As your campaign launch day approaches, the excitement builds and builds. And rightly so—the day you kick-off your campaign is truly exciting! But before the confetti flies on your big day, you have a ton of legwork to do. Luckily, we’ve put together a handy campaign launch checklist that will help you get (and keep!) everything organized ahead of your campaign kick-off announcement.
Below are the 10 most important steps to setting up your campaign, from registering as a political committee to setting up your website and settling on staff.
Table of Contents
Let’s start with the first steps to starting any political campaign, the paperwork.
One of the earliest steps to launching your campaign is the administrative tasks that will build the foundation of the whole organization. These tasks are what makes your campaign legitimate and credible to donors, supporters, and the law.
First, you’ll need to register as a candidate. What does that entail? Basically, you’ll need to fill out the forms necessary to form a political committee. Where you find the necessary forms depends on what kind of office you’re running to fill:
- Running for federal office? The FEC has the registration and reporting forms you need.
- Running for state or local office? Visit your state’s Secretary of State or elections board website to access the forms required to run for state or local offices.
You can find more information about filing to register your campaign by visiting our administrative guide to setting up your campaign.
Pick an Announcement Date
Be strategic about the date you pick to announce your candidacy. You want to pick a time that will maximize the impact of your announcement.
For instance, candidates often try to time their announcements close to the start of a quarter. Doing so means you’ll have the most time to raise cash and have the best possible cash on hand for your first round of reporting, which signals to potential donors that you have a strong campaign.
What else should you consider when planning your announcement date? Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t announce on weekends or during major events (e.g., holidays)
- Prepare your press release kit ahead of your campaign announcement.
- Have your social media presence and payment processing established before you launch, ensuring you can make the most of the interest you generate
Having a launch date in mind will help you plan when fundraising begins. Before you can start fundraising, though, you’ll need an appropriate bank account.
Open a Bank Account
Once you’re ready to begin fundraising for your campaign, you must first have several things in place before accepting a single contribution:
- Employment Identification Number (EIN)
- Accredited bank account
- Treasurer to help you stay in compliance with campaign finance laws (more on this later)
Legally, political campaigns must have their own bank accounts, separate from the candidate’s personal finances. The campaign accounts must be with a state or federal bank or with an FDIC- or NCUA-insured institution.
Beyond opening the bank account, you’ll also need the EIN for tax purposes.
A campaign bank account, however, is just the first step of accepting contributions. If you’re going to run an effective campaign, you’ll need ways to organize and collect your payments.
Set Up Payment Processing
This next campaign launch checklist item will help you prepare for the many ways that you’ll be collecting the campaign contributions that’ll go into your campaign’s account.
Services like PayPal are also great ways to supplement the ways you accept donations. These services are helpful because they have built-in political campaign tools. Plus, your campaign benefits from using these services—for example, on your website, PayPal is useful because it’s widely used and increases accessibility.
Speaking of your website, your campaign will need solid branding to stand out to potential supporters.
Design a Logo
Branding is a huge part of any political campaign. Accordingly, you want a visually interesting and memorable logo.
You can approach designing your logo in several ways. You could incorporate popular colors for the party or elements that reference your state. Many style choices are currently trending, so be creative. Have fun with it!
Once your logo is ready, you’ll need to add it to your website.
Set Up a Website
It might seem intuitive to have your campaign website set up before your announcement, but we really can’t stress the importance of this step of our campaign launch checklist enough. If people see you’re running for office and Google your name, you want them to find carefully cultivated information about you—enter your campaign website.
Your website should include several elements:
- Donate button to encourage grassroots donations
- Clear, visible messaging that conveys your ideals, qualifications, and background
- Issues page that further develops your messaging and tells supporters about your public service goals
- Robust About Me page that helps familiarize supporters with you, the candidate
- Place for people to sign up to volunteer
Above all, ensure your website is dynamic, engaging, and user-friendly. Hiring a consultant who specializes in website design will help you build a site that funnels users to important parts of the site (e.g., donate buttons or volunteer sign-up pages).
And don’t forget the SEO! Ensuring you optimize your website for search engines is key to supporters finding your website. If constituents can’t find you, how can they learn about you? Again, consultants can help with this step. Hiring professionals is a worthy investment even for local office campaigns, especially if you’re planning to run for another office in the future.
Here’s a final tip for your website: Set up a site that can evolve as your career unfolds. If you choose an evergreen URL, you’ll be ahead when it’s time to set up your next campaign.
Having your website in place means that you’re closer than ever to fundraising. But like we said earlier, there are a lot of rules to follow when accepting money from supporters. Let’s make sure you’ve got everything sorted.
Find a Treasurer
An extremely important item on our campaign launch checklist is to find a treasurer. The compliance laws around campaign financing are abundant, so the treasurer is usually the first campaign staff position you’ll fill. A treasurer can help you set up your bank account and ensure you correctly handle all your campaign finance reporting.
You’ll need to appoint a treasurer before you can fill out essential paperwork to register your political committee. In fact, a treasurer must be listed on the Statement of Organization for your campaign. What is the treasurer’s role? It’s twofold, really. A treasurer will organize and file the appropriate paperwork at the necessary times. You also need a treasurer to collect contributions or disburse funds to pay for campaign expenses.
Hiring a treasurer, however, is just the first of many staffing decisions you’ll need to make.
Decide on the Rest of Your Staff
The staff you hire for your campaign will majorly impact your budget needs. What size staff do you need? Honestly, the number of staff and the number of hours required for your staff will vary. For example, a treasurer—while indispensable to the success of your campaign—is typically a part-time position. Other positions, such as a field organizer, you might not even need to hire for until much closer to election day.
Who you hire and when will depend on various factors:
- The size of your budget
- Whether you’re running for federal, state, or local office
- The phase of the election
Running in the primaries requires a smaller staff than the size of staff needed in the general elections. Running for state or local offices usually means that you’ll be working with smaller budgets and smaller staffs. Alternatively, if you’re running for a federal office, you’ll generally have a much bigger campaign to manage, better-funded opponents, and greater staffing needs.
Making wise staffing decisions is an integral part of maintaining a healthy campaign budget. Another way to balance your budget is having a solid fundraising plan. A major factor to preparing a healthy budget is to map out where the funds will come from. Knowing your limitations will be vital to accurately mapping out a fundraising plan.
Identify the Fundraising Limits for Your Campaign
As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of campaign finance laws to navigate when running a political campaign. One of the main laws you’ll need to familiarize yourself with are campaign fundraising limits.
These limitations are set by the FEC for federal offices and by your state and local governments for state and local offices. It’s ultimately your responsibility to know what laws apply to your political campaign. Federal limits are listed on the FEC’s website. State and local limitations are found on your state’s elections board website or Secretary of State website.
Notably, contribution limitations can vary drastically from area to area. For instance, New York’s limits are calculated using a somewhat complicated formula, while Florida’s limits are relatively clear cut.
Your treasurer can help you navigate the intricacies surrounding campaign finance laws. Before you build a fundraising plan, it benefits you to have a strong working knowledge of these laws.
And now you’re ready for the final item on your campaign launch checklist…
Kick-off Your Campaign
If you’re at this checklist item, you’re officially ready to launch your campaign! It’s time to roll out your candidacy to the world.
If possible, use your campaign kick-off to generate as much buzz as possible. Organize a launch event that will show people that your campaign is something worth backing. Better yet, try to turn the announcement into a fundraising event.
Setting up a campaign launch party helps raise awareness of your campaign, kick-start your fundraising, and highlight your messaging. Want to expand your campaign’s reach even further? Add a livestream component. Such tactics help launch your campaign without breaking the bank—even if you’re running for a local office with a tight budget.
Campaign Launch Checklist Complete!
The above kick-off checklist hopefully helps you have a clear picture of everything you need to do to kick off your campaign. Best of luck!