“Making the ask,” as it’s called in the biz, really need not be as intimidating as it may sound. It comes down to making a list of potential donors, meeting with them in person and asking them for $1,000 to $10,000 (or whatever the maximum contribution is), and being prepared to answer any legitimate question they might throw at you. It’s really that simple. For this type of fundraising, however, you’ll need to do some upfront grunt work to maximize your time with actual donors. If you complete all these steps thoroughly, you will soon build up a campaign war chest that would make Solomon blush.
- Write a campaign plan. This should always be your first step in every aspect of your campaign! You can spend a week at your computer researching and typing away, or you can save a ton of time and go the easy route and buy my Campaign Planbook. Either way, make sure you have this document in a presentable state before you even dream of asking anyone for money.
- Write your campaign budget. Be researched, specific, and to-the-penny with your estimates. Make sure you know your budget in and out, and be prepared to justify or explain any spending you plan to do. If someone is going to fork over thousands of dollars to you, they want to know you’re darn well going to be responsible and judicious with the money.
- Know your path to Election Day victory. You’ve created your strategy in step one, but when you’re meeting with potential donors you need to be able to verbally walk them through that strategy step-by-step. If they can’t visualize a path to victory, there’s no way they’re opening their checkbooks to you, so make sure you’ve got the plan down pat.
- Be able to answer the question: Why are you running? Aside from having a clear strategy, you need to have an air of confidence. Be sure that you’re able to look into another person’s eyes and give them an honest and heartfelt reason for why you have chosen to run for this particular office at this time.
- Create a potential donor list. If you’ve been involved in campaigns in your area in the past, you may already have a list started and network of conservatives to tap for names of other potential donors. You can also do research through your state’s campaign finance website to gather data on people and PACs that have donated to campaigns similar to yours in the past.
- Send an introductory letter. Especially for potential donors that you don’t already know personally, it’s nice to break the ice with a letter announcing your candidacy, giving a few details about your race and why you’ve determined now is the time to run, and inviting them to become actively involved. Go ahead and ask for a donation in the introductory letter and if you can afford to include a self-addressed stamped envelop, do so. Also make sure to mention that you’ll be calling them soon to talk about getting involved in your campaign.
- Call your donor list and set up meetings. Meet them at their office or home. Don’t meet them at lunch. The purpose of the meeting should be clear upfront, you are there to ask them for money. Don’t drag it out, make it 30 minutes – 45 max.
- Practice your pitch. Over and over and over and over. Do it with your wife, your campaign manager, your communications director, and any random volunteer who’ll listen. This is essentially a sales call, after all, and the product you’re pitching is YOU.
- Let them in on all the secrets. Naturally there are going to be details and specifics that you won’t be sharing with your donors because you don’t want to get into the muck of it all in a 30 minute meeting. But they need to feel like insiders. They deserve to really know what they’re investing in. Many candidates worry that their ‘strategy’ is going to be ‘leaked’ to the ‘competition.’ Let me tell you, the chances of that happening anywhere but on TV are like .00002%.
- Actually ask them to write you a check. Believe it or not, there are plenty of candidates who refuse to do this. They will meticulously follow steps 1-9 and then fail to actually say the words “Can I count on you to write a check for $5,000?” It’s like they really think that they’re so amazing that people will just hand them a check with no prompting whatsoever. Um, no. Even presidential candidates have to suck up their pride and point blank ask donors for money.
- Write a thank you note. Whether you get a check/pledge or not, always send a thank you note. It’s just good manners. Try to mention something specific that you discussed, either personal or political, and use the best penmanship you can muster; don’t type.
- Follow up. If you got a promise for a donation, call back in a week and get them to put the check ‘in the mail.’ If they’ve already given the donation, check back 2 weeks later to touch base, let them know what’s going on with the campaign, and remind them that they haven’t hit the campaign finance limit yet. If they rejected you, call them 2 weeks after the meeting to touch base, let them know what’s going on with the campaign, and enlighten them that the campaign is ‘on a roll.’ Sometimes the enthusiasm of a vibrant campaign or the peer pressure of knowing others have donated significant checks is enough to change their minds. Unless you can tell the door is completely closed, try to set up another meeting after about a month – if the potential donor accepts and keeps a second meeting at all they really want to donate, but they want you to convince them.
Now go get that money!