By Dan Ekstein, Sagac Public Affairs
“[The world] is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. … But it ain’t how hard you’re hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. … That’s how winning is done.”
— Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa (2006)
Winning is about fighting on, but what Stallone didn’t say is this: Rocky always fought with a strategy. He knew when to duck and jab … but had a plan if he found himself on the ropes.
The same applies to politics and advocacy, and your PAC.
The 2014 Elections are getting closer and while I can’t tell you with certainty the outcome, I can tell you the candidates in contention today set strategies at the outset, reviewed them as circumstances changed and set fundraising goals that would allow them to execute everything they put down on paper.
To win in 2015-2016, your PAC must do the same this fall. If the news cycle is 24 hours, campaigns are 24 months – you can’t get complacent. You must be ready to move in January, whether you’re one of the largest PACs in town or a smaller PAC trying to increase participation. Most organization budgets are set in the fall, so you’re already thinking strategically about 2015 – now is time to add a political engagement plan to your overall government affairs strategy. Here are the rules for creating a winning one:
Perform an Internal Assessment
Timing is important. Begin internal strategy sessions now, but also consider the best time to present the plan to leadership. Also look at colleagues in your organization and what vendors or partners can help execute your vision.
Think about Metrics
People fear metrics because they worry they will be penalized for not meeting them. This attitude prevents success. Set goals which are achievable, but also a little audacious. Heck, if you exceed last year’s performance, you’ve won. So speak in numbers and ask: How much money do we need to raise? How much do we want to raise? What percentage increase in participation do we want? How many candidate events will we host? How often should we communicate to members and stakeholders?
Create A 360° Degree Strategy
Creating a winning plan requires you fully assess the map: your final goal, of course, but also the landscape, roadblocks and potential detours you might face.
- Landscape: What happened on Election Day 2014? How will the results impact the next cycle? What do you know now (there’s an election on Nov. 8, 2016), what will you know in six months (the primary calendar), what may you never know (will Congress finish tax reform)? Assess the political, regulatory and legislative environments and discuss the size of your PAC-eligible population and how active existing members are.
- Objectives: Provide short statements that explain everything you want to accomplish. Use action verbs: create, pursue, enhance, build, expand, etc.
- Milestones: When will the membership campaign launch? When will candidate events begin? Set fundraising milestones too and, if possible, use quarterly markers.
- Risks & Challenges: Success is about thinking ahead, but this section won’t place blame for last cycle’s unmet goals. Rather, it’s an honest assessment of the challenges to your objectives. For example: technology could limit a robust communications program so you must budget for a technology upgrade now. Or, if you grow your PAC by 50 percent, compliance will be riskier because the organization supports more candidates and political party committees. Money is rarely a challenge. If your plan helps the organization achieve its strategic goals, it will likely get funded. But your strategy must be specific and show how you’ll leverage existing resources where possible.
Don’t Let Your Plan Collect Dust
A winning plan is not static – be nimble! Review the plan every three months if possible, but at least every six. Report progress and challenges, identify barriers to success and cast aside tactics that are no longer relevant or necessary. Also, let stakeholders take part in the review process by discussing it in other materials – monthly newsletters, presentations, and membership campaigns – so they understand how and why things changed.
Dan Ekstein is 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.