Running For Local Office For Dummies book cover

Running For Local Office For Dummies

By: Dan Gookin Published: 08-20-2019

Get ready to run for—and win—that local election!

In the land of opportunity, just about anyone who qualifies as an elector can seek public office. Some do it on a whim, some are urged to run, and some want to use their time and talents to make a difference in their local community. 

If you want to know how to prepare for a run, which steps to take beforehand, and how the process goes from announcement to campaigning to election day to the swearing-in ceremony—this book has you covered.

  • Find out what it’s like to run for local office as a first-time candidate
  • Explore the introspection required and the study necessary to make such a run effective
  • Deal with marketing, fundraising, interacting with the public, and dealing with opponents
  • Encourage and help others to make a run for local office

Though only one person ultimately wins a seat, nobody does it without a wide network of support. Running For Local Office For Dummies is your ticket to navigating every step on the road to winning that election.  

Articles From Running For Local Office For Dummies

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Running for Local Office For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-05-2022

You want to ensure that your run for office is successful. This Cheat Sheet provides some tips on campaigning, including preparing for a local political campaign by working on your name recognition, public reputation, and campaign finances. You also need to make sure that you have some important assets in place, like a campaign manager, volunteers, and voter lists.

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Negative Campaigning for Local Office

Article / Updated 09-19-2019

The negative campaign seems to be an American tradition, but what does negative campaigning really mean? You hear the terms attack ads and mudslinging. Often, they apply to anything critical. Most negative campaign material is based in fact. It’s only that the target doesn’t like the facts pointed out that makes things seem “negative.” And, of course, getting personal or fabricating mischief is also considered going negative, but in a vicious way. You must ask yourself if you need to do so to win and how effective such a strategy will be. My advice is to run for local office on your own merits. Stay positive by showcasing your strengths and positions. This posture doesn’t prevent your opponent from going negative on you, though, which is why you should know the turf even if you don’t plan on trotting over it. What does “going negative” mean? You (the challenger) can be accused of going negative if you point out a disgruntled incumbent’s dismal public record. In this case, the information is fair game. Like anything subjective, however, a spectrum exists for anything labeled an attack. On the fair-criticism side of the spectrum, any elected official’s public record, well-documented, is fair game. “My opponent has consistently voted for every property tax increase.” Such a statement isn’t an attack, though your opponent may think so. The unfair side of the spectrum includes inuendo and outright slander. For example, bringing up an old public drunkenness charge is fair, but you must consider how it will play. Does the voter already know? How old is the charge? Better: Are you guilty of the same — or worse — sin? Going negative can also backfire. In a recent local race, a challenger criticized the incumbent for missing too many meetings. It turns out the incumbent was quite ill and spent weeks convalescing. In this example, the attack generated sympathy for the incumbent and derision toward the challenger, who eventually apologized. Not good. Never attack your opponent personally. Pointing out a fact isn’t mudslinging, though you may be accused of it. Mudslinging itself is a series of unjust insults designed to damage an opponent’s reputation. If someone accuses you of mudslinging, it’s acceptable for you to clarify your statements as free from mudslinging. Can you slander a political candidate? As a candidate for office, you’re considered a public person. As such, slander against you isn’t actionable in court. People can and will say anything about you. If you threaten to sue, you show the voting public that your skin is far too thin to handle an elected position. People have the right to criticize and to even make up stuff about public officials. What people don’t have a right to do is maliciously attack them: Malicious slander is actionable in court. The problem, however, is to determine what is malicious. Typically, your slanderer must demonstrate a pattern of animosity toward you. The good news is that truly slanderous, not to mention maliciously slanderous, attacks are rare in local elections. They show desperation and are a turnoff for many voters. Accept that some people don’t like you Running for office introduces you to a new class of people: those you don’t know who don’t like you. It’s amazing, but suddenly, and only because you dared run against someone they like, people will come out opposed to you and dream up all sorts of reasons to dislike you. This fact you must accept. “Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate” — Anonymous As a candidate, you may find yourself reintroduced to people you’ve wronged in the past. Maybe you’ve forgotten the incident. They haven’t. Be prepared for them to make noise about it. Some people, however, may dislike you for no rational reason. You may find them popping up like weeds on social media or in the paper. Don’t bother trying to understand why they dislike you. Merely accept it and move on. These people aren’t voting for you anyway. Trying to change their minds is a waste of time. Negative attack piece One campaign tactic is to hit your opponent with a negative or attack piece during the last week of the election. This strategy provides little time for the opponent to respond, though with the Internet and social media, the capability to address a last-minute attack is stronger than ever. If you decide to unleash your wrath, do it as positively as possible. One tactic is to list two columns, one for you and one for your opponent. You compare and contrast policy differences between you, which is fair and not negative (though it’s selective). The following figure shows an example. An “attack” comparison piece.Going full-on negative probably isn’t necessary. It may be seen as a sign of desperation, especially if the attacks are personal or flat-out incorrect. It’s best to stay on point unless the entire campaign has been a giant mudfest, in which case the voters are disgusted anyhow. Going negative is easy, which is why so many candidates do it. Negative attacks work both ways: they attack your opponent, but they also reflect upon you. It’s easy to lose support if you suddenly go negative. The consequence of criticizing someone is that they’ll naturally become defensive and deny or justify their behavior. Don’t let this happen to you! The defense doesn’t play the game to score a touchdown. The voters remember a negative campaign. It builds resentment that doesn’t disappear, even if you should win. Prepare your defense You’ve been attacked. Your opponent or one of their supporters has decided to take the campaign to a nasty level. They accuse you of starting it, of course, but offer no proof. You’re left determining how best to defend yourself or whether it’s even necessary. You may be able to guess what’s coming. If so, you’ve prepared a defense and are ready with a press release or another way to address the issue. Being prepared is truly the best way to deal with a legitimate issue. Don’t waste time worrying about a false accusation. Sure, anyone can make up anything and hurl it your way. Odds are good, however, that no one will fabricate something against you. You may catch wind of something from the rumor mill. If so, and if the accusation isn’t true, it’s a ruse designed to divert your attention. Ignore it. If need be, meet with your campaign team and discuss how best to deal with potential problems. You may find that voters in local elections have a strong distaste for nasty politics. The problem may resolve itself.

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Yard Signs for Your Local Political Campaign

Article / Updated 09-19-2019

Yard signs are a good way to spread your campaign brand, have supporters show their enthusiasm, and make your opponents nervous. Yard signs are an essential part of your campaign marketing, but by themselves they don’t win elections. Invest in yard signs as part of your campaign strategy. Don’t bother counting your opponent’s yard signs, because elections are won by votes and not the number of yard signs littering lawns and highways. Check with the rules of your region with regard to yard sign placement. For example, you may be prohibited from setting a yard sign on public property in the public right-of-way. Yard signs may also require a permit in some jurisdictions. Make a note when the permit allows you to set out — and remove — yard signs on your campaign calendar. Yard sign wars are a real thing. They’re a great example of how even a local, nonpartisan election can rack up the immaturity points on both sides: Your opponent’s supporters will damage and steal your yard signs. They will stick their yard signs one inch in front of yours. They will illegally place their yard signs. And your supporters may do the same things to the other yard signs. Just let it go. Yard sign wars don’t win campaigns, and complaining about stolen yard signs makes you come across as desperate. Philosophy behind yard signs Yard signs are about name recognition. The sign’s design should be tied to your campaign branding. A car driving by at 35 MPH should be able to identify your campaign based on the yard sign, which is yet another impression in the minds of the voter. On a practical level, yard signs are pretty much for supporters. They make wonderful handouts for meet-and-greet fundraising events. People are proud to show whom they’ve voting for, and having a yard sign makes them happy. I provide yard signs primarily for my supporters. Rarely, if ever, is the sight of a yard sign the deciding factor in someone voting for you or, better, switching over from voting for your opponent. Otherwise, I don’t believe yard signs have any impact on the election whatsoever. Make yard signs available For a typical local election, print about 100 yard signs per 2,000 potential voters. If you run out, you can print more. Have them available always, ready for supporters. If you can organize volunteers to set yard signs, hand them a bunch and let them have at it — after fully informing them of the various yard sign rules and regulation. Let other supporters know where they can pick up a yard sign. Specifically, send them to various meet-and-greet events to obtain one. That way, you draw more attendance at such events. Yard sign details Yard signs are about campaign marketing. The key element is your name. You can also add the position you seek. Required are any disclaimers, such as the campaign committee, treasurer, or other legally required details that must be printed on all your campaign material. A typical yard sign measures 24-by-18 inches. Larger sizes are available, though you should check the restrictions on yard sign sizes for your locale. The traditional yard sign is printed on a coated cardboard material. It’s weather resistant. Don’t go cheap and get a noncoated yard sign, because it will fade and flop in the weather. One important part about the yard sign is the mounting mechanism. Most signs are mounted on wires stuck into the ground. Called H-wires, these have an additional cost beyond the yard sign expense. Larger yard signs may require you to purchase wooden stakes or other methods to mount the signs. Yard sign do’s and don’ts Keep the information on your yard sign minimal: Your branding and name should stick out the most. If you add too much detail, the yard sign looks cluttered. No one can read your 24-word campaign slogan in inch-high letters on a yard sign. No one wants to. The following figure lists good and bad examples of yard signs. Here’s a summary: Avoid putting the election date on a yard sign. If you win, or if you lose and want to run again, you can re-use the same yard sign, but only if it doesn’t have a date on it. Use the word Vote on the sign instead of Elect. If you win, you can reuse a yard sign with the word Vote on it; otherwise, you must fix Elect to say Re-elect. Or, you can avoid both terms; it’s a campaign sign, and people aren’t that slow. Print the yard sign on both sides. Yes, it’s cheaper to use just one side. Good yard sign placement mandates that the sign be visible to both lanes of traffic. Placement of political yard signs It helps to have some hardy volunteers plant your yard signs. Yes, you’ll do your share of yard sign duty; keep signs in your car and at the ready. Also include some tools to help you hammer and dig, because not every location has the best soil. Track the location of your yard signs as well as possible. You must collect them after the campaign — and you do want to keep them should you choose to run again. Further, you don’t want your yard signs lingering long after the campaign. You’re the candidate, so these rogue yard signs are your responsibility. It’s your name on them, after all. Rules exist for planting yard signs. Ensure that you know the rules and have informed your volunteers. Double your yard sign visibility It’s possible to increase your yard sign visibility without overspending. The trick is to relocate the signs, especially during the last two weeks of the campaign. Most people tune out yard signs they’ve already seen. They recognize the bouquet of yard signs at major intersections, which eventually blend into the landscaping. However, if you go out and move the yard signs (keeping them in allowed locations), passersby will notice something different. Effectively, you’ve re-exposed the same people to a “new” yard sign without spending more money.

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How to Build a Brand for Your Local Political Campaign

Article / Updated 09-19-2019

Political campaigns benefit from branding. Smart candidates coordinate their campaign materials with a unified theme. Successful branding can help make your name and message “pop” among the voters. The best political branding in recent memory is the O logo from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. It was marketing genius, since imitated but never equaled. The material you need to run a campaign varies, depending on the number of voters, your opponent, and the campaign budget. You might not control these items, but you can prepare campaign material to deal with them in advance. The first step to making your marketing material is to build a brand. A good marketing person works with you to develop the brand. They’ll show you thumbnails and offer ideas. You give feedback. Eventually, you come up with a branding sheet that sets your campaign’s design, colors, and other themes. In the following figure, you see a sample branding sheet for city council candidate Tim Anderson. (The real one would be in color.) The branding sheet sets a style, fonts, colors, and graphics. Campaign material design is based on the branding sheet. The fonts and colors translate to any printed material, websites, letterheads, business cards, and so on. The key items to get from branding are colors and fonts. Having a graphical element is also good, but not required. Name recognition is key, not a logo. In the figure, details about the fonts and colors are supplied. This information allows printers and web designers to properly reproduce the brand. Ask for the Adobe Illustrator or EPS file version of the branding material. You may have to pay extra for this file, though most designers provide it as part of their fee. You can use the file to have printers and others work on your marketing material if the person who designed your branding doesn’t perform that task. The more colors you use, the more expensive your campaign material becomes to generate some material. The colors are red and blue with a white background. White is “free” because it’s not a color, but the second color (blue or red) adds cost to get materials such as yard signs printed. If you’re in a partisan race, branding material may also list your political affiliation. Important details for your campaign marketing material Confirm your state or local election code for information required to be on your website and all your marketing material and handouts. For example, the law may require that you name your campaign committee or treasurer or other people involved in the campaign. This information must appear in a readable manner as the law stipulates. The purpose of these disclaimers is to show who supports you or who is funding the campaign. The necessary details are provided in code, but check first, before you print anything. For small material, such as a business card, the information may not be required. The only way to know for certain is to check the law. Create the traditional campaign marketing handouts For small districts with low voter turnout, you might get by campaigning door-to-door with some handouts you make and print on your computer. If the district is larger, you need more traditional handouts for your campaign. Two common handouts are business cards and rack cards. Business cards Use your campaign brand to create standard business cards. Put your name, contact information, and some brief messaging on the card. You want to keep it clean and not wordy. It’s a business card, not a manifesto. Ensure that you print on both sides of the business card. This approach gives you twice as much space, but it also means your card is always sending a message, no matter how someone holds it. Cards printed on thick paper stock are great. Cards with raised lettering draw attention. If you want to write on the card, ensure that a finish is used that holds a felt or ink pen. The number of cards you print depends on the size of the election. Because your goal is to hand out the cards to everyone you meet, print more than you think you need. An election with low voter turnout would be one with 200 or fewer voters. Even then, going door-to-door may not be practical if the district is rural or covers a large area. A good message to write on a business card is “Sorry I missed you.” Then stick the card in the door jamb when going door-to-door. Always hand out your business cards! Rack cards A rack card is an envelope-sized handout, named such because this type of marketing material usually fits in a rack along with other rack cards, brochures, and trifolds. It’s perfect as an envelope-stuffer, handout, or door-knocking handout because it contains just the right amount of printed material. As with your campaign business card, you print on both sides of the rack card. It’s large enough to hold branding, campaign photos, key issues, written material, election information, plus contact information. If you create a rack card properly, you can even use it as a postcard mailer. In the following figure, you see the rack card mailer format, with ample space to place a stamp and address. Bring your rack cards to campaign events, fundraisers, or anywhere you’ve been invited to speak. Set out a few on each table. Hand them out to people who pass by. Consider other printed material for your campaign marketing Beyond letterhead, upon which you can print any letter or press release, your marketing person can help design mailers, yard signs, banners, and billboards. It’s not important that all these items are designed right away, with perhaps the exception of yard signs, which take a while to produce. Billboards require reservations months in advance. Other items can be generated quickly, providing you have funding. One item to design early might be postcards to send to early-voters. You can also use your rack cards as mailers, though if you have the money, a custom postcard targeted to an early voter is best. A good strategy is to send out three direct-mail pieces during the campaign, with two of them arriving during the last two weeks. If you have a campaign website, get the branding material to your webmaster as soon as possible. The website doesn’t need to be up right away, but having it available when you announce your candidacy is a must. Providing you have good branding, and your marketing person has crafted a solid theme, creating your campaign material should be easy. Plus, your campaign then enjoys a consistent, professional look. The voters will notice.

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The Requirements to Run for Public Office

Article / Updated 09-16-2019

It’s surprising how many people don’t know that holding elected office is like taking on a part-time job. Approach campaigning for a public office as you would a typical job search. You start with the job description and job requirements. Remember, holding a public office is a consistent commitment that can last several years. ©By Borka Kiss/Shutterstock.com What are the basic requirements to run for public office? All public offices have basic requirements, often written in code or statutes. This list includes who is eligible to hold the office, the office term, scheduled responsibilities, salary and benefits, and other items. For government entities served by an elected board, a staffer is responsible for items like meeting schedules, rules, and other details. This person is often titled the clerk. The clerk is your best resource for learning about the basic requirements of the job. For administrative elected positions, a staffer may be appointed to assist you with the various responsibilities and duties. Organizations and associations related to the position, such as the state board of coroners, might also be of assistance if you have questions about the basic requirements for a position. The human resources department for the organization might be another resource, though when you’re elected, you meet with them eventually anyway. Before you start campaigning, know whether you qualify for the office you desire: Eligibility for a position depends primarily on whether you’re an elector for the district you plan to represent. An elector is a qualified resident (not just a property owner) who has lived in the district for a prescribed amount of time and is eligible to vote. Confirm with the local election authority that you’re eligible to run for an office before you make further commitments. Special qualifications may include legal or law enforcement experience for certain positions. For example, an elected district attorney must be a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction. (Oddly enough, not every jurisdiction requires that an elected coroner have a medical degree.) Know the term of office! It could be two, three, four, or more years. During this term, you must maintain residency in the district to hold your position. Ensure that you can make the meeting schedule. The voters will be terribly disappointed if you can’t make the regular Thursday Library Board meetings because it’s your bowling night. At the bottom of your list should be the position’s salary and benefits package. Be aware that some elected positions offer no compensation other than the honor to serve. Other positions offer a monthly stipend, usually enough to cover the cost of gas. For the rest, the benefit package is luxurious, including full medical and retirement, phone fees, use of the cabana at the Bellagio, and similar perks that come with local office. The qualifications for political office Election laws vary from state to state. It’s important that you meet these qualifications before you invest any time or money into a campaign. The qualifications include Residency: You must be a resident in the district you plan to represent. You can’t just own property there — you must have a full-time residence or primary residence. Time in the district: Not only is residency important, but you also may be required to have lived in the district for a given amount of time. It could be a few months, a year, or longer. Age: Some offices have minimum age requirements. Other qualifications: It’s not common that you need law enforcement experience to run for sheriff, though it helps. You must, however, be an attorney in your state if you plan to run for a legal office, such as district attorney, prosecutor, or judge. Other offices may have similar restrictions. If you fail to meet any requirements of office, you won’t make it on the ballot. Even worse is when you mess up, or the election’s office messes up, and you’re unceremoniously removed from the ballot. You don’t want that to happen. Scrutinize the requirements. Your opponents will. And you should scrutinize them as well.

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Political Debates and Forums on the Local Level

Article / Updated 09-13-2019

Candidate forums and debates when you're campaigning for local office aren’t the drama you see in the movies. In fact, holding such forums isn’t as common as you might think. Most of these events are rather dreary, attended by people who’ve already made up their minds and lacking in any gotcha moments or campaign-ending events. The typical political forum involves candidates seated at a table or on a dais. These are all candidates for a specific seat, district, or ward. Each candidate is given time for an introduction. Questions are asked of each candidate, usually the same question over and over, and candidates are provided time for a response. All candidates consume the full time allotted. What are often labeled debates for a local election are forums again, though they might provide an opportunity for candidates to respond to each other. Rarely does a local election rise to the level of the historic Lincoln–Douglass debates. Most of the reason that candidate forms lack gravity at the local level is that the issues are mundane. Yes, everyone loves the city. Yes, everyone supports the schools. Only a few minor issues separate the candidates. The key factor an informed voter looks for is who can think well on their feet. They want to vote for people who are likable. They’re on the lookout for someone to screw up, lose their temper, or freeze at a key moment. Rules for political debates and forums The number-one rule for any candidate forum or debate is to show up. Don’t make a show of the event by saying that the hosting group is biased and, therefore, you won’t attend. Don’t fabricate an excuse that you’re unavailable. Always show up to all events to which all candidates are invited. Even if you’re not invited, show up anyway! A local group may host their favorite candidate but fail to invite you. If the meeting is open to the public, show up. You need not cause a scene or do anything, but your presence will be noted. Develop a basic debate strategy Before the event, determine how many candidates will share the stage with you. If the number is high, your answers will most likely match other candidates, so your goal is to stand out. Here are some suggestions: Be concise. Answer a yes-no question with “yes” or “no” and stop talking. If the moderator opens the door for a longer response, make one. Everyone loves to talk, but humans listen to only the first ten seconds or so of what you have to say. Make that part of your response the best. If you can’t get your message out in ten seconds, practice. Try not to take the full time to respond. It’s tough to shut up, but you can learn. Avoid getting into details. Numbers and specifics can trip you up. Speak in generalities. If the moderator asks for more information, direct them to your literature or website. Look like you’re enjoying yourself. In performance, the term is “to sell it.” Look like you’re doing the one thing everyone in the world would want to do at that time and like you’re having a great time doing it. Big problems in political debates In a candidate forum or debate, experienced politicians have an advantage: They’ve done it before. They know what works. You can learn as well, but you must have studied various forums and debates locally to understand how to apply yourself well. A common trick an incumbent pulls is when a challenger makes an accusation. The incumbent replies, “Why haven’t you contacted me in the past to bring up this issue?” This reply is an instant shutdown to whatever concern was raised. It shows that the challenger is making a hollow accusation. Bone up on logical fallacies — for example, the strawman attack, bandwagon technique, and begging the question. The web has many sites that can train you in identifying these tactics, used mostly by amateurs, but that can be effectively shut down when you recognize them. Don’t forget to thank the hosts, especially if you’re called on first either at the start of the forum or for the closing comments. After one candidate thanks the host, you don’t need to repeat the thank-you. At the closing, direct people to your website or social media accounts.

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Tips for Managing Campaign Finances

Article / Updated 09-13-2019

Your political campaign is a short-term, one-goal business. To make it successful, you must be smart about its finances. Part of being an elected official is to watch government spending and control a budget (even if this is not part of your platform). Start by setting an example with your own campaign. You may have a treasurer who manages the campaign money for you, though most local-office candidates manage their own funds. If you have a treasurer, ensure that you’re closely involved with finances. Insist on being sent reports. Read them. Follow every penny. You don’t want sloppy accounting during the campaign to be used against you. It’s imperative that you keep your personal funds and campaign funds separate. Campaign spending is only for legitimate campaign expenses. The laws in your state or locality spell out exactly what is allowed and what is prohibited. Track your campaign finances Don’t ever be sloppy with campaign money. The campaign is a business, and you must track revenue and expenses just as diligently as any small-business owner. Further, you may be required to report your finances during the campaign. Being accurate and honest is vital. If you’re bad with money, appoint someone else to run the finances. Even when you’re good with money, having someone else check the income and expenses means one less thing for you to do. No, you don’t want to let anyone know that you’re bad with money. They’ll find out soon enough should the voters make a mistake and put you into office. Create a spreadsheet to manage campaign finances Like any business, your political campaign must monitor income and expenses. Items must be input with dates, names, and types of expenses. You need to know your cash on hand. You also need to have a budget that shows upcoming expenses, desired projections for income, and items you want if the funding comes through. Yeah, it’s a lot of work. Many candidates keep track of their campaign’s income and expenses in a spreadsheet. They also use the spreadsheet for budgeting. If you’re adept at Excel or Google Sheets, that’s about all you need. Craft a simple general ledger in the spreadsheet. Track your expenses on one page, receipts on another, budget on a third. If the campaign finance laws require specific details, ensure that you add them as required. If you have a money management program you enjoy, you can use it for your campaign. However, if you don’t currently use such software, it makes no sense to learn new software in addition to all the other demands on your time. Using professional-level business software such as QuickBooks is a bit much for a local-office run, especially if you lack any paid employees. The election law may require that you enter the names and addresses of people who donate money. Further, you may have to track multiple donations to ensure that certain campaign contribution limits aren’t exceeded. It’s not necessary to surrender your campaign spreadsheet’s data to your opponents or the press. Only the required campaign finance reporting forms are available for public scrutiny. Even then, not every election falls under campaign finance reporting laws. Campaign contributions: cash and checks Over the course of your campaign, people throw money at you. Not in the manner you think, but if you do your fundraising job, your campaign will receive cash and checks. To best deal with this revenue, as well as to best handle expenses, open a bank account for your campaign. Many banks and credit unions offer low-cost or free accounts, which is perfect for your campaign. Don’t open a business account, because fees are involved. What you seek is a free account that features checking and a debit card. Name the account after your campaign. Ensure that this name appears on your checks and debit card. Doing so ads a level of professionalism. Supporters may prefer to write their donation checks to a committee as opposed to you personally. Do not co-mingle your campaign funds and private funds. Some vendors may take payments only by credit or debit card. Avoid getting a campaign credit card. You can manage your electronic payments with a debit card just as easily as with a credit card. The goal is to pay off your debts immediately. With a credit card, you may be tempted to let the payments roll over from month to month, which incurs fees. Yes, some donations will have your personal name on the check. This common mistake doesn’t imply that the money is yours to keep. Money received for your campaign isn’t yours personally. Too many people who run for office seem to think they can do anything they want with campaign donations. Some of these people serve time in prison when they forget the difference. Campaign contributions: in-kind donations Not every campaign contribution comes in the form of cash or checks. The in-kind contribution is a combined income and expense. It’s a donation of services or other items that would otherwise cost the campaign money. As an example, a local bar hosts a campaign event and donates the meeting room and complimentary food and beverages. These items have a cost to your campaign, which the vendor waives. Your campaign credits itself the cost as a donation but also debits itself the same amount as an expense: Donation Expense Steve’s Bar, room & host $580.00 Steve’s Bar $580.00 The election laws in your state or locality offer specifics on how to specify an in-kind donation in your campaign finance reports. In your campaign’s spreadsheet, add the in-kind amount as a donation and subtract it as an expense. It’s not always possible to get exact pricing on some in-kind donations. A fundraiser at a private home may have homemade goodies and snacks available. Whether to count them as an in-kind donation is a minor quibble. For large-ticket items, such as the donation of a billboard in town, specifying the in-kind donation/expense is a must. In-kind donations are a great way to get funding from supporters who may be reluctant to donate cash directly to your campaign. See the later section “Working through a rejection.” Campaign contributions: online payments Before you announce your campaign, set up online payments using one of the available funding sources. For example, you can use PayPal for your campaign. Work through the setup instructions on the donation website. Specify that you’re running a political campaign; you are not a nonprofit. Supply the campaign information, such as your bank account for transfers. Have your web designer configure the campaign website with a Donate button. Put the button in an obvious place. Better, put the Donate button all over the site. If someone wants to support you, don’t make finding that Donate button into a game of hide-the-thimble. Jot down in your campaign calendar a deadline for setting up online payments. For a small election — say, fewer than 200 voters — you can get by without online donations (or a website, for that matter). You can use the online payment source to pay vendors, but transfer the donation directly into your campaign bank account. If the online payment source collects a fee, you must count only the income received as a donation. For example, if someone donates $50.00 but you receive only $47.50, the latter value is the donation. The fee these online payment sources charge is one reason you might want to downplay online donations in your political campaign. If possible, try to collect the money directly as cash or a check. Don't spend your money too early Some first-time candidates are so excited to be in an election: They have money, and they’re cocky about their chances, so they decide to market themselves early: Eight weeks before election day, they blast out a mailer to all voters in the district. Take that, everyone else! Well, everyone else is probably laughing. Such a huge marketing push may work when you open a dry-cleaning store, but for an election campaign, the closer you can deliver material to election day, the better. After blowing all your money early, you have less to spend during the final, critical weeks of the campaign. This time is when the serious candidates are sending out their marketing material. The stuff you sent out weeks earlier? It’s already been recycled — probably into the new campaign fliers sent out by your opponents. Smart move. Don't misspend your campaign funds When you file for office, you see a new type of junk mail appear. It consists of advertisements for campaign swag: hats, pins, bumper stickers, Frisbees, pencils, and all sorts of jolly, festive stuff that only a fool would buy. If your campaign budget is overflowing with money, which it isn’t, consider buying some swag and sharing it with your supporters. They’ll love it! The effectiveness of such junk getting you into local office is dubious. Campaign money is precious. Your priority in spending it is to connect with voters — specifically, chronic do-or-die voters. The best way to communicate with them is by direct mail, door-knocking, phoning, and other chores that don’t involve festive buttons or silly hats. Seriously, no one has ever looked at a campaign hat and said, “Hey! Now I know who to vote for.” Set your fundraising goal An experienced campaign manager can spot you a reliable ballpark figure of what your campaign costs — specifically if you do everything right. Doing everything right means generating enough marketing material and mailers to make a lasting impression with the voters. It's doubtful that any single campaign has ever achieved this goal. If you don’t have a campaign manager, data is available for you to set funding goals. The first place you should look are the financial reports from prior elections for the same office. If two years ago the school board trustees spent an average of $4,000 each on their campaigns, that’s your goal — or higher. Turnout is the key to funding an election. Your marketing campaign must reach all the chronic voters and special interests you plan to target. Multiply the tally of chronic voters by $3 each to set a good funding goal. This rate means if your voter list shows 4,000 regular votes, $12,000 will run you a good campaign. If you want to reach more voters, you spend more money. Don’t be discouraged! The key is not the amount of money you must raise, but rather how wisely you spend it. Some candidates raise a lot of money, but they fritter it away with bad timing or horribly designed material. Remember that elections are decided by who gets the most votes, not by who spends the most campaign money. Stay flexible in your campaign fundraising goal. Prioritize those items that reach the maximum number of voters in the most impactful way. Data disclosing spending from an election is a public record. You request this information from the same authority that runs the election for your district. If you’re fortunate, it’s free and available instantly online. Ensure that you have a solid voter list for your mailings. There’s no definitive answer for how much money you must raise, nor that you must outspend your opponent to win.

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The Secret to Fundraising for Political Campaigns

Article / Updated 09-13-2019

For a small number of politicians, asking for money is no big deal. They’re very good at it. For the majority, asking for money is embarrassing and awkward. It seems dirty, especially in a culture that appreciates entrepreneurs and self-made millionaires. Yet the secret to political fundraising is to ask, and ask you must. Keen political observers note that it’s not the total you raise but the number of people contributing. Compare getting one hundred $5 donations with getting five $100 donations. Who has wider support? Asking for money doesn’t make you a whore. Receiving money in exchange for promised services does. Campaign finance limitations and your donor list Before you ask for a campaign donation, become knowledgeable about the campaign finance limitations for the election. Every state has a cap on the amount of money an individual can donate to a candidate. It’s a maximum you cannot legally exceed. Once you know the maximum limit, prepare a list of donors, organized by those you believe can give you the most money. Call this first crop of supporters the whales because they represent potentially large donations. Prioritize the donor list by those who can support you with a large, but perhaps not the maximum, donation. After contacting potential large supporters, move down the list to others you feel can donate generously. Eventually you start calling the small donors. Of course, all this effort is guesswork; you never know who will write you a large check until you ask. The campaign donation limits may be annual or per election. If they’re per election, you can receive money in both the primary and general elections for a partisan office. If they’re annual, you can ask for money the year before you run — if you plan that far ahead. The campaign donation limit usually applies to individuals, not families. It’s possible to obtain double the maximum from a couple, for example. Minimum limits may also apply for reporting purposes. For example, donations under $25 may not require you to supply the donor’s name on your campaign finance reports. Ensure that you know the rules as set by your state or the election authority. Some smaller districts may not have campaign donation limits or even any form of campaign finance reporting. Ask for campaigning money People donate because you ask. To fund your campaign, you must ask for money. You make calls daily. You do it right away. You don’t put it off. Ask. Ask. Ask. If you have people who make large donations (see the preceding section), visit them in person. Schedule an appointment. After all, if you want to get a $1,000 or $500 donation from an individual, ask them face-to-face. For other donors, make calls. Have a list of people you call daily. Leave a message if they don’t answer, “This is Tim Anderson; sorry I missed you. I’ll try again later.” That’s it. Otherwise, you make your pitch. Be positive, solid, and convincing. Fundraising experts claim that you should ask like this: “I would like you to help support my campaign.” Wait for their answer. Because the donor is on your list, and you know they’re a supporter, it would be unusual for them to say no. Next, make the “ask:” “Would you like to donate $500?” If you hear “Yes,” thank them profusely. Otherwise, drop the donation a notch: “How about $250?” And then keep working down: $200, $100, $50. Always ask high and go low. Donors know what they can afford. What you don’t want to do is ask for $50 when the donor may be willing to offer $250. They’ll agree to the $50, assuming that you don’t need any more. This logic is why you start high and go low. You must set aside time daily to make these calls. Work through your donor list. This method is how the professionals operate, both politicians and nonprofits. It works. Plan on spending half your campaign time raising money. Go big with the ask. The candidate makes the call. It’s not your campaign treasurer’s job to ask for money. The ask must come from you, the candidate. Mark down times for donation calls on your campaign calendar. Have one of your supporters check on you to ensure that you’re making the calls. No campaign raises enough money, but losing campaigns fail to raise any money at all. The problem rests on the candidate’s shoulders: It’s your job to make the calls and bring in the funds. When you fail, your campaign runs underfunded, you lose marketing opportunities, and you lose the election. No matter how noble you believe your effort, you must raise money if you plan to come in anything other than last on election night. It doesn’t count when you completely self-fund your campaign. Higher offices can be bought by millionaires, but local office is won by wide support. A fully self-funded campaign sends a message that you don’t have wide support. Political donations tips and suggestions Have you ever received a donation envelope from a politician? Did you use it? Donation envelopes don’t work as well as phone calls because they involve zero effort. A phone call is personal. A visit is even more personal. These methods work far more successfully than sending out donation envelopes. If you want to send out donation envelopes, do so for the people you’ve already met or spoken with who have promised a donation. Send them a thank-you note with a stamped return envelope. Don’t worry if a supporter is slow to write the check. For example, if you make the call on Tuesday, don’t expect the check to arrive on Thursday. It might, but most people wait to write checks. This reason is why it’s important to ask early, especially for people you suspect will donate the most money. Always follow through. Send personal thank-you notes to everyone who donates over a certain amount. For example, when you receive a donation for $100 or more, send out a thank-you card. For larger donations, hand-write a thank-you letter. This attention to detail is exactly why your donors are supporting you. How to work through a fundraising rejection Not everyone who supports you may be able to provide your campaign with a cash donation. Conversely, someone you might believe would support you, or may have said positive things to you in the past, is an ardent supporter of your opponent. Don’t let such turns discourage you. Be respectful when someone declines a donation. Thank them for offering their time. Explain that you respect and understand their decision. You don’t want to close the door; keep the line of communications open. Providing they don’t openly proclaim support for your opponent, ask if they can help in other ways: a donation of time, food, meeting space, or other in-kind donations. Don’t forget the importance of word-of-mouth. Invite them to attend a fundraiser. Ask them if they could help spread the word. Turn the rejection into something positive. Doing so may not turn you into a politician, but it brings you one step closer to being a diplomat. Also see, "Fundraising Ideas for Political Campaigns."

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Fundraising Ideas for Political Campaigns

Article / Updated 09-13-2019

Beyond asking individuals for money, you must supplement your political campaign with other sources of income. The most obvious source is the traditional meet-and-greet fundraiser. Less obvious avenues for obtaining donations also are available, all of which are legal. Put on a meet-and-greet fundraiser A meet-and-greet event has two purposes. The first is to meet the voters, which is essential when you start campaigning. This technique works as it forms a lasting impression. The second purpose is to raise funds. A successful meet-and-greet must be set up weeks in advance. Contact the host, who can be one of your volunteers or another supporter. Ask them to put on a neighborhood event. Provide them with as much support as you can, such as creating flyers or posting on social media. If possible, walk the neighborhood with your supporter to rally plenty of people to attend. The host is responsible for providing snacks and drinks. You should offer to provide some as well, though most hosts are happy to provide the goodies. Ensure that plenty of campaign material is available to hand out as your host goes door-to-door. To the event you bring campaign material and yard signs. Bring a basket or tray into which people can place donations. You might even “prime the pump” by placing some money in the basket. If you have donation envelopes, set them in the basket, though any small envelope will do. During the event, be social. Ensure that you meet everyone. Be cheerful and positive. Remember people’s names. Practice your small talk. At some point you’ll be asked to make a statement or prepare a speech. Be short and sweet with your message, and then open for questions. Ensure that you thank everyone for coming. Above all, thank the host. Not everyone donates at a meet-and-greet, mostly because many people are not political and don’t understand that a donation is part of the deal. Avoid knocking any opponents. Don’t say anything you don’t want repeated. These are voters, not a group of intimate friends. If you say something stupid, it may get out. Technically, the full cost of the meet-and-greet is an in-kind donation. It’s up to the host to report the money spent, which you can ask for, but they may not provide it. You must report any donations made during the event in accordance with the campaign finance rules for the election. Cash donations in the basket are difficult to track, which can be an issue if the pot is quite large. Divide the total amount of donations by the number of attendees and state that amount on the campaign’s financial forms. Visit organizations when campaigning Ensure that you ask to appear at organizations to share your campaign message. Not every organization — specifically, nonprofits — can donate to a political campaign. Still, you want to get your message out. Every group you can meet with is a plus. One reason to visit specific organizations, such as a group of realtors, builders, unions, or associations, is to obtain their endorsement. When you ask to meet with such groups, ask whether they plan to endorse someone in your election. You don’t need to ask about a donation; the endorsement often comes with the donation. Work in advance to set up meetings with various groups. These groups rarely reach out to candidates, so you don’t want to discover that they’ve already held candidate interviews and made endorsements. A donation isn’t always coupled with an endorsement. Some organizations may offer volunteers instead of endorsing. For example, members may volunteer to go door-to-door or do a literature drop for you. Negatives can be associated with organizations endorsing you. It’s legitimate for opponents to claim donations from such groups are “special interest money” or that you’re “in the pocket” of such groups. Be prepared to deal with such attacks ahead of time. Fund your own political campaign Election and campaign finance laws differ from state to state, but in most places it’s perfectly legal to fund yourself. Campaign contribution limits may apply to you, or they may not. And you might also be able to make your campaign a personal loan. On the positive side, a donation to your own campaign is seen as a sign that you believe in yourself. Many political observers view a campaign loan, essentially seed money, as a good thing. It shows you have skin in the game. On the negative side, do not completely fund your campaign. Many candidates do so because they don’t want to seem beholden to special interests (or so they claim), but the truth is that people don’t like asking for money. Yet, ask you must. Some millionaires completely self-fund, and they’re successful. This practice is known as “buying yourself a seat.” No examples of this working at the local level come to mind, but statewide and nationally, it happens frequently. Campaign loans are supposed to be paid back through other donations. Even so, because most campaigns never raise enough money, you may end up closing your campaign with a debt — even if you win.

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Tips for Using Social Media in Political Campaigns

Article / Updated 09-13-2019

Without a doubt, a social media presence during a political campaign helps increase your exposure to the voters. The big question is social media’s relevance in a small race for local office: Will it affect the outcome? The good news is that social media is well-known and incurs only time as an expense. It costs nothing to set up accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and similar sites. After you have an account and have populated it with interesting material, place your social media contact details in your marketing material. The key to attracting visitors to your social media account is to generate new material. For example, four posts per day to Facebook would be required to match the pace at which most people access the site. Multiple daily tweets about your campaign are necessary. The occasional video and campaign photo upload also help. The more active you are, the more successful the social media campaign becomes. If you plan to set up advertising on Facebook, you must start early. Facebook requires a verification process that can take weeks to complete. Details may change later, but at the time this book goes to press, you must provide proof of who you are and a physical address before you can run a political advertisement on Facebook. Social media advertising is relatively inexpensive, though whether it’s effective for a local race is unknown. Always be positive online. Engage with people, but leave it up to your supporters to do battle with the online trolls. Unless you already have a campaign website available, or you can get one done quickly and inexpensively, it's not recommended. Campaign websites lack the expediency of social media. To best connect with the voter, use Twitter, Facebook, and other sites, which the public checks with far more frequency than a campaign website. Videos are a great way to communicate with the voter. Make them short and direct. If you have a volunteer who knows video production and can assist you, all the better. You may find that social media is a good tool for your fans but has little effect in convincing others to support you. Don’t bother comparing Facebook likes between your own site and an opponent’s. Likes come from anywhere, including your relatives, friends, co-workers, and others who live outside the district and cannot vote in your election. Do-it-yourself social media Supporters and volunteers can help you do a lot for your campaign, but for a local-office election, you should be the one generating tweets, social media postings, or podcasts. You can enlist your volunteers to like, share, and comment on the posts. Do not engage the social media trolls It’s difficult to sit back while some jerk attacks you online. You may not even know him. Though such a person is soulless, they have a purpose: to entice you to anger. Upon success, they share your comments with their friends, gloating over their success at having irked a candidate for public office. Avoid at all costs engaging anyone you don’t know in an online debate. Your best — and only — response must be, “I would enjoy speaking with you about this issue. Please contact me so that we can sit down and chat.” Offer your phone number or email address. And don’t worry: They won’t call you, because a discussion isn’t their goal. Beware the trolls. Don’t bother trying to figure out the motives of an Internet troll. They thrive during campaign season, hiding under a blanket of anonymity, eager to see a candidate take a misstep. The temptation to engage them is great, but only a fool would fall into their traps. To avoid the Internet troll, as well as the usual idiots who support your opponent or just hate you for whatever reason, follow this advice: Stay the hell offline during the campaign. This approach is probably best. Yes, it’s difficult to wean yourself from the social network teat. If you can stay online but not engage anyone, the results work out positively for you. Stick to your own issues on Facebook and Twitter. If you must use social media during the campaign, do so on your own terms. Make your own posts. Reply to legitimate questions. Do not engage the trolls. Respond to attacks with facts incidentally presented. If you must, ensure that when you address an issue, you do so with facts, such as names, dates, and so on. The goal is to respond only once; never get into a conversation with an anonymous online jerk who has no interest in promoting your campaign. Let your volunteers get into the mud. A great way to put your volunteer army to work is to let them wrestle with the pigs. Have them go at it, attack, rebut, sling the mud. Their interaction will help your bruised ego as well as disengage you from direct combat. Cover campaign announcements and events on social media You might not do a formal announcement, but if you do, ensure that you have a campaign presence before you do. You need not have all your material ready, but you must have a website, a few social media sites, a phone number, and an email address. Setting up an announcement event works best in the movies, where extras are paid to wear silly hats, wave banners, cheer on cue, and dish up a healthy slice of Americana. In the real world, an announcement event is dicey. If you must stage an announcement event, ensure that a significant crowd shows up. Inform the press that you plan on a big crowd and they might attend as well. Take plenty of photos for your campaign material. Live-stream the announcement to social media, and record it later for your website or YouTube. If you can’t guarantee a crowd, don’t do an announcement event. Ensure that you cover any visits to local groups or organizations (and definitely any campaign speeches you give) on your social media. You probably don't want to live-stream every speech, especially if you repeat yourself on the campaign trail. Do include photos or video snippets of anything that puts you in your best light.

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