t doing that”.
It is important.
Along with that, your Campaign Manager needs to also be detail-oriented and organized. This role will be in charge of ordering materials, recruiting people for door knocking, and making sure there is enough beer for the after-party.
This role can absolutely be filled by a spouse or close friend if they meet the above qualifications. You and your Campaign Manager will be closer than two peas in a pod and your family better be cool with late-night phone calls and constant texting.
Nothing can make or break a good candidate’s campaign as easily as their message. Don’t get too far or too stuck on a few issues.
Over the course of months, you will need to test your message to see what best resonates with your friends, family, and voters.
For now, you need to write down a list of ten or so things that could make good campaign centerpieces. Eventually, you’ll want to whittle that down to a solid three campaign pieces, but for now, you’re good to just be thinking about your potential message.
This one is easy but can be tricky. Talk with your Treasurer and Campaign Manager about what you want to call your campaign. This will be necessary for your literature but most importantly for the next item in the list.
Don’t spend too much time on this one. It isn’t that important and you can always change it in the future.
Here are some common ones (NAME = you / XXX = office sought):
- NAME for XXX (this is what I did – it worked well and I’d recommend it)
- Friends of NAME
- Neighbors for NAME
- Community for NAME
Go ahead. Pick one.
Your campaign may take $3,000 or $100,000 to win and it is never too early to begin raising cash for the campaign.
Candidates often have an unhealthy relationship with donations. I totally get it.
Get over it.
Many people are able to self-fund their campaign, but think about whether that is the best path forward. Asking for donations not only helps you hone your message but it also gets your donors invested – literally and figuratively – in your campaign. They want you to win and will help out and spread the word.
To get started securing donations, first you’ll need a checking account.
Second, you’ll want to know your campaign finance reporting rules. Often – depending on your state’s rules – you’ll need to start reporting donors after you have brought in or spent $X.XX of cash. You’ll need to make sure you’re ready to report when that deadline is reached.
Most states have some sort of guidebook or pdf you can download from your Secretary of State’s website that outlines campaign finance rules.
Don’t deposit your checks. If you aren’t ready to report but have checks, wait until December 31 to deposit. That way you can gather donations but not have to report until you are ready to roll.
Most states have donation limits that last the calendar year. If you have great supporters, they’ll be able to donate this year AND next year to get more bang.
Your network builds on what we discussed above in Support System above. You will continue to fill this section out throughout the campaign but we want to get it started now.
Candidates don’t win elections. The ones that inspire the people around them to work and vote are the ones that win…and you can’t build that overnight.
If you have decided to run, you probably have a pretty solid network to leverage right now, but if you don’t, it is ket to have help.
You can’t do it alone.
Every campaign needs a handful of people you can call at any hour of the day, in any weather with any task that needs to get done and they won’t hesitate – much – to say yes.
These folks are your lifelong friends, relatives, and neighbors who will do anything you ask.
Write down five names you can talk with about being your Winners. Make sure to be crystal clear with them what you are asking them to do. The last thing you want is to be in a bind – and you will be – and someone you are counting on doesn’t come through. Don’t ask both members of the same family. They love you but that is too much to ask.
Been there, done that.
The next category of people are ones who will help a few weekends or will do a project behind the scenes. These people are fantastic workhorses that you must have in all campaigns, but they simply don’t have a ton of time to give. That is ok.
Make a list of 10 people who will help you as much as they can.
The last one is building acquaintances in the form of social capital. These are folks who – at this time – probably won’t volunteer for your campaign. They may donate but they will probably vote for you.
Begin building up this cache of people via associations, clubs, networks, etc. Join the Rotary to get to know more people. Ask for votes after you are seen and known in the community.
If you’re an active user of social media, now would be a great time to run through your past posts – especially the public ones. Go ahead and delete anything that might not sound good. Most of mine were tweets where I was using massive doses of sarcasm that would need to be in context to understand I am not a complete douche.
Before you announce, you’ll want to make sure to grab websites, Facebook vanity URLs, and Twitter handles that you want to use for your campaign.
You’ll want to get NAME.com, NAMEforXXX.com, or anything else you think could help you. I also used RunWithMeShakopee.com and that forwarded to my main website.
I really like to use BlueHost.com for securing website URLs. It is super simple to use and even non-techy folks can figure it out. (PS: I love BlueHost enough that I am an affiliate for them and get paid a bit whenever someone I refer uses them. #transparency).
You can’t go wrong…and if you do, they have 24 hour support to set you straight.
At Community, Jobs, and Progress, we help elected officials better serve their community. This also encompasses helping great people run and see success in your endeavor to service your community in an elected capacity.
I, Brad Tabke, am the founder of Community, Jobs, and Progress, and was the Mayor of Shakopee, Minnesota. During my tenure, I greatly utilized digital media like Facebook, a websites, email list, and Twitter not only to get elected (with no prior elected experience) but to stay connected with my community while serving.