Fundraising is the lifeblood of any political campaign. If you don’t have the finances to let people know who you are and what you stand for, people don’t have the proper information to make an informed decision. Here are the first 5 rules of a successful political campaign fundraising operation.
RULE 1: IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU DON’T DESERVE TO GET
Most candidates absolutely hate asking for money. Hate is probably too light a word. They loathe it. If you are like most people running for a political office, you would rather knock on 50 doors in the sweltering heat before spending 5 minutes on the phone asking for money. But political campaigns don’t run on air and warm wishes. You have a duty to get your message out to the voters and that costs money. So ask. Then ask again. When your good friend Bill says, “Let me know how I can help,” the answer is NOT, “OK, thanks, I’ll let you know.” The proper response is, “Bill, I need volunteers and I need campaign donations. You can give one or both. We have to raise XX dollars by XX date and I have to knock on at least 10,000 doors. You can walk with me for 8 hours Saturday. I think it’s only going to be 101 degrees. Or you can just write a check to the cause if that’s easier.”
RULE 2: IT’S NOT BEGGING, IT’S INVESTING
“I don’t like to beg for money.” It’s the thing we hear most from political candidates, but the idea that you are somehow begging when you are fundraising misses a fundamental fact. YOU put your name and your reputation on the line. YOU made the initial sacrifice for your cause, your party or your ideology. You are looking for investors who believe in what you are trying to accomplish or believe that you will be a good public servant for THEM. When you think about it in those terms, it makes asking for donations to the campaign a little easier.
RULE 3: FUNDRAISING IS A FRIENDS AND FAMILY AFFAIR
Start with friends and family when beginning your fundraising campaign. If they won’t invest in you, it’s unlikely that the party bigwigs will. Too many people start their fundraising campaigns by asking who the big party donors are. If they give to your campaign at all, it’s usually much later in the election cycle once you’ve started to make some noise on the campaign trail. You need initial start up funds to make that noise and it’s going to come from the people closest to you. Start by making a list of everyone you know; friends, family, the kid you babysat as a teenager who went on to become an investment banker, everyone. Let them know the exciting news that you are running for office. We’ll have a sample campaign fundraising letter posted next week. Make sure to include a self-addressed envelope (with a stamp for the lazy) so that people can easily make a contribution. You may also consider creating a PayPal account and send a donation button through your contacts. We’ll discuss electronic fundraising in future posts.
RULE 4: HAVE A PLAN AND A BUDGET
Understand how many voters you are going to have to reach and how much that is going to cost in mail, signs, web, voter identification, polling, etc. Don’t forget the actual expenses of raising money in your budget. We can help give you a ballpark figure for your campaign based on what similar races have had to spend in the past. Or you can do your own research by looking at campaign finance reports and previous election results from your local Clerk, Voter Registration Office or Secretary of State resource. Once you have a total dollar amount, give yourself fundraising goals based on campaign finance filing deadlines and election day. Deadlines keep you on task and the budget helps when bigger donors want to see if you are a serious candidate. You usually need to have the bulk of your money raised a month before the election because most of your media will need to be in motion well before election day. You can also use the budget as a fundraising tool by having people sponsor items like a 4×8 sign or a radio spot. It can make the donor feel like they are making a more tangible difference.
RULE 5: KNOW THE LAW
Understanding campaign finance laws as they pertain to you is extremely important. Don’t be afraid to ask your local election officials or party officials if you are unsure. They can give you practical advice as well as letter-of-the-law advice. In most cases, they will give you all of the information you need when you file for office. Make a point to understand the state law in regard to FILING DEADLINES, any donation caps, restrictions on donors, and any information you may need to collect as a part of a donation like the address of the donor or their occupation in some cases. Understand that your local community could have additional election or ethics ordinances that may apply to your race. Your local election officials or your party officers will know.
We hope you found these tips useful. We will have more in-depth posts and more examples and templates as the season goes on. If you liked what you read or have suggestions, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.