Guest post by Ben Donahower from Campaign Trail Yard Signs

Smart candidates are already taking steps to prepare themselves for the next election cycle.  In addition to making introductions, attending meetings, and understanding the district, candidates can start building an organization that will win in the general election.

Candidates can get their campaigns off on the right foot by building a campaign team, writing campaign plans, designing campaign materials, and raising money now.

1. Build a Team

Candidates are only as good as the good people they surround themselves with. There are countless examples of candidates who look better than their opponent on paper but lose because their campaign team didn’t have the skill set to win.

You can get started building a winning team right now. Depending upon the size of your race, you’ll need a more complex organization but every campaign needs someone to fill these roles:

Campaign manager: In many states, the candidate can act as his or her own campaign manager, but it’s important to find someone else to run your campaign. You need someone who will be willing to challenge you and someone who understands the fundamentals of campaigns and elections. (Check out: How to Be a Great Political Campaign Manager).

Treasurer: The right campaign treasurer is first and foremost accessible. It goes without saying that they should understand, or be a quick study in, your state’s campaign finance laws to avoid fines and scathing news articles.  The most qualified person, however, might not be the best choice because it’s important that the treasurer is someone who will take your calls and act quickly.  In some cases, your spouse, a neighbor, or a coworker is a great choice since you will have regular contact with them.

Field director: If you’re running in a small race, your campaign manager can also fill this role but it’s essential that someone on your team is able to create a list of targeted voters, turn that information into a plan, and organize canvasses and phone banks for you and your volunteers.

2. Plan the Campaign

Planning is essential for winning campaigns, but you shouldn’t get bogged down in minutia. Plans are supposed to facilitate targeted action not impede it. Instead of the traditional campaign plan, local candidates should consider using a timeline or flowchart instead.

The most important elements to include in the campaign plan are:

  • Field: When and where will the campaign go door to door and phone bank?
  • Get out the vote: What is the campaign going to do in the last few days leading up to the Election?
  • TV, radio, and direct mail: When will the campaign produce and launch these voter contact initiatives?  How long will the TV and radio spots last?  When will voters get campaign literature in the mail?
  • Fund raising: How and when is the campaign going to get the money it needs to win?
  • Earned media: Is the campaign going to issue press releases and host press conferences?  If so, what will they cover and when will they happen?

When building the campaign plan or timeline, start with Election Day and work backwards. This will help the campaign prioritize what is most important and when it fits best into the campaign season.

3. Design Campaign Materials

While campaign’s should wait to print their campaign materials, candidates and their campaign teams can start designing:

  • Yard signs
  • Direct mail
  • Door hangers
  • Other literature

In fact, designing these pieces and writing copy for them early will help with messaging since the campaign’s key issues will be fresh in your mind.  Also, even if you need to make some last minute edits down the road, you’ve saved a lot of work when time is short in the campaign.

4. Raise Early Money

First, determine who will contribute to the campaign because of who you are. This normally includes friends, family, and close colleagues. If you know who your opponent is, you can include people who have an axe to grind against him or her.

Write down how much you believe each person could contribute financially. Call them and ask them for a contribution. It’s important to ask for the donation and then be silent until they respond or you will talk yourself out of the money!

Unless you are intentionally trying to run under the radar, raising money early will help your campaign deter other candidates from getting into the race and signal to the media, other potential contributors, and voters that you are a serious candidate.  (For more information on how to raise money, read: The Beginner’s Guide to Political Fundraising).


In addition to building your campaign team, putting together a campaign plan, designing materials, and fund raising, get creative!  The more that you and your campaign supporters do now the more smoothly the campaign will run when it gets closer to Election Day and the better the chance that your campaign will win.

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.