Managing the campaign budget is an essential part of any campaign. Used in tandem with your campaign plan, the budget will help you allocate resources from the current moment until the campaign ends.
A political campaign is a short- to medium-term, one-goal operation. There is a finish line and you want your party to be as strong as possible when you cross it. But to achieve it, you need to be smart and in control of your finances.
Campaigns cost money. There might be some things you can get done for free or on a tight budget, but costs are unavoidable and must be covered. These costs could be incurred for paid campaign positions, hosting events, running an ad, making a website, or complying with administrative demands. In order to run a successful campaign, you need to be efficient (cut down on costs where possible), maximise impact (increase expenditure on issues of political competition, such as visibility and creativity), spend precisely what you have (no more, no less) and should always try to fundraise more money throughout the duration of the campaign.
The best way to start making a budget for a campaign is to look for an old one. What did the party spend in the last campaign? Was it enough? Was it well spent? Where did the money come from? Another option is to look at other related examples, such as Green parties in different cities or regions, or to try and find information on budgets of competing parties in annual reports or via news coverage. The more information you can gather about the finances of your competition, the better.
The next step is to talk with your (current and former) colleagues to acquire more specific insights such as how much an event costs, what the budget range is for a council meeting, how much money is needed to reach your target audience on Facebook or Instagram, how much impact it would make to hire a videomaker, how much money could be fundraised etc.? Think about the positions you have in your campaign team and see what expertise and capacity you are missing.
If there is time, it helps to try and plan ahead. What money can you save this year to launch a better campaign next year? Talk to the party leadership/board to discuss what you believe you need and see what is possible to raise.
Once you have collected information on previous campaigns and insights from colleagues, it is time to make a campaign budget. Like any budget, a campaign budget is divided into expenses and revenue.
On the expenses side you can differentiate between operational costs (salaries, website, apps, office material, volunteer support, consultants), events (council, town halls, press conferences), (social) media (ads, photography, videos), candidate support (travel, accommodation) and printing (flyers, stickers etc). On the revenues side, you can differentiate between donations, candidate, and party contributions. More importantly, the budget needs to make sense to you and cover all income and expenses.
While there are no ‘golden rules’ for campaign expenses, a good rule of thumb is to spend at least two-thirds of the budget on communication with voters (social media, events, door knocking). Other strategies could be around investing the most in your team: ‘you might not have the most money, but at least you can get the best people.’ The decision is up to you. Talk to your team, learn from experience, and do what feels best.
Some campaign budgets differentiate between paid and unpaid/in-kind work. There are two main arguments to keep track of activities without expenses:
Like any business, your political campaign must monitor income and expenses. All items should be tracked with dates, names, and types of expenses. You need to know your cash on hand (bank account, credit card) and you need to plan for when expenses need to be paid and income expected to arrive. If you have a money management program you are comfortable with, you can use it for your campaign.
Don’t be sloppy with handling campaign money. It is vital to track revenue and expenses just as diligently as any small-business owner. While it does require a lot of work, it is important to be well organised in order to collect all the invoices/receipts and be able to answer any and all questions an accountant might pose. You may even be obligated to report your finances during the campaign so being accurate and transparent is vital.
Never mix campaign and private funds. If possible, open a bank account for your campaign that can handle fundraising contributions and cover expenses. Make sure it can cover the transactions expected every month and that it works well with fundraising services and with expense requirements (for example, some service providers require a credit card).
If you’re not adept at handling campaign finances, appoint someone else to run this. Even if you’re comfortable with this, it is recommended to have someone else cross-check the budget. The ideal treasurer may have some experience in accounting or other jobs that work with money and is good with numbers. They should monitor contributions, track expenses, and ensure everything is in line with local/national regulations of campaign finance and general accounting practices.
To run a campaign, you need a budget to cover expenses and handle revenue. Make sure to learn from previous campaigns to draft a preliminary budget. Keeping track of the budget is important and necessary.
Last updated: June 2022