Create a Campaign Ledger
How to track your campaign cashflow in a simple, easy way
The most basic way of tracking your campaign finances is a ledger. This is a bit like balancing your checkbook; the goal is to be sure you know how much money you have available at all times. What you’re tracking is deposits and expenditures from your campaign account. Your ledger will not have the individual donation info you need for compliance reports. Instead, you’ll find it useful as you get close to election day and you’re trying to spend down your account on voter comms without leaving yourself in the lurch by spending money you don’t have. Let’s get into it.
Start by creating a new spreadsheet. This guide uses Excel to demonstrate, but the process is basically the same in LibreCalc or Google Sheets. Go ahead and create headers for your six columns: balance, debit, credit, date, entity, and note.
Then we’re going to begin to fill in our data. Take a look at your campaign bank account, and we’ll want to note every transaction you see there. Then you’ll add transactions you’ve made that aren’t yet reflected in the account. When you spend money, put the dollar amount in the ‘debits’ column, and when you bring money in, put the dollar amount in the ‘credits’ column.
A quick note: you don’t want to log every credit card contribution or every check you receive in your ledger. Instead, log every time you deposit checks to your bank account and every time your credit card processor deposits money to your account.
‘Date’ and ‘entity’ should be pretty straightforward fields. In the note field, you should put whatever information you need to reference your record of the transaction. Yes, you should be scanning every check your campaign receives!
Once you’ve done that, let’s get our ‘balance’ column in order. This is where you’re going to read your current account balance, so be careful and get it right.
For the first line of the ‘balance’ column, you can go ahead and hard code it to be the same as your first credit ($2,000 in the example). This will make any accountants out there cringe, but it’s just the simplest way to get your ledger up and running.
In the next cell of our ‘balance’ column, let’s write our formula. We want to take the previous balance (A2), subtract any debits (-B3), and add any credits (+C3). That gives us the formula =A2-B3+C3. Type the formula in and hit enter.
Double check that the formula is giving you the correct result. Once you’ve done that, click the tiny square in the bottom right of the A3 cell and drag down to the cell below. This will replicate the formula down to the next row.
Keep repeating this process until the correct balance is showing up on the most recent entry in your spreadsheet. In the future, each time you add a new transaction, you’ll perform the same little click and drag operation to immediately create an updated balance for your ledger.
Next, we’ll go ahead and format our cells so they’re displaying correctly.
Highlight columns A, B, and C, then look for the ‘Number’ section of the ribbon menu at the top of your Excel window. Click the $ sign, and your balance, debits, and credits will now be displayed as dollar amounts.
Next, highlight column D. Return to the ‘Number’ section of the ribbon and select “Short Date” from the dropdown menu. The dates in column D will now be displayed in the correct format.
Now let’s go over adding a new entry. In this case, we have a new check deposit after the candidate picked up a few checks over the weekend. You should scan those checks and log each one in your donation tracking system with the relevant compliance information (usually name, address, occupation, employer, donation date, and donation amount). Then you can turn to your ledger and log the deposit you’re about to make to the bank.
Add the credit amount, date, and “check deposit” for the ‘Entity.’ In the note, type the filename of the check scans you just took. You can use a consistent format with the date to make keeping track easier over time.
Then click the most recent cell in the balance column and drag it down using the small green square on the bottom right. Now you have an updated balance on the new row.
Finally, let’s change the sheet name at the bottom of the window. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice touch of professionalism and it takes 5 seconds.
You now have a working ledger. If you log every bank transaction here, you will have the most up-to-date cashflow information possible. Obviously you need to ensure cash has cleared to your account before you go spending it, but you’ll probably find a ledger very handy when making decisions late in the campaign!
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