Listen to your mom: wash your hands before dinner, and don’t forget to clean your data before sending out direct mail.
Mark Harris of Students for Saving Social Security, who spoke at last week’s Politics Online panel on campaigning on a limited budget and who himself was a candidate for state representative in Pennsylvania in ’06, talked at length about what was worth spending money on and what wasn’t. His take? For starters, good design is worth the money, since having professional graphics both in print and online can help a campaign stand out. I’ll second that — amateur design can be endearing if you’re running for class president, but less so if you’re trying to get elected to public office. Cutting corners on design can cost you much more in credibility than you save in pennies.
What really jumped out at me were his numbers on data: small electoral campaigns will tend to buy voter lists from their county elections agencies, but the quality can be atrocious. Running the data through a cleaning service that will update addresses and phone numbers (and remove the nice dead people) costs money up front, but it should save significantly down the road. He gave the example of a 20,000-record database, which at fifty cents per direct mail piece would cost $10,000 to send to. Cleaning the list might cost $3000, BUT it could result in a quarter of the names being knocked off the list or having their addresses updated. Since bad names are essentially wasted money, you’ll spend $3000 to save $2500 — on the first and every subsequent mailing. It pays for itself almost right away!
Mark also mentioned how his campaign had economized by using free online tools such as Google spreadsheets to update attendance and outreach records for upcoming events and Google calendar to keep track of the entire campaign’s schedule. Spend money where you need it, not where you don’t. And your mom was right: proper hygeine matters.