Writing a Winning Campaign Plan

Apr 13, 2020 by Elena Veatch

Man writing on whiteboard

A Campaign Plan Is Your Roadmap to Success

A written campaign plan is the key to winning your race. Every campaign comes with unknown variables, but the more you plan, the better prepared you’ll be to roll with the punches. Remember, Alex Honnold didn’t free solo Yosemite’s El Capitan by winging it—he planned his unroped climbing route meticulously and trained diligently to execute the most impressive athletic feat of our time. While National Geographic probably won’t make a movie about your political campaign (go ahead and prove me wrong), follow the Honnold way: plan your moves ahead of time and take the process seriously.

What Is a Campaign Plan?
A campaign plan is a written document that serves as your campaign’s North Star to get you across the finish line with a win. Your plan should address every question that will come up during your race—whether from potential donors, voters, or volunteers—such as:

  • What’s my message?
  • What does a winning budget look like?
  • How much money do I need to raise, and how will I raise it?

Once you decide to run, writing a campaign plan should be one of the first things you should do. Your plan will be a living, breathing document—you may need to tweak it as your campaign evolves. Referring to your plan frequently and making adjustments as needed is a healthy exercise in discipline and organization. 

That said, if you take the time to write a sound plan, most of its core components won’t change over time. If you calculated your vote goal correctly, that number won’t budge. And if you’ve exhausted your fundraising network after plotting out every potential pledge, there won’t be a vast difference in the amount of money you raise versus what you hoped to raise (unless you strike up a strong friendship with George Soros or Michael Bloomberg during the course of your campaign).

Why Do I Need a Campaign Plan?
A written plan will help you run an efficient and effective campaign. No matter the size of your campaign, you need to know what it takes to win. What’s more, the absence of a plan will be a major red flag about your viability to potential donors, supporters, and endorsers (which will make it doubly hard for you to mount a winning campaign). Run to win by planning ahead and showing you’re invested in your race.

Writing a plan involves digging into a long list of variables and being honest about the journey you face as a candidate. The process will highlight opportunities and vulnerabilities that your campaign should be aware of. Having a plan will force you to be strategic with your time and resources with an eye toward addressing deficiencies and capitalizing on your assets to strengthen your campaign. The exercise also involves getting buy-in from members of your team to ensure everyone understands your roadmap to success as well as their role in helping you execute it.

Components of a Campaign Plan
So, what exactly should be in your campaign plan? Below are some specific elements your plan should address.

Strategic Summary
The beginning of your plan should have a brief summary of your campaign’s goals and overall strategy. Think of this as an organizational mission statement.

Vote Goal
Look at past voter turnout to get a sense of how many votes you’ll need to win your race. If you’re running against one opponent, you’ll need to garner at least one more vote than 50 percent of the total vote to win. To account for margins of error, we recommend setting your vote goal to 52 percent of the expected vote. 

You can calculate the average voter turnout across the past three similar elections, and then take 52 percent of that average to pin down your vote goal. Keep in mind: If you’re running in a three-or-more candidate race, you won’t necessarily need 50+ percent (depending on the system) to advance—look at past margins of victory and come up with a vote goal you feel comfortable with.

Remember to look at current voter registration before you calculate your vote goal as well. Perhaps registration skyrocketed since the last election due to reactions to our political atmosphere (cough,  Trump) or a local issue. Multiply the voter turnout percentage in the most recent similar election by the current number of registered voters to predict likely turnout in your election. Then, multiply that number by 0.52 to determine how many votes you need to safely win by a margin of 52 percent.

Think through who you need to talk to in order to win your race. Who can you expect to support you (your base) and who can you persuade to vote for you? You won’t be able to talk to every voter—you’ll need to be strategic about how you use your resources to mobilize your base and make the case for your candidacy to persuadables. Pin down areas of your community that will require the most attention in terms of door knocking and calling. Determine which supporters may need an extra push to the polls on Election Day.

A strong field plan is critical to the success of your campaign. This section should outline your strategy for talking to voters at the doors leading up to and on Election Day. How many doors do you want to knock on? How many times do you want to knock on each door? How many volunteers do you need each weekend to hit your goals? Do you have the funds to hire a volunteer coordinator? How will you incentivize volunteers to show up on a cold Saturday morning?

Budget and Fundraising
You’ll need to account for both intake and outflow when it comes to cash. Set weekly or monthly fundraising goals and write down exactly how you’ll achieve them. Link your fundraising goals to your campaign budget. You should have several budget levels drawn up to go along with different fundraising amounts, with 70 percent of your budget going toward direct voter contact (field, direct mail, digital advertising, television, etc.). Knowing what you’re spending on items large and small (versus what you’re fundraising) will help you manage and maximize your resources. Your budget should include everything from your campaign manager’s salary down to office paper clips. 

Your campaign plan should include an overview of your overall message—why are you running and what will you do if you’re elected? We always recommend running through a Tully Message Box exercise to pin down what you’ll say about yourself and what you’ll say about your opponent, as well as how you expect your opponent to frame their candidacy and yours. You’ll need to establish a contrast to give voters a clear reason to support you.

Paid and Earned Media
Outline how you’ll spend your budget on paid communications tactics. There’s no one-size-fits-all combination of tactics to reach voters with your message. Factors like demographics and population density will help determine the tactics that make the most sense to utilize. 

At the same time, you’ll want to have a plan for generating free media coverage of your campaign (earned media). Who on your team will handle talking to reporters? Are there particular publications you want to make inroads with?

Your timeline is a critical piece of your campaign plan. When will you announce your candidacy? When will you send out press releases? When will you do call time to raise money? When will you send out emails? When will you start spending money on paid communications tactics? When will you start canvassing in neighborhoods? These are all questions you should address in a clear timeline.

Executing Your Campaign Plan
Once you’ve involved your team in the process of writing a campaign plan you’re all on board with, that plan will be your bible. Put the time in at the outset to set yourself up for success. Consult your plan regularly to ensure you’re on track to meet your goals, and be honest in your evaluations of how things are going.

Do you have questions about writing a campaign plan? Reach out to our team! 

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Our team is made up of amazing creative, organizational, and political consulting talent committed to achieving political and advocacy goals. We have worked for candidates and causes, big and small, all across the country.

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