4/Goal Setting, Strategy & Planning

To make the best use of your resources, start by finding out how many votes are needed to win and which constituencies are most receptive to your measure.

The amount of money you expect to raise and your sense of what works in your particular community will help determine your overall strategy and which specific tactics you use.

An inexpensive grassroots strategy (for example, volunteers handing out fliers, putting up lawn signs, and writing letters to the editor) can work in a small town. Campaigns that need to reach a large number of voters in many different parts of a large city or county generally also plan a direct mail and media campaign.

Set Goals

The goal of your campaign is to win a majority of votes at the ballot box. There is a standard method for figuring out how many votes you need to win, called Setting Your Vote Goal (see sidebar.)

During the campaign, you can track which registered voters are for, against, and undecided if you conduct a voter identification program. You will need to obtain an up-to-date list of registered voters:

Request the most recent list of all registered voters. You can usually obtain a voter file from the Town or County Clerk for a local campaign. List vendors also can provide voter information, but check to make sure it is up-to-date.

  • Include the voting history for the past three similar elections.
  • Ask for the list to be in Microsoft Excel format for easy sorting.
  • If demographic information is available, include party affiliation, race, gender, and age.
  • Include street address and phone numbers (if possible).

Determine Key Constituencies

Polling determines which parts of your jurisdiction or demographic groups look favorably upon your measure, so you can direct mailings or advertisements to where they will be most effective. If you conduct a direct mail campaign, a mail house can sort through the demographic information to reach your desired target audience. Go to Campaign Services to learn more about how The TPL Action Fund can help with a direct mail campaign.

If you do not have polling data, a grassroots effort to contact all likely voters is your best approach (see Voter ID below for more details).

Articulate Your Message

A compelling message will make a big difference. Crafting your message requires understanding all aspects of a measure, and then translating it into a clear, concise, and consistent story that voters easily remember. For more information on crafting and sticking with your message, go to Crafting Your Message.

A poll is extremely helpful in getting information about the concerns of various groups of voters and what messages would be most effective. If you are going to spend campaign dollars on voter contact, you should first invest in a professionally conducted poll to understand what matters to your voters. For professional assistance with polling, go to Campaign Services. In previous polls we have conducted, water quality protection and drinking water are always at the top of the list of benefits for protecting open space. We recommend including water resource protection in your message wherever applicable when running a land conservation campaign.

Create a Written Plan and Timeline

Once a strategy has been set, it is essential to develop a written campaign plan. Even a very small campaign can benefit from the discipline of writing down the details and timeline for the implementation of its strategy. The process makes you think through all the facets of the campaign and set priorities for allocating resources.

Budgeting and scheduling are particularly important. When will fundraising events be scheduled so that money is available when it is needed? If a mailing is to be sent in the final week of the campaign, when must the copy and artwork go to the printers? What are the advertising availabilities and deadlines? Who will do which tasks?

The plan need not be onerous. Often, just a couple of pages is sufficient. Here are some examples:

Campaign calendar created by The Trust for Public Land

Campaign plan from Arapahoe County, CO, campaign

Campaign plan from the Hopewell Township, NJ, campaign

Long-term plan from the West Virginia Land Conservation Initiative campaign

Schedule from the New Paltz, NY, campaign

Voter ID: Identify “Yes” Voters

Unless you have polling information that helps you assess which demographic groups are supportive of your measure, you should plan to conduct a voter identification or “Voter ID” effort. Using your master list of likely voters (as described in Setting Your Vote Goal above), contact voters directly and ask whether they plan to vote in favor of your measure. Voter ID can be conducted by phone or door-to-door canvassing (see these sections for detailed information). Track your “yes,” “undecided,” and “no” voters on the master list.

GOTV: Get Out the Vote

Once you have enough “yes” voters identified to meet your goal, you need to get them to the polls. It is unlikely you have had the resources or time to identify ALL of your “yes” voters; however, any voter identification project can still be helpful and lead to success. If you do conduct voter identification, your pool of “yes” voters should be expected to turn out for Election Day. You want them to look for your question on the ballot and vote “yes.” As Election Day expands with early voting across the United States, the window in which voters cast their ballot can be up to three weeks long. Many jurisdictions provide access to voting data that allows you to understand who has voted and who has not by conducting a match-back program. This valuable information enables you to focus attention on your “yes” voters and make sure they vote.

Community Outreach

Campaigns have failed because the organizers assumed that residents in certain areas or in a particular demographic would not be receptive to their message, so they did not even bother reaching out to those areas or demographic groups. Hold events or meetings that would attract a wide range of individuals from different communities. Spread your message to the highest number of people without sacrificing frequent communication with your targeted voters. Frequent contact with targeted voters allows repetition of your message, and increases the chance that they will remember and even be swayed by your campaign. We recommend at least three direct mailings. For more information on getting out your message, go to Voter Contact.

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