Running For Office – Raising the Money

fundraisingBy Larry D Miller –

As idealistically as we would like to look at public service, politics and political campaigns run on money. How much you need depends on the level of office you seek, the finances of your competition and the nature of your local economy and broadcast market. Whatever your aspiration, it has been said correctly, money is the mothers’ milk of politics. The purpose of this piece is not to consider the propriety of this situation, but to help you work within the real world constraints of the system.

Unless you are independently wealthy or running unopposed, don’t even think of attempting to self finance your campaign. Even in these cases, it cannot be viewed as the optimum financial plan. When you raise money from supporters you are not going to them, hat in hand, asking them to do something nice for you and give you money. Instead, you are giving them the opportunity to make their community and possibly their world a better place to live and influence the governmental philosophy by which policy decisions are made. You are not selling influence, but you are looking for like minded people who would like to see your policies implemented.

The implication here is that you have thought through your reasons for seeking the office before making your first call. Not only do you know why your are running, but have put it together into in a coherent and understandable presentation. Nothing turns off a potential donor quicker than a candidate who does not know what he is doing. Putting your plan on a single sheet of paper helps you focus on the main points and cull out the extraneous material.

The next thing you will need is a budget. If you are new to the political scene, getting some help here is essential as quantities and prices of materials almost invariable provide a shock treatment to the neophyte. A reasonable and responsible budget is an essential tool for gaining support from those who have the money and understand its use as a tool in accomplishing goals, and it shows that you understand the value of their contribution.

When you first begin your campaign, plan on spending about three quarters of your time on fund raising. Your first impulse is to just go out pouncing on voters. When you contact voters, you will need literature and other campaign materials including signs, possibly media buys if appropriate. All this costs money. Where will it come from? Not from what’s left of your 401(k)… not from mortgaging your home… but from supporters. If you don’t have supporters, you won’t have too many votes either. It’s fine to plant a few hundred to a few thousand dollars seed money to get things started, but a successful campaign is built around many people multiplying the efforts of the candidate himself. Everyone who writes you a check becomes a supporter with an emotional investment in your ultimate victory… so when you win, don’t forget the thank yous and don’t be afraid to share the glory.

It may be counter-intuitive, but it’s best to start out with people you know who can write the big checks. It could be someone you know from Lions, Rotary or you church. You may never have had any kind of in-depth conversation, but at least they know who you are. This doesn’t mean they know everything about you, so be prepared to fill in the gaps. Put together a brief biographical sketch outlining your successes and applicable achievements. Take this, your budget and the page outlining your goals for the office and put it into a packet with other literature such as newspaper articles about you or your hot button issue, letters to the editor you may have written and campaign literature you may have at the time. Keep it looking professional, but don’t make them too gold plated. This is your resume and prospectus. Give them this package. Let them look through it without interrupting their thoughts. They will ask questions if they have any.

Ask for an appointment to sit down and talk about your candidacy. Don’t just grab them and stick your materials in their hand. Let them know this is something important you need to talk with them about. Keep in mind you complementing these people by asking for their advice and financial support. Don’t be afraid of asking for more than they can give. They will tend to be flattered. Whatever you think they can give, double it. If you want five hundred dollars, ask for a thousand. They may just give it to you. On the other hand, if they can’t you may well still get three to six hundred dollars and they will feel good that you thought they could write a check that large.

When you have the check in your hand, ask if they have 2 or 3 friends or acquaintances with similar values that might also want to help you accomplish whatever goal you set out in your materials. Get their names and phone numbers. Then, and this is the point that makes the whole thing work, ask they they would mind phoning these people to let them know you will be calling to set up an appointment with them. If this sounds intimidating, the first one or two may be, but if you are sincere about your desire to serve, keep your eye on the goal. It’s part of the price of admission.

In addition to their financial support, ask if you can list them publicly as endorsing your candidacy. Some will say yes and some won’t depending on the sensitivity of the issues and their position in the community.

While you are pursuing the large donor track, ask other like minded people to host what is commonly called a “meet ‘n greet” in their home or business. These are usually simple events with light refreshments, coffee and soft drinks. It’s best not to have alcohol to keep it business like. After a brief introduction by the host, the candidate should give the ten to fifteen minute version of the stump speech concluding with a short Q&A session followed by an invitation to become part of the campaign team. Ask those that appear to be interested in what you are doing if they could help with a $25 or $50 check. It’s good to have bumper stickers, literature, yard signs, etc. available as election day approaches. When your are finished with the formal presentation, mingle and make some new friends. Don’t be afraid to ask these people to host a party of their own. Politics is a people business.

This may seem like a lot of effort for a few small checks, but these small checks represent the backbone of your campaign effort. The people that write these smaller checks will tell their friends about you… and they too have an emotional interest in you victory on election day. They may turn out to be the ones knocking on doors or working the polls for you.

As spring turns to summer for a November election, you can back off to about half your time spent on fund raising and mid to end of August back to a quarter of your time. It really is a never ending, but necessary process.

To make the most of this whole process, everyone you meet should be added to your mailing list… preferably, emailing list, both for the cost and the immediacy of the message. Send them campaign updates, event schedules and invitations. With every piece, email or snail mail, include the opportunity to contribute more. In the email either include a PayPal link or a link back to the donation page on your web site. And yes, a web site is essential to getting your message out, but that’s a story for another day.

One last thing, one essential member of your campaign team is the treasurer. This person needs to be someone you trust implicitly as, depending on the level of office, some pretty large amounts will be flowing through the account. This person must be detail oriented to get the myriad of reports filed correctly and on time. This is one way the pros keep the amateurs out of the game. While it may not be fatal, you do not need press coverage of contribution irregularities distracting the public from your message.

Larry D Miller is a web developer who has been involved in the political world for the past twenty some years. His company, Simple Webs, works with organizatins and candidates and can be seen at [http://www.simplewebs.biz] and his current project, http://www.politicalchristian.org examines the relationship between Christians and the political sphere.

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