By Dan Ekstein
“The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them … Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.”
– Denis Waitley
Midterm elections have come and gone, and most political organizations are now setting spending priorities for the next calendar year. Are you sitting around waiting for your boss to outline what resources you’ll get? Or are you having meaningful conversations with him or her about what you’ll need in 2019?
As writer and motivational speaker Denis Waitley tells us, it had better be the latter. You must define your goals and map out a plan if you want to achieve them.
Whether it’s a personal or professional relationship, it’s hard to tell another person what we need. First, you must determine exactly what it is that you lack and what that deficit is keeping you from doing. Then, you have to come up with a strategy for obtaining that tool. Finally, you must convince the person you’re talking to that your need is important and that fulfilling that need will benefit them.
If the discussion is about allocating resources, that process may feel especially daunting if you don’t have a formal seat at the budget table. However, know that when it comes to setting your organization’s spending strategy for 2019, your voice matters. In fact, your knowledge and guidance are essential. There’s no one else that has your portfolio. You were hired for your savvy intuition and expertise. Your management team relies on you to tell them what they need to attain a positive outcome in the next election for their members, employees and industry. Your boss might be able to recite the list of competitive U.S. Senate races, but chances are, he or she knows little about how to operate an effective PAC and grassroots program.
You have that intelligence. You must use that knowledge to influence resource priorities for 2019-2020. In doing so, you should:
Know when to ask. Chances are, your leadership has just begun budget discussions, but if you’re on a fiscal year calendar, be aware that now might not be the right time to ask. If that’s the case, find out when the correct time is and start planning. If budget discussions are happening now, act quickly.
Define your goals and be able to justify them. For example: do you want to raise more money next year to disburse to candidates in the 2020 elections? How much more? Or, do you want to communicate more effectively with members? If so, what do effective communications look or sound like? What outcomes do they generate? Do you want more employees to register to vote? What tools are in place to help them register and get excited about the upcoming elections?
Know what you need. You know you need more money in general, but what are the specific resources you need to help you achieve your goals? Make a list of what you have and what you don’t. Think about technology, outside counsel and written materials in addition to other items such as executive time and support. Take a look at the last election cycle to assess where there were bumps and barriers. Were there issues with PAC operations or compliance and, if so, was it because of lack of internal expertise or capacity? What types of events were most successful? Determine the answer and consider asking for more resources for similar events. If your website is stale or your mobile app is slow to communicate with members, do you need an upgrade?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As hard as it is to ask for money, it’s even harder to ask for additional resources after the fact to help achieve your goals. Too many people think asking for more resources is an indictment of their own productivity. If you think that, you’re thinking small. If the goal is growth, you’ll need help to become a top player. Remember: someone is always blocking for Tom Brady (or deflating his footballs), and Magic Johnson racked up more than 10,000 assists during his career – because they were part of high performing teams. Executives operate from this principle too. To paraphrase a famous but anonymous quote: successful people know they can do anything, but know they can’t do everything.
Show return on investment. For each of your requests, it’s not enough to be specific about what tools you need. You must also explain what those tools will help you achieve. This part of the conversation should be metrics-based. Have other organizations made similar investments? What did they gain from it? Don’t be afraid to point to best-in-class examples; appeal to your boss’s nature and desire to beat out the competition! You should also analyze the last cycle’s budget. How much more was invested than the previous term? What was the return on that investment? If the return was good, explain why. If it was negative, explain why. For example, was it because the organization lacked a clear strategy? If so, by going through this process you’ve already eliminated that issue – point that out!
Ask for a loaf, be happy with the slices. Finally, while you’ll feel strongly that you must have everything on your resource list immediately, be sensitive to your boss’s and colleagues’ own fiscal pressures. Budgeting, after all, can be a zero-sum game. Discuss your needs on a foundational basis. What is the most basic item you lack and how can that resource be built upon in the future? If your boss agrees to fill your first and second priorities this cycle, explain how you’ll integrate items three and four on your list of needs when additional funds do become available. Reasonable requests are taken seriously – especially if you’ve put some thought into how you can build on what you might be granted.
Coming up with a resource roadmap takes work. It’s much easier to sit back and leave success up to chance. However, there’s too much at stake for you not to take action. Your boss hired you because you know how to lead the organization to political success, but if you can’t put a plan in place to achieve that mission, or even define the resources you’ll need for the journey, it’s possible your boss won’t turn to you again next year.
Dan Ekstein is a partner at Sagac Public Affairs, a national firm that provides communications, market research, fundraising, and issue advocacy solutions to hundreds of political, nonprofit and corporate organizations. Sagac and Ekstein are industry leaders in the implementation of comprehensive strategies for political finance operations. The firm’s clients represent more than one-third of all federal qualified funds raised each election cycle by corporate and trade association PACs.