Campaign Fundraising Fundamentals Win Political Campaigns

by Joe Fuld

Stacks of coins in dirt with plants growing out of them

Step Up Your Political Campaign Fundraising for the Win

Here are some core steps to jump-start your campaign fundraising. But first, let’s be clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for campaign fundraising. Fundraising is hard, and even though it is the backbone of any political campaign, it is not easy to do (for a detailed breakdown of what to think about before you run, read our eBook here). Even the best campaigns make fundraising mistakes.

If you are planning to run for office and need to raise money for your political campaign, make sure you take these steps to prevent campaign fundraising mistakes.

Develop a Campaign Fundraising Plan. The first step in your process is to develop a roadmap for how you will achieve your campaign fundraising goals. Set your goal and then make a specific and strategic plan to get there. Conduct an assessment and assign a reasonable amount of what you can raise from everyone within your immediate network. 

Develop a Calendar. When you first set up your campaign, create a calendar that outlines items such as mailings, email solicitations, fundraisers, and even call-time should take place. An organized campaign calendar will be very helpful when executing your campaign plan. 

Set Up a Finance Committee. A finance committee can help expand your fundraising network and help you achieve your goals. Ask business and union leaders as well as community leaders to help you achieve your campaign fundraising goals.

List Building. Political fundraising isn’t about picking up a phone book and asking random people for money – it’s targeted fundraising.  First, start with yourself and your close friends and relatives. Sit down with them and ask them who they know that can donate. Then move on to your finance committee, and later ask your contributors as well. Go through their contact list with them. Ask them about their life and who they know (where they went to school, where they work, etc.). The list is the backbone of your campaign: make sure you have a rock-solid list of potential donors and volunteers. Do everything you can to put all of your contacts in one place. This takes time and focus. Doing this halfway is one of the campaign fundraising mistakes you can avoid. If you are running this year, or three years from now, take the time to build a solid list.  

Utilize the Different Types of Campaign Fundraising.

  • Call time
  • Fundraisers
  • Mailings
  • Email Communication
  • Networking
  • Resolicitation

Establish Credibility. One of the best ways to keep money coming in the door is by establishing credibility. By keeping your name in the press, sending out donor updates so they know their money is working, and receiving more and more endorsements, your credibility will rise.

Always Say Thank You. When you receive a donation you should always say thank you.  Keep a database of all thank you notes you have sent and if someone donates a second or third time, say it again and again.

Analyze Your Fundraising Potential. How much do you need to raise for a winning race? Before you commit to running, build a list of everyone you know and conservatively estimate how much each person will give. Avoid campaign fundraising mistakes, and don't launch headlong into an expensive political campaign without estimating what it would cost. You would never purchase a car without figuring out if you can afford the payments. The political campaigns we work on are more expensive than most cars, so make sure you can afford it before jumping in. A good rule is that if you can identify on paper at least 1/3 of the total amount you need to raise from friends and family, you have a good shot to raise the rest. 

Estimate Your Returns and Income. Campaign fundraising relies on two things: actual fundraising and keeping yourself financially organized. As money comes in and prospective money is on the horizon, you’ll need to estimate your returns.

Commit to Call Time. Call time can suck, but it is a constant in politics. If you can't dedicate four to six hours every day to making the calls needed, then you are not likely to be successful. Put in the time to work on your request. It won’t automatically make you a master fundraiser, but it will definitely make you feel and seem more natural when asking people for donations.

Follow Up. If you are not good at follow-up, running for office may not be for you. Your follow up needs to be flawless. It’s important to stay organized because your staff cannot do it all for you. You will never get all the money from your donors in one shot. You need to be prepared to ask folks for more than one donation, by phone, by mail, online, and in person.

Stay Focused. Running for office needs to be your sole focus. If you are writing a novel, finishing your MBA, having major surgery, or any number of other life events, this may not be the best time for you to throw in a time- and energy-consuming campaign.

Don't Run If You Have No Shot for Your Race. If you are running for the first time make sure you have looked at all your options before you run for Congress. It is a lot easier to raise $200,000 than $400,000. No race is a sure thing, but there is definitely more opportunity in some races than others. Remember, 95 percent of incumbents win reelection, so before you decide to take one on, make sure you have your ducks in a row. 

Understand the Limitations of Fundraising Tactics. Online fundraising, house parties, events, direct mail and institutional fundraising all have a place in your campaign fundraising toolkit, but they will not take the place of calling your friends and family.

Don't Search for an Easy Way Out. Have I mentioned fundraising is hard? It is, and there is no way out of it. Don't go down the road of searching for the magic fundraising beans- spoiler: they don't exist. Just get used to hard, focused work and you will get through it. 

Know What a Good Fundraising Staffer Does and Does Not Do. A good fundraiser will organize your time, help you with your pitch, and define your fundraising prospects. However, most fundraisers don't come with a magic list and they won't make the calls for you. Another one of those campaign fundraising mistakes to avoid: thinking a staff person will do the grunt work necessary to raise funds. They won't. 

Get Help. Good staff and volunteers are a must for your campaign. Put time into hiring good people and even more time in showing appreciation for the work they do. It will go a long way. You are going to ask your friends and family to knock on doors, raise money, and give money. Don't let this be a surprise. Let them know and make sure they buy in early. 

Have questions about running for office and avoiding political fundraising mistakes? Contact us!