The Secret to Fundraising for Political Campaigns - dummies

The Secret to Fundraising for Political Campaigns

By Dan Gookin

For a small number of politicians, asking for money is no big deal. They’re very good at it. For the majority, asking for money is embarrassing and awkward. It seems dirty, especially in a culture that appreciates entrepreneurs and self-made millionaires. Yet the secret to political fundraising is to ask, and ask you must.

  • Keen political observers note that it’s not the total you raise but the number of people contributing. Compare getting one hundred $5 donations with getting five $100 donations. Who has wider support?
  • Asking for money doesn’t make you a whore. Receiving money in exchange for promised services does.

Campaign finance limitations and your donor list

Before you ask for a campaign donation, become knowledgeable about the campaign finance limitations for the election. Every state has a cap on the amount of money an individual can donate to a candidate. It’s a maximum you cannot legally exceed.

Once you know the maximum limit, prepare a list of donors, organized by those you believe can give you the most money. Call this first crop of supporters the whales because they represent potentially large donations.

Prioritize the donor list by those who can support you with a large, but perhaps not the maximum, donation. After contacting potential large supporters, move down the list to others you feel can donate generously. Eventually you start calling the small donors. Of course, all this effort is guesswork; you never know who will write you a large check until you ask.

  • The campaign donation limits may be annual or per election. If they’re per election, you can receive money in both the primary and general elections for a partisan office. If they’re annual, you can ask for money the year before you run — if you plan that far ahead.
  • The campaign donation limit usually applies to individuals, not families. It’s possible to obtain double the maximum from a couple, for example.
  • Minimum limits may also apply for reporting purposes. For example, donations under $25 may not require you to supply the donor’s name on your campaign finance reports. Ensure that you know the rules as set by your state or the election authority.
  • Some smaller districts may not have campaign donation limits or even any form of campaign finance reporting.

Ask for campaigning money

People donate because you ask.

To fund your campaign, you must ask for money. You make calls daily. You do it right away. You don’t put it off. Ask. Ask. Ask.

If you have people who make large donations (see the preceding section), visit them in person. Schedule an appointment. After all, if you want to get a $1,000 or $500 donation from an individual, ask them face-to-face.

For other donors, make calls. Have a list of people you call daily. Leave a message if they don’t answer, “This is Tim Anderson; sorry I missed you. I’ll try again later.” That’s it. Otherwise, you make your pitch.

Be positive, solid, and convincing. Fundraising experts claim that you should ask like this:

“I would like you to help support my campaign.” Wait for their answer. Because the donor is on your list, and you know they’re a supporter, it would be unusual for them to say no.

Next, make the “ask:” “Would you like to donate $500?”

If you hear “Yes,” thank them profusely. Otherwise, drop the donation a notch: “How about $250?” And then keep working down: $200, $100, $50. Always ask high and go low. Donors know what they can afford.

What you don’t want to do is ask for $50 when the donor may be willing to offer $250. They’ll agree to the $50, assuming that you don’t need any more. This logic is why you start high and go low.

You must set aside time daily to make these calls. Work through your donor list. This method is how the professionals operate, both politicians and nonprofits. It works.

  • Plan on spending half your campaign time raising money.
  • Go big with the ask.
  • The candidate makes the call. It’s not your campaign treasurer’s job to ask for money. The ask must come from you, the candidate.
  • Mark down times for donation calls on your campaign calendar. Have one of your supporters check on you to ensure that you’re making the calls.

No campaign raises enough money, but losing campaigns fail to raise any money at all. The problem rests on the candidate’s shoulders: It’s your job to make the calls and bring in the funds. When you fail, your campaign runs underfunded, you lose marketing opportunities, and you lose the election.

  • No matter how noble you believe your effort, you must raise money if you plan to come in anything other than last on election night.
  • It doesn’t count when you completely self-fund your campaign. Higher offices can be bought by millionaires, but local office is won by wide support. A fully self-funded campaign sends a message that you don’t have wide support.

Political donations tips and suggestions

Have you ever received a donation envelope from a politician? Did you use it? Donation envelopes don’t work as well as phone calls because they involve zero effort. A phone call is personal. A visit is even more personal. These methods work far more successfully than sending out donation envelopes.

If you want to send out donation envelopes, do so for the people you’ve already met or spoken with who have promised a donation. Send them a thank-you note with a stamped return envelope.

Don’t worry if a supporter is slow to write the check. For example, if you make the call on Tuesday, don’t expect the check to arrive on Thursday. It might, but most people wait to write checks. This reason is why it’s important to ask early, especially for people you suspect will donate the most money.

Always follow through. Send personal thank-you notes to everyone who donates over a certain amount. For example, when you receive a donation for $100 or more, send out a thank-you card. For larger donations, hand-write a thank-you letter. This attention to detail is exactly why your donors are supporting you.

How to work through a fundraising rejection

Not everyone who supports you may be able to provide your campaign with a cash donation. Conversely, someone you might believe would support you, or may have said positive things to you in the past, is an ardent supporter of your opponent. Don’t let such turns discourage you.

Be respectful when someone declines a donation. Thank them for offering their time. Explain that you respect and understand their decision. You don’t want to close the door; keep the line of communications open.

Providing they don’t openly proclaim support for your opponent, ask if they can help in other ways: a donation of time, food, meeting space, or other in-kind donations.

Don’t forget the importance of word-of-mouth. Invite them to attend a fundraiser. Ask them if they could help spread the word. Turn the rejection into something positive. Doing so may not turn you into a politician, but it brings you one step closer to being a diplomat.

Also see, “Fundraising Ideas for Political Campaigns.”