An overview of event types, plus goals for political candidates
When people imagine political campaigns, they often first think of campaign events: a candidate speaking to a large room full of people paying rapt attention - perhaps in a room adorned with posters of the candidate. The reality can be quite different, but campaigns are punctuated by events. Furthermore, events can completely overrun your campaign calendar if you’re not careful. Here is an overview of the different kinds of campaign events and how to approach each one.
The Perfect Campaign Event: A Specific Kind of Fundraiser
The ideal event for a political campaign looks like this: a supporter from the edge of your coalition hosts a fundraiser for you. They invite lots of people from their network who you don’t know, and these people trust your host highly. the campaign provides the host with a prospectus document, creates an event invitation, and creates a custom donation link to track contributions through the event. The host does everything else, including coordinating the venue, refreshments, and outreach. The day of the event, the candidate shows up, networks, speaks to attendees, and collects checks.
Meet & Greets
Non-fundraising events are worth your time if someone else is coordinating them and the candidate simply shows up and meets voters. Prioritize the meet & greet events that let you connect with key voting blocks you’re looking to solidify. The hope here is that the attendees are thought leaders in their community and they’ll be impressed with you. That way you may get some word of mouth exposure. For the most part, meet & greets are not the most efficient use of campaign time. Make sure you get lots of good photos of the candidate mingling with voters. For this reason, it’s best if the event is not too formal.
Debates and Forums
It is worth attending candidate forums or debates as long as they don’t overwhelm your schedule. These events are most valuable when you are a significant underdog and least valuable when you have a large polling and/or budget advantage over your opponent. One critical thing to remember at debates: your goal is not to win an argument in front of a small audiences of already-decided voters. That may feel good, but it achieves effectively nothing for your campaign. Instead, you’re looking for media headlines favorable to your campaign. You have a very limited ability to control this, but you can avoid getting unfavorable headlines by maintaining message discipline during your appearance.
A Campaign Kickoff Event
If you throw a campaign kickoff event, it may be worth investing campaign staff time (unlike most events). A well-attended campaign kickoff can start the campaign off on the right foot by giving the local politically-engaged folks the impression that you’re running a serious, well-supported effort. This can grease the wheels for all-important fundraising efforts later. The thing to watch out for with kickoffs is to keep the cost down - way down. It’s easy to let these events grow and become costly. The campaign isn’t getting any direct benefit from this event, so the budget needs to stay as small as possible. For that reason, you may need to be flexible about venue. That’s ok, because attendance is the biggest factor for kickoff events.
Canvass Launches and Phonebank Parties
The only kinds of recurring events you should consider planning are voter outreach events. Bear in mind that your targeted voters will not be attending political events - if they are, you need to rethink your targets. Once you have canvassing targets and walk packets for volunteers, you can consider holding a weekly event on Saturday. Campaign volunteers show up and you provide coffee, donuts, and walk packets. You can meet and mingle a bit, then the candidate gets the troops pumped and everyone splits up to do their canvass shifts. Phonebank parties are similar, except you all meet in the afternoon or evening to make voter calls to your targets.
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