Three Keys to Successful Political Fundraising


Fundraising plays a very important part in getting a candidate elected into public office. Political campaigns and events are critical for raising awareness among voters, and often take large sums of money. Therefore, political fundraising is very important to a candidate’s success. These 3 keys will help ensure that your candidate is well known, and that your political fundraising events are a success.

Key #1: Raise Awareness

Public awareness is the first essential key to successful political fundraising. After all, people won’t donate to a candidate unless they know not only “who” the candidate is, but details about their background, education, beliefs, etc. So what’s the best method of making people aware of your candidate and of your fundraising efforts?

Raise Awareness through Technology

When it comes to building awareness, the latest technology is your best friend. Social media and the internet allow you to reach a large number of people quickly and effectively. These methods are often less expensive than more traditional media like television or newspaper ads, so they are great for when your campaign is just starting out.

Start by building pages and accounts on social media for your candidate. Find out what your target audience uses the most – it might be Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram. Create pages and profiles on the best networks, and use these accounts as platforms to get the word out. Use social media to open dialogue with local business, voters, and others who can assist in spreading the word.

Set up a custom fundraising website where people can come to learn about your candidate and why they are running for office. This is also a great place to process and receive donations from supports. A website like this is often very easy to setup, and can more than pay for itself in the long run. Offering an easy, simple, secure way for people to donate can really help your fundraising efforts – both online and offline.


When it comes to successful political fundraising, microtargeting is one of the latest and greatest methods. Microtargeting is based on a technique called data mining – combing through collected personal data to extract what’s useful to your campaign. The data is then used to microtarget specific people, with tailored messaging that can really help to get their attention. For example, an unemployed dock worker might receive a message about how your candidate supports the local construction industry, while a mom of 4 might receive messaging about how education or family care is important. These customized messages really help to catch people’s attention, and improves the chance these people will support your campaign as your message is something that speaks to their specific values and concerns.

Traditional Media

While social media and the internet offer a lot of potential for building awareness, don’t discount the effectiveness of more traditional media. TV advertising, while it can be expensive, is a great way to bring your candidate into the public eye. Billboards, leaflets, and direct mailings are other traditional methods to draw attention. Place lawn signs on highly trafficked areas and roads to get people used to seeing your candidate’s name.

Key #2: Host Political Fundraising Events & Get Involved Locally

Once people are aware of your candidate and your campaign, it’s time to start getting involved locally and hosting events. Both of these methods are wonderful ways to build even more awareness, and will often even attract local journalists which results in more PR and free advertising.

Get Involved

Getting involved in local movements and events is a wonderful way to build awareness for your candidate and to potentially gain free advertising. Look for events that your candidate can attend, like a clean-up day at a local park, or the opening of a new local business. Often times, journalists and local news crews will already be at these events to cover the story, and may give your candidate the chance to be interviewed or mentioned on TV or in the newspaper. Post your candidate’s schedule and which events you’ll be attending online and on social media as well as your fundraising website.

Host Events

There are many people who may not respond or donate because of advertising or a direct mailer, but will be happy to donate for the chance to attend a party or a dinner. Hosting major fundraising events like formal dinners is a very effective way to target high level donors and raise a large amount of funds. Send out invitations at least 4 weeks in advance, with clear instructions on attire and venue. Low, medium, and high donation levels should be available for guests to select, with what’s included at each level. For example, a high level donor might attend the dinner and have access to a VIP party afterward. Allowing for these distinctions helps keep donors happy and able to contribute to a successful fundraiser. Learn more about fundraising event ideas.

Key #3: Stay Connected

Staying connected is the last key that is absolutely critical to your political fundraising success. Thank each and every donor promptly for their contribution. For higher level donors, a personal hand-written thank you note from your candidate can be very effective. It lets donors know that they are appreciated, and that you truly care about them and their involvement in your campaign.

Remember that you will often ask for donations multiple times throughout your campaign, so make sure first-time donors feel appreciated and acknowledged. This will make re-solicitation much more effective. You may even want to call some donors out by name, especially if it’s a local business or someone who’s well known. Thank them with a note, as well as publicly on your website and on social media.


Guest post provided by DoJiggy – a company that’s been helping nonprofit and community organization achieve success in their fundraising efforts by utilizing affordable, easy-to-use online fundraising software solutions. / @DoJiggy

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How to Run for City Council – Show Me The Money! Fundraising Money, That Is.

how to run for city council political campaign fundraising

Alright, enough him-hawing over the campaign plan.  Let’s see some action!  We’ll start with fundraising, because it’s really never too early to fundraise for a political campaign.

For a city council race, it’s terribly unlikely you’ll need all that much money.  Why would you?  In an average city, your district is still likely to be small enough that you can drive around the whole thing in ten minutes or so.  Are you going to buy a television ad that reaches the entire tri-county region just for that small, targeted audience?  No.  There are enough political ads cluttering up commercial breaks during campaign season.  Don’t be the jerk I can’t even vote against!

Chances are you’ll be spending your money where it has the most bang for your buck – attending events, campaign literature, and materials to support your grassroots efforts (but we’ll get to budgeting later).

How Much Money Do I Need to Fundraise?

A good place to start when determining your fundraising goal is to take a look at the campaign finance reports of previous city council candidates in your district from prior elections – including your opponent’s, if he’s an incumbent – and shoot for a figure in the same range.  You can also take a look at how they spent the money and get inspiration to either replicate or do something different.

I can tell you right now, however, that unless you’re in an unusually large city, you are likely looking to raise $5,000 – $10,000, ball park.  There’s a really good chance $1,000-$3,000 will actually cover it.

How Political Candidates Raise Money

The Fundraising Letter

You are going to start your fundraising campaign the same way everyone else does – a fundraising letter.  I call this the “Friends and Family Letter” because in most campaigns, those are the people you’ll reach out to first.  If you were running for a state or federal election, you would branch out to PACs and other political organizations, and local and statewide individuals and businesses that support your agenda.  But for the purposes of running for city council, you won’t need that kind of money, and those types of donors aren’t paying attention to municipal races anyway.

So who do you send your Friends and Family Letter to?  This is where you and your campaign teammates pull out your rolodexes (just kidding!  I mean open your smartphone’s address book) and begin putting together a contact spreadsheet.  You’re probably not going to send a letter to every single person you know, but chances are if you have their address, they fall into the category of people you would ask for a little money.  If you’re having trouble, ask yourself – would I send this person a wedding invitation?  A Christmas card?  If the answer is yes, put them in the spreadsheet.

The letter should be a simple, one page letter that let’s your folks know you’re running for city council, and that you need some initial start-up funds to get things going.  I always like to include a reply envelope with your campaign’s name and address already on it, if at all possible.  Don’t forget to put “paid for by <Your Campaign’s Name>” at the bottom of the letter.

The Fundraising Event

Bigger campaigns – for, say, governor, congress, and some statewide races – can throw their own parties.  You can, too.  But I am of the mindset that, like a bridal or baby shower, someone else really ought to do it for you.  I don’t know why, but having your own fundraiser just seems tacky.  Is it just me?

You can, however, co-opt virtually anyone else to do it for you.  Regardless, you’ll be sending out the invitations, coordinating the itinerary, and doing all the other planning work.  Just find someone to allow you to list them as the ‘host.’  It’s particularly useful if you know someone up the ballot – a candidate for state senate or an established elected official – to be either ‘host’ or ‘guest of honor’ at the event.  It gives your campaign more credibility and gives invitees more of a reason to pay to attend.

As for what the event actually is – it really doesn’t matter.  Pick a theme, any theme.  Independence day celebration?  Weekend barbecue?  Golf outing?  Whatever suits your fancy.  Do something unique, fun, and well suited to you.  Don’t plan a black tie affair if the candidate’s only worn overalls every day of his adult life.  Be true to who you are, and what your campaign is.

There’s no set number of fundraising events you should have, or when you should have them.  You should definitely have at least one; make it early enough to get money into your hands that you can start using on the things you’ve budgeted for, but late enough that people are actually thinking about political campaigns.  A fundraising party in mid-January after the days and days of holiday gatherings will not be well attended!

You also don’t want to plan to have too many events.  You likely have only a small pool of people to invite, and tapping that resource too often will just lead to wasted money on poorly attended events.  One or two events, well spaced out, is plenty for a city council candidate.

Personal Solicitation

This is the tough one.  If you’re lucky, maybe you won’t even have to do this one at all.  Generally, you’ll personally ask a donor – usually a politically involved business owner in the community – for an amount in the $500+ range.  If, as noted above, you’ve determined you only really need a few thousand bucks, you may be able to save yourself this step with one or two great fundraising events.  If your fundraising goal is closer to the $10,000 mark, you’ll likely be calling some of these high dollar donors up for a meeting.

Here’s how it’ll go down:

  • Call the donor, introduce yourself and tell them you’d like to talk to them about donating to your city council campaign.  Ask them if you can come and meet with them at their convenience.
  • Always confirm via phone (email might work) the day before.
  • Show up on time, and plan to spend 30 minutes – no more! – going over your executive summary (the Campaign Planbook helps you put this together), covering your basic platform, and making the actual ask.
  • Actually ask for money.  And a specific dollar amount.  If you think the person you’re approaching can give $500, ask for $1,000.  This is a situation where it is flattering to high ball the other person, and you never know – maybe they’ll give you the $1,000!
  • Leave.  Once the donor has given you a solid verbal ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ get the heck out of there.  Follow up with them by phone in 2-3 days if they don’t give you a check on the spot.  If they give you a wishy-washy ‘maybe,’ or seem reluctant to say ‘yes’ but unwilling to say ‘no,’ ask them what they need to see from you to be confident in giving a donation.  But don’t waste a bunch of time trying to convince someone unwilling to commit.  If 30 minutes has passed, find an opportunity to exit and tell them you’ll follow up with them later in the week by phone.  Also keep them on the list to hit them up the second time around.

There are other creative ways to raise money for your campaign, but the vast majority of your fundraising will fall under these three categories.  Now, go get that money!

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Campaign Calendar Planning: Campaign Finance

Naturally following a discussion on fundraising, we must cover our bases on campaign finance.  A missed deadline for a political candidate at any level will most certainly leave you open to criticism from your opponent and scrutiny from the media, not to mention that it’s not unusual for the public employees that run the elections office to mess up or completely lose vitally important forms and documents (accidentally or otherwise). Luckily, this part is fairly simple.

For your calendar, simply look up the list of campaign finance reporting due dates on your state’s campaign finance or secretary of state website.  If you have a Campaign Planbook, there’s likely a link to your state’s resource website in there.  If not, it’s easy enough to find through a Google search.

Once you find the information you’re looking for, jot down the due dates for every campaign finance reporting requirement.  To be completely sure you’ve got everything, stop by your local elections office and ask them for a list of all the due dates as well – sometimes local entities require more information or have more stringent requirements.  Don’t bother calling – in the case they actually answer the phone (unlikely), it’s too easy for them to give you a wrong date or miss one.  Generally speaking, all interactions with election divisions should be in person.

Other than the due dates themselves, you may want to schedule time to enter in all your fundraising and expenditure data, preferably in chunks rather than all at once – that usually leads to a last minute frenzy to get it all done in time.  Some campaign finance websites will allow you to fill in the forms online and let you save them.  There’s also online software like BackOffice that can help you, if you want to pay for it.  I recommend finding a trustworthy and mathematically-inclined intern to input the data once a week or so.

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Campaign Calendar Planning Part 2: Voter Contact and Fundraising

I was once asked in an interview, “If you had to pick one, which would you consider more important: Grassroots or Fundraising?”  I think I him-hawed for at least 10 minutes before choosing grassroots.  In reality, they are both incredibly important – so much so that it’s hard to even put into words.  That’s why I’m lumping them together in this campaign calendar planning series.

Voter contact is immensely important, but very, very tricky to plan.  There are a few factors that must be taken into consideration:

  • Voters have short memories, therefore contact closer to Election Day is more valuable.
  • There are (usually) so many voters, it takes several months to sufficiently cover the district.
  • Personal 1-1 contact is exponentially more effective than group interactions.
  • Group interactions are still more effective than relying on advertising alone to make contact with the voter.

There are equally important factors to consider in fundraising.

  • Fundraising can be done very early – before you even ‘officially’ start your campaign.
  • A solid campaign ‘war chest’ relieves a ton of stress and worry.
  • Money = advertising = name recognition and message control.  The sooner you have it, the better.

Now on to the work of scheduling these tasks.  Generally, you’ll want to front-load your fundraising and back-load your grassroots.  Start with grassroots/voter contact and work from Election Day backward.  And in case you were wondering, you should be doing nothing but voter contact on E-Day.  Go ahead and put “meeting voters at the polls” in big red letters on that day for you and all your family members.

In the 4-8 weeks preceding the election, you’ll want to hold several campaign events that allow voters to come and meet your candidate.  These can be ‘meet the candidate’ events held by other organizations, debates with your opponent, community events that allow political candidates to use the venue for voter contact, or town halls, block parties, coffees, meet & greets that your campaign holds itself to get in the face of many voters at once.  Pencil all these things in first.  Depending on the size and scope of your campaign, you may have 3 per week or just a couple throughout the whole campaign.

Next, pencil in door-to-door walking for every evening and weekend.  Every single one.  Yes, some of them will get cancelled in exchange for a different activity, event or just because you need a break – that’s why it’s in pencil.  The idea is just to drill into your head that when you’re not actively involved in some other aspect of the campaign, you need to be talking one on one with voters.

And that’s how you schedule a killer voter contact campaign.  Obviously there’s a lot more that goes into planning voter contact, like strategizing where to do all that door-to-door, but that’s another post.

Fundraising needs to start as soon as your campaign does, ideally.  Ironically, fundraising is less formal when it comes to scheduling, because most of it involves working around other people’s schedules rather than your own.  So when you’re scheduling fundraising, you’ll want to chronologically put things in the following order:

  1. Send a fundraising letter – you’ll need to plan when you’ll write, print, stuff and send the letter, and schedule follow up phone calls and meetings.
  2. Call potential donors, including PACs.
  3. Meet with potential donors.
  4. Plan and conduct fundraising events.

Fundraising is an ongoing process.  A campaign always needs more money.  The idea here is to get as much fundraising into the start of the campaign as possible, when it’s really too early to do much voter contact.

Remember, fundraising and voter contact are the most important ways you will use your time.  Be generous in scheduling time for them, and before you erase a fundraising call or a door-to-door session from your calendar to do something else, ask yourself, “Is this really important?  Will this get me more votes than door-to-door will?”

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12 Steps to Getting Big Political Campaign Donations

political campaign fundraising asking for donations

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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%.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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!

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5 Quick Tips on How to Throw An Awesome Campaign Event

  1. Book a space (hopefully for free!) that is smaller than you think you need.  Remember those middle school dances with dozens of kids huddled by the walls in a vast gymnasium?  Looks lame, right?  Pick a space that will look packed – it will make you look popular.  BONUS:  Find a space that has one of those flimsy walls you can open up to adjust the room size if needed.
  2. Beg, borrow and steal (well, don’t really steal) food for your event.  Restaurants and catering services will often donate food (not the in-kind donation on your campaign finance report!)  Or you can find some great cooks among your supporter base who are willing to cook up food for your event out of the goodness of their hearts.
  3. Always have decorations – decorations really set a happy/fun mood for any type of campaign event.  As a person who does this stuff for a living I stock up on tons of red, white & blue patriotic themed decorations when they’re on clearance the day after Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.  Don’t forget celebratory streamers and noisemakers after New Year’s – for your victory party!
  4. Always address the crowd.  Make sure to:
    • Say a genuine thank you for attending/supporting/volunteering/donating
    • Outline the campaign’s goals briefly – a fire-up-the-troops type of spiel
    • Give a call-to-action – ask them to do something to move the campaign forward directly after the event.  Be specific.
  5. And MOST IMPORTANT:  Always have a PURPOSE for your event.  Don’t schedule a press conference and figure out what you’re ‘announcing’ later.  Have REAL news to announce; don’t waste the media’s time or else you’ll become the candidate that cried ‘press conference.’  The same goes for fundraisers and volunteer events – themed events or raising money for a specific purpose/cost is better than a general fundraiser for general campaign spending.  Never have a volunteer event that doesn’t have a piece of real campaign work assigned to it (otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time).

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Campaign Budgeting 101 – Fundraising

True or False:

You have to spend money to make money.

False!  Well, sometimes it helps, but it’s certainly not mandatory, especially in the beginning.  The amount of money you set aside for fundraising purposes will largely depend on how you plan to fundraise.  Many candidates hear about $1,000 plate dinner fundraisers and get it in their heads that this is a ‘normal’ way to fundraise.  Not at all, my friend, not at all!  Here are some typical fundraising methods real, down-to-earth, local candidates use:

  • Sending a fundraising letter to friends, family and potential donors
  • Calling people who’ve donated generously to candidates in the past and asking them to contribute to you as well
  • Asking people for money in person (specifically people who can afford to give $500+ to start with)
  • Hosting an event and charging people to come to it
  • Accepting donations online
There are about as many ways to fundraise as there are candidates running for office.  Creativity is a very useful talent in this category, because you’re going to have to think up some creative ways to fundraise without spending a small fortune on a ‘traditional’ fundraiser.

Here are some of the things you’ll need to spend money on under the ‘fundraising’ category:

  • Stationary, envelopes and thank you notes (this could be considered an administrative cost instead)
  • Postage
  • Event invitations
  • Food
  • Venue rental
  • Transportation, in the case you have a meeting with a PAC Director considering donating
  • Admission to GOP networking events where you intend to meet potential donors

As you can see, the real spending doesn’t happen unless you decide to hold a formal event, and even in that case, there are plenty of ways to cut costs.  The goal of fundraising is to bring money in, not send it out, so remember that when you’re planning your fundraisers and make sure you’ll getting the most bang for your buck. However, budget yourself a realistic amount – the last thing you want to do is give yourself such a tight fundraising budget you can’t actually raise any funds.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you exactly how much to budget for fundraising – after all, a great deal of that will be determined by your fundraising goals.  I can tell you that raising $100,000 doesn’t have to cost that much more than raising $10,000.  I can not stress enough that the bulk of the money you raise will come from sitting down with donors and asking them for money.  And it costs zero dollars to do that.  The difference between a $100,000 goal and a $10,000 goal is not how much money you spend on a fundraising event, but rather the people you ask for money and how much you ask them for.

So what are the steps to developing the Fundraising section of your budget?

  1. Research potential donors through your state’s online campaign finance directories and with the help of former candidates’ lists.
  2. Compile a list of potential donors, including friends and family, complete with name, address, phone number, notes on how much they’ve donated in the past and what you intend to ask them for.
  3. Compile a list of PACs that may donate to your campaign and research their requirements.
  4. Estimate the costs of sending an initial introductory fundraising letter – include paper, printing, envelopes, postage, etc.  I recommend doing this by hand – your list will likely be somewhere between 50 and 200 addresses.
  5. Set tentative dates for fundraisers – front load them into the schedule if possible to save room for grassroots/GOTV efforts closer to election day.
  6. Estimate the costs of venue rental and food based on a ‘typical’ number of attendees – you’ll need to talk to former candidates and local GOP leaders to get a rough idea.
  7. List all your potential costs and total them up.  Then start looking for ways to save money.

How do you save money on throwing a real fundraising event?  Here are a few examples I’ve used in the past – bear in mind these are mostly for city council up to state representative level campaigns:

  • Have a relative/friend/supporter throw a backyard barbecue and charge $25-50 per person to attend.  The buns and burgers are a small in-kind donation from the host, so be sure to note it in your campaign finance paperwork.
  • Have a supporter who owns a restaurant?  I’ve been lucky enough on a couple of occasions – they’ll often provide the space and food (note the in-kind donation!) during non-rush hours.  Depending on the venue, you could charge anywhere from $20 to $200 for the event.
  • Host your fundraiser at GOP Headquarters if it’s relatively nice.  They’ll probably let you use the space for free.
  • There are often big supporters who can’t shell out tons o’ cash in donations, but have spaces that would be perfect for themed fundraisers, such as:
    • Pro-2nd Amendment party at the gun range.  It’s wise not to have an open bar at this one!
    • Pro-life rallies at church facilities
    • Pro-Israel rallies at synagogue facilities
    • Barn dances in districts with lots of farmers (my favorite districts!)
And here are just a couple of bonus tips for you:
  • A good rule of thumb about fundraising event admission: Charge at least 2 times and no more than 5 times the cost of a regular meal at the venue.  So if your fundraiser is at McDonalds, charge $10-25 to attend; if it’s at Ruth Chris Steak House, charge $150-$375.
  • Make sure your donors are aware of any limitations to how much they can contribute – the last thing you want to do is return a check because it’s over the legal limit you can accept from an individual.  If a donor has already reached a federal or state mandated maximum, you should let them come to any event for free – usually they’ll bring paying friends!
  • Dress to impress, but don’t always make your supporters.  Black tie fundraisers are, eh, okay I guess, but the boot-scootin’ kind are way more fun, and cheaper to pull off, too.

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Campaign Budgeting 101

squeezing the campaign budget

It’s a new day and a new series!  In the next several days, I’m going to go over the basic elements of a political campaign budget – one of the most critical and fundamental components of a successful campaign plan.  Everyone running for public office needs to be aware of and prepared for the financial demands that will be placed on them during a political campaign, therefore it’s paramount that you ‘begin with the end in mind’ and formulate a campaign budget that clearly and accurately reflects how you intend to spend your campaign dollars.

Having a fully fleshed out and detailed campaign budget will also help you in your fundraising efforts.  High dollar donors like to know where their money is going and should feel confident that it’s being put to the best possible use.  You’ll use a summarized version of your campaign budget any time that you approach a PAC, business or individual asking for money.

Here are the campaign budgeting topics you can expect to see over the next few posts:

  • Administrative Costs
  • Paid Media Spending
  • Research Costs
  • Voter Contact Costs
  • Unexpected Campaign Expenditures
Keep your eyes peeled for these posts and more – or make it easy on yourself and sign up for our email updates.

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Why Your Campaign Should NEVER Go Into Debt

campaign money-and-stress

It’s really depressing to me that a campaign treasurer would ever, EVER even consider the option of putting a campaign account in debt for any reason.  Quite honestly, I had never seen it happen – even on congressional or gubernatorial campaigns – until recent years.

Campaign finances can not be treated like personal finances.

In your personal life, if you lose your income source, you can always find another job or do ‘side work’ to make up the difference in order to pay off your debts.  In campaign world, your campaign lives and dies by fundraising.  There is no other income source.  If people aren’t willing to open their own wallets and give you their hard-earned cash, you are out of options, except to bail out your own campaign yourself, because in the long run you, the candidate, (and anyone dumb enough to co-sign for you) are the only person truly liable for the debts the campaign incurs.

“But it’s impossible to get any traction without ‘seed money!'” you say.  You want to open up a credit card so you can buy your first round of palm cards ($1,000), some lapel stickers ($500) and yard signs (another $1,000).  You sign a contract with a ‘political consultant’ who charges $100/hr and rack up $15,000 before you even get your first major campaign donation.

How many candidates do this before they even take one glance at voter data and past election results, to see if there’s even a remote chance of success?  Far, far too many.

A campaign does not, not, need to spend a single dime before it begins a concerted fundraising effort.  What it does need is a solid campaign plan.  Potential donors don’t want to wear your stupid sticker or look at your palm card.  They want to know you can win.  And until you prove that point to them, your campaign wil be cash-poor.

When the campaign is over, so is the cash flow.

No one gives money to a dead campaign.  No one gives money to a dead campaign.  No one gives money to a dead campaign.  Yeah, it’s that important to remember.  If you have debt on Election Day and God forbid you lose, why on earth would any donor give you money?  You already lost!  If it was close and you plan on running again in 2 years, you might be able to convince people to invest super early in that future race and use that money to pay off your old debts, but in 98% of cases, you’re going to be picking up your own tab, bud.  As you should, because you’re the one who made the horrible decision to go into debt in the first place.  You reap what you sow.

If you find yourself in a position where you feel there’s no option but to borrow money to cover campaign expenses, you have one of three problems:

  • You’re spending too much/too early.  You don’t need an office, a website, or a paid staffer.  Those things are luxuries for candidates and campaigns that have proven their worth to their donor pool.
  • You’re a weak fundraiser.  If you – not your fundraising coordinator, not your campaign treasurer, but YOU, the candidate – can’t sit down in person with a high-dollar donor and ask for $5,000 or more without a shred of guilt or shame, then you have a serious campaigning problem.  In the end it will be you responsible for the bills.  It has to be you who brings in the money.
  • You’ve under-planned.  If you don’t focus enough time and energy in the first days/weeks/months of your campaign planning exactly how you’re going to win, what tools, people and resources you’ll need, and precisely how much all of that is going to cost, you will begin to flounder.  Your success, both logistical and financial, is completely dependent upon excellent campaign planning.

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How to Run for Congress – Dealing with PACs, Lobbyists and Interest Groups

When you’re first starting out, it’s a good idea to reach out to PACs (who work for issues you support) for campaign donations and endorsements.  But in just a few short weeks, you’ll probably be inundated with surveys asking your opinion on things you’ve never even heard of, let alone formed an opinion on.  It’s a good idea to assign someone to fill these forms out.  Most PACs won’t support you, financially or otherwise, without answering the surveys.  And since you’re the candidate, you can answer questions however you want.  If there are questions you can’t even begin to address, because they are so complicated or into the minutia of an issue you’ve never considered before, feel free to leave those blank.  But always fill them out and send them in.

Lobbyists, special interest groups and PACs won’t really be something you’ll have to deal with head on unless your candidate has a real shot at winning – so if they’re trailing you at least it means you’re on the right track.  There are a handful of ways PACs may choose to help you:

  • Direct campaign donations – some PACs and special interest groups choose to give all the candidates who ‘score’ a certain percentage on their surveys a set amount of money as a donation.
  • Donations with strings – if a PAC is particularly interested in your race, it may give you $XXX specifically for radio ads, or for a mail piece that they help design.  The ad will still have your political disclaimer on it, but they’ll want tons of input since their fronting the cash.
  • In-kind donations with really thick strings – Sometimes, very rarely, a PAC or interest group will get really involved, and even send people to run your campaign for you (I used to be that person).  This can be a fantastic boost, but remember that, if you choose to accept the help, their loyalty lies with the special interest, not your campaign.  Sometimes these folks try to make your campaign all about their pet issue – even if it’s not a good message match for your race/district.
  • Indirect expenditures – some PACs choose to support you, create and send a mail piece bashing the hell out of your opponent, and you won’t find out until it hits your mailbox, or your neighbor’s.  It’s totally legal for PACs to ‘support’ you, even if you don’t like their negative message, as long as you’re completely in the dark about it.

The good news is, if you don’t know anything about independent expenditures you don’t like, you can rightfully say “I had nothing to do with this ad and I denounce its negative tone altogether!”  Just make sure any PACs you are associated with know how you feel.  That way they won’t take it personally when you condemn their dirty behavior.  Whether you like it or not, negative campaigning is very effective.  (For the record, I am NOT a fan of negative campaigning).

Finally, make sure that the amount of money you receive doesn’t exceed the $5,000 PAC limit.  The PAC should be watching this closely, but it’s you who’ll get all the negative press if you mess up.

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