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Business, Politics & Society

Budgeting and Fundraising

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 17:54 min

Karl breaks down what you need to include in a comprehensive campaign budget, how to figure out how much money you can raise, and the different ways you can go about raising it effectively.

David Axelrod and Karl Rove
Teach Campaign Strategy and Messaging
Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.
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There's a play between the budget and the fundraising. You need to have people figure out what the budget is, and then figure out if you can raise the money. And if not, you need to adjust the budget. And you need to-- whatever you agree upon as the figure that can be raised, it has to be spread over time so that you know what you think you can raise by a certain frame. And if you can't, then you're going to have to adjust the budget. When you think about budgeting and when you think about fundraising-- let's admit it-- these are guesses. These are targets. These are aspirations, which is why it's really important to put this all in a spreadsheet so you can follow the pattern. Are you falling way behind? Are you falling a little behind? Are you running a little bit ahead? Because all of that will give you some guidance as to how realistic that your spending and the budget are going to be in the months ahead. And don't lie to yourself. If you start to fall behind in fundraising, better to realize that you need to try and make that up sooner rather than later, and if you can't, then you're going to have to adjust your patterns at the end, than to come to the end and find out that you cannot do some of these activities. Better to cut expenditures in the short run in order to maintain your reserves for the end when people are making up their minds and making the decision to go vote. But look, budgeting is an exercise in estimating as best as you can what the campaign is going to cost. And your fundraising starts with estimating as best as you can what it is that you think you can raise. And hopefully, you can execute the plan to raise what you need and get what you want. Just remember as you're preparing your budget that it needs to be comprehensive. This has to incorporate every activity in the campaign plus the overhead necessary to carry out that campaign. So for example, if you're talking about the ground game, you have to figure in what's the cost of, say, the absentee ballot mailer, and what's the cost of the phone. If you're going to mount a phone bank effort for Get Out The Vote, how many phones do you need to have? Does there need to be a place for that phone bank to be? Do you need to rent an office space for it? What kind of staff is needed to support each of these activities? And what kind of costs are there associated with a staff? Salary, taxes, benefits. So as you think about it, don't hesitate to bring in somebody who may not have much in the way of political skills, but it's good at budgeting for a company, because they'll be able to tell you about the things. You're running a small business. That small business is going to last for maybe less than two years, but you're going to have to be involved in running that small business with some costs that may not be readily apparent to a-- you're going to have to have a copier. You're going to have to pay for internet service. You're going to hav...

What it takes to win elections

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Fantastic! Ive always wanted to hear from people like this since watching the West Wing years ago! Ha ha! Very engrossing and interesting, informative and genuine. I felt like I had sat with the gentlemen and had a coffee while they educated me.

Good anecdotes and stories. Good to lay campaigning out in chronological order.

It's ok to disagree with people. It doesn't necessarily make you dumb and it doesn't necessarily make you evil.

Politics can be tiresome, but having them talk about it together was a good idea, to see different perspectives.


Eduardo P.

I think responsible campaigns should do deeps background checks on every donor as an ethical policy.

Michael O.

And 'dark money' since Citizens United anyone? Campaign finance reform? There's a 60 Minutes segment about political fundraising in Washington. The day one is sworn in, leadership gives that person a phone list of donors and a quota - every congressperson spends 4 - 6 hours / day raising funds for re-election in order to meet the quota. We elect them so they can fund raise! Stop allowing congresspersons to solicit funds on the public's dime - I mean if you spent half your time on the job fundraising in the private sector, you'd be fired. Curious neither of these gents mention the need for reform. They both seem quite comfortable with the status quo. How tragic for the republic.

A fellow student

The whole idea of budget vs. income on a large scale and on the fly seems almost impossible to me. It will be interesting to see how well the candidates do in the 2020 elections. (I'm learning: not doing.)

Ron H.

I can definitely attest to the fact that asking people for money is probably the worst thing you ever have to do as a candidate. Fortunately, we have public campaign financing available here, but you still have to demonstrate that you have enough support to get that funding and the way you have to do it, is by gathering a few hundred $5 donations (not sure if it is the same now, but then it was). Those donations all had to come from the District. That was just brutal, simply brutal, but Rove is right, if you can't raise money, chances are you have a very low chance of being successful.

Alejandro C.

Thank you Karl Rove and David Axelrod, the way you teach and reach to your students is remarkable. You apply what you use in politics honestly and genuinely. This is very helpful in america politics and more specifically in Latin America.

Pilar C.

This was an incredibly helpful session. I'm a Democrat and would in normal times not give Karl Rove 2 seconds of my time, but he was very insightful. He reaffirmed my own discussions with a potential candidate I am working with. And, he gave me new insights and ideas. Thank you!

Thierry D.

I am a member of a Dutch political party called VVD. In Europe most money for elections comes from public financing. From time to time, people want to widen the door to contributions from companies. I always use the corruption in American politics as a prime example of why we in The Netherlands, an we in Europe don’t want to do that. So far, so good. However, America, is the most powerful democracy in the world. And for now also the most powerful economy. The banking crisis in America also led to a financial crisis in Europe. Or, in the other words the big influence of companies, via money, on American regulations has an impact on my life in Europe as well. Another example is the very poor (current) climate regulations in America, this has an negative influence on the health of our planet, and therefor on my health in Europe. The world is a village. If there is a war at my neighbour’s house I should not be suprised that people flee to me. To my house. You can think of Syria and Europe. My interest in American politics always has been huge, and it keeps getting bigger as realize the enormous influence American policies have on lives outside of America. It is my believe that to get America to be a powerful constructive change agent it is essential that political corruption is broken down in US. This means America needs to move to public financing of elections as soon as possible. And for my own future, and that of my friends and family I need to keep pushing that. And so should you, mister Rove and mister Axelrod. For all our futures.

Bob S.

Wow, all that work to get money and candidates don't even do the simple "thank you." Important lesson on many levels. I love the idea of a non-political person doing the budget. Those little things they may notice can really add up.

Isaiah P.

Fantastic lesson. I've written a couple checks and quite honestly it left an empty filling in my stomach because they money was gone, but the personal letter I received days later made all the difference to me. Great lesson Rove.

Dana D.

I wish the importance of the candidate actually doing the ask was highlighted. It is not "begging", as one candidate I know mentioned. And it is not appropriate to totally rely on PACs (known contriutors), or "deputized" volunteers to ask.