Project Planning Overview

In this section, you’ll learn how to plan an efficient, targeted, and successful electoral project, from identifying the major issue battles to designing an effective method of evaluating your results.

Electoral organizers and membership in a meeting sponsored by Community Voices Heard in the run-up to the 2004 election

Each stage of project planning builds upon the last to create a solid foundation for the field campaign. Not that you would, but it’s not the time to cut corners – electoral engagement has many interdependent parts that run off track without careful, sensible guidance from the get-go, as Robby Rodriguez explains:

"It takes us about a month to fully prepare. The research, the targeting, the focus groups, refining the targeting, refining the message, doing all the calculations, all the volunteer recruitment, figuring out how many doors you have to hit every day or every week to reach your goals, readjusting those for things that happen and come up, writing scripts for radio or text for mail, getting the imagery that you’re going to use for that. All that is a huge investment of time on the front end. And if you don’t, you’re in constant crisis mode."

Anthony Thigpenn breaks down AGENDA's project planning into three components: who they are trying to reach, what infrastructure is necessary to reach those voters, and who is going to do the outreach work. His summary of the planning stage is instructive because it illustrates the overlap between project sections as we have defined them in the TechKit. Political context analysis and targeting go hand in hand; assessing data needs is one of the essential first steps, long before you have voter info to enter into that database; before you can begin a field campaign you need to know how many volunteers you must recruit. As we go along, we’ll point out places where the lessons on one page relate to those in another TechKit section. But first, an overview of the sections you’ll find under Campaign Planning:

Political Context Analysis

Integrated voter engagement, in both nonpartisan voter turnout work and ballot initiative campaigns, begins by taking a broad view of the political context of the election, asking such questions as, what does the community stand to gain? What might it lose? And most importantly, how does our organization fit in? The first step of this phase is identifying the issues that are most important to the membership and base of your organization; these are the issues that will shape the project’s message, inspire volunteers and get your targeted voters to the polls. The second step is to strategize ways of engaging in the election that make the best use of your organization’s capacity and influence in the community – and ultimately gain power for your constituency.


An effective targeting strategy is part science and part art. On the science side, it incorporates sophisticated demographic data, culled primarily from an enhanced voter file but also historic experience, polls and your organization’s database, and precise numerical formulas to calculate the number of votes you’ll need to turnout to achieve the desired effect; on the art side, an understanding of the communities in which you’ll be working and the broader power- and movement-building goals of your organization. Broadly speaking, targeting can take a demographic or geographic approach, but as you’ll learn from the real-life experiences of our contributors, it’s usually a combination of both.


How you frame your project defines how it will be perceived by voters, volunteers, allies and legislatures. In this section, you’ll learn about techniques for communicating the core issues in ways that are based on shared values and goals. We’ll discuss methods of developing a message, with an emphasis on alternatives to polling, as well as the features of messaging that are specific to both initiative campaigns and nonpartisan projects. Finally, our contributors will share how they’ve gotten the message out there – through earned and paid media, voter engagement and outreach.

Budgeting and Fundraising

Once you have your targeting and messaging goals, you’ll be able estimate the amount of resources and volunteers you'll need, and, in turn, evaluate your organization’s capacity to tackle the campaign. What you don't have, you'll fundraise! As you'll hear from our contributors, raising money for an IVE campaign uses different methods from what you might be used to, but one thing remains the same: budgeting and fundraising are interdependent. Without a solid fundraising plan, writing a budget is almost inconsequential. Likewise, it's a terrible waste of resources if a campaign is able to raise money but cannot spend it wisely.


The mark of a successful a voter engagement project is not only to turn out x number of voters on Election Day. It's also the ability to evaluate results in a precise and meaningful way. In this section of the TechKit, we advocate good evaluation planning, which ensures responsible periodic review before the election and in-depth afterwards.

There are two types of evaluation, periodic and post-electoral, and as our contributors explain, both are crucial. Periodic evaluation helps you find the weak spots in an ongoing campaign, allowing you to re-direct resources or raise more funds as needed. In the weeks after the election, your organization will need to spend some quality time reflecting on the campaign, identifying your strengths and weaknesses and brainstorming ways for improvement in the next election cycle.

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Anthony Thigpenn describes SCOPE's planning phases
Anthony Thigpenn: the basic components of planning