Fundraising: Quick Tips for Candidates
Candidate A has a vision, a popular message, a great press staff and would make a terrific Member of Parliament but thinks that fundraising is secondary. Candidate B has his own self-interest in mind, flip-flops on issues and does not comprehend the problems facing our country, but raises lots of money. What happens? Candidate A cannot afford television. Candidate B steals Candidate A’s message and blows him away with television ads that he produced with his mammoth war chest. Be smart and avoid this scenario.
By setting up a proper fundraising system first and early, your campaign will set the foundation to raise money and meet its financial goals. Other than gathering the proper signatures to insure that you are on the ballot, nothing is more important than having your fundraising team in place. By raising money early, you will be able to have the proper resources to ensure you can afford all the additional aspects of a campaign apparatus.
Fund raise often.
There is limited time in campaigns. The candidate should spend four to five hours six days a week fundraising. Just as those who invest early in retirement have more money later, those campaigns that start fundraising early and dedicate the time are able to solicit donors and amass a war-chest. A candidate who is serious about winning will do this. Creating a sense of urgency with your fundraising is critical. One successful way of doing this is by setting up a separate media account at the beginning of the campaign.
If the campaign budget determines that 80 percent of the budget will be spent on media, then eight out of every ten dollars that comes in goes directly to the media account. By doing this, the campaign will be under constant pressure to meet its obligations. By doing this, you will position yourself to reach your paid media goals. While it is more fun to talk strategy, the bottom line is, you have to have to have money in order to get your message.
And another thing, your people will not even look at your race seriously until they see your campaign has raised a substantial amount of money from individuals. I am often dumbfounded by candidates who think they will receive all this money from heaven. Campaigns must be viable in order for your people to contribute more than a token amount. A big part of validity is cash-on-hand come financial filing deadlines.
Hire fundraising professionals.
Why spend weeks or months trying to figure out how to raise money? By hiring a fundraising consultant, you can turn your campaign into a fundraising machine. This may be your first, second or even third campaign. Consultants have worked many kinds of campaigns. They know the unexpected pitfalls in fundraising and they know what works. More importantly, the right fundraising consultant will actually save you money. I am still amazed when I walk into a campaign and they are spending 50 cents to raise a dollar. Would you try to make your own commercials? Then why try to go it alone on your fundraising. The investment in a qualified consultant is like a capital investment in a business. You need to spend money to make money.
The candidate as fundraiser
The number-one fundraiser in your campaign is the candidate. The most cost effective and successful way to raise money in open seat and challenger races is through candidate calling, Period. The candidate is the product and will reap profit if willing to fundraise. You will never receive if you do not ask, and a solicitation from the candidate is the strongest and most cost effective method of fundraising. Staff also needs to dedicate substantial blocks of time for fundraising.
There are hundreds of ways to raise money. Your campaign should focus on approximately six or seven fundraising systems with maximum and minimum goals to achieve your overall revenue stream. Focus on systems that are the most cost effective and least staff intensive. Nine times out of ten, I know a campaign is in trouble when they tell me they are large event driven. If you want the gold, you have to dig for it.
There are no magical lists (except for your own past contributors). Fundraising is hard work! Period! Candidates must tap into personal relationships, including social and professional, certain interests and past contributors. Often, campaigns believe that if they just mail Mr. so and so’s list that the flood gates will open and cash will roll into the campaign coffers.
Simply not true! I have experienced campaign after campaign that have blindly mailed lists wasting thousands of dollars looking for that magic list. Potential contributors have to be identified and targeted for specific amounts of money. If the candidate does not ask for specific amounts from individuals, then it is not a commitment on which the candidate can rely. How can you buy 10 million shillings of paid radio talk shows down the stretch when you can not identify where it is early?
If you are serious about raising money — particularly big money — you have to invest in the proper fundraising staff and systems in order to achieve it. Just as you wouldn’t start a small business without a budget and revenue stream, the same should apply to your campaign. If you do not, then you are kidding yourself! Avoid the pitfalls of fundraising and hire a professional, qualified fundraising firm early.
They will put together your fundraising apparatus right from the beginning of your campaign so that in minimal time the kinks are worked out and you are well on your way to raising the money necessary to cover your budget. Go ahead and do it. Looking for magical shortcuts to raising millions of money is wasting precious fundraising time.
Remember, bumper stickers and signs are fun, but it is money that wins elections. A solid fundraising system makes the difference between being a candidate…and being a winner.
Once you have decided to run for office, one of the first questions you should ask is, can I raise enough money to win? In an ideal world, the best person would win whether or not he or she can raise sufficient funds. However, in reality, if you are not independently wealthy and can’t ask for money, you should reconsider running for elective office.
As a candidate, you need to raise money early and raise money often. This advice holds true for the incumbent as well as the challenger. The best contributors are those who have already contributed to your campaign. Having made a contribution, your donors already have a vested interest in your success. Don’t be afraid to ask them again. A professional should help you plan how much you will need to run a successful campaign and to develop a fundraising strategy. Some basic tips to consider;
1. First you must examine your own reserves. If you are not willing to make a contribution toward your own campaign, you can’t realistically ask others to contribute.
2. Next you should ask your family and friends. While this may seem awkward, your family and friends are your early seed money, to get you started. Your close family and friends should be approached in person. But – do not sit down with your family and friends until you have a good reason as to why you are running and an explanation as to how you will use their money. You should have the written outline of a plan of action. If you can’t ask this close-knit circle for donations, you should reconsider running for office.
3. Next you should compile a list of your acquaintances, your business associates, your high school and college friends, etc. They should be called or sent a personal letter from you. What you say and how you say it is important. Consider having a professional write this letter for you. Once you have a commitment from your friend, get this person to spread the word for you. They can write letters on your behalf, call their friends, hold fundraising parties, etc.
4. Next try to get hold of member lists of your life’s activities: college class, any civic or professional or religious association you are member of. If you are active in any group, this should be on the top of your list. People who know you or have heard of you are more likely to give to your campaign than strangers.
5. Next, if you are not in a primary, you should approach your local, county or state party organization. They won’t make any lists available if your election is contested, but, if you are the party’s candidate, you should press them to share their lists or do a mailing for you.
6. If you are an incumbent, you should contact every person who contributed to you in your past campaigns. People often feel insulted or neglected if they supported you in the past and they are not contacted again.
7. Next, contact former candidates or officeholders. If they share your political beliefs, they may allow you to use their lists. At minimum, they may suggest some prominent individuals to contact or they can share their own fundraising experiences.
8. If you are the challenger, your opponent may have made some enemies. You should contact these groups or individuals and let them know that you are running and can offer an alternative. The best fundraising advice, raise money early and raise it often. Best wishes in your campaign.
The First Fundraising Letter in a Campaign
(Or how to start your campaign with a successful fundraising effort)
Raising money for a campaign is not a guarantee of victory, but it can go a long way toward that end. Frequently local candidates assume that it is more difficult for them to raise money than it is for an incumbent. That’s not always the case. In fact, some one was able to raise more money daring his first challenger race than in his first reelection campaign.
Whether you are a challenger or incumbent, every candidate needs “seed” money to pay for literature, signs/posters and phone bills. The best place to get the beginning money that will “leverage” all the later money is from the candidates’ friends, family and acquaintances.
The first fundraising that a candidate should do is to contact this group because they will contribute despite party affiliation. A simple fundraising letter to family and friends can bring in enough money to get started. First, a candidate needs to compile a list of potential donors. This can be done by compiling names from the Christmas card list, church or service club directory, employees at the place of employment and any other list that might be available.
In addition, be sure to include all of the professionals that you deal with such as dentists, insurance agents, doctors and lawyers (and don’t forget your former teachers or students). I once a business man helped a policeman who was running for mayor. He regularly patrolled the local grocery stores at night and was very popular. He attained the grocery store employee lists and did pretty well garnering their financial support.
Compiling a list is not difficult, but a candidate must be bold. Many candidates are self-conscious about asking those closest to them to contribute. Keep in mind however, that these people will be offended if you don’t include them and if your closest friends won’t contribute, then how can you expect complete strangers to give.
After a list is compiled, a fundraising piece needs to be developed. This should consist of 1) a well written fundraising letter, 2) a hand-addressed outside envelope, 3) a return envelope tucked inside the first envelope and
4) a reply piece for givers to provide you vital information, (like how much money they intend to send). Writing an effective fundraising piece is almost an art form; so if you don’t have someone who is experienced at this type of work, follow these rules: First the letter should answer some basic questions like what are you running for? Why are you running? Hew much money do you need in total? How much money do you need specifically from the person reading the letter? What is the money needed for? What is your deadline for paying your bills? What benefit is there for your reader in seeing that you are elected (better schools, lower taxes, etc)?
By answering these questions in a cohesive and compelling letter, you will get beyond the reasons your reader may think have not to contribute.
Personalize the letter as much as possible. If you have a laser printer and a simple mail merge program, then you can create a personal salutation and even have personal references throughout your letter. In fact, you should assess which of your letter recipients are in the high donor category and which are in the low donor category. Always ask the high donors for a specific amount at the hundreds or thousands level. You may choose to send your grandmother in Kabaale a letter asking for 5000, or 10000, but it never hurts to ask for too much and get a little less. Remember that the suggested amount will generally define the level of giving.
See that the letter is not visually threatening to your reader. By this I mean that the letter should have short paragraphs, with underlining of important passages and spaces between paragraphs. In addition, forget the conventional wisdom and don’t be afraid to send a two, three or even four page letter.
One concept used in the spring or early summer is to draw an analogy between planting a seed and giving a candidate “seed money.” To drive home the point and make it more memorable, you will want to include a small packet of seeds in the envelope. Not only will the seeds make your letter more noticeable to your reader, but all the time the flowers are sprouting and growing, this person will be thinking of your campaign and may likely give a second or third time.
Be sure your outside envelope is hand addressed and has an actual stamp and not ink indicia. Even bulk mail should have a “stick-on” stamp and not simply a postal permit number printed on the envelope. The first mail that people throw away is the letter that has a label and lacks a real stamp. Also, you should consider using a colored envelope so that your letter stands out from the fifteen white envelopes stuffed in the mailbox.
Never forget the third element of your letter, the return envelope. The convenience it provides will increase your response rate. The return address on this envelope should be that of the individual asking for the money. If that’s you, then the return envelope will go back to your house, but if it’s the local banker asking for money on your behalf, then make sure the envelope is addressed back to the banker.
The reply piece is the fourth element of your direct mail package. It should contain all the right disclaimers required by your elate law. In addition, you will want to use it to suggest a certain contribution amount and provide space for vital information like the contributor’s name and address. This will help your record keeping and allow one last mental suggestion to your reader before they make their decision to give.
This simple fundraising letter will not by any means solve all your fund raising problems, but it will get you started. I’ve never seen a campaign where it didn’t raise enough for the first brochure and still pay for a few yard signs.