Democrats defied expectations in 2022 and that’s reason to celebrate. But too often after successful election cycles, we rest on our laurels rather than reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and how we can improve before we get back to work. We can’t let that happen in 2024. Instead, if we want to build on our successes, we must assess what we can do better now. That starts with rethinking how we invest in campaigns.
Since 2016, I have donated extensively to Democratic causes and candidates. I co-founded and served as the board chair of Arena, an organization that convenes and trains Democratic candidates and campaign staff, and also served as national finance chair for Pete Buttigeig’s presidential. I’ve seen the inner workings of Democratic fundraising efforts, and can say, unequivocally, that Democrats must be smarter about how we invest our money.
Currently, Democrats over-invest at the top of the ticket and prioritize federal races at the expense of state races. We fall in love with candidates and over-invest in individual campaigns at the expense of organizing infrastructure and pipeline building. And we invest late in an election cycle when resources can have limited impact.
In practice, this means that for every campaign that’s raising millions in a given cycle, including long shots, we’re neglecting winnable state races and infrastructure investments that can help Democrats build lasting power for generations.
Outside of politics, I run a venture capital firm. In the world of finance, a diversified portfolio is the key to success. The same should apply for politics. We must change our approach and get smarter about how and when we invest.
First, we must invest early in the election cycle—and by early, I mean now. As Election Day approaches, campaigns become increasingly limited in how they can leverage resources, resulting in the majority of late money going to advertising.
Reallocating a portion of that late money towards early investments would give Democrats the flexibility to prioritize tactics like voter registration and deep canvassing to message policy wins—efforts that can reduce election-year spend and build our base.
Second, donors must distribute resources up and down the ballot. Last year’s historic state legislative gains came from a long-overdue recognition that state legislatures govern issues that have a profound impact on our lives. Prioritizing down-ballot investments can help us lock in those gains and flip other chambers — all while helping Democrats build a bench of talent and drive up vote tallies on top of the ticket races.
Third, in addition to supporting candidates, we must invest in groups that strengthen Democratic infrastructure and help us build long-term power. We need permanent, year-round efforts to register voters, mobilize communities of color, expand the Democratic talent pipeline, and train campaign staff and volunteers. Investment in groups that do this work–like Arena, Run for Something, SwingLeft, and Sister District–pays both short and long-term dividends.
Finally, rather than ceding ground, we should buy in the bear market with investments in states that are or are trending red, like Florida. Georgia is a perfect example of what Democrats can accomplish when we play the long game. Winning back power is a marathon, not a sprint — we can’t be short sighted and only focus on races that can be won immediately.
Together, these shifts in tactics and strategy can help Democrats secure sustainable power for generations.
We surprised the pundits with wins up and down the ballot in 2022. But now is not the time to let up. Heading into 2024, the stakes are too high. Republicans benefit from a seemingly endless supply of resources, so Democrats must be more shrewd with our dollars to win. That means rethinking our investment strategy and spending smarter, starting now.
Swati Mylavarapu is a co-founder of Incite.org, a values-based investor that provides catalytic capital and guidance for world positive start-ups, non-profits, and activists, and Arena, a political organization that convenes, trains, and supports the next generation of Democratic candidates and campaign staff.