Making the decision to run for office can be a daunting one, especially for a first-time candidate. Without guidance from a seasoned political professional, candidates can get caught in the trap of spending too much time on the wrong tasks.
When all is said and done, they’re often missing a key component of the puzzle: early list building.
List building may feel tedious, but I’m here to tell you that it is imperative to the success of your campaign. The typical candidate doesn’t decide to run and win their campaign overnight -- it is a well thought out strategy and requires a lot of work. Before you start holding rallies and making speeches, let’s back up.
What is “List Building” and Why Do I Need to Do It?
List building is the first step in any campaign or advocacy organization, and if done right, it will set your campaign up for the best chance of success. List building is the practice of gathering all your contacts in one place and determining what value each of them will bring to your campaign. That “value” will depend on the type of your campaign or organization.
Let’s take a look at some examples of how you can leverage your list:
- Fundraising: In this day and age there are plenty of ways to source funds from your “crowd”. Check out crowdfunding options with a simple Google search!
- Volunteers: Friends, family, and acquaintances are willing to help passionate people. Share your goals and hold forums for questions. Get people onboard.
- Digital Advocacy: Engaging digitally is imperative. This gives you the opportunity to broaden your reach and capitalize on your message to everyone you’ve ever rubbed elbows with.
The activity of ‘list building’ is crucial to the success of a campaign. In the early 2000s, the Democratic and Republican Parties began tracking nationwide voter lists with completed information of all registered voters in every state across the United States.
And in the months following a U.S. Presidential election, a fight ensues for ‘who gets the voter file’ of the nominee from each party, often to drive fundraising and recruitment efforts of national parties for years to come.
In 2016, presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders was at the center of this debate according to Huffington Post, “An email list may sound like an arcane item to become the focus of a battle for the party’s future. But access to a large list of enthusiastic liberals would allow candidates and campaigns to mobilize thousands of activists and donors at a moment’s notice. In short, the “list” has become a coveted form of political currency in the digital era.”
As you can see, the practice of list building lays the foundation for all activities for your nonprofit or campaign.
When constructing your list, pay attention to some key data points you’re going to want to be sure to include with each contact. You should determine these upfront to keep everything consistent, but some big ones include contact info (email, phone number) and place of employment.
The practice of list building will lay the essential foundations for all activities for your nonprofit or campaign. When constructing your list, you’re going to want to pay attention to some key data points you’re going to want to be sure to include with each contact. You should determine these upfront to keep everything consistent, but some examples are contact info (email, phone number), place of employment, and perhaps any connections you can make beyond the initial relationship. Use those 7 degrees.
How Do I Build My First List?
Prior to building your first list, there are three core elements you need to have in place: time, people, and the money to execute your campaign. By planning and securing these resources ahead of time, you can set your campaign up for a short and long-term success.
After securing your team, it is time to set the foundation of your list building activities by assigning individuals to specific tasks. Once you have a plan, it’s time to start list building.
Here are a few ways to start building your list:
1. Start In Your Inbox
A list of friends and acquaintances will only get you so far if you have no way to contact them. Sift through your email addresses and start grabbing names and adding them to your list – coworkers (new and old), friends, acquaintances, former employers, etc.. Don’t let a name slip by without placing some type of value on it.
To determine value, ask yourself questions like: would this person support you or your cause, volunteer, donate, or host a house party? Would they make an introduction to their friends and coworkers?
Don’t be afraid to be ruthless in your approach. Remember -- closed mouths don’t get fed.
2. Followers & Friends: Leverage Social Media
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, oh my! Social media is exploding and has become one of the primary avenues for digital organizing in the 21st century. As of 2016, there are 2.3 billion active social media users, with 12 new active mobile social users joining every second.
With that in mind, if you aren’t currently active on social media – stop everything you’re doing, and sign up now!
Social media provides the perfect platform to crowdsource your message, organize your supporters, keep them up-to-date on the latest happenings, and magnify the impact of your outreach. Pull your friend’s list from Facebook, followers from Twitter, and connections on LinkedIn to begin using these social media channels to kick-start your list building.
3. Convene your Community
If you’re running a political campaign or managing an organization’s advocacy campaign, you’re bound to have some ties to the community you’re trying to reach. Often those ties come from a candidate or organization’s involvement in the community through various civic groups, boards, and other organizations.
When it comes to building your list, these groups are invaluable. Be sure to include any groups you may be part of. Here are some ideas to kick off your search:
- Alumni groups
- Democratic clubs
- Recreational sports teams
- Civic boards and organizations
- City commissions
- Advisory groups
- Neighborhood associations
… and any other groups you can think of that you’d be able to ask for support! These groups serve as a great basis for list building because many of their members are individuals who interact with your candidate or organization regularly.
4. Dust Off the Rolodex
While much of our networking has become digitized in the past few years, there’s no replacement for a good ol’ fashioned Rolodex. Break it out and add all those old business cards to your list.
Be sure to document as many details as you can when adding names to your list. Get emails, phone numbers, addresses, and any other details that will help you segment organize your list. This way, it will be easier to articulate your execution strategy based on the list you have created.
Running a campaign is no easy task. Whether you’re an advocacy organization, labor group, or candidate for office, you’ll undoubtedly spend a lot of time building and maintaining your list. When done right, building a list ahead of your first campaign can translate into a big win on Election Day. But managing your list doesn’t need to be a barrier to entry for candidates running for the first time. With some dedicated preparation and outreach, you’ll be out in the field in no time!