What Goes Into a Campaign Budget? by Ben Donahower

By at February 8, 2012 | 9:47 pm | Print

What Goes Into a Campaign Budget?  by Ben Donahower

Have you ever watched one of the renovation shows on HGTV or DIY Network? I can be a bit of a numbers junkie, so one of the elements of those shows that I really enjoy is to see the breakdown of their budget, and, ultimately, if they come in under, on, over budget with their renovation.

Usually, when they are over budget it’s for two reasons: they forgot to budget for an expense more generally, or they didn’t stick to their budget by hiring a professional contractor when they originally anticipated doing it themselves or up, using more expensive materials than they budgeted for, or adding a completely new element to the project.

Your campaign faces the same, two potential pitfalls. You solve the second problem with discipline or by justifying the additional expenses in light of new information. You can avoid the first, not budgeting for an expense, by reading on. Below are some of the most common and largest expenses that your campaign will encounter over the course of the election season:

Voter contact: if you look at all of the ways that you contact voters, precious few of them are free. Take social media. It’s free to set up a Facebook page, Twitter account, and a Google+ page, but depending upon how critical your social media strategy is to the campaign or the scope of your campaign, you should consider augmenting these tools with paid tools or staff.

Here are some of the areas this includes:

  • Television
  • Radio
  • Direct mail
  • Advertisements online and off

Volunteers: campaigns often don’t budget for volunteers and they should. Pizza, something to drink, and other refreshmensts are a must to recruit and retain volunteers. Also, factor in your volunteer recruitment goals into your office expenses. Do you need to order a few extra yard signs or bumper sticks to make sure that volunteers get some? If you have a lot of volunteers who will canvass, how many leaflets should you order?

Staff: I’m a big believer in staff, so long as they are put to good use. If your campaign requires that you recruit volunteers or raise money having someone who can recruit volunteers all day long or keep you accountable to make fundraising calls is well worth it. You can also use staff to save your campaign money if you are creative. While it’s logistically more difficult, it’s often cheaper to hire someone to deliver your campaign literature than it is to send to send it in the mail.

Visibility: think yard signs and billboards. Don’t buy the latter and buy the former if you have low candidate name recognition or if your supporters demand them.

Logistics: a campaign office, a campaign bus, office supplies, phones or other similar expenses.
Materials: direct mail and leaflets are only part of this expense. Don’t skimp on design or copywriting. Your mail pieces and handouts are only as effective as the message and the design. You’re better off sending less than sending an ineffective piece that doesn’t communicate a compelling message or has a design that will bring in voters.

Fundraising: campaigns, rightfully, think about fundraising as a way to generate money, but there are expenses that go along with it that you should budget for including refreshments and other costs centering on campaign events, thank you notes for contributions, service fees for online contributions, and other costs.

Essentially, if you got through each element of your campaign plan and brainstorm the expenses associated with every part of it, you should be able to create a budget that won’t leave you penniless weeks before the election or leaves money on the table that you are spending haphazardly in a desperate attempt to get some value from it the weekend before Election Day.

Ben Donahower is the founder of Campaign Trail Yard Signs, which cuts through the campaign yard sign confusion. What do lawn signs do well? When are they more trouble than they are worth? Just honest answers, so that you order useful political yard signs in the quantity your campaign needs. Ben is an authority on marketing for political organizations and has worked on campaigns from borough council to President
Follow Ben on Twitter  @iapprovethismsg

Finance & Fundraising

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