Project Wonderful

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ask An Election Nerd: From Field to Finance

Hello Nancy,

I am writing because I was wondering if you had advice for folks who were looking to make the jump from field to fundraising. I've used NGP before, and I'm having a finance friend of mine teach me the in's and out's of the program again. I have a lot of friends in campaigns, and I think that I could make the transition. I've always been fascinated by fundraising, I enjoy planning events, and I love working with and meeting new people. I know that field offers the same opportunities on some level, but I'm thinking long term. I love it, but 80 hours a week is too much at this point. I like to work a lot, but I'm 25 and I want to see what life has to offer outside of work too.

Any suggestions?

Honestly? No. The one time I put the Nance in fi-nance it was on a very backwards campaign and I sort of just fell into it. Luckily, I am a huge proponent of delegating and I have an entire network at my disposal! Tumblr followers, remember when I said I know your bosses? I wasn't just whistling Dixie. Below are responses from two senior level Democratic operatives who have made the transition from field to finance. Looks like you can kiss your dreams of a shorter work week goodbye. I can tell you, they are both friends of mine and they've both made incredible social sacrifices to the campaign lifestyle, even/especially since moving over to finance.

They've asked to remain anonymous since they are involved in campaigns this cycle. Big thanks to them and I hope you find their advice useful!

Response 1:

First and foremost I would say that moving from field to finance doesn’t mean the 80 hour week goes away, it just means you cannot wear jeans and a t-shirt to work anymore. Like field you’re still hustling but you’re not working towards GOTV. Finance has different deadlines similar to field but the deadlines occur every three months at the end of the quarter with a lot of late night. There are a lot of similarities between field and finance, which a finance person will never truly admit to a field person’s face. Simply put asking for a “vote” is similar to asking for “money.” There’s targeting and research involved and understanding who you’re asking and what you’re asking for is a big part of fundraising.

If you’re serious about moving into fundraising I would recommend looking for a finance assistant or call time manager position on a campaign. These positions are base level but key to any good fundraising operation and you’ll learn a lot in either of these positions. Check the usual list serves and pay close attention to the ones that focus on fundraising (like EMILY’s List). After the election cycle is over I would also recommend attending fundraising trainings that groups like the DCCC, EMILY’s List, and so on offer. It’s a great way to not only network within the finance campaign world but the trainings also offers volumes of information that help create winning campaigns with strong money behind them.

Best of luck from an original field organizer who’s still trying to a have a life outside of work, that’s a goal I think we all strive for.

Response 2:

All of us that have come up through field have all said it, “this is going to be my last phone call.” And some of you may think you need to get out of field so you can leave the office while the sun is still out. I hate to disappoint you, but it only gets tougher.

Field makes you tough and ready for anything, that’s why a vast majority of the better operatives and consultants I know have a field background, but eventually it comes time to move on and try something else. Some readers have asked advice about moving on from field, and to be quite honest some think that leaving field means you can explore opportunities outside of work. I hate to disappoint you, but you work on a campaign you have to make sacrifices.

Finance. You think dealing with volunteers was difficult? Say hello to donors. Finance staff all over the country can tell you stories. Though we do love them because they keep us in a certain luxury we campaign staffers are accustomed to, there are things you are asked to do for donors that you have to do, whereas can simply tell a volunteer no. Oh, and if you think the VAN was trouble, say hello to NGP (or NGP/VAN, or NGP/VAN with Facebook or whatever it is now). NGP is a great database, and they do have great customer service (especially come reporting deadline time), but it has so many bells and whistles sometimes you just don’t know what to do with it.

I've also worked in research. Coming from field, research can be an interesting transition. In field you interact with voters, volunteers, kids, seniors, and every day Americans otherwise known as “folks.” In research, you spend most of your time on a computer reading documents, or in a library reading documents, or in a courthouse reading documents, or sometimes in hostile Republican territory with a camera (always fun times). Research can have kind of a nerdy spy feel to it in that you don’t really interact much with other departments because the stuff you are looking it can be quite damaging (not just to your opponent).

That being said, I love what I have been able to do on campaigns, and I love that field is where I got it all started, and I encourage all the young, upstart organizers to broaden their horizons and try other departments, just don’t think you will be working any less than you did as an organizer.

There you have it, straight from the finance staff's mouth! Thanks again to my friends who took time out of their busy actual-campaign-working schedules to offer us their insight!


  1. If you love politics but want the 40-50 hour weeks required to live life, I'd look into non-profits/501(c)4's. Especially for fundraising. It's more permanent, often better paying (if you're good at it), and you can even find decent part-time fundraising jobs.

    There is something cool about working campaign hours and being part of that whole culture, but working in the exempt sector is a good way to satisfy the burning need to make political or social change while having a little more work-life balance than direct campaigns.

    That being said, I agree with the person above who indicates that Finance Assistant positions are a good way to go. That's what I did, and our call-time manager also had a key fundraising role (though you need to be SUPER diplomatic by nature to be a call time manager, given that you hang out with the candidate all day).

  2. Good advice! Thanks, Kimberlee.