Too often for a manager the first days of a campaign can feel like a modern-day plight of Sisyphus. In the Greek myth, Sisyphus was punished for his deceitfulness by having to steadily push a boulder up a hill, only for it to lose momentum and roll back to its base. He was doomed to repeat the task forever.
Most campaign managers can relate. But unlike Sisyphus, a campaign has a finite amount of time and typically there’s one side that gets it right and wins, although winning in this case involves having to repeat the same steps years later.
To help get that boulder up the hill, here are some rules to guide your first 90 days.
1. Draft a budget
Many factors will contribute to an initial campaign budget being inaccurate. Unforeseen expenditures, a plateau in fundraising, or a strategic initiative that must be resourced with early revenue are just three examples of how an initial budget will evolve greatly in the first 60-to-120 days. Still, building an initial budget that can be shared with a candidate and consulting team will help conceptualize cash flow in the early days of the race.
2. Develop a 90-day finance plan
The first 90 days of a finance operation are often the most critical days of the campaign. The funds spent during this time period will be the same funds the campaign wishes were available in the last 20 days of a competitive race. Write a 90-day finance plan that accounts for the funds that can be collected with the least effort.
Coupling this plan with an initial draft of the budget will show your candidate you have the awareness of how to spend those critical campaign dollars and the foresight to understand how to raise funds as well. Once this plan is accepted, develop a comprehensive fundraising program that will take you through Election Day.
3. Meet the candidate’s family
A simple idea, but too often overlooked. Any candidate will tell you that running for office is a family commitment. Building a relationship with a candidate’s spouse or children will help you better understand the pressures the candidate is feeling on the home front once the campaign gets going.
4. Find the campaign office
Running for office is a full-time commitment. To help candidates understand that, they often need a change of venue. In other words, don’t run the effort from a Starbucks. Help the candidate understand that he or she needs to dedicate a reasonable amount of early resources to a campaign office so that the campaign can become a professional organization.
5. Search for staff, but don’t hire
With the exception of spending early resources on fundraising staff, the overhead line item in the budget should be kept to a minimum. Still, taking the time to write the job descriptions for future hires, identifying job boards and professional networks where recruiting will be fruitful will save you weeks in the heat of the campaign. Better yet, post the job descriptions and let the qualified candidates come to you.
6. Take care of yourself
The first 60 days of a campaign are often the most stressful. The campaign is understaffed, under resourced, and working against a system that’s trying to determine if the campaign will make it to Election Day. Take the limited free time you have available to find items that will keep you levelheaded and focused.
Building the momentum necessary to carry a campaign to victory can be a daunting task for a campaign manager, but unlike the plight of Sisyphus, one that can be accomplished. Getting your candidate up to Capitol Hill, the state Legislature or City Hall is possible if you establish priorities, identify early funding and dedicate your efforts to building a functional operation.
JR Starrett is the national advocacy director for Common Sense Kids Action, and a veteran campaign operative.