How to Budget a Winning Campaign

Campaign Startup
June 27, 2017

FundHero will help you raise money. You decide where to spend it.

Unless you own your own country or the world’s entire supply of vibranium, you’re probably running your campaign on a budget. Here are FundHero’s tips to establish and run a winning campaign on a clearly defined budget.

1) Establish a budget and stick to it.

Establishing a budget and having the discipline to stick to it is perhaps the most important aspect of a winning campaign. You’re going to experience a lot of pressures – consultants, advertising, campaign vendors, staff and volunteer resources – so making strategic decisions up front and setting a budget ensures you stay on track. Keep the big picture in mind, and put money towards the items that make a difference.

2) 60% (or more) of the budget should be spent on talking directly to voters.

At the end of the day, no consultant, ad agency, or amount of research will win your campaign if you are not talking and connecting directly with voters. Problem is, the majority of voter contact is near the end of the race, often in the last 90 days of an election. So unless you’ve budgeted and planned for it, you won’t have the resources to succeed.

Voter contact includes paid advertising (direct mail, online, television, radio, etc.), campaign literature, get-out-the-vote, field staff, etc…

3) 10% – 15% for fundraising

You’ve got to spend money (and time) to make money! 

Don’t skimp on fundraising! Yes, you need to define your message, develop a campaign strategy, shake hands and kiss babies, but even the most superbly crafted campaign plan will not matter unless you have the resources to make it happen. Plus, every dollar invested in fundraising pay for itself multiple times over, so make sure you’re spending what you need.

A fundraising budget should include direct mail (fundraising appeals), credit card processing, events (that are explicitly fundraising focused), and on software/app tools designed to help you raise money. In a shameless plug for FundHero, we should fit in your fundraising budget too!

4) 10%-15% for administrative expenses

Watch your overhead closely. 

Administrative costs are like the Blob. Left unchecked, they grow uncontrollably and will leave your campaign stuck in its tracks. Fight hard, especially in the early stages of your campaign, to keep your overhead low and manageable.

Admin expenses include your campaign manager and nearly all your staff, including fundraising staff, communications staff, and consultants. Office expenses, utilities, phones, insurance, travel, stationery, etc. should also be marked in this category.

5) 10% – 12% for research, branding and communications

Polling, opposition research, and messaging support can be helpful to a campaign, but the primary focus always needs to be on delivering that message to voters. To ensure a balance and that you’re not developing the best story without the means to tell it, try to keep the research and tracking piece to 5% – 10%.

Other items included in general communications are lawn signs, bump stickers, email systems, website, etc.

6) Don’t forget a contingency! Set aside 5% – 10% on items you can’t even think of.

The only thing you can 100% plan for is that something will go wrong with the plan. Sometimes it’s a PR issue, fundraising fgoals end up short, staff needs comeback larger than anticipated, etc. So, to plan effectively, all campaign budgets should leave 5% – 10% in a contingency fund for whatever the future may bring.

Every budget and campaign is different, and you need to make expenditure choices that best fit your goals and needs. But if you need a place to get started, here is a template you can start with. Download FundHero’s today.

Matt Lyon
Matt’s experience includes overseeing up to fourteen staff members, administering budgets exceeding $1.1 million annually, directing million dollar paid media programs, raising over $5 million for various causes and organizations, and developing and implementing communications strategies that led to dozens of stories in local and national outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post.

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