The Time I Almost Missed Payroll

January 29, 2023

Before I was a software engineer I worked in politics. In this particular case I was hired as a campaign manager. The campaign manager is the CEO of the campaign. They report to a board along with the candidate. A few months into the campaign we had several employees on payroll. I typically checked our balances at the end of every week, and noticed that seven days before payday we were at risk of not being able to cover all the salaries.

How We Got Here

At the time I was in my twenties and not an experienced fundraiser. My background was primarily in field operations and canvassing. Someone else was hired to be the fundraising director, but had not been bringing much in. We had subsisted on initial contributions from the candidate and their friends, and that seed money was about to run out.

The Rescue

The reality of the situation was not nuanced: we either would have to raise money or miss payroll and lay people off. Lacking any knowledge or skill in fundraising I called a friend who connected me with the fundraising director for a member of U.S. Congress. I laid my soul bare and asked that they give me the sixty to ninety minute boot camp version of how to extricate myself from this situation. Two hours later I went from being helpless to having a plan.

For about a week I neglected my other responsibilities and focused almost entirely on this crises. Working with the candidate we raised more money that week than in a long while, and managed to cover payroll.

What I Learned

A few lessons:

  • You have to focus on the problem.
  • Focus means other problems will happen and you will have to take them in the chin. They’re not important enough to solve or worry about.
  • The person who let the crises fester is not going to be the one to fix it.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help and advice from your friends. They will be there for you.
  • I wish I had not let the finance director languish in their role. They were not the right fit for the job, while personal and political factors prevented me from letting them go, I should have went to the mat to replace them with someone who could flourish in the role.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.