Project Wonderful

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: 7 Conversations for a New Campaign Manager

Hi Nancy! I'm about to start a city commission race, and I'm the campaign manager for a friend of mine. I've done some political work, but mostly non-partisan elections and ballot initiatives. What are some of the first steps we should be taking as a team? I've figured out our win number, and we're starting to come up with a list of local folks that we need on our side. Where should we be starting here?
Congratulations, my darlings! So many of you have been writing in to let me know that they've gotten the new jobs that they so richly deserve! (If this doesn't describe you, take heart, we are in the same boat. Is there anything more annoying than writing cover letters?) I've also gotten a number of emails like the one above wondering where to start. Obviously the answer varies widely depending on the scope, the job and the candidate. However, you can't go wrong by asking yourself and your candidate the following questions...

1)Why are you running? This may sound like a no-brainer or worse yet a poorly regurgitated West Wing episode, but it's important. Ask your candidate. Write it down. It will help you shape the message of your campaign but just as importantly it's there for you to come back to when one or both of you start losing focus.

2)Are you willing to do the work? Again, a no-brainer. Your candidate will of course answer "yes" to this question (and if not you should hightail it on the first turnip truck outta there) but that's not really the point. Before taking on any campaign you need to make sure your candidate understands what will be expected from her: the fundraising, the door-knocking, the lack of sleep, the invasion of know, everything you're going to have to go through right along with her. You all know I'm not a big fan of jumping ship on a candidate, but the one time I really feel it's warranted is when that candidate is not living up to her commitment. You give up your life to work for her on the understanding that she's doing the same. It's very important to have a conversation where you both agree on some ground rules so that you can refer back to that agreement later on. She will undoubtedly break this agreement at some point but all the better reason to have it in place. Make sure your candidate agrees to consistent and quality calltime, to backing up your decisions with her family and kitchen cabinet, to eat and sleep enough to keep herself healthy and to consult with you on all budgeting decisions.

3) Whom do I need to talk to? Talk to you candidate and find out whose ring you (and she) need to kiss in the community. Who will be offended if you don't consult with them? Who will be a talker and who can you count on to actually get things done? Establish a kitchen a cabinet of activists, friends and advisers who will be on your side and keep you tuned-in to local issues and (lower case p) politics. If possible, set up a weekly conference call with your kitchen cabinet and consultants to keep everyone feeling valued and on the same page.

4) What do I need to know about? When starting a new campaign you need to sit down with your candidate and ask the uncomfortable questions. Every late tax filing, every affair, every unpaid parking ticket in your candidate's family history is bound to come out. In most cases the answers won't be deal breakers, but you need to what to be ready for. You need to be able to trust you candidate and she you, so that you can run an effective campaign and know exactly what you're dealing with, Jerry McGuire style.

5) Tell me everyone you've ever met. Seriously. First day, sit down and get your candidate's life story. Not just for the reason above, but for everyone's favorite purpose...fundraising! Make a list of everyone she's ever dated, her Christmas card list, the sisterhood at her synagogue, her high school graduating class, her nursery school class, her professional organizations, her sorority, her extended family, her husband's extended family, then throw them on a call sheet with appropriate ask amounts ASAP!

6) What's my win number? This involves some research on your own as well as consulting your candidate and kitchen cabinet. Get as much information as you can from catalist, the VAN, the state party and board of elections. How many people voted in this race in the past? With which former candidates do you have the most in common? How is this year similar to/different from past years? Who is your natural base and who will be in your persuasion universe. Once you come up with a number you can figure out how much voter contact your candidates and volunteers will need to do in order to make that happen.

7)What's my budget? How much has your candidate raised? What has she committed to before you signed on? Do you receive matching funds and do you have a spending limit? While you never stop raising money, it's important to have a goal. In fact, you should create two budgets: a Cadillac plan that includes everything you feel you need to confidently take the race and a bare-bones budget which includes just what you need to keep the ship afloat (office, salaries, etc). Ideally you'll be closer to the former than the latter, but you'll wind up somewhere between the two.

Good Luck! Keep us updated!

Campaign Love and Mine,

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: Help, I Still Don't Have a Job!

I've gotten so many questions on this, I thought I'd share my thoughts and reactions to the whole crop. Please, as always, take what's relevant and disregard the rest. I warn you in advance, if you thought my last post was tough lovely, in the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, "Baby, you ain't seen nothing yet." I feel you and I want to help each and every one of you get a job, which is why I would never want to give you unrealistic expectations or advice.

Let me start off by saying, this is not a problem unique to the campaign world. That's why there are so many sitcom episodes about how much unemployment sucks. The job search, like dating, and apartment hunting in New York, is frustrating, humiliating, demoralizing and part of being an adult. Welcome. That doesn't make it any less frustrating, but I do think there is value in separating out what are "campaign problems" from what are "life problems." Of course the thing that makes our job different is that campaigns have expiration dates so unemployment is more common and an inevitable occurrence.

As many, many of you have pointed out, the job search is especially difficult in an off year. However, there are still plenty of campaigns happening in 2013 (New York City, New Jersey, Virgina plus a variety of individual local and special elections.) Although there are fewer organizing jobs, there are fewer people vying for those spots. Think of how many of your coworkers took time off from their regular careers to work for the President because he was, well the President. People were coming out of the woodwork for the Presidential and Senatorial campaigns. That's not going to be the case this year. In addition many, many organizers are one and done when it comes to campaigns. I'm sure you have as many if not more broworkers that want to go work in the administration or go to law school. There are proportionally enough campaign jobs to go around. Just maybe not on your terms

A lot of first time organizers get their first campaign job right out of college, the end of which coincides with the time of year when field campaigns staff up for lower level positions. The good news is the longer you work on campaigns, the shorter your wait time will become, as senior positions hire much earlier in the cycle. However, that doesn't help you right now. If you are financially strapped, you might need to get a temp job. I tutored the SAT and worked part time as a receptionist between my first two organizing jobs. It was not ideal, but it was one of the only instances in my life when I've had both disposable income and free time. It was also a good reminder of why I need to be doing a job I care about.

In addition, you may need to widen your scope. If you want to be successful as a career organizer, you need to be willing to move where the jobs are and to work on campaigns at multiple legislative levels. I never expected to wind up running a City Council race in 2009, after having worked on only statewides and the Presidential, but (outside of the Edwards campaign) it turned out to be the biggest learning experience of my professional life- as well the source of many important NYC friendships. Though I've advised you in the past not to settle for a job that doesn't move your career forward and I stand by that, that doesn't mean you won't have to make compromises. If you are unwilling/able to travel or to work on a smaller campaign (which, if you've only done a big one, is a wonderful experience and I can't advocate enough) then you may want to look outside the box into the union or non-profit world, at least temporarily. Either way, think of this cycle as a way to diversify your portfolio.

Speaking of which, be realistic about the type of job you are ready for. If you were a first time organizer with 5 months experience, you are not qualified to be a Regional Field Director. That's not to say that people never "skip a grade", but it is very, very unlikely to happen especially in a year like this when campaign jobs are in a sellers' market. I empathize. After having a great relationship with my Regional on my first campaign, I was very eager for organizing babies of my own. However, after my second stint as an organizer, I realized how important having multiple campaign experiences was to my management style. Believe it or not, you will miss being an organizer when you move on.

Finally, I have to say I was disappointed by the number of messages in my inbox saying, "How come my broworkers have jobs and I don't?" You are not your broworkers! Although we are all broadly competing for the same jobs, your career path is your own. Take it from a white girl who has just started taking Zumba, no good can come from comparing yourself to other people. Campaign jobs have their ups and downs. What might look like a great job from the outside can quickly become a disappointment. You never know what great opportunity you have kept yourself open for by not getting the job that your broworker did...or what choices s/he made to get there. The same way you might miss out on dating a guy you liked only to have a better one come along, if you didn't get it it wasn't your job. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of this sentiment and either way it is karmically sucks. You stop that right now!

Being unemployed is exceedingly crappy. I am about to be there myself. Just don't let it get you stuck in a trap of negative thinking. Keep on plugging! It takes time and persistence. If you have not seen it yet, please check out this massive compilation of DC/Campaign job listserves submitted by one of my ultra-fabulous followers. It is a gold mine! There were things on there I hadn't even heard of, so there's bound to be at least one stone you have left unturned. In the meantime, I am here for you. Keep sending your questions, keep supporting each other and keep doing your thing.

Campaign Love and Mine,