Rewarding Campaign Contributors with Yard Signs

Plastic Bag Political Yard Sign
Bag Signs are Good for Large Campaigns

If you listen to public radio or receive solicitations in the mail from nonprofit entities, you know that they are often offering something in return for your contribution. Of course, the value of the gift is a mere fraction of the value of the contribution.

With that said, clearly, if some of the top nonprofit marketers are offering a small gift there is a good reason. These small rewards for donations increase the number of donations that these organizations receive and oftentimes act as a reminder of their contributors’ connection to the entity.

Campaigns should test to see if this works in the campaigns and elections context.

Campaign Lawn Signs as a Reward

For local campaigns particularly, yard signs can be a big expense. There are ways to reduce the cost of lawn signs but getting supporters to subsidize the cost of them or get signs in exchange for contributions will complete offset the cost or even act as a small fundraiser.

With the latter in mind, if we used a similar proportion of value to donation that nonprofits are using, we might suggest a donation to the campaign of $25 or more in exchange for a sign.

Raffling Yard Signs

Oftentimes, campaigns run out of yard signs. Just like anything, signs become more valuable when there are less available and there is still much demand. Use this to your campaigns advantage and raffle off the last several signs the campaign has.

Perhaps, there is an existing fundraiser that you could bring the signs to or another way to start the raffle would be to send an email out or publish a blog post.

Non Monetary Yard Signs Rewards

Finally, if your campaign is committed to distributing campaign lawn signs without cost to the support consider other ways to coax additional actions from the supporter. For example, supporters who tweet about an upcoming rally get a free yard sign or anyone who updates their Facebook status to something that is supportive of the campaign gets a sign. Finally, anyone who comes into the office to make phone calls or canvass gets a sign.


Supporters love campaign yard signs. While they won’t win you elections, you can use signs for more than increasing candidate name recognition. Try out ways to leverage signs to increase your volunteer base and raise a few extra dollars.

3 Political Lawn Sign Philosophies that Work

If there is one part of political campaigns that you hear differering opinions on, it’s campaign lawn signs. You can’t get around the debate where one person proclaims “yard signs’ don’t vote” and another is demanding yard signs in triplicate for every home.

How should your campaign handle signs? Well, it’s important to put campaign signs in context with the rest of the campaign. Determine where your campaign is going to excel and where you are going to take shortcuts. Your campaign might be focused on direct mail and radio while another campaign is heavy on canvassing and phone banks. Likewise, figure out where yard signs will fit into this mix. There are a number of methods that work.

Political Lawn Signs for Polling Places and Requests

The minimalist order means ordering enough signs for polling places and for people who request them directly. Determining how many signs to order is more art than science except for the number of polling places. I’d consider ordering somewhere between ten and twenty five signs per precinct depending upon the candidate.

Campaigns that have a strong field and direct mail campaign can successfully use this sign strategy.

Polling Places, Requests, and Strategic Locations

This builds upon the last strategy adding strategic locations. Strategic locations are more often than not on private property. They include people who just have a great location at a busy intersection and also community and political leaders whose public display of support will carry weight with other voters in the area.

Political Signs for Supporters

This is a big jump from the previous strategy, but this can be incredibly effective. This is best for local campaigns. Here is a case study. I’m using fake names. Bob Smith was part of the minority party running for a local office. He was known in the community but still opted for a strong use of yard signs. Essentially, if they were a supporter he pushed hard for them to put a sign in their yard.

Other than yard signs his only expense in the campaign was photocopying a homemade literature piece that he took door to door accruing more supporters and putting signs on their lawn. He reached a tipping point where there were so many signs in the community that people knew who he was when he reached the door.

Despite being outnumbered by more than 4:1 by the majority party he won his election to local office.

Plan a Yard Sign Strategy

The moral of the story is to plan a strategy. Don’t haphazardly order a handful only to decide later on that you should have ordered thousands or vice versa. When you are planning out your TV, radio, direct mail, and direct voter contact incorporate yard signs into the planning process and choose a strategy that’s going to work best for your campaign.

Campaign Plan – September and Yard Signs

In the fall, political campaigns heat up. In the month of September, political campaigns should generally focus on:

* Canvassing: contacting targeted voters door to door

* Fundraising: candidate and staff phone calls and fundraising events

* Cable TV: if the campaign is investing in television, the first TV spot should hit in September

* Direct mail: design the direct mail piece or literature drop piece

* Mail literature: land late September

* ID phone calls: begin in late September

Where, however, do political lawn signs fit into this schedule? The best way to build up a list of supporters who want yard signs is at their door. Ideally, your yard sign distribution should follow a linear pattern with your the number of doors that you have knocked on in September.

If there is a strong candidate running and voters find the candidate’s message compelling, a good percentage of the people that you speak with at the door will express their support and a similarly strong percentage of people who are supporters will agree to take a yard sign.

Candidate Visibility Events

Campaign Yard Sign Disclaimer
While Most Signs’ Disclaimer Begin with “Paid for by” This is Another Option

One aspect of campaigning for elected office is visibility. There are a number of times throughout the campaign that a visibility event will help a campaign connect with voters. It’s important to note that the denser the population of the district the more effective visibility will be. There should be a lot of local foot or vehicle traffic to support a visibility event.

Political Visibility Throughout the Campaign

Visibility events are fun! Essentially, volunteers hold, wave, and proclaim their support for a candidate at a busy intersection or along a busy road while holding campaign lawn signs and homemade signs. It’s best to use a mix between campaign signs and more homespun looking signs so that the event looks both organized and inspired by the grassroots.

You’ll find that there are some people who won’t go door to door or make phone calls but they are willing to volunteer with other campaign activities like mailings and visibility. Don’t forget about these voters! Schedule regular visibility events and empower those volunteers to organize their own without using campaign staff time so long as they are meeting strategize objectives.

Visibility for Events

Visibility can drum up awareness about an event. If you have an exciting speaker coming to an event, increase the excitement surrounding it with a visibility event. It’s also a great show of force before a debate or other public forum that includes all candidates.

Visibility for Get Out the Vote

The most common time that campaigns execute visibility events is in the run up to election day. While the best GOTV efforts are extremely targeted, visibility towards the end of a campaign reaches a lot of voters reminding them to vote for your candidate and that the election itself is coming up. Likewise, as the election nears, it’s important to activate all possible volunteers. If you have volunteers that will only do visibility send them out!

Putting Visibility Into Context

Visibility is just one element of a political campaign. Campaigns can win without conducting any visibility whatsoever but it can help in competitive races and for certain purposes such as increasing candidate name recognition and bringing awareness about the election itself.

Strategically, it’s important to understand whether your campaign is a more of a stealth campaign, strongly pushing forward, or somewhere in between. While it’s much harder to run a stealth campaign, where you quietly build a coalition of supporters so as not to activate your opponent’s volunteer base, than it used to be, you still can in many districts and these types of campaigns shouldn’t include visibility. Most other campaigns can get some value from visibility events.

Yard Signs on a Budget

Save Money Vacation

Every campaign has limited resources and it’s the campaigns that use their volunteer and financial resources wisely that win. Campaigns that are looking to stretch their political lawn sign dollar can take a few common sense steps that will save them thousands of dollars on signs.

Pick the Right Size and Type

One of the decisions that you will make that affect price is choosing the right size and type of yard sign. If you have a shorter last name, pick a smaller yard sign. Depending upon the size of your order, choose the most economical substrate: fold over signs, plastic bag signs, or corrugated plastic.

The least expensive option for small campaigns is corrugated plastic while medium sized campaigns will find that the fold over or cardboard yard signs are going to be the cheapest. For the largest orders, bag signs are often your best bet.

One Color Printing

The second important factor is whether to use one or more colors on the campaign lawn sign. The savings can really add up by limiting the number of colors that you are using on a sign. To give you an idea, a recent quote ballooned from $2,000 to $2,800 going from one color to two. Differences like this are not uncommon.

One or Two Sided Printing

Another way to reduce costs is to limit the printed surface to one side. Usually, you’re best option is to print on both sides since your cost per printed side will be less. But there are times where printers will offer great deals on one sided printing or in the case that the budget just doesn’t allow you can print one side. Campaign should keep in mind, however, that the sign will be less effective than if it had printing on both sides.

Simples Changes Save Big

To make a long story short, two simple changes will save political campaigns a lot of money when ordering signs: pick the right type of sign and choose one color printing. These are changes that won’t affect the impact of your signs and will significantly reduce the budget for political signs.

Campaign Yard Signs and Other Political Signage

Empty Billboard

There are different ways that political campaigns use signs to get their message out to voters in a district. The most common way and the most effective type of sign is a campaign yard sign or lawn sign.

Political Lawn Signs

Campaign signs have been proven to increase candidate name recognition among prospective voters by a political science professor in Wichita. In addition to increasing candidate name ID, campaign lawn signs are also favorites of volunteers who want to show their support publicly by displaying a yard sign and for increased visibility around election day and polling places.

Candidates, however, can overdo yard signs. It’s important that candidates have a solid door to door and phone banking strategy in place.


Campaigns should proceed with caution when considering using billboards. First, billboards can get very expensive. Also, billboards are most often along major highways, which means unless you are running a statewide campaign, you will be spending campaign dollars advertising to people who live in another district. Likewise, you can be more targeted with yard signs concentrating on areas where there are many targeted voters.

Bus Signs

Bus signs are a mixed bag. These signs are only effective for people running in an urban district. If you are interested in using bus signs, contact the bus company to get some information about the type of people that take the bus in the community. If the information that bus company provides coincides with the people that the campaign is targeting, you have a good match and something to consider when allocating campaign resources.

Types of Political Outdoor Signage

Political yard signs, billboards, and bus signs are the most common outdoor political signs. Depending upon how well known the candidate is, your political campaign might not need many yard signs and no other types of outdoor signage. Campaigns in cities can also consider using bus signs too.

Winning by the yard

John Campanelli, the Plain Dealer on has a great article on when and how campaign yard signs work for candidates:

If our yards are our faces in the neighborhood, political signs are the zits: annoying, ugly and — thank goodness — temporary.
And this time of year it’s as if the yards have raided the Halloween candy, because they’re breaking out. No street, highway exit or vacant lot seems spared.

To some people, election signs are a nuisance, sullying the autumn colors and doing little else. Certainly, a frivolous little sign can’t influence an important decision in the voting booth, right?
Truth is, there’s a reason we see scores of yard signs every October.
They work.

Not in every race, according to Marietta College psychology professor Mark Sibicky, an expert on behavior and decision-making. Ironically, in the races where we see the most signs – high-profile showdowns like McCain vs. Obama – signs do the least. That’s because in those contests, most voters have already chosen a candidate.

“Most social psychologists would tell you that signs do little to change anyone’s mind that is already made up,” said Sibicky via e-mail.
In smaller races – for city council, sheriff, school board — where many voters don’t know the candidates, signs can tip the scales. The reason is something psychologists call the “mere exposure effect,” which says the more humans become familiar with something, the more they tend to like it.

In one experiment, a person was shown two photos, one of his face, the other a mirror image of his face. When researchers asked which photo was preferred, he chose the mirror image (the one he saw in the mirror every day). When shown the same photo, friends and family of the person tended to choose the regular photo, the one they saw every day.

How does this relate to yard signs? Let’s say that you are paying no attention to the local sheriff’s race. But every day on your way to work, you pass a “Jed Clampett for sheriff” yard sign. On Nov. 4, when you go into the voting booth, you’re more apt to vote for Clampett, because the name is simply more familiar to you, according to Sibicky.

Milan Kecman/The Plain Dealer

Candidates often after tempted to add messages and graphics to their signs. Big mistake. Needless words, small lettering, a script typeface, a photograph and a white background doom this sign (pdf) and make it unreadable from the street.

“You don’t even really think about it,” he added. “It’s a classically conditioned response. All things being equal, we like the familiar name.”

Of course, the mere exposure effect works only for races in which we haven’t bothered to learn the names of the candidates, which, unfortunately, may be most of the races for many voters.

Aside from helping a candidate actually win, supporters have other reasons for putting up yard signs. At their very basic, they give a person a voice in the election, and opportunity to be heard, even if it’s only by drivers shaking their heads. Also, signs allow us to socially identify with a candidate or party, filling a need to belong, said Sibicky.

Whatever the reason, signs remain popular, and Dale Fellows isn’t complaining. He’s president of Morgan Litho in Cleveland, which will produce more than 100,000 signs for this election.

Yard signs are cheap, as low as couple of dollars each or less with large orders, said Fellows. They usually make up a fraction of a campaign’s advertising budget.

First-time candidates often make the mistake of trying to put too much information on a sign, said Fellows, who often helps candidates with their designs.

Signs need to be simple, he said, with the candidate’s name as big as possible, in block letters. The fewer the words, the better. Contrasting colors – yellow and black, blue and white – are best, with the darker color on the background.

Ohio Rep. Carol-Ann Schindel, a Republican from Lake County, worked with Fellows two years ago during her first campaign, a victory over a Democratic incumbent.

“I made the rookie mistake, and I tried to put my whole message on the sign and realized that it kind of cluttered things up,” said Schindel.

With Fellows’ help, the signs got simpler (with just her name and office being prominent) and incorporated a distinguishing yellow-on-burgundy theme.

“We decided to make sure it was something people could read from 20 yards away,” said Schindel.

On the other side of town, Rep. Dennis Kucinich has turned his yard signs – “DENNIS!” in black letters on a yellow background – into a powerful trademark.

“To build a brand around your first name is a pretty powerful thing,” said Matt Dornic, a Fairview High School grad who founded 3 Dog Communications in Washington, D.C.

The bright color adds another positive: a bright, almost floral feeling, said Dornic. “It works, especially in the fall, when Cleveland starts to get cold.”

That was intentional, according to Kucinich. “We never get enough of the sun in Cleveland, so I created a sign that would provide for kind of a sunny moment,” he said.

Kucinich said signs give his campaign something no other advertisement could. “This is better than a paid billboard, because it’s a personal endorsement,” he said. “It shows that I have support at the neighborhood level.”

Every candidate can say that, at least until after the election, when supporters forget to take the signs down.

Campaign Lawn Signs as Part of the Field Campaign


Precinct Walking Koreatown 10-9-2010 (15)Canvassing and phone banks are the biggest part of field campaign. These are critical components to a campaign because you are directly contacting voters with the candidate’s message. In addition, the more personal the contact the more impactful it will be. Talking with someone at their door is far more powerful than a radio spot or a campaign lawn sign.

With that said, yard signs are a part of political campaigns and one of the easiest ways to distribute signs to voters is to bring them along to canvasses. When you are going door to door for a candidate, put a few signs in the back of the car so that when you identify a supporter you can ask them whether they would like a sign and quickly fulfill the request.

Likewise, when you are phone banking your targeted voters and have called a supporter, give them an easy ask to become more committed to the campaign: ask them to take a yard sign. A couple dollars will emotionally invest the voter in the campaign. Then, there is an opportunity a few days later to ask for a bigger investment in the campaign such as with a small financial contribution or asking them to volunteer with a mailing.

Yard signs can take up a lot of time, but there are ways to reduce the time it takes to deal with this part of a campaign such as by putting signs in the car of canvassers and incorporating a yard sign ask in the phone banking script.

Underestimating the other candidate and campaign sign strategy

Underestimating the other candidate and campaign sign strategy

Underestimating The Other Candidate Podcast Notes

I recently received an email from a candidate that they weren’t planning on raising any money for their local judge race. At the time, there was only one other candidate in the race and this candidate would have easily beat that other candidate.

But now, other candidates have entered the race including some serious challengers. Now, the early advantage that the candidate had is lost because they didn’t capitalize on it.

Candidates should be running for elected office like their opponent is a top tier candidate regardless of whether that candidate is in the race or not. When candidates raise money and work hard early, they keep other qualified candidates out of the race and they get an advantage over other possible candidates because they have started first.

Also, a candidate’s future constituent deserve a strong campaign. They should be informed about you as a candidate.

Taking the election for granted isn’t just about fundraising but it’s about all forms of campaign outreach including campaign yard signs. While you can still win if you are second best with campaign signs but the rest of your campaign is superior to the other candidate, it’s the overarching principle that you should be striving to be the best candidate you can be to win your election and present yourself as someone who will dedicated their elected office because they have demonstrated their desire for the position through a strong campaign.

Political campaign to watch

In the race for Caseyville borough council, incumbents have eschewed yard signs and challengers are using them. This should be an interesting race to watch! While there are other factors like whether voters want more of the same or something different and other local concerns, yard signs maybe play a factor in this race.

With that said, one of the challengers notes that he needs campaign lawn signs to increase candidate name recognition. Yard signs are more important for challengers compared to incumbents who are more likely already know among the electorate:

Four candidates looking to unseat members of the Caseyville Village Board say they will continue using campaign signs, despite a pledge by incumbents to not use any outdoor ads.
“People may know my face, but not my name. Signs will help me more,” said Rob Watt, one of seven people running for three seats on the board.

All three incumbents in the race �?? Kerry Davis, Patrick Dyson and Ron Tamburello �?? recently promised to not advertise their campaigns on placards because some residents became upset with the “tremendous number” of signs used in the November election season, Davis said.