What kinds of expenses should your political campaign budget include? Like many challenges in life, business, and politics, it’s frequently a good strategy to start with the answer and work your way backward. In this article, we’ll describe how to do that and also provide a sample budget spreadsheet.

Where to Start

If this is the first time you’ve run for office, you may have no earthly idea how much it will cost you for a successful political campaign. A good place to start is researching previous campaigns. Most states and towns have financial disclosure requirements. These documents are publicly available. Go back through the previous three or four election cycles and see how much was raised and spent by candidates running for the office you’re targeting. This will help give you a sense of what your fundraising and spending goals should be.

"Be sure to revisit your budget throughout your campaign. You’ll want to review it regularly and scale it up or down according to your fundraising levels."

What to Include

Like many other topics we discuss, every campaign is different and, therefore, not every budget will be the same.

So, how should you prioritize and where should you spend your precious resources? The short answer is, “Stuff that will help you earn more votes.” Hats and t-shirts, for example, may seem like a fun way to gain some exposure but they’re not nearly as effective as other methods. Likewise, expensive events can drain a lot of time and money from your campaign for relatively little benefit. Conversely, investing in traditional lawn signs and targeted direct mail are very cost effective, traditional ways to earn name recognition and exposure. Think about it this way: A $1 lawn sign on a busy street can easily be seen by thousands of people every day. How many people will see a $20 t-shirt? You can learn more about direct mail and smart budgeting from our interview with BJ Perry of Talient Action Group:

Here’s an outline of items that would be contained in a complete campaign budget. Keep in mind that your campaign probably won’t include or require everything on this list.

  • Operations
    • Salaries
    • Voter files and databases
    • Website
    • Gas
    • Office space (include internet, rent, heating, etc.)
    • Fees (bank, payment processing)
    • Office supplies
  • Voter Contact
    • Direct mail
    • Radio ads
    • Radio production
    • Digital advertising
    • Live & automated calls
    • Palm cards
    • Business cards
    • Yard signs
    • U-posts, poles, and zip ties for road signs
    • Banner
    • Newspaper ads
    • Volunteer expenses
    • Canvasing (door to door)
    • Community meetings
    • Get out the vote (GOTV) operation
  • Fundraising
    • Fundraising events
    • Printing
    • Postage
    • Letterhead and envelopes
    • Donation cards

You can download a campaign budget template (MS-Excel file) by clicking on the image below:

Sample Campaign Budget screenshot

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