Posts tagged finance
Over the next few weeks I’ll be on the road, attending the Florida Young Democrats 2011 Convention which will be occurring in conjunction with the Florida Democratic Party’s Jefferson Jackson Weekend at the Westin-Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida and Netroots Nation 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
At the FYD Convention, I’ll be conducting a training session on planning and executing events, joined by FYD Convention Chair Shannon Love. Here’s the blurb from the FYD Website:
Meetings and Events
If you and your chapter are interested in hosting events that kick ass and raise money, please join Democracy for America Trainer Mario Piscatella and Pinellas Young Democrats President Shannon Love as they explain great ways to plan, organize and execute successful events large and small. From building spreadsheets that track progress to finding different ways to bring in money, this session will provide you the tools you need to host everything from a regular meeting to a dinner, convention or other exciting event.
In Minneapolis, I’ll be conducting free consulting sessions with candidates of today, tomorrow and someday, as I posted about already.
Later in the summer, I expect to be at the Young Democrats of America National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, and who knows where else I may end up.
OK, you are considering a run for public office, now what do you do?
At this point, many first time candidates expect support and knowledge to come to them. It rarely happens, like anything else, you must seek it out and work for it. The first step should always be an unbiased and realistic evaluation of the potential candidate and their capacity to fulfill the requirements of a campaign for the district. This involves basic questions about time commitment and financial situations. Dishonesty at this point is common, that is, candidates lying to themselves about what they can and cannot put in to a proposed race. Common factors to look at:
* Why does the potential candidate want to run?
* Why is the potential candidate a Democrat (and progressive/liberal)?
* How many hours per week will this campaign require now, next month, three months from now and for the remainder of the campaign?
* Financially can the candidate and their family survive the costs of the campaign, including any loss of pay, time and energy?
* What will the average day look like for the candidate at various points during the campaign, is the candidate prepared to commit to that? Are there health concerns that might impede such a commitment?
* How will the geography of the district, weather and transportation impact the candidate in this campaign?
Once we have all those physical/logistical (and additional related questions) answered and written down, we move on to the campaign finance aspects:
* What is a realistic cost of a minimally competitive campaign for this race? A strong campaign?
* How much money will the candidate themselves put in to the race, and in what form? (I personally restrict candidates to less than $50k in “loans” to the campaign, as startup cash only, anything else should be contributed with no expectation of repayment from donors.)
* What is the contribution limit and any related fundraising rules (like public financing, matching funds, etc)?
* What is the strength of the candidates social networks, is 300 donors in the first month possible? 500 in the first quarter? Refer to this exercise: Conventional Un-Wisdom: Fund Raising and further detailed here: Tools for a Better Organized Campaign
* Reinforce the reality that 80% of the candidates time will be fund raising, phone to face, in a closed room. It isn’t all fairs and pig roasts.
If the candidate has the desire to run and the answers to all of the above questions indicate the candidate has the capacity to run, the next question to assess is whether or not they have the temperament and traits to be a good candidate. Some weaknesses can be overcome with training, others cannot. If the candidate isn’t interest in improving/changing, it isn’t going to get any better later in the campaign. Creating an honest assessment at this point in the process allows periodic review throughout the campaign, charting progress and allowing for adjustments to correct or compensate. Too often, heavily “recruited” candidates are led in to the race under the impression they are perfect as they are, they hold on to that belief to the bitter end and everything invested in them throughout the campaign (money, time and sweat) is thrown away. Weeks later someone tells them, “By the way John, you probably lost 5,000 votes to your halitosis, didn’t anyone ever offer you a breath mint?” (Yes, this is a simplified issue, they are rarely this easy on a campaign.)
For (potential) candidates, one of the biggest struggles is finding people to serve as their campaign advisors and staff. They often fall in to traps of paying large sums for minimal returns, consultants and advisors that are more hype and reputation than experience and performance. There are a few good email lists and websites that are of some use, such as Jobs That Are Left, but the best place to start is right here at MPA Political by contacting us and reading Conventional Un-Wisdom: Hiring Staff. Really, any potential candidates should read everything on our How To’s and Training page. Lower tier and long time elected officials running for higher office often stick with the people who have worked on their previous campaigns and worked in their government offices, this often creates a closed campaign, where no new thoughts or talents are brought in and the campaign is unable to compete on the larger playing field of higher office. Campaigns should include new thoughts, differing experiences and ideas. If your campaign strategy meetings result in everyone agreeing 100% with everyone else, you need to find some thought-diversity for your team.
Somewhere in these early stages, there needs to be a compliance check with all applicable laws, rules and authorities. Is the potential candidate legally qualified to run for the office they are planning to seek? Do they understand the finance rules and regulations and have a plan to comply with all required reporting procedures? If elected, what actions are they required or recommended to take, for legal, ethical or public relations reasons? This might include turning control of a business over to a blind trust or resigning from Boards or similar positions. Are they restricting from fundraising or campaigning due to the Hatch Act (or any similar state/local law)? In Florida there is a “resign to run” law that impacts state level elected officials, it is important to know how and when that impacts your campaign. You can and will be thrown off the ballot for failure to comply with related laws and procedures. If you are seeking Federal Office, filing with the FEC is mandatory.
The last of these first steps is to build a timeline for the campaign including goals and benchmarks. To do this, one must have a complete understanding of the candidate and landscape, including vote goals and turnout expectations. If you haven’t figured this out, and haven’t already brought in a professional for all of the processes listed above, you absolutely need a professional for this, for smaller races it might be a one time fee for a week or two of work, or it might be the first payment beginning a monthly relationship with a general consultant.
This is a discussion of the first steps, which doesn’t include all of the steps of learning to sit up and crawl…the process can begin as early as middle school and as late as however old you are today. This would be a good time to look over What Inspires Candidate to Run? if you haven’t done so already.
For your conveinence, here are all the Conventional Un-Wisdom, Unconventional Wisdom, and other posts that pertain to better campaigning sorted by what aspect of the campaign they primarily pertain to. You will also now find this list as a big button on the bar above and in the menu to the right. Please visit our Services page or Contact Us if you have any questions or desire more specific and intensive training.
Organizing – The Foundation of Progress – The basic rules of organizing
Tools for a Better Organized Campaign – Basic Fund Raising Spreadsheet
Events / Advance:
Tools for a Better Organized Campaign – Event Request Form
Conventional Un-Wisdom: If a candidate has a strong profile, the correct issue positions and public speaking ability, they will attain institutional and establishment support. Donations and support will flow from party organizations, unions and traditional donors.
As I look for candidates to help and support around the nation, vet potential clients, and generally try to support the progressive movement, this is one of the fallacies that stifles any chance of success dead in its tracks. Many candidates belief is that if they take on an incumbent or an incumbent party on an issue they see as greatly important to the district, the support will come to them in the form of dollars, donors and volunteers. These candidates believe this because no one has given them a proper education on how candidate fund raising works, just slammed the door in their face after saying “come back after you’ve raised $xxx,xxx.” No clue is provided on how or where that money should come from, the proper techniques to attain it or where to find quality staffing. That is the reality of the Democratic Party in most of this country.
The reality is, those door slamming establishment figures aren’t wrong, but they aren’t helping themselves by not providing more information or explanation. To be a serious contender for a US Congressional seat anywhere in the country, you need to be able to raise roughly $200,000 from your own network in the first 90 days of your candidacy, assuming you started on the first day of a financial reporting period, subtract a day from the time frame for every day in to the period you start. What does “from your network” mean? Your friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, college classmates, high school classmates, kindergarten classmates and every member of your Little League team. Yes, even the kid you used to beat up in high school…or the one who beat you up. No, it doesn’t matter what their personal ideology is. They will contribute in support of having someone they know in Congress, they will contribute based on knowing someone with the same experience (attending X school, living in Y town, or enduring the same miserable boss at a job ten years ago), they will contribute because you asked them. That is the key, you have to ask. You have to reach out and make the effort to talk to them, in direct communication, not through an email or a letter, but face to face or over the phone.
What those door slammers are thinking as they slam the door is, “this guy/gal can’t get his own family to support his campaign, why should anyone else?” I can’t count how many candidates have complained to me about their struggles fund raising that I have pulled their disclosure reports to find they have less than one hundred unique donors. Their friends and family have not given even $20 to their campaign. Before approaching traditional donors, you should have a minimum of three hundred unique contributors, ideally more. This is how you demonstrate that your candidacy and campaign are a worthwhile investment to donors who don’t have any personal knowledge or understanding of you or your experience. This is where the resources come from to build your campaign staff, purchase your first materials (NOT YARD SIGNS), and begin developing a more complete campaign. During the process of collecting from these initial donors from your own network you don’t need fancy literature or precise messaging, it is a personal outreach from you to someone with a preexisting relationship or shared experience. It isn’t about your position on issues, it isn’t about your party affiliation, its about what you share – there is absolutely no benefit to lying.
To get started, there is a basic exercise. Sit down and write it down. This is a common practice in campaigns, one of the basic rules of organizing is “If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.” The easiest way to do this is using a spreadsheet application, start just by listing the people you know will contribute and a conservative estimate of what they will give in the first 90 days. Build out the list using multiple columns for contributions and relational identification columns.
Here is an example (Click to enlarge):
At this point we are just looking to get the names of everyone you expect to contribute in the first 90 days “on paper.” The first run through might just be the names themselves, with the additional information added in later passes. Eventually the list will be expanded to included phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses, etc. It is very important to be honest (and conservative) with the dollar amounts assigned on this sheet. If you are over-confident in this exercise, all subsequent events in the process will fail. Column E is the amount you expect this specific donor to give in the 1st 90 days (first filing period), Column F is some mid campaign date, in a 15 month or longer campaign, I would use the end of the first calendar year, ie 12/31 as in the sample. Column G, “Potential”, is the maximum knowledge or research suggests the donor could give, or the maximum they have committed to giving over the entire length of the campaign. Remember that money not yet in the bank, isn’t anything you can count on. Until it is in your hands, it doesn’t exist.
A dollar raised 15 months prior to election day is worth significantly more than a dollar raised one month prior to election day, I estimate it to be around a factor of 25 to 1, but typically, campaigns bring in 1/3 to 1/2 of their total fund raising in the last 30 to 90 days. If that same money was harvested six months out, it would deliver far more impact. Money raised a year or more out is used to build a foundation, bring in higher caliber staffing, and build a complete and thorough campaign plan. It further helps to expand outreach to widen the base, develop larger fund raising networks and help to establish the narrative and define the candidate in the manner the campaign sets forth rather than the definition the opposing campaign prefers.
Start early and do the work before you start the campaign. Make your list, have someone you trust go through it with you, allow them to ask questions and expand the list through them. In this process you can also begin creating a timeline of your entire life experience, which you will need (on paper) later in the campaign building process. At this point you should also attend a DFA Training Academy, or similar program – really this is a step you should take when you start considering you might run “some day”, or if you just want to be a more effective activist and/or campaign supporter.
After you’ve brought in your contributions from your personal network and filed your first quarterly report showing 300, 400, 500, 1000 donors contributing $200,000+, you can begin outreach to those traditional donors, you can begin asking the party and other organizations for support, you have demonstrated you are willing and capable of doing the work. Make no mistake, running for Congress is a full time job and then some…if you think you are special and you can get away with 8 or 10 hour workdays, that you can be home to kiss your kids goodnight every night, you are very wrong. There is no forgiveness in this process, it is brutal and I have a great deal of respect for the men and women that sign up to endure it knowingly. The ones who sign up because they don’t know any better, that’s a problem we as a party need to be held responsible for, particularly when they become the nominee and still run low quality campaigns. That hurts the party in a long term fashion. We must run real challengers for every seat every cycle.