This tongue in cheek quote from Adlai Stevenson perfectly captures the feelings of many candidates. But it also brings into perspective a central question of campaign strategy: “How do we differentiate ourselves from our opponent?”
Most first-time candidates launch their campaign with the belief that they can win on their virtues alone. If only the voters could learn how awesome they are, victory would be assured. This is not far off the mark since every campaign should start out by first establishing why THEY are the best candidate, rather than talking about why their opponent is the bad guy.
As a candidate, you are a leader of your campaign and you’re seeking a much larger leadership role through elected office. Now is your time to demonstrate to those around you that you can lead well. If you can’t pass the leadership test on the campaign trail, why should I believe that you’ll suddenly transmogrify into an awesome leader upon winning the election?!
The first place to set the tone for your leadership within the campaign is by setting the pace and tone. You shouldn’t expect anyone on your team to be more focused, work more hours or invest more heavily in the campaign than you. If you want honesty and transparency to be key values within your future public administration, show yourself to be honest and transparent within your campaign and to your team.
And once you’re setting the pace for the team, don’t be a jackass and beat people over the head with how much harder you’re working than they are! Of course, you’re working more hours than anybody else. It’s YOUR campaign!! There are plenty of constructive ways to deal with team members who are slacking. Comparing their work to yours is one important way NOT to do that.
What happened was that I stopped viewing fundraising as a zero sum game. This isn’t just about me taking money from one person and putting it in my campaign account. If my candidate or cause is actually serious about the difference we’re saying we’ll make, then it’s an investment. It’s a positive sum game.
With that outlook, it became much easier for me to pitch donors on supporting my cause or candidate. Because of a shared set of beliefs, I’m asking them to join me in a cause. To invest in a mission that we both believe in. From there, I need to make a clear ask for a discrete cause and give a specific deadline. That’s the ask!
Even with the right mindset though, nobody is more effective at asking for money than the candidate. Their presence and the fact that the candidate is the one making the ask makes it more likely that they’ll say yes. Plus, nobody is as good at sharing the candidate’s passion or beliefs than themselves.
Put these two lessons together and you should be off to a great start as a fundraising candidate. Practice is all that remains!
We lost the first election I ever helped in because we didn’t give it everything. I can’t remember what the financial balance was when the polls closed, but I know we metaphorically had “something left in the tank” individually. We could have touched a few more voters. And because we didn’t leave everything on the field, we lost by 12 votes.
Whether it’s financial or individual energy, anything left in the tank when the polls close is wasted.
Now, I’m not advocating fiscal irresponsibility. If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ve got this wrapped up, I can understand holding back some funds and not just blowing it on another mailer. These are exceptions to the rule and outside what most people will face.
My point is that you shouldn’t be afraid to spend what you’ve got and give every ounce of effort, right up until the last votes are cast. Win or lose, you want to KNOW that you did everything. Any effort not used will be repurposed to self-flagellation if you lose. And all the money remaining will just get reimbursed to donors.
If victory is at all in doubt, never leave an ounce in the tank.