If you’re thinking about running for local office, do you have a campaign checklist to make sure you’ve covered all of the bases? Political campaigns come in all shapes and sizes, which means that there is no single list of tasks that every candidate needs to complete. In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive list of tasks and decisions that you can selectively consider for your own campaign.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

A campaign checklist helps with that third category – the things you don’t know that you don’t know. At the end of this article, we provide a downloadable PDF.

Are You Ready to Run?

We stress this very heavily: It’s important to make sure that you’ve thought everything through before announcing that you’re running for political office. Here are some considerations:

  • Research the office. Make sure you understand the office and its requirements. Must you have lived in the district for a minimum time period, for example? List the reasons why you feel you’re qualified for the office, check on how long the term is, understand the time commitment, and research the election requirements to win (e.g. majority or plurality).
  • Discuss with your core network. Have you discussed a potential campaign with your spouse or partner? How about your closest friends? Your employer? What does each of those people think about you running? Are you confident that you can balance all of your responsibilities or will the campaign create conflicts?
  • Research the time commitment. Think about how much time a campaign will require and whether or not you’ll need a leave of absence or any time off from your job. What kind of effect will this have on your work/life balance? How many hours per week will you be able to set aside for campaigning? Is the political office you’re seeking a full or part-time position? Have you spoken with someone who can describe the time commitment?
  • Review your finances. Are you current with your local, state, and federal taxes? Do you have outstanding parking tickets or other debts owed to local, state, or federal government? Are you willing to spend some of your personal finances on this race? If so, how much? Have you researched how much previous candidates have spent for this office or raised? Are you willing to ask friends, family, and strangers to donate to your campaign?

Identify Key Supporters

Part of being a successful candidate is having a great team in place around you. This exercise is to help you brainstorm who among your supporters can assist you in the best way. In many cases, you might have people who fill more than one role, and that is fine. The more people you have actively involved in your campaign though will result in less work for you and more time for you to do the two most important things every candidate should be doing: getting votes and raising money.

  • Day-to-Day Operations: A big-budget campaign would hire a Campaign manager to run the day-to-day operations. In many cases, smaller campaigns rely on a friend or family member.  This person may assist with your schedule, identify opportunities for you to attend events, request information on behalf of your campaign, assist with correspondence such as thank you notes, check the mail/email box, meet with supporters/volunteers on your behalf.
  • Finance Char, Fiscal Agent, and/or Treasurer: Ideally this person has some experience with finances and is confident in their ability to balance a checkbook. This can be a spouse, relative or close friend.  It is a bonus if this person is also enthusiastic about fundraising and will lead your finance committee.
"Check with your State or Local government to learn if you are required to identify a Fiscal Agent or Treasurer for your campaign. In some states you will have to disclose this on all campaign collateral."
  • Finance Committee: These people have a large network and are willing and able to help you raise money. Ever member of this committee should be willing to donate their own money to your campaign and should be able to contact people in their network to ask them to financially support you.  Often the people are past candidates, current office holders, business owners and community leaders.
  • Communications / Social Media: This person can spot a spelling error from a mile away! This role will help you create press releases, emails, spell check everything you write, assist with any speeches and help manage your social media. Look for someone in your network with communications, marketing or public relations experience. Teachers and non-profit secretaries can also fill this role well.
  • Surrogates: Who can speak about your campaign to others? These people have the ability to represent you when you’re not around. These should be folks who are articulate and comfortable talking to voters in your district and you could ask to speak about your candidacy on the radio or at their Rotary meeting.  Local “celebrities” are perfect for this task. A trusted Doctor, a beloved retired teacher, the owner of a local store etc.
"Beware of folks who have their own self-interest and will not stick to your campaign message.  These people are not candidates talking about their own ideas, they should be an extension of you and talk about your thoughts and candidacy."
  • Networkers: In many cases, your surrogates will also be great networkers but often times networkers are not the best surrogates. These are supporters who might have great networks, but are unable or uncomfortable speaking in public.  These people should help you find the right people or organizations to speak to or meet with.
"To find your best networkers, make a list of your most enthusiastic supporters and ask them what organizations/clubs/groups they belong to."
  • Core Volunteers: These are the people who want to be a part of your team and help in any way that they can. If money is the life blood of a campaign, volunteers are the heart! These people will help make calls, knock doors, attend event, stuff envelopes, hold signs and countless other tasks that create a well-oiled campaign machine. Close friends, young people and retired supports are often great fits for this role.

Sign-In Sheets

Use a spreadsheet to create a simple, blank sign-in sheet for any events that you hold. Collect names and emails at a minimum. Also try to get their street address, phone number, and ask whether they’d be interested in volunteering.

Issue Profile

Why are you running for office? This is a simple question but not terribly easy to answer if you haven’t thought it through. A stunningly high number of candidates can’t answer this question even on the eve of their election. Be sure to have an elevator pitch ready and develop a stump speech based on your issue profile.

Know Your Strengths

Some people are their own worst critic. Others, shall we say, have a slightly more flattering view of one or more personality traits than other might think. Either way, understanding your true strengths and weaknesses can be a tremendous advantage! It’s even more valuable to get this information from your friends, family, and colleagues. But they probably wouldn’t be 100% honest to your face so we’ve created an online tool you can use to collect this information anonymously. Ask them to go to our Know Your Strengths online survey (https://candidatebootcamp.com/know-your-strengths/) and be sure to have them enter YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS. This way, you’ll receive an automatic email with each set of answers and it’s completely anonymous.

Identify Local Leaders

Make sure you know who the local leaders are that you may want to contact in order to get support for your campaign or even just pick their brains for tips and advice.

  • Party officials
    • Town/city party chair
    • Ward/precinct party chair
  • Elected/appointed officials
    • State senator
    • State representative(s)
    • Town/city clerk
    • Town/city moderator
    • Town/city aldermen or selectmen
    • Town/city school board members
    • Town/city budget manager

Campaign Infrastructure

Before announcing a run for political office, you’ll want to be prepared for success. This means that you have the infrastructure in place to answer questions, position yourself, deliver your message, solicit volunteers, and accept donations.

  • Website: Yes, your campaign needs a website. It’s not that hard or expensive to build a simple political campaign website.
  • Donations: Your campaign will have a difficult time reaching voters without spending money for advertising, infrastructure, and in some cases staff. You’ll need donations to fund those activities and if it isn’t extremely simple, easy, and safe to give you money, you’ll be losing valuable donations.
  • Database: The ability to send emails to supporters, donors, and voters is crucial! You don’t want to use your personal email for many, many reasons. You’ll want a professional, third-party email provider for this.
  • Social Media: I think by now all candidates understand the power of social media for their campaigns. But which channels should you use? And how should you use them? Some of the challenges with social media include:
    • You’re likely active on more than one platform, so how do you share the same content efficiently?
    • The times when you are online and posting content may not be the best times in terms of your audience presence. How do you address that?
    • If you have a campaign calendar, how to you ensure that notifications and reminders go out at precisely the right times?
  • Advertising: The great thing about digital advertising is that it’s easy for the novice to use! The bad thing about digital advertising is that it’s easy for the novice to use! What does that mean? It means that while it’s very simple for anyone to boost a post on Facebook or create Google AdWords campaign, it’s difficult to get great results. Read our blog post, 7 Facebook Advertising Mistakes Political Candidates Make.

Organization

Here are some organizational tips for you to make sure you address:

  • Collect and store logins for all campaign-related online accounts
  • Compile and secure contact phone numbers and email addresses
  • Prepare a draft campaign budget
  • Set preliminary fundraising goals
  • Create a campaign calendar

Communications

You only get one chance to make a first impression, so before you announce your campaign, make sure your communications strategy is ready to go.

  • Compile a press list
  • Finalize your campaign branding and messaging
  • Make sure stump speech is written and practiced
  • Get collateral printed and ready to go
  • Write press release, email announcement, and letters to the editor

Email

Email can be a power tool for your campaign but if you’re not careful, you can get hurt. This email checklist will help you make sure that you’re using it effectively and not making mistakes that are easily avoidable.

"This checklist assumes that you’re using a tool like Mailchimp or ActiveCampaign to send your emails. We highly recommend that you do not use a personal account to send mass emails."
  • Right list for the message.
  • Check the “From” name and email.
  • No default content.
  • Subject line creates curiosity.
  • Message is concise.
  • Contains a “call to action.”
  • Hyperlinks work.
  • Spell and grammar check.
  • Mobile compatibility.
  • Send a test email.

72-Hour Checklist

A “72 Hour Checklist” represents your campaign efforts in the last 3 days, not including election day, of a political campaign. In all reality, this is a 4-day process that includes the weekend before your election. During this time period, you are focused on “Get Out the Vote” (GOTV) efforts that help push your targeted universe and voters to the polls on election day.

"A successful 72-Hour Plan uses the data that you and your volunteers have collected throughout the whole campaign. These last three days are the time to talk to your targeted and identified voters and will only be a success if you have been doing all the leg work needed prior."
  • Day 1: The goal for this day is to continue to ID voters and to remind them of the upcoming election.
    • Sign-wave in heavy traffic areas
    • Door-knock on the homes of unidentified registered voters
    • Call the homes of unidentified registered voters
    • Deliver and place campaign signs
  • Day 2: The goal for this day is to continue to ID voters and to remind them of the upcoming election.
    • Sign-wave in heavy traffic areas
    • Door-knock on the homes of unidentified registered voters
    • Call the homes of unidentified registered voters
    • Deliver and place campaign signs
  • Day 3: The goal for this day is to remind your ID supporters that tomorrow is election day. Once that is complete, continue to ID more unidentified registered voters.
    • Sign-wave in heavy traffic areas
    • Door-knock on the homes of unidentified registered voters. Remind them that tomorrow is election day.
    • Sign wave in heavy traffic areas. “Vote Tomorrow”
    • Call the homes of identified supporters and remind them that tomorrow is election day.
    • Deliver signs to polling locations.
  • Election Day: The goal of this day is to have a positive display at the polling locations and, most importantly, use and refine your ID voter list to turn out every single identified supporter that you have.
    • Sign wave in heavy traffic areas.
      Vote!
    • Hold signs at polling locations or visit multiple polling locations.
      Consider delivering coffee in the morning to volunteer sign-holders and lunch during the afternoon.
    • Visit phone-bankers.
      Call list of friends and family to remind them to vote.
    • Hold signs at polling location or visit multiple polling locations.
    • Wait for returns in a comfortable setting.
      Prepare to speak to opposing candidate regardless of results.
      Make sure that you thank volunteers!

 

Click on the icon to download a condensed, PDF version of this checklist:

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