Running a political campaign is like running a major organization. There are thousands of employees and non-employees based in offices around the country, with finances that need to be reported, spend that needs to be tracked, reimbursed and accounted for, vendors to pay, and most of all, reams and reams of paper receipts and invoices to manage.
On the off-chance that you’ve been stuck on a desert island for the past year and missed the news (in which case, lucky you), we’re now deep into the U.S. presidential election campaign. Billions of dollars are being spent on campaigns in areas such as ad buys, office rentals, sign and banner printing, food and drink, sound systems, and location rentals, to name just a few. The list of expenses is almost endless, so for the vast majority of candidates, cost-control is absolutely critical to keep momentum going.
Managing campaign spend effectively is made even more challenging when you consider how decentralized presidential campaigns are. Front-runners have teams across all 50 states, usually staffed with volunteers or temporary workers. With such a dynamic organization, the potential for spend to be poorly tracked, or have receipts get lost, is enormous. This can in turn lead to spiraling costs, and can potentially violate FEC regulations.
If I was a presidential campaign manager, how could I best track spend, to keep my candidate in the race as long as possible? Here are three approaches that I’d consider:
1) Centralize invoice processing
Having to collect paper invoices in field offices and send them to campaign HQ for payment is both slow and also introduces unnecessary risk for invoices getting lost or delayed. To bypass this, set up a central online solution for invoice processing. Your teams around the country can either request vendors send their bills electronically to a central mailbox, or you can enable your field teams to capture and upload images of paper receipts from their mobile phones. Using a cloud-based invoice automation solution also allows your finance team to approve invoices when they’re away from HQ. Not only does this online process streamline payments, but it also ensures that spend can be reconciled more quickly, enabling the organization to avoid nasty surprises from invoices received far after the spend has been incurred.
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2) Give your volunteers a simple way to submit expenses
Even though most staff are unpaid volunteers, many of them are expected to make purchases on behalf of the campaign. Maybe it’s a quick run to the supermarket to buy donuts and sodas for the office staff, or the local printer for a batch of signs or postcards. This has traditionally required the individuals to collect the receipts, mail them off to campaign HQ and the wait for the check to come in the mail several weeks later.
There are several reasons for this: first, many campaigns haven’t implemented an automated expense management solution. Even for those that have, getting short-term volunteers onboarded to the solution for what may just be a couple of weeks often isn’t worth the trouble. Campaigns’ finance teams also have the challenge of needing to set up volunteers as vendors (instead of employees) within their AP systems, further slowing down the reimbursement process.
To avoid these challenges, look for a solution that makes it easy to onboard short-term volunteers as well as full-time staff. It should be simple for them to use, mobile-first, and also reimburse your team members as quickly as possible. After all, you shouldn’t expect your volunteers to be out-of-pocket for weeks because of your inefficient reimbursement processes.
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3) Give spend cards to your field team
Conventional wisdom would say that giving corporate cards to temporary or part time employees, or volunteers, is a terrible idea. Advances in card payment technology mean that organizations can vastly reduce their exposure to unauthorized spend. Finance teams can set up virtual, policy-bound cards which can easily be distributed and managed from a single online dashboard.
Virtual cards can be immediately activated and set via text to a volunteer’s phone, so they don’t even need to have a card mailed to them. Administrators can manage spend on a granular basis down to an individual user basis. Cards can be limited by merchant type, spend amount, time period or even vendor. A field office manager can be issued a card that allows them to spend more freely at a range of different merchants, while a temporary volunteer can be given a time-limited card that only allows them to spend at the local printer. This enables your field team to make purchases on behalf of the campaign without requiring out-of-pocket spend, and also helps the organization to better control and track costs.
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Making it easy for your team members to spend on behalf, while giving your organization the tools it needs to make your fund last as long as possible, could be just the ticket to help you keep your campaign running.
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Our choice of Chrome River EXPENSE was made in part due to the very user-friendly interface, easy configurability, and the clear commitment to impactful customer service – all aspects in which Chrome River was the clear winner. While Chrome River is not as large as some of the other vendors we considered, we found that to be a benefit and our due diligence showed that it could support us as well as any large players in the space, along with a personalized level of customer care.
We are excited to be able to enforce much more stringent compliance to our expense guidelines and significantly enhance our expense reporting and analytics. By automating these processes, we will be able to free up AP time formerly spent on manual administrative tasks, and enhance the role by being much more strategic.