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Election Cycle Spending Tips

The election cycle is upon us! We encourage you to think through how the c3s & c4s you manage can best be used to support your goals – and make our world more equitable. We’re here with some reminders to make sure you have the right systems in place.

As you’re thinking through your election strategy, remember that c3s can be involved in elections though ballot measures (direct lobbying tracking alert!). Your c4 may be involved in both ballot measures and candidate related campaigns (electioneering tracking alert!). If your state or specific ballot measures are particularly hot with donors, there may be a rush of money now that won’t happen after the election. So be sure to match these up-swings in election related donations with your election campaign plans and spending. No matter what kind of election funding you’re managing, we have tips and tricks to help navigate the election ebb & flow.

Planning for Quick Spending

In order to separate these upswings of election income & expense, you may want to use a separate tool to stay on top of cash flow. This helps make sure that expenses are matched to revenue coming in for election-based program expenditures and that election work doesn’t creep into dollars supporting your core budget. We’ve seen groups use our cash flow spreadsheet to track election expenses – and it’s ok to even break this down by week to help manage. The cash flow linked here has space for both a c3 & c4 so you can manage both entities and see how they may be relating to each other.

Keep in mind that a lot of election-based expenses likely include your current staff to manage canvassers programs, communications, etc. so it’s ok to cover relevant core expenses with election money. In using the cash flow, you may have a goal to keep a positive cash position at the bottom line. This doesn’t replace your monthly reviews of your budget vs. actual and balance sheet but it’s a good supplemental tool to ensure the election expenses are covered by related revenue.

Stay on Top of Cost-Share Entries + Lobbying

If you have a cost-sharing agreement between your c3 & c4 organizations, review your systems now to make sure you’re ready to stay on top of your regular cost-sharing entries & transfers. Keep in mind that expenses made directly by either the c3 or c4 should be paid out of the relevant entities bank account – this helps streamline cash flow (and bookkeeping!) for each entity keeping the cost share to manage only shared expenses.

If your c3 will be doing lobbying, also review your systems to track both direct & grassroots lobbying expenses. These systems should track direct expenses, timesheets for folks to report their time lobbying and a way to allocate overhead based on time spent (making sure you’re allocating for benefits, employer taxes, rent, utilities, etc). Feel free to reference our lobbying blog post for more details!

Calling All Social Justice Accountants!

As a part of your election ramp up plan, it could be helpful to call on some temp support to help you keep up with processing and monitoring. These could be consultants you’ve worked with, asking your bookkeeper for more support, or checking with your auditor/tax preparer for any recommendations.

If that’s not feasible, definitely take a look at your + your team’s workflow to ensure that you’re able to support the uptick in processing. It may be worth making sure your audit & taxes are wrapped up this summer so you’ll be all hands on deck and able to focus on election & essential tasks.

You’ll also need specialist support to stay on top of state level election spending disclosure reports which can sometimes have 24 hr turnaround times. Now is the time to make sure that help is in place and the information flow is clear to avoid headaches later.

Internal Spending Cut Off Point

Not saying any funders reading this are guilty, but we all have experienced the late election money coming into organizations. Often it’s too late to spend effectively in a given election cycle. It’s a good idea for you to have conversations now as a team to determine an internal cut-off for money coming into your organization. It’ll be different for each group but it supports the fact that you’re only able to ramp up your program so fast. Money that comes in after your internal cut-off would be used for future programs and election cycles. The election is busy enough and it’s ok to leave unrealistic expectations at the door!

Plan for Rest

The accounting and election cycles never rest but you should. Make sure you have some time set aside by the end of the year to rest, rejuvenate and take care of yourself. Be with family & friends, yourself, your pets, good food – whatever will give you the most joy.
You & your experience are an incredibly important part of the movement!

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