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Political Campaign Fundraising

What You Need to Know to Start a Successful Campaign

Benjamin A. Katz
Mark Rackers

First, the obvious:  running a successful campaign is expensive.  The legitimacy of a candidate is directly proportional to the size of his coffers.  If you are the candidate, out of political necessity, fundraising is and should be your priority at the beginning, middle, and end of your campaign.  And at every stage in between.  

However, as most of us learn from our parents at a very young age, asking for money is not as easy as it sounds.  When designing a fundraising strategy, a candidate must consider 1) who to ask, 2) who should be asking, and 3) how to ask. 

WHO TO ASK

1. Friends and Family:  More likely than not, your friends and family are the ones who most understand your vision and support your objectives.  While you will probably not depend on them for the majority of your financial backing, your friends and family are a great resource to build your bank account, and by extension, credibility.  Because it takes money to make money, this group operates as an effective springboard to sell yourself to the next group you want to target.

2. Issues People:  There are many types of issues people—labor unions, business groups, religious groups, women’s groups, ethnic groups, environmental coalitions, etc.  Start with the groups most aligned with your message—sell to them that their concern is your concern.  Then move to the groups partially aligned with your message—remember, no group of people is completely homogenous and politics often makes strange bedfellows.  Examine your campaign’s issues.  There just might be people you have not considered as potential supporters who share your concern on that one topic.  And do not forget one of the most important groups of people to target—the people who hate your opponent.  Whether they support your message or not, they very well might support you financially only because you are not him (or her). 

3. Influence Buyers:  These are people who like to win.  Investing money into a campaign is just that—an investment.  People don’t want to bet on the wrong horse.  This is especially true of the big donors.  They will wait and see if you have established yourself, your campaign and your assets.  If it appears you are a credible candidate, one with a chance of forwarding their objectives, they will put their money on you.  Again, you must establish yourself first by building your money with the first two groups so that when you decide to sell your message to the deep pockets and other influence buyers, you represent a winning commodity.

WHO SHOULD DO THE ASKING

1. YOU!!!  The candidate is the best person to have doing the asking.  Have face-to-face “sit downs” with people.  Your supporters will find this personal engagement extremely compelling.  And you must ask them for a specific amount.  Tell them specifically what you need—general support is not productive..  Phone calls are also effective.  Donors are impressed with the candidate who takes the time to personally pick up the phone and ask for their support.

2. Your Spouse:  Your spouse is most likely your biggest cheerleader, and the closest connection to you if you are not available, which of course you will not be 100% of the time.  Also, your spouse may be effective at targeting groups where you are not, giving a unique spin or face to your campaign that translates to financial support. 

3. Friends Asking Friends:  Have your people talk to their people.  Friends asking friends to give you financial support extends that intimacy which is so effective in fundraising.  Again, this networking will allow your treasury and credibility to grow exponentially as people see that you are someone with wide appeal, and more importantly, a winner worth betting on. 

HOW TO ASK

1. Mass Customization and Personalization:  You, the candidate, cannot devote all of your time to fundraising, although sometimes it may seem like you are.  Granted, you should spend at least 4 hours a day (and often more than that) to raising funds, but this is still a small percentage of your time.  Instead, pretend to do #1 and #2 of “Who should be asking” by using mass customization and personalization.  This can include mass mailings, phone banks, emails, etc.  However, email and the internet are especially effective because the internet lacks any kind of signature that would signal the communication was not unique and personalized. 

A good example of this is the “Rush” Letter/Phone call/Email:  The urgent appeal is a time-honored and successful technique for raising funds.  Typically, you send a letter out a month before the election which states:
“Dear [insert personalized greeting]:
We are on the path to victory!  But it is close.  Very close.  We have one last mailer to send out.  It’s already printed, but we don’t have money for the postage.  Please send one more check, help us get this last mailer out and give us the push we need to win this race!  Thank you so much.
Sincerely,
[insert name of candidate (or spouse)]”
This type of letter, call or email works better than anything else in fundraising.  

2. Online Fundraising:  Take the above example of the rush letter.  With traditional mail, you would need to send out a letter at least a month in advance.  Now, with email, you can send out a mass, customized and personalized email a month out, two weeks out, even days out from the election.

a. Credit Card Donations:  Second, imagine the rush that donor receiving the email will feel when he can immediately help your campaign by making a credit card contribution right then and there.  Today, not accepting online donations is virtually political suicide—the only thing you are losing is the ability to raise more money.  And there is no reason not to.  There are several companies, including CompleteCampaigns.com, that offer online credit card donation services, usually charging a 7.5% processing fee for each transaction (CompleteCampaigns.com even drops the fee to 5% if you use BackOffice, their data management system) and 5 - 7.5% is a bargain compared to accepting money other ways.

b. Credit Cards vs. Checks:  When you or someone on your staff makes a phone call or sends a letter to ask for financial support, often the donor will make a pledge of a certain amount.  The donor might say, “Sure, I will give your campaign $500.  I’ll send the check tomorrow.”  Tomorrow comes and goes.  You call again.  “You didn’t get it?” she says, “I’ll have my husband send it out this week.”  The week passes.  Two weeks later, you receive a check for $50, not $500.  When making that phone call, instead ask to complete the transaction right then with the donor’s credit card.  “Put that $500 on the credit card right now,” say to them, “you’ll get miles!”  This approach not only saves you time and energy, it guarantees the pledge amount and stabilizes budget forecasts.  And again, it heightens the rush factor when the donor can give immediately.  The urgency affect is stronger, as is the financial health of your campaign. 

3.  TARGET, TARGET, TARGET:  The key to raising money is targeting your donors.  Do not send mailings to environmental groups detailing your stand on health issues.  Do not invite donors on the east coast (or the east side of a large region) to an event on the west coast.  And DO NOT ask those who can pay big to pay little or vice versa.  This type of missed targeting is a waste of time and money.  It not only is ineffective in maximizing the fundraising potential of your donors, but may be counterproductive as well—alienating your supporters by demonstrating you are not personally attuned to their concerns.  Therefore, you must dedicate resources to the strategies listed above—Targeting, Customization, Personalization, and Online Fundraising.  

One Client’s Success Story

CompleteCampaigns.com worked with one candidate running for local office who sent out two types of email.  One type was the traditional newsletter email with the banner, news highlights, etc.  The second type was an email he sent out periodically.  It was a shorter note, and personalized, saying something like, “Hey Betty, we got a great write-up in the paper last week.  Here’s a sample and a link to read more. . .”  By limiting the length of the message, and creating the feeling of a personal relationship with that constituent, the second type of email he sent out was far more effective in raising funds than his traditional newsletter.

The Lesson

Be prepared to devote resources to fundraising. This means time (especially the candidate’s time) and money (hiring staff and investing in good technology to assist you.) Like most things, the right resources can make all the difference.

Good luck!

About the Authors

Benjamin A. Katz / Givalike.org

Benjamin A. Katz was the founder and first president of CompleteCampaigns.com. In 2008, with the acquisition of CompleteCampaigns by Aristotle, Ben became the CTO of Aristotle International. Since leaving Aristotle, Ben has founded two new companies:

JSX, Inc - a provider of custom information management and workflow systems.

Givalike.org - a platform designed to make giving to nonprofits easy.



You can reach Benjamin A. Katz at:
4858 Mercury Street, Suite 205 San Diego, CA 92111 888-261-3265

Mark Rackers

Mark Rackers is a writer living in San Diego, California. He graduated from the Univerisity of California, San Diego in English Literature and Writing, earned his masters at San Diego State University in Comparative Literature and Translation, and is in his second year of law school at the University of San Diego. He has edited academic titles for Greenhaven Press, translated three books of poetry by the Argentine poet, Alejandra Pizarnik, published his first novel, Nesting, and is finishing work on his second, Smoke Trees.

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