Of all the hurdles that first-time candidates and lesser known challengers face when running for office, none is as intimidating as being seriously under-funded. Money isn’t everything when you run for office — issues count, name recognition is a major bonus, volunteer manpower is important – but without the ability to raise a significant sum of money, it becomes very hard to get your message out and win your election.
There are ways, however, that under-funded candidates can use to get their message out, to persuade voters and raise their profile. Much like a penniless businessman who shoestrings a new business along using smart tactics until his business succeeds, an under-funded candidate can use the following “guerilla” political tactics to get his or her message out even in the absence of overflowing campaign coffers:
1. Direct Mail
Let’s get this straight: direct mail does cost money. In fact, if you’re running for a major office, such as mayor of a big city or the U.S. Congress, direct mail can be quite expensive. It’s always far less expensive, however, than running ads on television, and it’s far more targeted as well.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: for the local candidate, there is no better, more effective, or cheaper medium than direct mail. Rather than spending $2,000 to buy one TV spot that will reach thousands of voters who are outside your district (as well as the few hundred or thousand that are in it), you could spend that $2,000 to send two mail pieces to each of the registered voters who can vote for you. If your campaign is under-funded, consider using direct mail as your primary mass communications method.
For more information on designing your direct mail, read Political Direct Mail that Sizzles.
2. Door to Door
Door to door has always been, and will continue to be, an effective way for candidates to spread their message cheaply. When we talk about door to door as an effective means of campaigning, we’re not talking about going door to door twice and being done with it.
Quite the contrary: in order to successfully utilize door to door campaigning, you need to develop and implement a door to door plan – you need to figure out which doors to knock on, plan how much time it will take to hit every door you need to hit, organize volunteers to help, and work the plan successfully.
3. Build Coalitions
How can you put together groups of activists that are committed to your campaign, willing to work hard to spread your message, able to do your campaigning for you, and eager to do all this and more for free? Build political coalitions!
Coalitions are groups of voters who are united by a common thread: they may all be from the same town, all support the same candidate, all feel passionate about the same issue… you get the idea. Your campaign should develop a plan to get these groups of voters to hook up with your candidate. Your goal is to use these coalitions to spread your message, raise money, deliver votes and provide volunteers. Coalition building is one of the most effective techniques used by successful campaigns of all sizes. To learn more about building coalitions, read Local Victory’s comprehensive Building Political Coalitions.