Five Tips for Making More Realistic Political Campaign Budgets - National Democratic Training Committee

We joke about yard signs (don’t get me started!), but you’ll have no idea how many you can afford without a proper campaign budget. This isn’t the sexy campaigning we envision when thinking about running for office, but it’s a vital and necessary step.

While it may seem intimidating, it isn’t. Every good campaign, big or small, knows how much money they need and when they need it. To make it easier, we’ve build a few tools to help you create, track, and adapt your campaign budget no matter the size.

Creating a Campaign Budget

In our Budgeting and Financial Compliance course, we suggest that you create three political campaign budgets: an ideal version, a realistic version, and an uh-oh version.

  • An ideal version is what you’d do if you had more than enough cash to run your campaign. You may never raise this much money, but if you do raise more than you thought, you know where and when you’ll spend it.
  • The realistic version is what you think you’re going to have to work with. It isn’t the flashy Tesla model; it’s the Honda Accord that gets you where you need to win.
  • And an uh-oh version is the bare minimum you would need in order to win. No frills at all. You literally cannot cut more spending without critically endangering your chance to win.

Here’s a pro-tip: Most campaigns wind up somewhere between the “realistic” and “uh-oh” version. The point on why you create three budgets is to know where and when you can cut or add programs if your revenue changes.

Be sure to check out our full Budgeting and Financial Compliance course for an example campaign budget and template to help you win your race.

Build Effective Political Campaign Budgets

Now that you’re ready to jump on, here are five tips that’ll maximize the effectiveness of your realistic political campaign budget.

Do Your Research

You can’t plan your budget without knowing what things actually cost.

Before you build your budget, be sure to research what things like direct mail, printing, and digital ads cost. Do you need a campaign HQ? If so, what will rent cost in your area?

These expenses highly fluctuate based on where you live. You’ll build the most accurate budget if you keep all of your research local. It can be helpful to talk to other candidates about their experience and any tips they may have.

Another quick pro-tip: When you’re researching what print service you’re going to use, be sure you choose a unionized printer. You want to find the best print service who will give you the quality you want for the price you can afford.

Be Conservative but Flexible

It’s always best to be fiscally conservative when planning the budget for your campaign. This will allow for some wiggle room. For example, if you think you’re going to spend $500 renting office space for your campaign, put $600 in the budget in case things cost more than you expected. Having flexibility in your budget means you’ll have money to work with rather than coming up short.

Network, Network, Network

Networking is key to all parts of your campaign, including your budget.

When you build your budget, reach out to your network to see what kinds of goods and services they can provide for your campaign. They might be able to help you with event spaces, catering, campaign supplies — and other things your campaign might need.

Be aware that these will be considered in-kind contributions and you’ll have to report them along with your monetary donations in your campaign filings. (Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog that’ll help you navigate in-kind contributions!)

Devote at Least 70% of Your Budget to Voter Communication

There are many ways to spend campaign money, but the more time you spend talking to voters, the better. A good rule of thumb is to set aside more than two-thirds of your campaign money to convince people to vote for you. These kinds of expenditures will include campaign literature to hand out, direct mail, sponsored social media posts, and any other kind of voter outreach you’ll use in your campaign.

The last 20–30% of your money will go towards money for fundraising events, campaign software, and any other kind of administrative expense that keeps your campaign running. (Not to beat a dead horse, but the Budget and Financial Compliance course tackles this in great detail.)

Don’t Be Afraid of Change: Track and Adapt

During your campaign, you’ll likely have to make changes to your budget. Your budget isn’t set in stone, and you’ll have to adapt to new situations regarding your finances.

There might be a surprise in-kind contribution of an event space from a donor, so you suddenly don’t need to spend a big chunk of money renting that space. Or, you might find you need to devote more money to direct mail than you initially anticipated. All of this is okay, and expected.

Every campaign adapts its budget to the reality of the race. You need to monitor and update your budget at least weekly, if not more often as the campaign gets going.

Still feeling nervous about building an effective budget? Take our Budget and Financial Compliance course now. We have an answer to all of your scary finance questions.

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