Campaigns succeed – or fail – in large part based on their planning.
In order to get enough votes to win, you need to know where those votes will come from. This means that you need a written campaign plan. In order to raise enough money to win, you need to know where that money will come from. This means that you need a written fundraising plan.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to write a successful fundraising plan for your next political campaign. First, we’ll take a look at why you need a plan, how to set your fundraising goals, and the two most important parts of any successful plan. Then, we’ll talk about the 6 components of a strong political fundraising plan and what needs to go into your plan to make it achievable.
Why Your Campaign Needs a Fundraising Plan
Every campaign – no matter how small or large – needs a written fundraising plan. Campaigns are hard, and they move fast. In the heat of battle, it can be hard to know what to do next, or where to focus your campaign’s limited resources.
That’s where a fundraising plan comes in. You should write your fundraising plan before you even launch your campaign. During that period before the campaign starts, your candidate and team will have clear heads and time to think about the best strategy for raising the money you need to win.
Once the campaign actually begins, there will be so many different things to do and so many fires to put out that it can be impossible to sit down and write a well-thought-out fundraising plan. Thus, my best advice is to start writing your fundraising plan as early as possible.
Also, avoid the temptation to simply have a fundraising plan “in your head.” You need a written fundraising plan that both you and your team can follow. I’ve seen far too many political candidates think they knew how to raise enough money to win, but when push came to shove, they forgot their master plan and simply made it up as they went along. Don’t make this mistake.
If your plan changes mid-campaign, make sure everyone knows.
Remember, just because you have a written plan doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t change during the course of the campaign. You shouldn’t change your fundraising plan willy-nilly, but if circumstances change for your election campaign, you many need to revise parts of the plan. That’s ok. But be sure to make those changes in writing and to make sure that your entire team knows that the plan has changed. You want to make sure everyone on your team is working on the same page.
What Comes First – The Campaign Strategy or the Fundraising Goal?
Many candidates and campaign managers have asked me which comes first – the campaign strategy or the fundraising goal? In other words, should the campaign figure out the maximum it can raise and then design a campaign strategy that will cost that much, or should the campaign figure out a winning strategy and they figure out how to raise enough to pay for that strategy?
I believe that the correct answer is the latter – your campaign should figure out what it will take to win the election, and how much that strategy will cost… and then design a fundraising plan to raise that amount. If you find out it will cost $500,000 to win your election, and determine that you won’t be able to raise that much, you should consider running for a different office or waiting until the next cycle. The alternative is to raise as much as you can, knowing that the amount you raise leaves you no chance of winning.
Design your campaign strategy first – then set your fundraising goal based on that strategy, and design a plan to raise the amount your campaign needs to win.
The Most Important Parts of Your Political Fundraising Plan
In my experience, there are two very important things that most political campaigns fail to put into their fundraising plans. These two things are deadlines and responsibilities – and they are the two most important parts of any political fundraising plan.
For every single strategy you have in your fundraising plan, you should have a list of action steps that will be required to make that strategy work. And for each action step, you should list the person who will be responsible for carrying out the action and a deadline for completion.
For example, you might say:
Kick Off Fundraising Event – 2/2
- Put together host committee – 12/15 – Katie
- Secure venue – 12/20 – Jim
- Send out invitations – 1/2 – Katie
- Make follow up calls – 1/10 – Katie, Jim and Committee
- Finalize menu, decorations, and event flow – 1/20 – Jim
- Final follow-up calls – 1/28 – Katie and Jim
If you haven’t yet hired your staff or found your volunteers when you write your fundraising plan, you can still list the action steps and deadlines, and then fill in the people who will be responsible for each step as the come on board with your campaign.
Remember – in order to be successful, your campaign fundraising plan must list action steps, responsibilities and deadlines for each of your major fundraising strategies.
The 6 Components of a Successful Political Fundraising Plan
In my experience, political fundraising plans should contain the following components:
#1 – Campaign Fundraising Goal
As I mentioned earlier, the most successful campaign fundraising operations always develop a campaign strategy first, before they set a fundraising goal. You need to know what it will take to win your election before you can raise enough to carry out that strategy.
Your political fundraising plan should set a clearly defined overall fundraising goal that lays out how much your campaign needs to raise during this election cycle. Your plan should also include a calendar that details specific monthly or quarterly milestones based on your campaign strategy.
For example, if your campaign is planning to print up yard signs in May, you’ll need to raise enough money by then to be able to afford them. Similarly, if your staff is paid on a biweekly basis, you’ll need to have a consistent cash flow in order to make payroll. Include a full list of fundraising milestones in your plan so that you’ll have enough revenue to be able to meet your planned campaign expenses.
#2 – Assumptions
This section lists the assumptions you are making in formulating the plan. Every campaign makes assumptions as it plans out its fundraising.. List them here, so that everyone is on the same page. Some examples of possible assumptions include:
- Assuming that the campaign will receive endorsements from several trade groups, associations or unions whose support comes with major donations
- Assuming that your candidate will be the “establishment candidate” and receive funding your political base
- Assuming that certain major fundraisers will line up to support your candidate
List your assumptions up front, and know that if one of the assumptions doesn’t bear out, you may need to rewrite part of the plan to map out a strategy for dealing with the new reality.
#3 – Fundraising Infrastructure
What infrastructure do you currently have in place for fundraising, and what infrastructure do you anticipate needing over the length of the campaign?
Fundraising infrastructure includes things like fundraising staff, a donor database, your fundraising marketing materials, your website’s fundraising capabilities, etc. – everything you use to fundraise. Map out what you will need in order to effectively raise money for your campaign. Be sure to include deadlines and responsibilities for implementation, as well as the cost for each item.
#4 – Fundraising Tactics
Each fundraising tactic should list action steps, deadlines, and responsibilities.
This is the section where you lay out, in as much detail, all of the different ways you are going to raise money for your campaign. Each tactic should get its own subsection with action steps, deadlines and responsible persons. Common tactics include:
- Direct Mail
- Online Fundraising
- Finance Committee
- Major Donors
- PAC Fundraising
- Personal Solicitation by the Candidate
- Affinity Groups and Fundraising Networks
Use this section to detail exactly how you will implement each of these tactics over the weeks and months of your campaign.
#5 – Donor Communications Plan and Calendar
Use this section of your political fundraising plan to create a strategy for staying in touch with your donors and prospects.
Remember, in order to be successful, you want your campaign donors to feel as much as possible like part of your team. That requires communicating with them on a regular basis – and not every communication should be an ask. (For political campaigns, I recommend that you send your donors at least 1-2 non-ask communications in between every ask).
Great donor communication will lead to more and bigger gifts from your donors. There are lots of ways to stay in touch with your donors and prospects. They include:
- Email and snail mail newsletters
- Social media
- Telemarketing calls for low dollar donors
- Personal calls for mid-level and high dollar donors
- Non-ask events (cultivation or thank-you events)
- Volunteer opportunities and committees
- Public relations / PR
Without a doubt, the easiest and most cost effective way to stay in touch with your donors on a regular basis is through e-mail newsletters.
#6 – Action Step Timeline
Finally, as I mentioned above, I like to include a list of action steps in each of the sections of the plan that lists what needs to be done by which deadline in order for the plan to succeed.
Then, as the final component of the fundraising plan, I include a consolidated with each action step listed chronologically. This allows anyone who reads the plan to get a good picture of all of the activity that is currently going on, see what the deadlines and goals are, and know who is responsible for each. Many campaigns I work with use these timelines to guide their weekly fundraising staff meetings.
Remember, your fundraising plan will change. It is important to write down your plan, but it is also important to be willing to change course when events dictate. Review your plan often, and make changes as necessary.