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.
I’m not just talking about someone who actually makes a conscious decision to manage their campaign. That’s a fairly rare occurrence. The bigger problem is candidates who ACT as their own campaign manager, even though they’ve given that role to someone else.
Campaigns are fast-paced and often brutal. The Military Genius Carl Von Clausewitz said that “politics is war by other means,” and he was completely right. As in war, concentrating decision making and execution authority in one person is a really bad idea. It stifles creativity, paralyzes the team and creates huge informational blind spots. In war, this gets people killed. In campaigns, you lose.
Within your campaign, you should cultivate a culture of decentralized command. Clearly delegate responsibility for decisions and actions within your team. Train them well and trust them to execute. Seek their counsel and don’t waste anxiety on their small mistakes.
By building this type of organization, you’ll be freer to do what a candidate is supposed to do: talk to voters and donors. Virtually everything else should be off your plate. Worrying about the walk lists for Saturday or whether you have enough of the right sizes of t-shirts for the next volunteer shift isn’t your job. Getting wrapped up in your campaign manager or field director’s field of fire will only cloud your mind and push you off your game.
A good campaign can always raise at least a little more money and recruit more volunteers but I don’t care how awesome you are, you can’t turn back the clock. This means that not only is it important that we don’t waste time, It’s also critical that we kick off the campaign early.
Now, I’m not talking about holding your campaign launch event 5 years out from election day. That’s probably not a good idea. My point is in regards to the candidate’s planning and preparation.
For instance, a friend of mine is a current elected official and would like to run for a major state’s Attorney General office when the current incumbent retires. We don’t know when that’ll happen but it’s likely 5 years off. Instead of forgetting about the idea for 3.5 years, we’re already thinking through the logistics, identifying threats, planning outreach and shoring up his strengths. All of this will make it more likely that he can mount a strong campaign when that seat opens up.
It’s also rare for a campaign to actually launch too early. This is especially true for first-time candidates who are starting at zero on all fronts. If you’re in this position, you need the maximum amount of time possible to identify and persuade voters to support you. When you’re planning your launch, don’t shy away from the early side of the calendar. This will give you more time to let voters get to know you and give you more time out of the limelight to hone your skills as a candidate.
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!