How to Organize a Political Event - National Democratic Training Committee

Because every good party starts with a how-to guide, right? At least, every decent political event should.

To help you out, we’re going to break down the essential components of planning and hosting a political event and what you’ll need to engage your guests in your campaign.

1. Decide the purpose of your event

If you’ve taken any of our courses, you know we emphasize that every campaign has limited time, money, and people. How effectively and efficiently you use these directly affects your chances of winning.

So, before you start planning the first step is to decide the event’s purpose. Why are you spending your precious time and money on this?

Generally, events break down into two types: fundraising and field. (Yes, there’s also media events, but that’s a whole different ball of wax.)

Fundraising is fairly self-explanatory. You’re there to raise the money you need to win.

Field events are a little different. You’re there to meet people who may or may not support your campaign.

Of course, like everything else, this isn’t a clear cut either/or situation. Sometimes field and fundraising mix, but either way, the goal is the same: build relationships with the attendees and convert them to taking action to help you win.

The point is to know what you want out of the event and how it helps your winning campaign plan before committing your resources.

2. Pick a date

Let’s be clear. There is no such thing as a perfect date. There is always something else going on. The best you can do is figure out what date and time works best for your campaign.

Be aware of any holidays or major local events (For instance, if you’re running in Wisconsin, don’t schedule an event during the Packers football game.)

Also, double check you’re not competing with any other local political events. You don’t want to host your event the same night as the county party’s or compete with another candidate for donor’s attention.

3. Location, Location, Location

The venue is a crucial factor when considering the atmosphere you want to create. When picking a location, keep in mind the agenda of your event, the number of people you’d like to attend, and the budget if you’re renting the space.

Remember, your events do not need to be the fancy cocktail parties in big mansions you’ve seen on TV. Most political events are hosted in regular homes with work or casual dress and homemade appetizers.

Two pro-tips: Having a kitchen cabinet member host your event in their home greatly cuts down on costs and if you plan an outdoors event be sure to have a backup plan if the weather decides to not cooperate.

4. Build your guest list

Who you invite matters. If you’re hosting a fundraiser, what types of donors are you looking to attend? Is it high dollar or low dollar?

No matter what type of event it is, it’s incredible helpful to have a host committee involved to expand whatever universe you’re targeting. Be certain they have clear goals on what’s expected of them.

You’ll want to use their name on the invitation, have them invite their connections and make calls in advance.

5. Invite the guests

Here’s the blunt truth. You’re going to need to send more than one invitation and you’re going to need to make calls if you want your event to succeed.

Most campaigns send invitations via email because it’s the cheapest, most efficient method. This works, but you should plan to send a few reminder emails as the date approaches.

Ideally, the first invite should be sent about four to six weeks before the event. You’ll want to send another email a couple weeks beforehand and then again the week of and the day before. Four emails may seem like a lot, but it works.

Most people are not going to RSVP right away. A good campaign starts working the phones right after sending the first round of invitations. Candidates always overestimate how many people will respond to their invites. This isn’t like a birthday party. You have to work to get people to show up.

Creating a Facebook event can also be helpful in getting the word out, but keep in mind that those RSVPs are not always a reliable way to gauge how many people are coming.

6. Plan the logistics

Let’s be clear about something. No one is coming for the food and drink. They’re coming to support and learn about your campaign. Don’t go overboard.

As a donor myself, if I go to an event and they have an open bar with top shelf liquor, or if there’s a huge spread of expensive food, I get angry. I don’t want to give my money to candidate so they can buy me a nice drink. I want them to use it to talk to as many voters as possible.

Winning is what matters, not the menu options at a campaign event.

With this in mind, you do need a plan for how the event will run. When do people arrive? Where do they park?

You should have a check-in table near the entrance with friendly volunteers to welcome guests and collect contributions if you are fundraising. Remember, the whole point of an event is to build an on-going relationship.

When setting up the layout of the space, consider the atmosphere you’d like to foster: what will it look like? What kind of decorations, if any, do you need? How many chairs and/or tables will you need?

Is there a speaking program? If so, who introduces the candidate? Do you need a stage or a space for speeches? Will it need a microphone and speaker system? What about music?

The traditional structure of a political event is broken down like this:

  • 30 minutes for guest to arrive and candidate to mingle
  • 30 minutes for your presentation
  • 30 minutes to mingle and thank your guests for coming

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider, but don’t be overwhelmed. Focus on what’s most important: building strong relationships.

7. Evaluate

Congrats! You just threw a successful event. So, what’s next?

You’ll want to meet with your host committee and staffers to evaluate what worked well and what could have gone better. Review if you met your goal and what follow-up is needed.

Be sure to send thank you letters to anyone who attended, volunteered or helped host the event.

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