How to budget a winning campaign

Dec. 31st, 2023

FundHero will help you raise money while you get to decide where to spend it! But unless you own your own country or the world’s entire supply of vibranium like Black Panther, you’re probably running your campaign on a budget. Here are our tips to establishing and running a winning campaign on a clearly defined budget.

Establish a budget and stick to it.

Establishing a budget and having the discipline to stick to it is perhaps the most important aspect of a winning campaign. You’re going to experience a lot of pressures – consultants, advertising, campaign vendors, staff and volunteer resources – so making strategic decisions up front and setting a budget ensures you stay on track, keep the big picture in mind, and put money towards the items that really make a difference.

Prioritize at least 60% (ideally 70% or more) on talking directly to voters.

At the end of the day, no consultant, ad agency, or amount of research will win your campaign if you are not talking and connecting directly with voters. Problem is, the majority of voter contact is near the end of the race, often just in the last 90 days of an election. So unless you’ve budgeted and planned for it, you won’t have the resources to succeed. 

Voter contact includes paid advertising (direct mail, online, television, radio, etc.), campaign literature, get-out-the-vote, field staff, etc.

You’ve got to spend money (and time) to make money! 10% – 15% of your budget should be spent on fundraising.

Don’t skimp on fundraising! Yes, you need to define your message, develop a campaign strategy, shake hands and kiss babies, but even the most superbly crafted campaign plan will not matter unless you have the resources to make it happen. Plus, every dollar invested in fundraising pays for itself multiple times over, so make sure you’re spending what you need.

A fundraising budget should include direct mail (fundraising appeals), credit card processing, events (that are explicitly fundraising focused), and on software/app tools designed to help you raise money. In a shameless plug for FundHero, we should fit in your fundraising budget too!

Watch your overhead closely. Keep administrative expenses to 10% – 15%.

Administrative costs are like the Blob. Left unchecked, they grow uncontrollably and will leave your campaign stuck in its tracks. Fight hard, especially in the early stages of your campaign, to keep your overhead low and manageable.

Admin expenses include your campaign manager and nearly all of your staff, including fundraising and communications staff and consultants. Office expenses, utilities, phones, insurance, travel, stationary, etc. should also be marked in this category.

Research, branding, and communications tools are important, but keep the costs around 10% – 12%.

Polling, opposition research, and messaging support can be really helpful to a campaign, but the primary focus always needs to be on delivering that message to voters. To ensure a balance and that you’re not developing the best story without the means to tell it, try to keep the research and tracking piece to 5% – 10%.

Other items that are included in general communications are lawn signs, bump stickers, email systems, websites, etc. 

Don’t forget a contingency! Set aside 5% – 10% on items you can’t even think of.

The only thing you can 100% plan for is that something will go wrong with the plan. Sometimes it’s a PR issue, fundraising may fall short, staff needs may be larger than anticipated, etc. So in order to plan effectively, all campaign budgets should leave 5% – 10% in a contingency fund for whatever the future may bring.

Every budget and campaign is different, and you need to make expenditure choices that best fit your goals and needs. But if you need a place to get started, here is a template you can start with. Download FundHero’s today.

Thank you for stopping by, now go back to forging your epic journey!

Eric Bloom

With 17 years of experience, I have become accustomed to identifying key issues in order to craft impactful operational strategies, while fostering trust through exceeding expectations. My cross-industry experience (from politics to finance to healthcare to name a few) informs innovative solutions, tailored to address unique concerns and bolster the reach and effectiveness of initiatives.