How to Campaign

Five Parts:Deciding Whether to RunBuilding Your TeamGetting Your Campaign GoingGetting Your Message Out TherePreparing (and Caring for) Yourself

Whether you're running for student body president or want to secure a position in a local election, deciding to run a campaign is a big undertaking. You want your efforts to be successful, but you may be overwhelmed with all of the details and don't know where to start. Fear not, for we have some helpful advice on how to organize and run a successful campaign.

Part 1
Deciding Whether to Run

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    Reflect upon your motivations. Maybe you've been thinking about running for office for some time, or maybe your friends, family, coworkers or teachers have suggested that you'd be great as a leader. Before you decide to commit to running a campaign, you should spend some careful time reflecting upon desire to run for office. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Why do you want this? Do you want the recognition and the prestige that will come with being elected, or do you want to represent and serve a particular group of people? Why?
    • If you decide to run, you'll be asked to articulate your reasons for wanting the position, so you need to be clear on them yourself from the get-go.
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    Identify your strengths. Why do you think that you'd be the best person for the job? What are your personal strengths? For example, are you passionate and knowledgeable about the related issues? Are you energetic or are you able to connect well with other people?
    • You want to be able to explain what sets you apart from the other candidates and be able to explain how you'll be capable of serving well.
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    Identify your weaknesses. What do you struggle with? For example, do you find it hard to manage competing projects? Will this be a hindrance to your ability to run a campaign or to perform the responsibilities of the position?
    • Just as you ought to be aware of your strengths, you'll need to be aware of your weaknesses, so that you can compensate for them or correct them completely.
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    Decide if you're up for the task. Do you have the time and energy to both campaign and to eventually do the job, if you are elected?
    • You'll also need to be certain that you can devote yourself completely to the tasks of running and (hopefully) serving, and you'll need to be able to convince your team and your constituents that you are up for the challenge.
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    Ask those you trust for a character assessment. Before deciding to campaign, you should start by self-reflecting, but we're not always the most objective judges of our own characters and abilities. Ask to sit down with a trusted friend or mentor, and explain to them that you are thinking about running for office.
    • Ask them to outline what they take to be your strengths and weaknesses, and then listen carefully and non-defensively as they answer.
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    Prepare for the long-haul. Before you decide to run, you need to sort out the details and, as best you can, realistically outline the course of events that await you. Think about the following:
    • How long will the campaign run? On average, how many hours a day or week will you need to commit to campaigning? What are your other responsibilities, and how much time must you devote to them? Be certain that you will be able to balance all of this while retaining your health and your sanity.
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    Choose a cause about which you're passionate. You may want to run in order to gain experience or make connections that can help you in your career. These are worth-while goals, but keep in mind that if your heart isn't behind your cause, your voters may be able to see through this.
    • You'll also need to maintain the drive to actually do the job should you win, in which case working for something you care about will help you persist.

Part 2
Building Your Team

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    Hire or recruit smart, creative people. Even if you think that you can run this on your own, there are good reasons to put together a team of friends, volunteers or even a paid staff to help you run things. You need the insight and expertise of other people, and you also need to show your constituents that you can work well as part of a team.
    • While you should definitely consider bringing people on board who have former experience with campaigning, don't worry too much about experience. [1] Pick people who share the same vision as you, who aren't afraid to take risks, and who can bring fresh insight to the challenges you'll face.
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    Look to your friends and family for help. A natural starting point when you're looking to find a team is your inner circle. Go to the people who know you best, and who love and care for you, and see if they are willing to help you achieve this important goal.
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    Recruit on college campuses. If you need skilled and passionate help for your campaign, you may be able to find excellent team members at nearby colleges and universities. Check in with the heads of academic departments to see if they can recommend any students who may be in need of work experience. [2]
    • Good departments to check in with are Political Science, History, Business Administration, Philosophy, and/or Journalism. Many of these students may hope to one day become involved in politics, run for office themselves, or hope to write or report about current issues.You can offer them valuable resume-building experience.
    • If you need IT help with the technical aspects of your campaign, you may also want to look for students who are enrolled in Computer Programming courses.
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    Recruit from among the members of associations and groups. What groups or associations do you belong to? Are you a member of the local Humane Society? Do you attend church or religious services? Are you a member of any political clubs? If so, don't forget to overlook these groups who have members with shared interests.[3] You may be able to find like-minded, passionate and talented help.
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    Contact the local offices of political parties. There's a good chance that the local branch of the Republican, Democratic, or Libertarian Party may have an established list of volunteers who are willing to help on campaigns.[4]
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    Continue to recruit at campaign events. Once you have created your core team and begun to campaign, you don't want to make the mistake of stopping your recruiting efforts.[5] Always be on the lookout at campaign events for anyone who seems like a good candidate for your team.
    • Does anyone in the audience seem particularly enthusiastic or receptive to your message? Does anyone want to hang out after the event to chat or share their ideas with you? If so, you probably have their vote (good for you!), but they may also be a potentially valuable member of your team: enlist their help!
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    Delegate. Once you have your team in place, there will be a lot of work to do. No matter how talented, energetic, or smart you are, you can't (or shouldn't) take on all the work yourself. It's important that you learn how to delegate tasks to your team members, and give them the freedom and space to get the job done.
    • You'll have to work hard at finding that careful balance between giving people rein to do their own work, while also always being responsible for anything that comes out of your campaign. If you show your team that you trust them with something so important to you, they'll be more motivated not to let you down.
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    Be willing to do the dirty work. Even though you won't be doing all of the work by yourself for this campaign, don't refuse to perform the tedious, less desirable tasks yourself. Be willing to get up early to paste the neighborhood with fliers, go on the occasional coffee run yourself, and don't be above making copies.
    • You'll be able to keep morale up if you send the message that you won't ask your subordinates to do work you yourself wouldn't be willing to take on. [6]

Part 3
Getting Your Campaign Going

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    Create a clear message. Once you've decided to run, you'll need a platform on which to run, and you'll need a clear and catchy message.
    • Your campaign slogan should be concise, to-the-point, and easily remembered by voters.
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    Learn from the past. Before you launch your own campaign, research past successful campaigns. See if the current officeholder is willing to meet with you to share any general advice or give you insight into what did or didn't work for them.
    • Look for patterns and try to identify the common characteristics of the successful campaigns and candidates who have proceeded you.
    • However, it's also important that you are willing to do things differently and take risks in your own campaign. You want to be able to set yourself apart, and if you are looking to change the status quo and lead in new and different ways, you'll want to show your voters how you are different and unique.
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    Design an eye-catching logo. You'll want to advertise your campaign with signs, posters, and buttons. Spend a good amount of time working on a logo and design that pops, sends a strong message, and is visually appealing.
    • You may find it helpful to delegate this task to a member of your team with a background in design or art.
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    Create swag. Make sure that you set aside room in your campaign budget for “swag” that you can pass out at events: pens, t-shirts, and baked-goods with your campaign sticker on them are obvious and relatively cheap options.
    • Think about having slightly more expensive items available for those who are willing to make significant donations or campaign on your behalf: for example, you may want to order some nice tote bags with your logo, or you can special order smart phone or iPad cases with your campaign colors or slogan emblazoned across them.
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    Research the issues. At some point in your campaign, you will either have to give a speech or participate in a debate. Besides needing to be able to clearly articulate your message and plan, you'll need to be able to point to specific evidence to support your position.
    • Gather and memorize the results of relevant studies, surveys or testimonials. For example, if you are campaigning for a city council seat and want to work to help reduce crime, you'll need to be solid on what the current crime statistics are. You should also be able to point to other cities that have successfully been able to deal with similar problems and demonstrate your awareness of their effective strategies.
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    Start a fundraising site. You're going to need cash to pay for all that swag, for your campaign posters and fliers, and to cover your travel costs, among various other expenses. Make it easy for your supporters to donate by setting up a page with sites like,, or
    • Make sure to set some of the money raised aside to cover any associated fees. For example, Kickstarter assesses a 5% fee of the funds raised on successful campaigns, and you'll also have to pay credit card processing fees and taxes.[7]
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    Fundraise off-line. Don't neglect to go the traditional route when raising funds: you're going to have to become comfortable directly asking people for money. Indeed, even if you have an online platform to receive donations, you'll want to begin by networking and making requests in person. You can then direct potential donors to your site, and ask them to refer others to your site.
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    Ask politely and directly, and then wait for an answer. There's no point in beating around the bush when you are fundraising. Let the other person know that you are seeking funds so that you can bring about positive change. Briefly give them your campaign message (you should have a sound-bite prepared), and then make your request:
    • Tell them, “I could really use your financial help,” and then wait for their response. If you don't receive an immediate offer, you may be tempted to prattle on with explanations and pleas, but those who have run successful campaigns suggest that you patiently wait it out until the other person feels pressed to respond.[8]
    • If your initial request is denied, remind the person that any amount will help, even if it's only a few dollars.
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    Talk to everyone and anyone when seeking funds. Don't go just to those who you think have the deepest pockets. You may be surprised at the generosity of those who are less well-off, and even small donations will add up. [9]
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    Offer small rewards for contributions. This is where taking the time to design and order swag will pay off. Make sure that your online fundraising site makes it clear what “gifts” will be awarded at specific donation levels.[10] Besides providing your donors with a small incentive to donate, your gift will serve as a physical reminder of your campaign, and could prompt them to get out and vote once the day comes.
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    Follow up individually with donors. While it will take extra work and organization, it's important that you personally thank all of those who have donated or volunteered for your campaign. Thank-you notes are still relevant today, so while you should definitely send them, you should avoid sending everyone a message that is clearly formulaic and identical.
    • You may be able to delegate some of the initial work in preparing your thank-you notes to a team member, but in order to make a more lasting impression, be sure to set aside some regular time to go through them yourself to add a hand-written note and signature.[11]

Part 4
Getting Your Message Out There

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    Find out who really runs things. As you begin to get your message out to the public, you want to make sure that you reach the people with the real power, connections, and influence. You may be tempted to focus all of your efforts on those who are already in powerful positions, or who have the most money, but the identity of the truly influential can sometimes be surprising.[12]
    • For example, if you're running for a city council election, you could be making a mistake by failing to reach out to the owner of the most popular bar in town, where all of the locals hang. Getting just that one person's endorsement could make a huge difference for you.
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    Target the right people. You can't be all things to all people, so it's important to think about who will be most receptive to your message and your plan for the future.
    • For example, if you're running for a class office and you're campaigning to restructure the way that electives are offered, you need to focus on getting the votes of the younger students who will be around longer to benefit from your plan.
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    Tailor your message to different audiences. While it's important that your platform remain consistent (for example, don't promise one group that you'll fight against tax increases while vowing to another that you'll vote to increase taxes for public works projects), it will help you to tweak your delivery and presentation for different audiences.[13] You need to learn about the issues that members of particular groups care most about, and also learn their language.
    • For example, if you're meeting with members of a retirement community, they may expect you to be more formal in your presentation and to speak on matters that will directly affect them, such as what your proposals are for delivering meals and services to those who are home-bound.
    • When you meet with younger voters, though, they may be put off if you are overly stuffy, and may appreciate it if you work in references to pop-culture and speak on topics like your proposal to increase entry-level job opportunities in the community.
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    Get a website up and running. Particularly for campaigns that will last for a number of weeks or months, you should create a website that your potential voters can visit. Here, you will clearly outline your campaign message and your positions on the relevant issues. You should also have a calendar with upcoming events and activities, and you can likewise include testimonials and endorsements from your supporters.
    • Your website can be a helpful tool, but it should not be your sole source of advertising. Think of your website as being a place for people to go for further information about you and your plans, and as an avenue to keep you connected with your supporters.
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    Place your website url on all of your materials, and update it regularly. In order to get the fullest advantage from your website, make sure that your constituents are aware of its existence and can easily find it. It will thus help to print the address of your site on all of your physical campaign materials.
    • You should also update your website regularly so that people have a reason to return to it frequently.
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    Use social media to your advantage. A website is a good place to start if you want to reach a lot of people, but don't forget about other outlets for reaching voters, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
    • Make sure that you have separate campaign accounts on these media platforms, and update them regularly with positive messages and enthusiastic blurbs about the progress of your campaign.
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    Take advantage of traditional media formats. It's great to have an online presence when you campaigning, but it shouldn't be the complete extent of your campaigning. You will also benefit from placing ads in local newspapers, on the radio and on television, if you can afford it. These formats are sometimes viewed as being more serious, and your ads will reach voters who haven't moved over to the digital world.
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    Raise your name ID. Name recognition is key in any election. Voters often don't have the time or interest to thoroughly research and analyze candidates' messages. Often, they'll just vote for the person who's name (and/or face) they most recognize (this is part of why incumbents can be so hard to beat).
    • Thus, it's vitally important that you get your name (and face) out there so that voters who know who you are come election day.[14]
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    Blanket the town with your campaign materials. Whether you are creating hand-made posters or printing up fancy fliers and yard-signs, it's important not to skimp on the volume of your advertising materials. In order to get your name ID up, make sure that voters will see reminders of you and your campaign at every turn.
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    Save money where you can. While you should spend the money if you've got it on professional-looking materials, you can still find cheaper ways to increase your name recognition.
    • For example, good old-fashioned sidewalk chalk can be put to good use in the days leading up to a school election. Recruit the skills of an artistic team-member, and have them draw up eye-catching pictures all along the sidewalks and walkways.
    • Be sure to get permission from the relevant authorities or property owners any time you hang up materials or write a message on the side-walk, though.
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    Make connections with the local media. Be sure to become known to the hosts of local radio talk show programs, newspaper reporters, and op-ed writers. You may be able to get yourself on one of their programs or convince them to interview you.
    • This will help increase your name recognition and spread your message to more voters, without taking a dent out of your advertising budget.[15]

Part 5
Preparing (and Caring for) Yourself

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    Dress the part. When you're on the job market, you are often told to dress for the job you want, not the job you have—which is clichéd, but it's a cliché for a reason. It really is important that you present yourself to voters through your dress and demeanor in a way that conveys to them you are serious and ready for the job.
    • If you are campaigning for a position which will put you in contact with leaders and officials of the community, pay attention to how they dress. Do they wear professional suits? If so, you should as well when you are at public events.
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    Practice delivering your message. When it's time for you to get up in front of people and make your pitch, you don't want to have to rely upon notes or a teleprompter to get you through the speech. Treat the task of learning to deliver your message like any other skill, such as being able to consistently hit a baseball:
    • Do it over and over again until you can do it reflexively. You don't want to be searching for words or need to take lengthy pauses to gather your thoughts when you are in front of your audience.
    • In order to be smooth and polished, practice in front of a mirror, record yourself, and take advantage of friends and family who are willing to listen (and re-listen) to your speech over and over again.[16]
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    Practice responding to tough Q&A. Besides needing to know how to talk about your platform in a clear and engaging manner, you're going to need to be able to respond to questions and objections from the audience or your opponent. This can be incredibly hard to do, especially if you are presented with an unexpected question.
    • In order to prepare yourself and help relieve any anxiety about being unable to respond, enlist the help of a friend who is on the opposite side of the issue or who is who is really good at playing devil's advocate.
    • Have them throw tough questions at you so that you can practice responding quickly and effectively.
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    Be accessible to your constituents. Make sure that your constituents know how to get in touch with you (and actually follow up when people ask for meetings or send you questions), and be willing to arrive early and stay late at events so that you can meet individually with people.
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    Give it the human touch. You should do your very best to remember names, faces, and personal details of those who come to your events and those who you hope to serve. This will go a long way towards making a lasting impact on those you want to vote for you.
    • If you can, have a volunteer or staffer stick close by you during events to jot down the names, contact info, and to record concise and memorable details about the people you meet with.
    • For example, they will note for you that Ahbed M. is hoping that the cafeteria will offer a salad bar, that Maria S. is new to town and would like to learn about home-schooling networks, etc.
    • In your downtime, review the notes religiously so that you can call people by name the next time you see them and update them on your progress on the issues they care about.
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    Always be on. Whenever you are in public, you ought to maintain your professional poise, and be polite and genuine to everyone you meet. Do this even when you're tired or when you think the campaigning is done for the day.
    • For example, your server may have an active Facebook network of 500+ friends, or may be close family friends with the mayor. If you are short with her after a long day of campaigning, you may have lost significantly more than just one vote.
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    Keep your cool. At some point or another, your opponents will probably try to throw dirt at you. While you might be tempted to respond in kind, you will leave a better impression if you respond with dignity and continue to treat your opponents with respect (even if you think they don't deserve it!).[17]
    • If you are called names or are subject to personal attacks, simply respond, “I don't feel that anything good or productive comes from stooping to such low levels. I'd prefer to stay on topic and discuss the issues in a mature manner.”
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    Take care of yourself physically and mentally. While you're probably going to have to work longer, harder hours than normal during the course of your campaign, it's important that you prioritize your own well-being. If you drive yourself to the point of mental or physical exhaustion, you endanger your campaign and risk letting all the hard work you've already done go to waste.
    • Make sleep a priority, eat well, exercise, and schedule regular breaks and downtime so that you can replenish your energy stores.
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    Keep learning, and keep at it. Just as you should begin your campaign by studying and reflecting, so should you conclude your campaign with this exercise. Whether you win or lose, you will benefit from taking the time to analyze your efforts and those of your opponent so that you can be better prepared for your next go-round.
    • If you lost, we offer our condolences, but don't automatically conclude that your life as a public servant is over, or that you will never be able to run a successful campaigning. Allow yourself a bit of time to feel down, but then reflect upon what you learned and the experience you gained.
    • Did you make any mistakes that now seem obvious? What was successful about your campaign? How did your opponent run his/her campaign? Can you learn anything from them for next time?
    • Ask these questions of yourself even if you won: you want to make sure that you continue to employ techniques that work the next time you campaign, and incorporate any new ideas that could make you an even stronger candidate in the future.

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Categories: Political Campaigning and Participation