Ok. So you’ve made the decision to run. You know what you want to run for.  Now it’s time to get serious.  The Campaign Timeline will help you to think about the “big picture”. Lots of details will go into your plan, but this will help you organize what it takes to run a campaign. Work backwards. If you’ve planned a big event like a gala for work, a 50th anniversary party, or you’ve mapped your own personal goals then this is something you can do. Yes, it will feel overwhelming at times – lots of dates to remember! – but that is what your local clerk’s office or board of elections is for and why you pull together a great team around you! Our motto “Plan the Work. Work the Plan.” Whether it’s 5 years or 5 months (or even 5 weeks), this timeline will help you create a great campaign plan.  Remember. If it’s not written down, it’s not a plan.

Part 2: Plan the Work

  1. Your Campaign Team
  2. The Plans within the Plans (Fundraising, Budgets, Messaging , Field, Calendar)
  3. Lists, lists and more lists!


1.  Your Campaign Team

First and foremost, you (and only you!) are the candidate. As a candidate, your job is to raise money and to be in touch with voters. We understand that not every campaign can afford to hire full-time staff, but most candidates require some part-time help to keep them on track (and sane!). With your kitchen cabinet, discuss what functions of the campaign need to be staffed by real people. You may also incur “one-time” expenses such as setting up your website, but then have a volunteer make changes and updates to it for free.

Take a look at the candidate tip sheet, Build Your Campaign Team, for a full outline of the functions of each member and what they should be doing for you.

2. The Plans within the Plans (Fundraising, Budgets, Messaging , Field, Calendar)

a. Fundraising

Find resources on how to fund your campaign in the Fundraising section of our resource library. For now, when it’s comes to the plan within the plan, the fundraising plan is your guiding light. You simply can’t spend what you can’t raise.

When you are mapping your resources and potential fundraising amounts, it’s good to consider the highs and lows. Give yourself a range, but be realistic. We like to call this making a Cadillac budget, a Pinto budget, and reality budget. Do this exercise early enough to help you make the hard choices about where to stop spending if you campaign is coming up short, or where to start spending if you are on a fundraising roll.

Start by finding out what was spent on previous campaigns. Get trained on asking for money if you are uncomfortable with asking for yourself. Find a good treasurer for you campaign with budgetary skills and make sure it’s someone you trust. Understand filing deadlines and campaign finance laws (and ask questions when you don’t).

Any good fundraising plan has goals aligned with key dates and has a name (or PAC) next to every dollar amount!

b. Budget:

The almighty budget it like any other budget in your life: it’s a tool. But in politics, it is also a record-keeper to ensure that folks are spending the money they raise in campaign in all the right ways. Good budgeting is not only essentially for making choices about where to spend your hard earned money, but also required for filing deadlines and reporting in to your local board of elections.

Be realistic. The budget is a living breathing tool. Set forecasts monthly and be sure to capture all of the things you want to spend money on!

c. Messaging 

If you are finally getting tired of “staying on message” then you are finally just getting to the voters. It takes a lot to break through the noise, especially with social media and advertisements everywhere we turn. But you can do it by staying consistent. You will find the 7 C’s of Communications and other advice on campaign messaging in the Communications section of our resource library. The message is central to your campaign and should convey why you are running (luckily we’ve got a worksheet to help you through that.) Your communications plan is also where you map out your earned and paid media. Earned media is just what is sounds like: you are not paying for this, you are getting this media coverage free because you are in the right place at the right time or because your social media strategies are rocking! Here is where you outline how you are going to get to Editorial Boards, key reporters and have others speaking on your behalf.

Paid media is the type of media you are spending your campaign money on. It could be targeted social media buys, ads in the local paper, or other visibility materials.

d. Field – Vote Number or “Win” Number

Getting to your win number (the actual number of votes you need to win your election) is part math, part gut. It takes 50% of the Vote plus 1 to win an election (a simple majority) but your campaigns vote number will be higher than that to account for any unforeseen changes.

What you are calculating is the following:

Voters performance in three categories: 1) Always Vote 2) Sometimes Vote 3) Never Vote

Crossed with voters likelihood of voting for you:
1) Likely to vote for you (i.e. your party)
2) Persuadable or Swing Voters and
3) Likely to vote for the other guy (i.e. their party).

Here’s a quick table to demonstrate:

Likely to Vote
Persuadable or Swing Voters Likely to Vote
Always Vote
Sometimes Vote
Never Vote

In the box above, start jotting down who may fit into these boxes.
Do you have a strong policy for seniors in your community but are not of the same party as influential senior citizens in your community? You would put them in the “Always Vote / Swing Voters” Box.

Are you a young person running for the first time, speak strongly to youth issues and share the same party as many young people in your district? You would put them in the “Sometimes Vote / Likely to Vote FOR YOU” box.

Get it?! It’s a judgment call based on the votes from the last elections, how inspiring or “hot” this election is (voter turnout is always higher in Presidential elections years!) and a little bit of gut.

Next, overlay where you are going to spend your time.
If you have a long ways to go – say you are two years out – you might want to consider spending time on people who “Never Vote” by trying to register new voters or increasing their participation. For example, if there is low voter turnout in a community and you know that this group will vote for you if they get registered, then you might want to spend that time on registering that group and getting them from Never Vote to Sometimes Vote.

If you don’t have that kind of time, spend it on the Persuadable Voters in the “Always Vote” and “Sometimes Vote” box, while making sure that your “Likely to Vote for You” folks in “Always Vote and Sometimes Vote” Feel some love. Yep, we are saying spend a majority of your time in the middle category, while giving love to your likely voters (but not too much time).

This is often harder for women. We want folks to like us, even if they are going to vote for the other guy. Trust your gut, if you really believe you can swing people from the “FOR THE OTHER GUY” column to your column give it a try. This is how women are changing the game. But give it a try-out, not a commitment. Test the waters, but don’t lose an election trying to get people who are never going to vote for you to “like” you. You can reach out to them and build those bridges when you represent them – and all the people – once elected.

Likely to Vote
Persuadable or Swing Voters Likely to Vote
Always Vote Give ‘em love but not too much time. Yes, go get ‘em! Can you swing ‘em? That’s a gut check question.
Sometimes Vote Yes, go get ‘em to turn out for you! Spend time here! Lots of it Your call.
Never Vote Is there something in the election that will get them out? Then capitalize on it! Your call. Do not spend time here!

Your “Win” Number is the basis for you Voter Contact Plan a.k.a. Field Plan. This foundation tells you where you should be spending our time, what voters are likely to vote for you.

We love this handy-dandy tool from Wellstone Action called the “Win Calculator

 e. The Master Calendar

Work backwards from Election Day and take it week-by-week. You’ve already populated the calendar with important dates for you personally, the community and the election cycle. Now, take a moment to align your strategy with what you’ve mapped for raising funds and reaching votes – often called “Candidate Time” or “Candidate Schedule”. Put those milestones on the calendar! For example, you may want to hit a certain fundraising goal before the first filing deadline in order to show potential opponents the strength of your support. Another example is if you have early voting in your state.  Be sure to include how many voters you want to get to the polls for early voting. Finally, overlay media opportunities. If you take 300 voters to the polls for early voting, you probably want to call the press and get that photo op in the local news!

3. Lists, lists and more lists!

Good lists win elections. Your “Voter Contact List” (what, closer to Election Day, becomes your “Get Out the Vote (GOTV) List”) is the base of your campaign, your “Fundraising List” funds the campaign plan, and your “Press List” gets you wider visibility. Whether it is voters, fundraising contacts or media connections, keeping good records will foster relationships with supporters and donors, and get you more media coverage.

Your campaign is only as good as the lists you keep – to know who and where your supporters are, who you’ve contacted and who needs to be contacted, and where your funding is coming from – so be sure to keep your data clean and organized!

Voter Contact List:

You could just walk out your front door and start visiting every house in your neighborhood and district, but is that the most efficient way to reach your Win Number?  Getting a list of registered voters (including names, addresses and phone numbers) is key to implementing your campaign plan.

There are a number of resources for voter lists.  The most basic list is available from your local election administrator or your Secretary of State.  Depending on which office you’re running for, this list – kept in a simple Excel spreadsheet – may be all you need.  However, it’s usually better to get an enhanced voter file that comes with a software package to manage the data.

Enhanced voter files layer in additional information about specific voters, such as age, race/ethnicity, political party preference, how often they vote and in which elections, sometimes even consumer data.  These files usually come as part of a software package that allows you to layer in your own data, such as identified supporters, donors, volunteers, yard sign takers, etc.

Your political party may have an enhanced voter file software package available to you for free or for a nominal fee.  There are also many vendors who provide various packages of enhanced voter files and software support.  Do your research to find a voter contact list that works best for your campaign plans and budget.

Fundraising List:

In most cases, campaign finance laws require your campaign to file specific reports about your donors.  Detailed recordkeeping from the start of your campaign will make your reporting easier.  A good fundraising list also helps to identify current and potential donors, track contribution pledges, send thank you notes, re-ask previous donors, and know who has already reached their contribution limit.

Like the voter contact list, the most basic fundraising list is your own spreadsheet of people you personally know and want to ask for donations to your campaign.  You can also buy fundraising software from vendors, which may include lists of potential donors in your district.  If you are working with a professional fundraiser, they may come with their own list to add to your personal list.

Media List:

It is important to know all of the ways that voters consume media in your district, and to get to know specific reporters, journalists and bloggers.  Work with your campaign team to develop a media contact list specific to your race.  Who is the reporter assigned to local election coverage? Who is on the editorial board of your local newspapers? Which blogger helps shape opinions about local policies and government actions?

Start building relationships with media early in your campaign, and track your contact with them.  Reach out and touch media often, offer yourself as a resource on specific topics, help identify good stories to follow.  Track who covers your campaign and when.

Now get ready to work the plan with Campaign Plan for Women Part 3.