3. Manage your time and money

There’s a tendency in politics to do things the same way, campaign after campaign. But times and issues change. If you’re copying everything from a prior campaign, you’re not managing the current one.

Step back and consider the purpose of campaign management. It is to gather as many resources as you can and spend those resources as efficiently as possible. In an advocacy campaign, there are only two resources to raise and spend: time and money. Sadly, too many progressive campaigns tend to waste a surprising amount of both.

In general, the best management decisions move you the furthest toward persuading policymakers, organizations, grasstops leaders and the media to support your policy. The worst decisions pour time and money into activities that don’t persuade anyone.

Let’s divide management into two ideals and discuss them in turn. The first is to maximize the quantity of campaign communications (that is, the number of repetitions of your message) and the second is to maximize the quality of communications (that is, the effectiveness of your message).

Maximize the quantity of communications

First, avoid wasting person-hours and dollars on overhead or giveaways that serve little or no strategic purpose. Do not pay for an expensive headquarters or parties, spend too many volunteer hours on signs and demonstrations, or give away shirts, hats, bumper stickers, buttons, pens and beer mugs that won’t persuade anyone. If you’re managing the campaign, you will get constant requests for these kinds of accessories. Unless they are both cheap and will substantially improve volunteers’ morale, just say no.

Second, don’t waste time on a lot of large meetings. The cost of a meeting is the person-hours (and for staff, the salaries) of every participant added together. If you’re seeking input, let people participate by email or by contributing to a collaborative Google doc. When you need to hold a large meeting, plan ahead, have an agenda, keep it to just a few key matters, don’t let it get sidetracked, and get participants back to the real work of persuasion as quickly as possible.

Throughout the campaign, the most common way to waste resources is by repetitive communications with policymakers whose minds are already made up. Sure, keep thanking and supporting friendly policymakers. But focus resources on persuading undecided policymakers. (Targeting and tracking are explained in Chapter 13.) Nearly all of the combined efforts of advocacy staff, volunteers and allies should generate calls, letters, emails and visits—as well as in-district signs, rallies and demonstrations—aimed squarely at the undecideds.

Maximize the quality of communications

The other key to good management is to focus on a single message. A campaign “message” is a short statement that explains the basic reason why policymakers should side with you. Your message should be fairly simple, entirely believable, and framed to appeal to both undecided policymakers and persuadable voters. Campaign “talking points” are statements which communicate all or part of your message.

For example, suppose your campaign message was: “Prescription drug companies are unfairly raising prices for some medicines which residents have to use or they put their lives at risk. The state can and should authorize the Attorney General to crack down on price gouging by these rich corporations.”

Talking points might explain that:

  • Prescription drug prices are skyrocketing;
  • In many cases (like the EpiPen), the only reason for the price increase is greed;
  • Life-saving drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them;
  • It is entirely appropriate to empower the state Attorney General to take action in court; and
  • Polls show that voters favor such legislation by a margin of more than seven-to-one.

You maximize the quality of communications when you have a truly effective message (preferably one that’s been poll-tested), which through a series of talking points is communicated over and over.

Match tactics to targets

A good campaign manager identifies which individuals and groups have the highest probability of persuading a targeted policymaker—those who have influence with that official, those who he or she will listen to. And then the manager makes sure those influential people and groups engage in the strongest lobbying they can.

Advocacy groups often waste a lot of effort by lobbying everyone the same way (e.g., general calls, letters and emails) when that’s neither the fastest nor the most direct way to get the policymaker’s support.

There is no substitute for knowing as much as possible about each persuadable officeholder. Talk to friendly policymakers and allied groups, read everything you can about the policymaker, and figure out who the best messengers might be. It could be one of the policymaker’s own volunteers or donors, a political mentor, personal friend or neighbor, in-district or influential businesspeople, policymakers who are close friends, or powerful leaders like committee chairs. Tailor your approach to the individual. That’s both efficient and effective.

Increase your campaign resources

A good campaign manager raises money. There are whole books about fundraising—which you should read—so let’s just review some essential guidelines.

  • Create a fundraising prospect list of individuals, corporations, unions, policy groups and foundations that might possibly donate to your cause.
  • For major donors that require numerous contacts before they contribute, especially foundations, create a “Pipeline” spreadsheet to keep track of every time you’ve communicated, their donor requirements, and deadlines.
  • Nobody gives unless they are asked, so you must be ready to do a lot of asking. Use the telephone extensively; you will get very little money by just mailing out a request. Follow up by phone again and again, and for major donors, visit face-to-face.
  • When you ask for money, start with standard pleasantries, transition to “I need your help,” find a point of agreement, make them understand the importance of your cause, and ask for a specific amount. If they say “yes” or “maybe,” follow up with a letter.
  • Use the RAT method: have a reason for the request, ask for a specific amount, and give a particular time when you need to receive the money. As for the amount, almost nobody gives more than asked, so ask high.
  • Your attitude matters. Always be upbeat as if you expect a yes. Maintain the outlook that you’re doing the donors a favor by letting them participate in this important cause.
  • If you hold a fundraising event, keep the overhead costs low. Better yet, create a host committee that pays for the overhead so the campaign keeps all donations.
  • The most likely contributors are the ones who gave to your cause previously. Ask again.

Recruiting volunteers is fairly similar to fundraising.

  • Create a spreadsheet or database of volunteers. This includes name, street address, email, phone number, and each person’s legislative or council district (fill that in yourself based on street address). Record every time they do a volunteer activity and what it was.
  • Invite friends, your staff’s friends and your allies’ friends to volunteer, reaching out through mail, telephone, email, website “volunteer here” pages, and social media. At any meeting or event, capture (at least) everyone’s name, street address and email address.
  • Keep volunteer recruitment as inexpensive as possible. A people-raiser event is fine if the host, not the campaign, pays for it.
  • Make specific requests for volunteers’ time—exactly what you need them to do and when.
  • Give volunteers options from short-term, low-responsibility tasks to jobs with greater engagement in order to develop them as leaders. (This is explained in Chapter 10.)
  • The people who are most likely to volunteer are the ones who have volunteered already. Ask again.