When college students or younger professionals ask me what advice I have for someone that wants to work on political campaigns, their questions are often geared towards the political side of things. Should you major in political science? What races and campaigns should you follow?
And while you should consider volunteering or taking a paid internship on a local race, and you should definitely pay attention to the news if you want to work in politics, there are a handful of other less intuitive things you can do to help set you up for success on a campaign.
Each campaign is a small business, a startup, a branding challenge, an advertising campaign, and a community organizing project all at once. Each of those pieces has political components: how do you best communicate a message, which voters are persuadable, which political networks can help you fundraise? But each also has decidedly non-political components. For instance, how do you manage a budget, what is the best way to balance the competing needs of different departments, what processes do you set up to keep things running efficiently?
With that in mind, here are three non-political skills to develop if you want to manage a campaign.
Basic Graphic Design Skills
Every campaign has endless graphic design needs: a graphic for social media, a logo, an invite to a fundraiser, a poster advertising a rally, a mailer. On a larger campaign, you might have a digital or comms staffer who helps produce these, or you might outsource them to a digital firm, but many state rep or city council races might only have one staffer, or you might need a quick turnaround.
Being able to quickly mock something up in Canva or Photoshop will always be useful, and many design tools offer free or reduced prices for current students looking to learn. Even if you don’t end up in a role that primarily works in design, a good working knowledge of the basics will help you manage and get the most out of the designers on your team.
Accounting and Bookkeeping
Campaigns, like any other business, need to track their cashflow to ensure they are raising and spending money at the right rates. More campaigns than you’d expect track their budgets in janky excel spreadsheets — often to their detriment.
Being able to plan out a budget, track expenditures, and make adjustments as needed is not optional for campaigns, yet all too often we see campaigns who made big ad buys early flame out when they lack the resources to communicate with voters in the final weeks before the election. Anyone who wants to manage should consider taking a small business accounting or bookkeeping course, or at least dipping your feet into using Quickbooks or other budgeting software.
Writers who can turn around quick, persuasive copy are a huge asset on campaigns, whether you want to work in communications or not. Each piece of campaign writing looks different–the guidelines for a fundraising email are going to look drastically different than an op-ed or a mailer or an Instagram caption. Something ghostwritten for the candidate will sound different than a quote from a spokesperson. Experience writing in many different contexts will help develop the flexibility to adapt as needed to any campaign role.
Matt Herdman is a Democratic campaign manager and political consultant, with experience managing races in California, Wyoming, and Maryland. He currently works as a Senior Communications Strategist at 50+1 Strategies, a full-service civic engagement firm that works with candidates and issue advocacy groups to fight for big progressive victories.