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Developing a Campaign Plan and Budget 

A successful campaign requires research, planning, preparation, organization and execution. Research leads to information. Information builds strategy. Strategy defines a message. The  message is communicated to voters. Voters give your candidate their proxy by voting. A campaign plan is a sequence of events that pulls together all of these essential elements. The plan will illustrate what to do, when to do it and who will do it. An effective campaign plan will allow you to act rather then react during the election.   

There are four steps to a campaign plan:

  1. Prepare
  2. Plan
  3. Organize
  4. Execute

Whether you are developing a campaign plan for your local or serving as a campaign manager for a candidate, each of these steps should be carefully considered.

The campaign plan is predicated on the campaign budget and resources. In addition to money,  other resources in a campaign include time, people and assets – such as a union hall, phone banks and vehicles. 

It’s also important to establish a campaign budget to help prioritize the elements of your plan. A well-planned, organized and executed campaign plan will help ensure success on election day.  Develop and write out your campaign plan and budget -- the plan can be modified as needed as the campaign progresses. But if your campaign plan isn’t written out, you won’t have a plan to follow, and you’ll end up reacting to events throughout the campaign rather than helping set the course of the campaign. 

Prepare:  Internal Evaluation and Research 

Before developing a campaign plan, it is important to conduct an internal evaluation of what you want to accomplish and what resources are available to reach your goals. 

Internal Resource Evaluation

Another critical component  in developing a campaign plan is knowing what resources your local has to use during the course of the campaign.  For example, does the committee have a PAC?  If so, how much money does the committee have available or raise annually? How many members can be counted on to carry out the tasks of the plan? Are members motivated to roll up their sleeves and engage in sweat equity to help the campaign? What other resources does the local have available? Does the local have a union hall that can be made available to candidates? Does the local have a phone bank?

In most races, there will likely be a cap on the amount of direct contributions you can make to candidates. However, by having other resources available, you can increase the level of help you provide your endorsed candidates, even if the campaign has to pay/reimburse the local for the use of these resources.

After performing this resource review, your local may determine that it needs to increase its fundraising, recruit additional members or retool its plan to fit its existing resources. However, it is critical that the local establish realistic expectations when doing its review. You can’t expect to run a champagne and caviar political operation with beer and brats resources.

Before meeting with your endorsed candidates, know what you can offer to avoid making commitments you won’t be able to keep later.  Remember, it is far better to under-promise and over-deliver rather than over-promise and under-deliver. This approach will allow you to make a positive, lasting impression on the candidate and the campaign. 

Also consider the following questions when doing an internal evaluation:

  1. What is the overall mission? (For example, winning two council races)
  1. What is the election process? (Primary, general, non-partisan, ballot initiative)
  1. What research do you need to undertake?  (Both in terms of the election process and any issues you will focus on in the campaign)
  1. How much time do you have? (When is the election?)
  1. How do you get information to people? (How will you communicate with  your members and the public (if that is part of your plan?).

External Evaluation and Research 

After you complete the  internal evaluation, you should have a good idea of the tools you have and the tools you will need to complete your mission. As a part of this process, you should also compile research to identify important information for your campaign plan. This research should answer many of the questions below: 

1.      What are the election laws? 

2.      Why are you involved in this campaign? What is at stake? 

3.      Who is your candidate/what is your issue (if a ballot initiative)? 

4.      What’s going on politically, economically, socially? 

5.      Who are the voters? 

6.      Who are the major employers in the area?   

7.      How much time do you have? When is election day? 

8.      What is the political landscape? (Anti-incumbent, open seat election, etc.) 

9.      How do people get information and what are the costs (Newspaper, radio, TV, etc?)? 

10.  What resources do you have to bring to the table? (As determined by your internal resource evaluation.) 

11.  Who are your opponents? (Beside your endorsed candidates’ opponent, who else is supporting them that you may need to counter against?) 

12.  Who are your potential allies in this election? (Other labor unions, community groups, etc.) 

13.  Where can you get additional information/research? 

14.  Where are your strengths and weaknesses? (Again, refer to your resource evaluation. However, also consider previous campaign experiences by the local, assuming there are any.)  

Now you’re ready to begin the process of targeting and focusing your campaign plan. In addition to your own research and evaluation, you should consider other information that is available, such as polling data  conducted by the local, news outlets or your candidate andvoter file information to give you  a picture of a voters frequency to vote (this is critical depending on when your election is), demographic information (which can be helpful depending on the candidate’s running, or how a ballot initiative will affect certain communities (both by their location and the make-up of the individuals within the community).  

Compiling this information will help better focus resources and target voters who are either more likely to vote or to support your candidate.

 Writing a Campaign Plan 

A campaign plan builds accountability. A good acronym to remember when developing your campaign plan is SMART:  Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-based. If an element of your plan doesn’t fit into one of these five areas, you make a serious evaulation as to why that item needs to be included in your plan. 

There are several elements to a campaign plan that you can pull together at an early stage. These components are important to discuss and consider within the parameters of your budget. 

1.      Who will draft the campaign plan? 

2.      Design a campaign calendar for everyone involved in your local’s effort. 

3.      Begin filling in key dates and holidays on the calendar.   

4.      Discuss goals with the planning committee (if there is more then one person drafting the plan.) 

5.      Divide goals into broader categories (budget/finance, communication, field, etc.) 

6.      Work backwards. Begin with election day and work your way back to the present on your calendar. This provides a better idea of when goals need to be met and when resources are needed. This will also ensure that if you have limited resources available that you will be using them in the key period of the campaign -- usually the last 10 – 12 weeks leading up to election day (for a November general election this usually means Labor Day to election day). 

Determine Campaign Goals and Priorities 

Your campaign goals should be specific, clear, attainable and measurable. Each goal should also be prioritized in your campaign plan.   

All goals are either long-term or short-term achievements. For example, in your jurisdiction you have a mayor and eight city council members. The mayor votes only if there is a tie. Currently, the mayor is a friend, but only two of the eight council members can be considered friends.  

The long-term goal is to get a majority of the council (five of eight) to be friendly. However, since all eight seats are not up in the same election year, your short-term goal may be to win two of the four up this year and at least one of the council seats in the next elections. At the same time you will need to make certain that the mayor is re-elected and that you retain your other two friends on the council.  

In developing your campaign plan, the local should incorporate a number of goals for the course of the election. 

Some suggested goals: 

1.      Include candidate materials in local and state union publications. 

2.      Update Membership Lists – Take time to make sure you have complete and accurate contact information for each of your members (home address, phone numbers and email address). Having accurate member data is critical when working to recruit members and, more importantly, when expending financial resources to communicate with them.Distribute leaflets at fire stations at least once a week beginning in September and up to election day. 

3.      Mail two letters from the local president to members on behalf of your endorsed candidate(s). 

4.      Make two phone calls to every member from the local: one to notify your members of your endorsed candidates and the second to get-out-the-vote closer to election day. 

5.      Increase voter registration by 10 percent in your local. 

6.      Organize a get-out-the-vote drive to ensure that members make it to the polls. 

7.      Organize two weekend canvasses with your members in conjunction with your endorsed candidate(s).   

8.      Organize a ride to the polls effort with your members in conjunction with your endorsed candidate(s).

 Develop a Campaign Budget 

A campaign budget is an essential element to all successful campaigns and political action. A good campaign budget will direct the campaign, providing structure and prioritization. The budget will let you know what goals are attainable and what goals will need to be built for the future. Most importantly, a budget will prevent you from over-promising and under-delivering during a campaign.  

Remember these three components in developing a budget: 

1.      Spend Smart – All campaigns have limited resources. There is no money to waste. All expenditures need to be accounted for in your campaign budget. 

2.      Stay on Track – Even if the cash is available, if it has not been budgeted, it is not in the plan. Your campaign budget should keep your campaign focused and on task. 

3.      Manages Expectations – A campaign budget will allow you to manage your goals and keep your expectations in line with what you are able to deliver. 

Depending on the size of your local, consider outside fundraising to build your budget to implement your campaign plan. This is especially true for smaller locals. There are several ways to raise additional money: 

1.      Membership Assessment – Perform a special assessment of the members to raise additional funds to go directly into the PAC fund. This is usually accomplished by a majority vote of the members.  However, before attempting an assessment for your budget, know your members. What is their tolerance for a dues assessment? While the particular campaign you are involved in may be important, has the local effectively educated its members about the importance of political action?   

2.      General Public Fundraising –Undertake a number of  fundraisers to raise money form the public for the campaignRemember to maximize your fundraising ability and limit your costs. For example, if your local holds a reception to raise money,  get the food and drink donated by a local vendor to minimize cost. Similarly, work to have entertainment and other components donated. It’s also helpful to have a  “celebrity” personality at the event, such as the candidate you are supporting or a prominent community resident (such as another elected official, a political party leader or someone else who is known in the community). Another key to fundraising is to limit the time invested in putting the event together. Don’t spend a lot of time on a fundraising event at the expense of getting other campaign tasks completed. 

Fire Fighter to Fire Fighter Plan 

It’s now time to execute the campaign plan.  Remember to keep track of your calendar and make sure that tasks are completed. You may need to make adjustments and revisions to the campaign plan based on execution and budgetary concerns. Meet regularly with your campaign team and assess progress. It is equally important to set accountability standards for each of the responsibilities assigned. This will not only ensure that the plan is being executed, but will also provide a sense of accomplishment to your campaign team when milestones are reached.     

Sample Forms (PDFs)
Campaign Plan
Campaign Fundraising Projection
Campaign Budget
Phone Bank Case Study


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