Serious About Running For Office? Don’t Make These 4 Mistakes

March 3, 2016 | NGP VAN

Whether you’re running for City Council or Governor, there’s one thing that separates the effective campaigns from the ineffective ones: organization.

Organization doesn’t just mean a good ground game, or pretty ads – this means being able to fundraise efficiently, and reach out to as many supporters as possible.

To run a competitive campaign, you’re going to need tools that help – not hinder. So if you’ve got a website without forms, or are using a mosaic of free tools from Google Docs to PayPal, heed these four warnings to avoid making serious missteps during your campaign.

1. DON’T rely on a Facebook page instead of a website

Let’s make one thing clear: you should probably have a Facebook presence, and you should monitor your page and engage with your supporters and constituents. But it’s not a substitute for a website.

A website is the best way to convert online interest and traffic into actionable data on which you can build a movement .

What’s more, a professional-looking website doubles as a sign of commitment. A Facebook page takes a moment, but a real website takes a real candidate.

Having a website with good, usable forms will allow you to connect with supporters who are willing to donate, volunteer, or even just engage with you on a more personal basis than a Facebook like or comment.

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2. DON’T email your supporters from a free service

Email is the most direct and effective way of reaching out to as many supporters as possible. Campaigns simply don’t have the capacity to talk to every voter in person or give each supporter a call.

That said, sending messages to your supporters using a free email address does very little to instill a sense of trust. In fact, it might make people question whether your message (and your campaign) are for real.

Free personal email services like Gmail or AOL also aren’t set up to deal with sending the large volume of email in a short period of time that’s needed when you’re communicating with your list. Google (and others) work very hard to avoid the spread of spam, and this kind of activity on a personal account raises all sorts of red flags. You don’t want your emails marked as spam, do you?

Modern tools can do more than just avoid pitfalls though – they can also save you time. Most software will let you:

  • Track how many people engage with your emails, as well as how much money an individual email has raised you across your supporter base – letting you learn from your victories (and mistakes). 
  • Cut up your list into segments – for example, enabling you to email past donors a fundraising email, and students at the local university a volunteering email. 
  • Automatically send welcome e-mails and follow-ups to new contacts, schedule future emails, and send confirmation and thank you messages to people who’ve donated or attended an event. 

Word to the Wise

“An integrated e-mail service is critical to a successful campaign. Through bringing together voter data and real-time contribution information, good e-mail tools will allow your campaign to raise money, engage supporters and win votes more effectively.

For example, after someone receives an e-mail and fills out a petition from a page you’ve created, you can have it re-direct to a small dollar contribution page to maximize your engagement. Standalone e-mail providers simply can’t compare to the powerful tools that a good integrated system can provide.”

Michael Worley MDWCOMM | @michaelworley

3. DON’T organize with spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are large and unwieldy. Lots of campaigns start out using spreadsheets, but these days you’re likely to find it stressful, inefficient, and possibly dangerous to store your campaign data this way.

For starters, data entry on Excel is risky(and boring) – you might end up collecting dirty data with typos and duplicates. 

There’s also the problem of security. The last thing you need is an Excel file containing thousands of personal contact details floating around the internet, or forwarded to the wrong email. 

When using proper campaign software, you’re not only able to store all of this contact information in one place, but use it to log calls and keep track of other vital intel like giving history and personal notes. Some systems will also track your supporters’ social media activity so that you can find their interests and reach out accordingly.

Campaigning doesn’t have to involve endless spreadsheets – good software saves you time and worry, and gives you an edge.

Word to the Wise

Using an excel spreadsheet instead of a real-time database in a fast-paced fundraising environment lends itself to all kinds of mistakes. For example, if a donor is reached by a staffer or by the candidate and provides a new cell phone or email address, unless that spreadsheet is updated and the updated version is circulated and placed on everyone’s computer, everyone is unlikely to have the most current information on each donor. That’s messy.

Good database software allows users to update and access donor information in real time, as well as allowing the user to pull reports and manipulate information to best serve fundraising strategy – plus, donors give with confidence when you have an organized and professional operation.

Anastasia Apa ApaFirm Fundraising | @ApaFirm

4. DON’T use a disconnected fundraising platform

Excuse the double negative, but it’s true: Online fundraising is effective and here to stay.

The real power of online fundraising comes with integration. You not only want to be able to accept donations, you want to have the information collected flow directly into your database.

Why, you ask? So that you can tailor your fundraising effort to your supporters’ needs. Being able to break down your database by location, donor history, event attendance, and all sorts other information is a powerful way to optimize your fundraising and gain a competitive edge.

Managing your email list with one tool and your donations with another is messy, confusing, and leaves money on the table when it comes to efficiency.

Better to have clear, actionable information and simple processes that help rather than hinder your campaign.

Word to the Wise

“I’ve worked a few campaigns where we didn’t use campaign software and I won’t do it again. Having an integrated fundraising, financial reporting, credit card processing, and communications tool is invaluable. You have more accurate and up to date information when you do not have multiple platforms collecting data.

Using the automated forms to create events, sell tickets, collect petition signatures, sign up volunteers, make contributions, etc. puts all of the information in one place and lets you communicate with everyone using the same system. Campaigns are always a sprint, and the more time you save not having to reconcile information flows, the more time you can focus on winning.”

Joshua White 
Foxhole Strategies |@FoxholeFinance

When you’re looking for an advantage against an opponent, you have to cover all the bases. By using the information you have to target your communications by website, email, and on the ground, you can gain build a movement that’s both powerful and more connected to the people that drive it.