This is the complete guide to political fundraising. 

Table of Contents

Introduction

What is the cost of running for political office, and when do I need to raise the money?

Potential candidates often find themselves wondering how to run for office with no money. The truth? You can’t. Money is essential. Even grassroots candidates who run successful campaigns—such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who raised more than $2.1 million in her first race—have to work diligently from the very beginning to secure funding when running for political office. In 2020, the average senate campaign raised $43 million. The average congressional campaign raised $2.39M These numbers vary, of course—by state, by contribution limits, and by the competitiveness of the race that cycle. But you can look up the actual amount raised for a campaign at the federal level via FEC.gov, at the state level at your Secretary of State’s site, and at your local level through the City Clerk. In some cases, candidate filings are posted on the city website. For a broader national picture, check the stats at FollowTheMoney.org, Candidates generally start campaigns up to two years before an election, though for some it may be a run-up of less than a year. If you’re like most candidates, other than collateral materials to support fundraising and investments in staff, the bulk of your fundraising dollars will be spent in the three months right before your election date. Depending on your budget, the media market you can leverage, and when you start spending on voter communication—such as TV, Radio, and digital ads, mailers, pamphlets and door-hangers to support Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts—you will see resources rapidly deployed. That’s why early and aggressive fundraising strategies are critical to running a successful campaign. Here’s a quick example of a sample budget:
Candidate – 2020 Budget Updated 9/1/2020 Q3 2020 Q3 2020 Q3 2020
Category Type Detail Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
CONTRIBUTIONS
Contributions Individuals Individuals – Numero
Contributions Individuals Individuals – ActBlue
Contributions Individuals Individuals – Checks
Contributions PACs PACs
DISBURSEMENTS
Admin Staff Campaign Manager
Admin Office HQ
Admin Utilities Internet – HQ
Voter Contact Television Media Consultant
Voter Contact Digital Persuasion Digital Consultant
Voter Contact Direct Mail Mail Flight #1
Voter Contact GOTV Printing
Fundraising Finance Events Miami – September 15
Fundraising Postage Thank Yous
Fundraising Fundraising CRM Numero
Fundraising Email Acquisition Email Acquisition
TOTAL DISBURSEMENTS
CASH INFLOW / (OUTFLOW)
CUMULATIVE CASH INFLOW / (OUTFLOW)
You should spend as little as possible on operational costs such as a campaign office (for many first-time candidates, campaigns are run out of their homes) and keep staff costs under control based on your needs. The office you are running for, the competitiveness of your race, the level of name ID you have going into the race, your capacity to raise money, and other factors will help guide your staffing decisions. Key staff may include a campaign manager, fundraising consultant or finance director, and a field organizer. While you may need campaign management and fundraising support early in your race, your field operation will come into full swing about 90 days before the election. Having a written campaign budget is essential. Since fundraising can never be predicted, create a flexible budget. You want to have a realistic understanding of not only what your minimum raise needs to be to run a credible campaign but also the optimum scenario that would allow you to run the most effective and comprehensive campaign strategy. That means have both options mapped out, especially the latter. Expect to spend about 70% of your budget on voter communication. The remaining 30% will go to operations, including staff, office supplies, and (for larger campaigns) campaign office space. Signs, which can be expensive, should also be budgeted in that 30%. As with any budget, your campaign budget is only as valuable as your commitment to operating within it and raising what’s necessary to run an effective campaign.

Why do I need to raise so much money?

Raising money is helpful for two main reasons:

    1. Your ability to raise money distinguishes your campaign and defines your credibility as a candidate. Decisions will be made about who to support and endorse based on the financial strength of your campaign. Early on, when it’s hard to tell which candidate to back, an early indicator for seasoned donors, party leaders, local delegates, prospective campaign staff, and volunteers is the amount of money you have raised compared to other candidates in your primary.
    2. Effective political campaigns need a whole lot of things that cost money. Talented staff, seasoned consultants, well-designed communications, a compelling message, advertising and printed materials (signs, literature, stickers, hats, etc.), and ways to engage voters are essential to successfully securing the necessary votes to win. Retail politics is therefore an especially essential part of campaigning because it helps encourage voters to Get Out The Vote (GOTV). Regardless of how many hands you shake or doors you knock on as a candidate, media ads, mailers, and printed collateral materials are essential to help voters appreciate you as a candidate—your experience, your qualifications, and your policy positions. All of these factors are why political campaigns are so expensive.

What is the end of quarter (eoq) or end of reporting period, and how can I use it to raise more money?

Every campaign at the local, state, and federal level must file a public report with itemized expenses and campaign contributions to ensure each campaign is complying with campaign regulations. The reporting period for the amount a campaign has raised varies by race, but the two most common reporting periods are quarterly and semi-annually. While it’s tedious work for your staff and compliance teams, most campaigns use the end of reporting period—end of quarter (eoq) if you’re reporting periods are quarterly—to their advantage with a big push at the end of a quarter or every six months to raise money to reach a certain goal. Contributing to a campaign is generally a low priority on a donor’s to-do list, so using the end of the reporting period to encourage donors to make contributions can be very effective. Creating a sense of urgency is a great way to inspire your donors to take action. It’s also helpful to remind donors that the amount you raise impacts your viability. Party leaders, delegates, elected officials, and others who offer endorsements will be studying the numbers in your quarterly reports to see whether you’re the most viable candidate. Donors want to help you reach your goal. Accordingly, the last two weeks before your reporting period will likely be your most productive time for fundraising, so be sure to dedicate more time to fundraising calls and events during this period.

4 Common Political Fundraising Ideas and Methods

How are political campaigns funded?

Political campaigns are funded in four ways—and yours is no different.

    1. Calls: For political fundraising, call time is the most lucrative approach and should be a significant part of every political campaign. As a candidate, you should expect to spend 2–4 hours a day calling contacts and creating connections that will help bring funding into your campaign.
    2. Fundraising Events: Hosting an event in person creates opportunities to increase contributions and network with other potential donors. Guests donate to attend with the chance to increase their contributions after you’ve presented the best argument for your candidacy.
    3. Virtual Events: COVID-19 has forced many of us to adapt to how we socialize and host events. Online fundraising events give you the chance to safely host events and raise money—all while demonstrating that you’re a good fit for meeting the needs of the community/communities you’ll represent once in office.
    4. Grassroots Campaigns: Grassroots campaigns rely on smaller individual contributions, which helps with community outreach and is more compatible with online political fundraising efforts, such as social media marketing.

How to Target what you Need to Win

There’s no “one size fits all” in political campaigns. Where you’re running, the office you’re seeking, the political and social demographics of the electorate, whether you’re challenging an incumbent, and many other factors all influence the campaign plan you will create and follow. You should expect to do call time every day. Budget 2–4 hours a day for call time in the early stage of your campaign. When you’re a first-time candidate, there’s a learning curve, and successful “asks” in the early stage create the foundation for the more aggressive fundraising efforts to follow. Don’t expect people to pick up and answer. Be prepared with a script to leave a voicemail. For close friends, family, and business associates who are likely donors, you may want to follow the voicemail up with a text that lets them know you left a voicemail and would love to connect with them to talk about your campaign. It’s advisable to include a website link with a message like “I’m on a fundraising deadline. To donate or learn more about the campaign, go to…” You should plan to spend 10–30 hours per week calling people to support your campaign with contributions. A script will help focus your calling and maximize your time. You may make 20 calls in an hour with 3–5 connections. Keep the focus on the campaign. It’s easy, especially with family and friends, to veer into more personal subjects. While that will definitely be more fun than targeting your fundraising message, it will be far less productive and consume valuable time. If you’re like most first-time candidates, fundraising is a new and uncomfortable task. The best way to get good at something is by doing it, and campaign fundraising is no different. Every single conversation you have with a donor will help you refine your pitch. Yes, you’ll have to push beyond your resistance, but without risk, there is no reward—and without money, you have no campaign. Early outreach pays off. Most donors are willing to talk with you 12–18 months before your election date—once your campaign is launched. Besides the obvious benefit of raising needed campaign funds, donor outreach also helps you learn about the issues on people’s minds, particularly when you’re reaching out to donors in your district. Plus, you may discover someone has expertise you can leverage or even have some donors offer their homes for fundraising events. Let’s say you’re speaking to the owner of a local solar roof installation company. They would be a great resource on local regulations and statistics about the number of homes and offices choosing to invest in renewable energy sources. When you can gather information from interactions with donors and constituents, that information can later be woven into remarks you make at an event or rally. Information aside, good fundraising numbers build your credibility, and building credibility enhances your campaign at every level. The more you look and act the part, the more people will accept you as a legitimate candidate. The more you act like you command the office you’re seeking, the more people will believe you can serve effectively. The more donors, endorsers, and supporters you attract, the more viable your campaign will appear to other potential donors, endorsers, and supporters. Finally, attitude is everything. When you believe you can win, you’re halfway there. Will it be easy? No. Nothing worth pursuing ever is. Does hard work and dedicated effort pay off? Absolutely. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but if you give 100%—every single day—and make the credibility and the integrity of your campaign the centerpiece of your mission as a candidate, you will produce results. It’s all about relationships and how those relationships are translated into money and votes.

How do Political Candidates Identify Potential Donors?

Who do I ask for money? Who do I call? Who contributes to political campaigns?

Every single friend, family member, and acquaintance you have contact information for are people you should be asking to donate to your campaign. Here’s the best way to think about it: as long as you’re running, you have social permission to call people without it being an emergency.

Additionally, you can also think about it as the one year in your life where you get to catch up with everyone in your extremely extended network. It’s a blessing and changes your perspective on how you spend your days. Who wouldn’t want to catch up with all of their friends and long-lost acquaintances for a year?

You’ll also want to call others who you may have never met but where you have some form of connection. We’ll discuss that in another section.

How do I ask for donations?

Asking your friends, family, and strangers for money is hard. It’s hard because, historically, if you asked someone for help, it was generally for yourself—and now you’re applying that same mindset and have that same guilt in your political fundraising. Accordingly, you may feel like you’re putting a relationship at risk. But you’re wrong. Think of it as offering them an opportunity to invest in better leadership.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you’re not asking for money for yourself—you’re running for office to fight for the policies and ideals that your family, friends, or strangers care about. You need to remind yourself that you are not personally benefiting from the money you raise. You’re not using it to buy yourself new clothes, paying for a vacation, or spending it on a new car. You’re using the money to fight for what you—and your donors—believe in. That’s an incredibly noble cause to take on and one worth contributing to.

Your donors understand that more than you do. That’s why they’re donating. So when you get uncomfortable making that ask, remind yourself that you’re asking for money to fight for a cause that donors believe in—not for your personal gain. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You’re sacrificing to fight for this cause.

You’re not getting paid to run for office. You’re putting a strain on your family and friends as you’re likely spending every waking minute working to get elected. You’re probably not eating, exercising, or sleeping as well as you normally would, and you no longer have weekends or vacations that you can take.

You should also be prepared to put some of your own money into the race. Asking other people for money is easier when you have skin in the game too. Personal loans can be paid back with funds raised, but remember that you’re personally responsible for the financial obligations of the campaign. That means you need to pay any creditors before paying yourself back.

What should I know about a donor before calling? What is donor research, and why is it important?

Before you call a potential supporter of your campaign, you should know some basic facts about them to help you guide the call to a successful ask. That’s where donor research comes in.

You should know whether donors live in your district to see how you being elected will impact them. What industry do they work in, and what company do they work for? These details may give you a clue about what interests them or what common interests you share.

It can also be helpful to know what college donors attended and what they majored in as you may have gone to the same school or have friends that attended the school at the same time as potential donors. You can generally find such information by quickly looking at a donor’s LinkedIn page before calling them, which has the added benefit of allowing you to see if you have any friends in common.

Your goal is to find as many common points with the person as possible when starting the call, which helps build trust and rapport. Why should they care about you or your race?

In addition to finding ways to build rapport, you should know a person’s contribution, or giving history to determine the appropriate ask amount.

What is a giving history, and how do I find a donor’s giving history?

Giving history is the history of a donor’s political contributions to other campaigns and to non-profits.

All past political contributions are public. You can find giving history for people you know by manually searching federal (FEC donor search), state, or local government sites that publish this information.

This research can take hundreds of hours and is meticulously conducted by your call time manager or finance director. Alternatively, software companies like Numero can automate the process, automatically showing you giving histories for all your contacts and freeing your staff to worry about other areas of your campaign.

Pro Tip: In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to download the donation list of a candidate and start calling their donors for money, so please be aware of local rules and regulations before you do so. Some of the data fed into these public repositories is fake to catch those using this data for fundraising.

However, you are legally allowed to review past donor histories for people already on your calling list.

How do I use giving history to my advantage?

Knowing your potential supporter’s giving history will help you understand how comfortable they feel giving to candidates, how frequently they support candidates, and the types of candidates they support (i.e., women, veterans, progressives, BIPOC, or LGBTQA+ candidates; candidates in a specific geography; etc.). Knowing what candidates a person traditionally supports can help you focus on the policies and issues that are most important to your potential donor.

Looking at their past contributions can also help you understand what they will feel comfortable donating. Knowing how much they give helps you understand the level at which they typically give so that you know you’re not asking for too little or too much. Start with the highest amount they can legally and comfortably give and then work down from there if necessary.

For example, have they made a political contribution or non-profit contribution before—if so, how much, and with what frequency? If they’ve made a lot of political contributions before, they’ll likely know why they should donate to a candidate and how it will positively impact them. In those situations, you can focus on building rapport instead.

Are donor bios important? How do I create donor bios?

Having a bio of the donor you’re about to call is incredibly helpful in making an instant connection with that person so that you have the opportunity to talk with them. Donor bios are generally created by your finance director or call time manager.

Bios are vital for a key reason: most people are skeptical of cold calls, especially during the first call, so you’ll only have a few seconds to make an impression.

A good donor bio helps you make a connection in the first 15 seconds so that you can talk to the potential donor for the next 5–10 minutes. However, make sure you use the information in a way that does not feel creepy or invasive.

A good bio includes background information on where the prospect went to school, where they work, what policies they’re most interested in, the name of their spouse or children, candidates they’ve also donated to, and any other relevant connections to you that would be helpful to bring up during the conversation. Topics to avoid should also be included.

Here’s an example of a good donor bio:

Kent Davidson is a former Strategist for President Hughes and Meyer. MIT Graduate (mathematics and musicology). on Statistics Magazine’s “30 under 30” list when he was 29 and fluent in sign language. Davidson last contributed $500 to the campaign on 9/12/2020 for a total of $1,250.

Using the example bio above, if you went to the same school, you can lead with “Hey, Jim, it’s always great to connect with a fellow UCLA Bruin.” Or if you have a mutual friend, you could say “Hey, Susie, I’m a mutual friend of Shelly Wyatt’s.”

Where are good places to find phone numbers and emails? What are the best donor prospect research tools?

Most people start by Googling potential donor names to try and find public records with their email addresses or phone numbers. Many companies and universities have public directories with employee and alumni contact information.

If you can’t find contact info in a Google search, the next step is looking up the information at WhitePages.com or other directories. These may cost some money, but it’s generally worth the investment.

You can also try to guess their email address, for example, by searching for addresses like [email protected] or [email protected] domain.

When you strike out on your own, donor prospect research tools can help you find the information you need. For instance, different services exist to help you guess people’s email addresses. Here are a few of those services:

hunter.io

Phone numbers can be harder to find, but if WhitePages.com doesn’t have the phone number you need, you can also try calling the main phone number of the potential donor’s company and ask to be transferred to the person.

The best donor prospect research tools include the sites below:

What is a call list, and how do I create a call list?

A call list is a list of people you will call during a call time session. Call time sessions can be between 2–4 hours. Take a 5-minute break at the end of each hour.

Most candidates generally seem to like themed call lists, so they can get in the zone on that theme. Themes can be “college friends, max-out donors, small-dollar donors, voters in district, donors in a particular city, donors in a particular industry, donors with certain policy interests, etc. Candidates typically like a themed list because it helps them have a consistent pitch that they can refine while working through the list. Imagine how much harder it is to jump from one topic to another every minute as you call another person, versus staying on the same topic with each donor for an hour.

Call lists are generally created and stored in a donor database like Numero. The lists can be built based on themes by doing searches on donor bios, contact codes, when they last donated, when someone from the campaign last spoke with them, etc.

How do I conduct donor research?

Donor research consists of two things, a bio and their giving history.

Pro Tip: You can generally create a bio by reviewing a potential donor’s LinkedIn page to see what school they attended, what companies they’ve worked for, what jobs they’ve held, and any mutual connections you have with them.

If you happen to know their spouse or kids’ names, it’s good to write those down as well, so you can ask how they’re doing by name.

Giving history for a person you know can come from a number of sources. For instance, giving histories can be learned from research in publicly available databases of political contributions history, such as the FEC donor search, OpenSecrets.org or FollowTheMoney.org. Such information also comes packaged with political fundraising software like Numero, NationBuilder, CallTime, or NGP VAN

How do I prepare my contacts when running for political office? What can I do to prepare for running for office?

When crowdfunding for a political campaign, reach out to your contacts after completing fundraising from your friends and family.

Your contacts live in four places: your cellphone’s address book (on either iPhone or Android phones), your email software’s address book (Gmail, etc.), LinkedIn, and other social networks you may use. To combine all of this data, you can paste all your contacts into a spreadsheet, or you can buy ContactsPlus and upload all your contacts there. ContactsPlus will then go through and help you merge all of your duplicates.

You should then create three lists: one for everyone you have a complete set of information for, one of everyone who doesn’t have an email address, and one of everyone who doesn’t have a phone number. Next, you’ll need to start doing donor research (as explained earlier) to find phone numbers or email addresses.

Finally, once you’ve found all the missing information you can, compile all the contacts for which you have all contact information for into one cohesive list.

How do I create a potential donor list?

Once you’ve pulled together your list of contacts, you can now create your potential donors list. To do this, export your entire list of contacts into a spreadsheet, create a column for the expected amount you can ask for, and type an amount for each potential donor in the list, a number based on X.

Depending on the number of contacts you have, this could be up to a day of work—yes, it’s boring and tedious, but this process will give you a sense of how much you can raise from your network. Having that information is helpful for your campaign consultants because they can start to evaluate the type of campaign you’ll need to run to win. If you can raise a lot of money, then you have the flexibility to spend heavily on advertising (digital, TV, radio, signs, stickers, etc.). And if the amount you can raise is on the lower end, it will help you and your campaign think through a more grassroots strategy to win.

You should aim to identify 3–5 anchor amounts. For example, for a federal campaign with a combined limit (primary and general) contribution of $5,600, potential anchor amounts could be set at $5,600, $2,800, $1,000, $500, and $250. Reaching out to donors for lower than $250 donations for a federal race should be done via a personal or mass email.

US political contribution limits (federal elections)

Source: Federal Election Commission

How to Raise Money from Call Time(includes a fundraising call script)

What is call time?

Call time is the time during your day when you call potential donors to your campaign. It’s usually done in blocks of 2–4 hours almost every day of your campaign.

You, your finance director, or call time manager will prepare a list of people to call—ideally with a small bio, ask amount, and donor history (cultivated as previously described)—and then you call through the entire list.

Most people will not pick up the call, so you’ll likely try to call between 40–60 people an hour but only directly talk with 2–5 people during that time. When you speak to a potential donor, it will take between 5–15 minutes.

OUR FUNDRAISING CALL SCRIPT ALSO INCLUDES SEVERAL SUGGESTIONS TO HELP END A FUNDRAISING CALL [lead gen’]

How long should you talk to a prospective donor?

There are two different perspectives regarding how long you should spend on a call.

    1. One school of thought is that you should not let conversations go longer than 5 minutes so that you can reach as many potential donors as possible.
    2. The other school of thought is that you should talk to a donor as long as you can—the longer they talk with you, the more they’re invested in you and the more it increases the likelihood they’ll not only donate but also donate at a higher level. It also demonstrates to the donor that you care and that you take what they’re saying seriously.

You’ll have more success with talking to each donor for as long as you’d like, for three reasons. First, it’s rare to get someone on the phone, so when you do, you should really invest in that conversation to build an authentic relationship. Second, no one feels good when you rush them off the phone—the better they feel after the call, the more likely they are to donate. Third, everyone’s time is limited, so as the amount of time they invest in you increases, so does the likelihood they’ll donate, which should help give you the courage to ask for a higher contribution.

When people commit, offer to take their credit card. People are more likely to act—in this case, to donate to your campaign—if you make things easier for them.

How many calls should I make to meet my fundraising goals?

You’ll likely spend 10–30 hours per week calling people to support your campaign with contributions. Each hour you should be making 40–60 calls and talking to 2–5 people.

Yes, this is a lot of time to be talking to potential donors, but here are some positives.

Most donors are, again, willing to talk with you 12–18 months before your election date, and every conversation you have with a donor will help you refine your pitch as a candidate.

Ideally your donors are in your district, so not only are you talking to donors, you’re also hearing about issues in your district and gaining expertise on issues where the potential supporter may know more than you on a particular issue.

For example, say you’re calling the owner of a local solar roof installation company. You could ask them how local regulations are increasing or decreasing the number of homes and offices choosing to invest in renewable energy sources. If the story makes sense, you can then use that as an example in a campaign speech you give to voters about why you have chosen to support or reject a local policy.

In other words, while it’s frustrating that you initially have to spend a lot of time talking to donors, if you’re smart about it, you can use that time to form your own opinion about local issues as you talk with more people in your community about the issues they care about.

When do I call? What time of day?

It’s best to not call people before 9 AM or after 8 PM their time on weekdays, and before 10 AM or after 5 PM on a weekend. While statistically some times are better to call than others, there isn’t a magic time to call an individual—most people will pick up when they can and won’t when they’re busy or in a meeting.

Pro Tip: Are you a morning person or an evening person? When do you have the most amount of energy? Calling donors for money takes a lot of energy, and if you’re not a morning person and you call donors in the morning, your calls will likely be less effective. The energy you give off can be felt by the donor, so try and schedule calls when you naturally have the most amount of energy.

What does good call time look like?

You should be calling 40–60 potential donors each hour, and you should talk to at least 2–5 people per hour. But ultimately, it’s how much you raise each hour, and that’s a number you can figure out pretty quickly.

For example, if you need to raise $50K a month and you do 3 hours of call time per day, 5 days a week, you’ll need to raise $833/hour. If you’re above that figure, you’re doing well, and if you’re below it, you may need to increase the number of hours you spend making calls each day.

Keep in mind, though, that all numbers are relative. If you’re running in a local race, a small district, or a low-resourced city or state, your numbers are likely to look much different (i.e., much lower).

Whatever your fundraising targets, you’ll likely be tempted to procrastinate and take your time between each call, which will only reduce the number of people you call. Instead, you can stay on track by identifying a target number of potential contributors you need to call each hour and then reward yourself with 5 minutes to check Twitter, read an article, or move around after you’ve made the required number of calls.

Pro Tip: Do not wait until the last two weeks of a reporting period to do call time. The reason is simple. The odds of getting anyone on the phone are very low. You need to call someone multiple times to catch them at the right time for them to answer. The more times you call throughout your campaign, the more they respect how much their support means to the campaign. If you’re trying to call them for the first time two weeks before the reporting period, you likely won’t have their respect, nor will you get the contribution the campaign needs. Instead, create a call time rhythm.

Why do I need to call people for money? Can’t I just email (text) them?

Call time is generally used to ask donors for $250 or more for state and national races. Local races might seek less money per contribution. Whatever the case, people are generally not sitting around waiting to donate to your campaign if you email or text them. You have to show them that their support truly helps you to run for office and win.

You can follow up with texts and emails once they’ve made a pledge to make a contribution to your campaign, but if they don’t follow-through with donations after your follow-up text messages and calls, you’ll need to follow up with more calls.

Calling someone shows the ultimate level of importance. Oftentimes, for instance, your friends will jokingly ask who died when you call them after a long period of no contact. In other words, a personal call means you’re calling for something important.

Also, if you’re asking for someone to give your campaign anywhere between $250–$10,000 (these numbers may change if you’re running for local office), that’s a major purchasing decision. People spend hours laboring over the right fridge, TV, couch, or computer to buy, and their donation is likely to be in that equivalent price range. Given that, you need to call them to talk them through why it’s important they invest in your campaign.

What kind of notes or information should I collect during call time?

You should record whether or not you spoke with the potential donor. If you spoke with them, you should record whether they offered a contribution. If so, record whether they made a “hard” commitment (i.e., they said they would absolutely donate) or a “soft” commitment (i.e., they said they’d donate, but they need to check with a spouse or figure out a few other things before they can make the contribution).

Another detail to record is whether they are willing to host a fundraiser for you. And if so, do they have other friends who they’d like to fundraise with?

You should also record anything notable—Are certain policy issues important to them? Do they have an upcoming life event that’s taking up their time or is important to them? Perhaps a child’s graduation, a vacation, or transitioning to a new job? The more information you have, the more you can reference in your next call with them.

How often should I call a donor?

Calling a donor once a week is fine until you get a chance to talk with them. If you’re chasing a pledge they made to give to your campaign and it’s the final two weeks before a reporting period ends, you can call up to multiple times a week. Political campaign tools like Numero can help you track pledges.

🔥  Pro-Tip

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Call Time Strategies

What should I include in my pitch? (call script example included)

When building your pitch, remember it’s not about you. It’s about what you will do for the people when elected, why you believe you can win, and why the prospect should care about your race.

The biggest mistakes candidates make is talking about themselves and talking too much. Instead, they should be trying to find ways to connect with the donor, and they should be listening more than they talk. The secret to successful political fundraising is the longer the potential donor talks, the higher the likelihood they’ll contribute. The reason? Everyone is busy. If they’re choosing to invest time in you by sharing their concerns about various policy issues, they’ll likely donate to support your campaign.

Here’s an example script of a pitch:

“Hi, Mike—this is John Smith—it’s always great to connect with a fellow Bruin. I’m a former Obama White House Senior Advisor running for Congress in the most flippable seat in the country. I know you’re an expert on renewable energy, and I wanted to hear your thoughts on renewable energy policy. Fighting for policies that reduce climate change is important to me, and I wanted to hear from the experts.”

Now pause, and don’t say a word. The pause may get uncomfortable, but let them collect their thoughts before they start talking. They’re trying to determine whether it’s worth taking 5–10 minutes out of their schedule to talk with you. They’re likely flattered that you called them and consider them an expert. They’re also likely impressed that you’re running for office. The sooner you try and jump in during the silence, the more they feel like you’re trying to sell them, so just sit tight. Let them start talking when they’re ready.

Once they start talking, listen to every word they say, but don’t immediately respond to show off your expertise. Instead, just listen. Let them talk. Once they’ve finished talking (5–10 minutes), carefully reference a few points they said to make sure they know you heard them. If you agree with some of their points, let them know, but if you really want to show them that you were listening and value their expertise, ask them questions about what they said. Was there something you didn’t understand that they can clarify? Was there a story or anecdote they referenced that you want them to dive deeper on? Remember that anecdotes are very valuable for your stump speeches when talking with voters.

Then, at a certain point during the call, generally about 10–15 minutes in, they’ll stop and ask about you and the campaign. There’s a natural, human tension/humility where a person realizes they’ve monopolized the conversation and feels guilty about not asking you any questions.

Once they’ve asked you a question, they’ve given you permission to share more about you and your campaign, and you can now naturally ask them to support you as you fight for the issues you’ve both discussed. Building trust and having permission makes a big difference in whether people donate to your campaign and believe in you.

How much should I ask for? How do I use information about a political donor to help me ask?

There are a few ways you can determine what to ask for:

    • If they’ve made a contribution before, make your ask at the highest amount that they’ve contributed.
    • If they’ve never made a contribution before, you can look up the value of their home (if relevant) on a site like Zillow or Redfin, or what their approximate salary is on Glassdoor.

It’s helpful to have three to five anchor contribution levels. At the federal level, for example, that could be $5,600, $2,800, $1,000, and $500.

Additionally, as the conversation progresses, you should have a sense for how excited they are about your campaign to help you revise your anchor ask up or down.

Pro Tip: Always ask one level above what you feel comfortable asking. Ironically, asking for a higher amount is actually a compliment. The higher your ask, the more you appear to think they earn, so they won’t be offended. Asking one level above also gives you room to go down a level.

How do I ask strangers for money on a cold call? (cold call)

You should never feel like you’re making a cold call. You, your finance director, or your call time manager should have done enough research to find a connection between you and the person you’re calling. Having a mutual contact, working in the same industry, having a friend who works at the same company, believing in the same policy, attending the same college—whatever it is, find something, anything to help bridge the gap.

Think about the last time you met a stranger at a party or an event. The first 60 seconds are usually spent trying to find a common connection—schools, neighborhoods, work, friends, colleagues, etc.—and from there, you build rapport to then discuss other things. This dynamic is what you’re trying to accelerate with a cold call.

Many of the institutional donors will evaluate your pitch—most are so used to candidates who only talk at them and they’re impressed when they hear a curious candidate humble enough to ask questions of the donor and want to learn.

Some may not donate immediately, but your goal is to build rapport and invite them to a fundraising event. That will allow them to see you in action and see how others respond to you. You can then call them after the fundraiser and hear their thoughts on the event. On the same call, you can then mention an article you read about a topic you discussed and ask how they feel about it.

Should I use call time to thank donors?

Some days you just can’t bring yourself to make another ask. That’s perfectly fine—you’re not a robot. Instead, once a month it’s worth calling donors and just thanking them for their support without a subsequent ask. It feels good to share gratitude and just talk to people without the expectation of asking them for money and your donors will appreciate it too and sometimes they even suggest a valuable friend of theirs that you should call for support.

How do I use a newsworthy event to my advantage during call time?

Every 2–3 weeks it’s helpful to update your pitch to donors with a recent noteworthy and timely current event that demonstrates why your expertise would be of value in office. Help prospects see how far you’ve come and how they can help you reach your goal.

For example, if you’re a technology expert, you can use a public hearing with tech execs where the elected officials seem out of their depth as an example of why you’re needed in office. If you’re a veteran and there’s an elected official who misses the mark when it comes to veterans’ issues or affairs, you should lean into your experience to demonstrate why you would better serve that community. Your pitch needs to reinforce why your election should matter to donors.

The value in updating your pitch shows you’re paying attention to current events, but more importantly, it gives the donor something to reflect on and share when the newsworthy topic comes up with their friends. You’re also helping the donor—you’re giving them something they can tell their friends and family to make them look and feel good AND interesting.

What am I selling? What will convince people to donate to my political campaign?

If people are giving you money, you’re selling something. But when asked what they’re selling, most candidates mostly get the answer wrong. Some will say they’re selling their leadership on policies. Some will say they’re selling their experience and expertise. Others will say they’re selling the opportunity to flip a seat. All of these answers are wrong.

What you’re really selling is a remarkable story—something the supporter can tell their friends and family to make the supporter look and feel good AND interesting.

If supporters can support you with a $250 contribution or higher, they have money and likely have some form of power, as do many of their friends. What sets them apart, and what they are looking to buy, is an interesting story.

This shouldn’t be news to you—the most successful brands in the world are successful because they’ve managed to tell the best story in their respective industries. Sure, they must also have great products, but there are tens of thousands of candidates calling supporters for money, and many of them have incredible experiences, credentials, and policy leadership. So what will set you apart from the rest? Your story. A story the supporter can retell to their friends and family.

For example, imagine two different pitches.

Pitch No. 1: “Hi, I’m Susie Smith, and I’m running for congress. I will fight for Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, and workers’ rights; combat climate change and homelessness; and take care of our veterans. I need your support to win this election. Will you support my campaign with a $250 contribution?”

While the policies are great, almost every single other democrat can call this donor and say the exact same thing, which makes it less memorable and less repeatable.

Instead, consider the second pitch:

Pitch No. 2: “Hi, I’m Susie Smith and I’m running for Congress to flip the most flippable seat in the country. XYZ has said that if this seat flips Congress will flip. I’m impressed by your work on climate change. When I worked in the White House under President Obama, I led the Climate Change initiative. Before I worked at the White House, I served in the Peace Corps and started one of the largest phone companies in Nicaragua to use technology to help the rural poor. In fact, I’m running because I believe we need more technologists in Congress. Right now, only 4% of our members of congress have a technology background, and yet that is the future of our economy. How is technology and regulation positively and negatively impacting your fight against climate change?”

Pro Tip: You don’t need to share your position on every policy; just share the one that is most relevant to them. Share why their involvement in your race is important to not only your community but also the country.

You also share a few remarkable things about your past that pique the donor’s curiosity about you and your story—inviting them to ask more about you and giving them permission to share more.

You don’t want to tell them your whole biography, of course. Just share a few details that are relevant to the person and the policy area you want to focus on.

Lastly, you’re asking them to share their expertise and experience, something that everyone wants to share. They now have some really interesting facts about you that they find interesting enough to learn more for the potential of sharing it with others. They’ve also been invited into a conversation. And most importantly, you’ve stood out from other candidates.

The ask

Pro Tip: Candidates often ramble out of insecurity and make the ask in an overly long and roundabout way. You’ll have more success and project more confidence if you keep the ask super simple.

Here’s an example of a simple ask: “I’m so glad we agree on the fight against climate change. Campaigns are expensive, and I really need your support to win this race. Can I count on you for a $250 contribution?”

The pause

You will be tempted to continue talking—but doing so is the surest sign of insecurity about hearing a no. If you actually want the contribution, stay quiet. Don’t say a word. Silently count to 10. If they still don’t say anything, count to 10 again.

Eventually they will break the ice and give you a response. Pausing to let them respond shows confidence.

They need to know you truly need the money—that it will have a real impact—and to do that, you need to be confident. The longer your silence, the more confident you appear.

How do I turn a no into a yes?

You will hear more no’s than yes’s. That’s okay. You need to be okay with rejection and learn not to take it personally. You also need to understand that it’s easier to say no than yes, that a no is just the start of the conversation, and that a no, more often than not, can be an invitation to help a donor overcome some of their skepticism.

What do I say when someone tells me no? How do I overcome objections?

Here are some scenarios you are likely to encounter and how you can overcome someone’s objectives or push past an initial no.

Donor response: I have to speak to my partner.

A good response: “Are they available right now? I’d love to talk with them. If not, can you help me find time to talk with them? Or what’s their number?”

If they’re using their spouse as a shield but actually don’t need to get their approval, then this helps to flush that out. Alternatively, you could say, “I understand. Is there an amount that you can contribute without their permission?”

Donor response: I’m tapped out this election.

A good response: “I totally understand—I’m so grateful for all of your support to donors up and down the ticket. You truly are the best. If you weren’t tapped out, would you donate to my campaign? I’d love to keep you updated on the progress of my campaign— would you mind if I called you at the end of the month to give you an update?”

Showing persistence is important to showing them you truly do need their support and that it does matter. Most people will hear a no and just move on. You can differentiate yourself from most candidates by following up even after a potential done has said no.

Donor response: I’m waiting until the general (speaking to a candidate running in the primary elections).

A good response: “I understand. The opportunity to support our campaign in the primary allows you to exercise your say in who becomes the candidate in the general. All democrats aren’t created equal—I know how important climate change is to you, and I’d love the feedback you gave me. That’s the exact thing I will fight for. Has my opponent called you to discuss this issue? You know I will, and save my number in your phone—I’m available as a sounding board for your ideas.”

Donor response: I’m not very political, or I’ve never made a political contribution.

A good response: “Oh wow—I’d be so proud to be your first contribution. I have so many friends who weren’t political. And in fact, I wasn’t very political before this campaign as well, but as we discussed, this campaign could not be more important. We’re going to need to get everyone off the sidelines to win this election—from voting to donating.”

Donor response: I have a major expense this month

A good response: “I understand. I can relate to that. I haven’t taken a salary in months since launching my campaign. Would you mind if I called you next month to see if I could count on your support then?”

Donor response: I like you, but campaigns/politics are a waste of money

A good response: “Yes, I can see how you think that—in fact, I thought the same thing before running for office as well. But now that I’m in the thick of it, I’ve realized that campaigns watch their pennies really closely because every dollar counts. I personally review every expense for our campaign because I want your contribution to go even further to help advance the fight to reduce climate change. I was going to use your $250 to pay for pizza for our 50 volunteers phone banking tomorrow night. Can you believe that 50 volunteers can call 5,000 voters in one night? So that’s where your $250 will go—to reach 5,000 voters. That’s a pretty good return in my mind.”

Donor response: I’d rather donate to a charity because it’s tax deductible.

A good response: “Charities are important, and I’d never ask you to reduce your charitable contributions to support our campaign. One thing I’ve learned since running is that no one has a bigger budget than the federal government, and I plan on writing a bill to unlock $1 billion to fight climate change. Seems like a pretty good return on your $250 contribution to our campaign.”

How many no’s should I get before moving on?

You shouldn’t move on, no matter how many no’s you get, until a donor tells you to stop calling or emailing. They may not answer your call or return your email, but every time you remind them, you put your request for support back at the top of their to-do list. They’ll actually start to admire your persistence and recognize that you really do need their support to win.

You’d be surprised how many times the 13th or 14th call or email actually gets the contribution in, and the donor even sometimes apologizes for avoiding your calls and emails as they’ve just had a busy month.

The lesson here? Don’t ever give up. Yes, it’s awkward sometimes, but remember you’re not personally benefiting from the contribution you’re asking for. Donations are literally how all political campaigns are funded.

Pledges and Follow Up

What’s a pledge?

A pledge is a verbal or written commitment from a potential donor for a specific amount of money they will contribute to your campaign. Pledges are generally classified as a hard commitment or a soft commitment. If a donor says they will definitely donate $500 to your campaign this week, that is a hard commitment. If they say they think they can donate $500 but need to talk to their partner, that’s a soft commitment.

When somebody pledges support, ask something like “Can I make it simple for both of us and take your credit card information now?” You also want to confirm the donor’s email info so that others can effectively follow up.

You as the candidate, your finance director, or your call time manager needs to record in a spreadsheet or donor database the pledge and the level of commitment. That allows the campaign to accurately budget and plan. Generally, you can count on 90% of hard commitments and 50% of soft commitments.

Recording pledges in your donor database also allows you to build a call time list of people who have not fulfilled their contributions, so the campaign can follow up with the donor to make sure the actual contribution is made.

How should I follow up after a call to a potential donor?

You as the candidate, your finance director, or your call time manager should immediately follow up with an email that thanks the donor for taking the time to talk with you. Make a one-sentence reference to something that was important to the donor during the call, and then include a link to the contribution or information about the event you asked them to attend.

Pro Tip: Create a generic candidate email account that can be accessed by the finance staff so that they can send emails on your behalf.

Here’s a great example of a follow up email you can send to donors after calling:

Email:

Hey {SALUTATION} — Just tried reaching you. I wanted to follow up on our conversation about supporting the campaign. We’re two weeks away from our end of quarter deadline and 8 weeks away from the election. A contribution of {ASK} would go a long way in helping us get over the line.

The best place to make a contribution is https://secure.numero.ai/contribute/janedoe

Thanks so much!

-Jane

Get our follow-up email template

What’s a re-solicit?

A re-solicit is when you call someone to make another contribution to your campaign after they’ve already donated to your campaign at least once.

For example, if someone donated $250 last quarter, you can ask them for another $250 contribution the following quarter—potentially at the end of the quarter to help you reach your quarterly goal.

Alternatively, if they’ve donated $2,000, you could call them at the end of the quarter and ask them to finish their max-out with an $800 contribution to help you reach your goal.

If someone pledged $1,000 but ended up donating $500, you could call them at the end of the quarter and respectfully ask them to complete/upgrade their pledge by donating $500 to help you reach your goal.

A significant number of your donations will come from re-solicits. The fastest way to significantly increase donations is to ask people to double their donations. Couples can donate too, so successfully soliciting from both is also a great way to accelerate donations.

How frequently/many times do I need to follow up after I’ve received a pledge?

When following up after receiving a pledge, aim for once a week until they make their contribution and up to three times during the last week of the quarter. Remember that getting their credit card during the call rapidly increases the rate that contributions are received.

Pro Tip: Come up with something new to update them with about your campaign each time you reach out. Is there a new fundraising event, poll, or volunteer door-knocking stat you can share? Could your experience be invaluable to a current event that is being tackled by the elected office you’re running for? Such an update helps strengthen your argument as to why they should support you.

How do I track my pledges?

Campaigns initially use a spreadsheet to get started, but that quickly gets complicated as you need to track not only pledges but also contributions that came in that fulfill those contributions. Some political campaign apps and tools can help with that too.

Numero offers the only software that tracks and automatically fulfills your pledges in real time, saving your team 10–20 hours per month versus manually tracking everything.

Here is an example of of a spreadsheet-based pledge tracker:

ILLUSTRATION OF SPREADSHEET PLEDGE TRACKER

Should I leave voicemails?

Leaving voicemails is a personal choice, but unless you’re an elected official, it’s not recommended. Very few people check voicemail, and they can’t click on a link to make a donation from your voicemail message.

However, almost everyone checks text messages, and you can include a link to donate. Instead of leaving a voicemail, send a follow-up text message or email — here’s an example of a text message:

Text Message:

{SALUTATION} — We’re just 3 weeks away from the election — any chance you can chip in {ASK} to help us get over the line? The best place to make a contribution is the link below. Thanks! Jane

https://secure.numero.ai/contribute/janedoe

EXAMPLE EMAIL OR TEXT MESSAGE

Should I call people more than once?

Yes! You should absolutely call people more than once. In fact, you’ll likely need to call someone 5–10 times for them to pick up the phone. It’s just the world we live in. Don’t be discouraged—we’re all busy, in meetings, etc. But we do pick up the phone when it’s convenient. You just need to call enough times to catch donors when they can pick up the phone. They’ll also admire your persistence in calling multiple times. When they do answer, be gracious and let them know you appreciate their time.

Pro Tip: Send a follow-up text message or email after each call, so they know why you called. This step is important because it’s easy to bulk call a bunch of people, but it’s harder to take the time to send a follow-up email or text after every call. When you do take that extra step, it builds trust with the donor that their contribution means a lot to your campaign.

Should I write thank you notes?

Yes! You should definitely write thank you notes. In fact, every single week, you should send thank you notes to the donors who made contributions the prior week. You and your team can determine at what level of donation you want to send a thank you note.

For example, at $50–$249 contributions, you can send a form letter that you personally sign. A personal note at the bottom of the letter is also a nice touch. For contributions of $250 and above, you can send a handwritten letter that a volunteer or staffer writes and you then sign.

You should track in your spreadsheet or donor database when you’ve sent a thank you note so that you can be sure you don’t miss out on any thank you letters to your supporters. It’s also a good idea to add a small call to action in these notes, encouraging contributors to share your vision within their circle.

Here’s a quick template to help you write a thank you note. Make sure to personalize the note depending on the donor and let them know what their contribution will help the campaign achieve.

Dear [First Name], I could not be more grateful for the support you generously provided our campaign. Your donation will help my campaign do XYZ…

As always, feel free to give me a call or send me a text — my cell is [Phone Number]

Thank you again for your unwavering support.

With gratitude,

[Candidate Name]

EXAMPLE THANK YOU LETTER

What Staff do I need to Manage Call Time?

What does a call time manager do?

A call time manager is part of your campaign staff and is responsible for maximizing the number of contributions you receive during call time. When you’re calling 40–60 people an hour, it’s really helpful to have someone tracking who was called, recording what commitments were made, and sending follow-up emails based on the conversations.

Call time managers have three major responsibilities:

    1. To build a list of people for you to call during call time and ensure that every entry on the list includes a bio and donor history to help ensure a successful call.
    2. To be with you during call time—answering any questions you have about a donor before you call and documenting what was agreed to on the call—a pledge, a donation, or any other pertinent information that is helpful for following up.
    3. To follow up with all of the people you called, making sure they receive the link to your contribution form or event registration form and any other information they might have requested on the call.

Do I need a call time manager?

As a candidate, you would generally hire a finance director before hiring a call time manager. A campaign generally needs both a finance director and a call time manager for federal races where there are a significant number of fundraising events that your finance director must oversee. In such a scenario, the finance director will need help building call lists and following up with each of your donors.

How do I evaluate a call time manager?

A good call time manager will come prepared to each call time session with background information on each donor—including accurate contact information, bio, and donor history—AND will be a good motivator pushing you to make that next call when you don’t want to.

Here’s a sample job description for a call time manager:

Sally for Congress – Call Time Manager

Sally for Congress is seeking a Call Time Manager to join the campaign team to flip the seat. Sally is a DCCC endorsed Red-to-Blue candidate. This is a great opportunity to gain competitive experience with a top-notch fundraising team.

In 2019, Sally raised $1.2 million in less than nine months in one of California’s most competitive congressional districts. The campaign is looking for a fundraiser willing to take on the challenge of flipping Orange County blue.

Responsibilities:

    • Staffing and managing the candidate’s call time
    • Aiding in the preparation of call time materials
    • Helping with donor research
    • Working with the finance department to meet and surpass call time goals
    • Maintaining accurate call time logs and fundraising database

Requirements:

    • Strong verbal, written, and interpersonal communication skills
    • Ability to maintain important relationships on behalf of the campaign
    • Willingness to travel with the candidate and work weekends as needed
    • Self-starter, with an eye for detail
    • Experience with NGP, ActBlue, and Numero a plus

To apply, please email [email protected] with your resume and three references.

Do I need a finance director or fundraising consultant?

You’ll probably need a fundraising consultant, yes—regardless of what level of campaign you’re running. But a finance director is only relevant for larger state and national campaigns

Think of a finance director or a fundraising consultant as a personal trainer. You’re paying them so you’re more likely to do call time and you’re more likely to do it better than if you were to do it yourself.

They’ll give you tips on how to make better asks. And they’ll have everything ready, including accurate phone numbers, bio, and donor history for each person you’re about to call—saving you hundreds of hours of prep time that you can then use to talk with voters instead.

Ultimately, you should be raising a lot more than the cost of the salaries or contracts for these positions.

What does a finance director do?

A finance director is in charge of your campaign fundraising. They do not raise money for you—they help you raise it, but YOU must do the heavy lifting.

A finance director will help you set the goal for how much you need to raise (a finance plan), determine the number of hours and a schedule for your call time, suggest fundraising ideas—including virtual fundraising ideas during COVID-19 (which will probably be with us during 2021 too)—and set how many fundraising events you’ll need to do to meet your fundraising goals. They’re then in charge of executing that plan.

As part of this work, they work with co-hosts to host an event, coordinate with the co-hosts to keep them up to date with everything they need to do, plan the event, and ensure you’re doing call time to get people to donate and attend your event. They’re also working with the co-hosts to ensure they’re raising the amount they committed to raise for the event by calling their friends and family to support the campaign.

The finance director will also be coaching you on your pitch, giving you feedback on what’s working and what’s not. They’ll also understand how your fundraising will compare to similar candidates during the cycle as they’re likely talking to other finance directors around the country.

They’ll keep your donor database organized and up to date.

The finance director is also overseeing a call time manager or your finance consultant, if you have one. If you don’t have one, the finance director needs to do all of the work a call time manager would normally do, including maximizing the number of contributions you receive during call time.

How do I evaluate a finance director?

A good finance director will come up with a realistic fundraising plan and goal, and then they will find a way to hold you, the candidate, accountable to making it happen.

They are also flexible. If they see that you’re raising more money through events as opposed to call time, they’ll adjust the plan accordingly to ensure you hit the goal in whichever way is most time efficient for you.

They also are a bit of a psychological coach—keeping your spirits up as people tell you no time and time again. You, as the candidate, will ultimately spend more time with the finance director than anyone else on your campaign (yes, even more than your campaign manager), so you’ll need to have a good rapport.

If you’re not hitting your fundraising goals, you’ll need to have an honest conversation with your finance director to see if it’s not working out or whether there ways you can improve working together.

Here’s a sample job description for a finance director:

Sally for Congress – Finance Director

Sally for Congress is seeking a Finance Director to join the campaign team to flip the seat. Sally is a DCCC targeted candidate in Irvine, CA. Last cycle, this district came within 1% of flipping blue. This is a great opportunity to gain competitive experience with a top-notch fundraising team.

In 2018, Sally raised $3.2 million in one of California’s most competitive congressional districts. The campaign is looking for a fundraiser willing to take on the challenge of flipping Orange County blue.

Responsibilities:

    • Developing and executing finance plan through 2022
    • Organizing and staffing fundraising events
    • Meeting and surpassing fundraising goals through call time, events, and written correspondence
    • Developing strong working relationships with potential donors
    • Maintaining detailed records of contacts, pledges, and contributions and updating donor database
    • Conducting donor research on potential donors
    • Managing finance team, including Call Time Manager, Finance Associates, and interns

Requirements:

    • At least one cycle of experience as a Finance Director and two cycles as a Deputy Finance Director or Finance Assistant
    • Demonstrated relationship-building skills with the ability to manage essential stakeholders on behalf of the campaign
    • Strong verbal, written, and interpersonal communication skills
    • Self-starter with an eye for detail
    • Experience with NGP, ActBlue, and Numero
    • Existing relationships in California a plus

To apply, please email [email protected] with your resume and three references.

Should I get a campaign manager or finance director first?

Although it sounds counterintuitive, you should hire a finance director before your campaign manager.

If you start your campaign 12–18 months before election day, you’ll likely spend most of your time fundraising during the first few months and doing a few small voter/volunteer events a week (maybe a bit more during COVID-19 when a lot happens virtually using Zoom). The bulk of your time, however, will be spent fundraising.

One thing some candidates do is hire a finance director and then hire consultants who act as lightweight campaign managers. That approach helps ensure you’re covering the basics and talking to the right people. The finance director often does this for free to help you out; the more money you save, the more money you can spend later on your media budget (digital advertising on social media, mail, TV and radio ads)—of which the finance director gets a percentage cut.

How should I hold myself accountable? Who do I report to? Do I report to anyone?

Political campaigns are like mini-corporations that are built up and wound down over a pretty short period of time. You may think that, as the candidate, you’re the CEO, but you’re actually the “producer.”

You should know how much you need to raise for the race, divide that number into quarterly goals to achieve it, and check out your raising against that goal every week. Your campaign manager or finance director will likely be watching these numbers very closely and giving you feedback on how to reach that goal.

If you don’t have a campaign manager or finance director, you’ll need to hold yourself accountable. Political campaign software like Numero, as well as other tools, can help you do that.

One way to hold yourself accountable is sharing your goal and your current numbers with a close confidant, friend, or partner, and then checking in with them every week to hold you accountable for your goal.

The bottom line is this: running for office is not glamorous. Fundraising is the first real test to see whether you have what it takes to do non-glorious work of running a political campaign. That’s in part why fundraising is used as an important barometer by consultants, delegates, party officials, and others to help understand your commitment to running.

Can I do all of this myself as a candidate?

Yes, you could, but the question is whether you have the time. The one thing you quickly realize on a campaign is your time as a candidate is the most limited resource on the campaign and will be constantly pulled in a million different directions.

Creating lists of donors, looking up their bios, contact information, and donor history, following up with every donor, and planning fundraising events is a fulltime job that takes hundreds of hours.

The more you have a finance director or call time manager doing these tasks for you, the more time they can spend calling supporters and voters to raise more money on your behalf and get more votes.

With everything that goes into a successful finance operation, campaigns should track everything to compare their projections against money in the door. Here’s a template for a finance plan that tracks revenue by quarter:

What can only I do as the candidate? What can my staff do? What can be automated?

Only the candidate can make the ask for a contribution. When calling a supporter for a contribution, you’re asking for someone’s time and money. When a staffer calls them to make the initial ask, it gives the supporter the impression that you’re too busy for them, and they’ll be less likely to contribute. They need to see your passion and hear your position on policies from you—not a call time manager, finance director or a fundraising consultant.

Once a supporter has made a pledge to support your campaign with a contribution, a staffer can follow up with calls and emails to get the pledge in the door. If they don’t respond to the finance director or call time manager’s calls and emails, then you’ll need to step in and follow-up yourself. Sometimes the staffer can play bad cop while you play good cop.

You can also automate different tasks, such as pledge tracking and reconciliation, researching donor giving history, importing contributions directly into your donor database, and text messages using political fundraising software and tools. Numero is a notable one.

Pro Tip: Be careful when sending automated texts and emails to higher dollar donors. It will seem impersonal and inauthentic and it’s best to keep it to a minimum.

In-Person and Virtual Fundraising Events

How do I fundraise during COVID-19?

COVID-19 has made planning in-person events all but impossible. Luckily, programs like Zoom and social media platforms allow you to plan virtual fundraising events that help you reach both grassroots and high-dollar donation contributions.

How do I plan a fundraising event?

    1. The first step is deciding on what kind of event you’ll want to put together. For example, is it a high-dollar event or more of a grassroots fundraiser? Will the event be online or in-person? What is the entertainment?
    2. You’ll then need to make a TickTock (a minute by minute schedule for the event) to track how the event will go. This itinerary will give you and your host a clear understanding of how long the fundraiser will last and what will happen during each part of the event.
    3. Having a solid briefing memo before the event gives you important information about the event, the host/co-hosts, and the guests that will prepare you for your conversations with potential donors.
    4. Find a host or co-host that already supports your campaign. For example, someone who has already maxed out their contributions but has a strong network they can turn to for potential support for your campaign would work well.

What are some virtual grassroots fundraising ideas?

    1. Host an online auction with items donated by local businesses and artists.
    2. Have an online viewing party. COVID-19 has us all stressed and feeling disconnected. Hosting a movie is a great way to bring people together for a relaxing and bonding event. Show a fun-loving classic or a documentary that helps raise awareness about issues relevant to your platform.
    3. Sell merch. T-shirts, stickers, yard signs, pins, hats, etc. all help bring the public’s awareness to your campaign, and many online stores offer dropshipping, meaning the entire process of fulfilling orders is automated.
    4. Use social media. There’s a growing relationship between social media and politics. Live streams are a great outreach tool and can be used to cultivate trust and a sense of connection among the communities you seek to serve. Tell your story, hear from your constituents, and expand your potential donor base all at once. Platforms like Facebook and YouTube allow you to fundraise directly through the platforms.

What are some high-dollar virtual event ideas?

    1. Host a virtual fundraising concert. Put together a concert or mini festival that allows potential donors to be safely entertained while also raising money for your campaign.
    2. Organize a virtual fundraising breakfast. Offer a menu, and allow guests to pick their items and enter a delivery address as part of their ticket purchase.
    3. Host a virtual gala. Instead of having guests host tables, have them set up mini fundraisers and encourage their friends or contacts to donate to those fundraisers. Offer entertainment, and maybe set up a coordinated delivery of party favors to each guest.

What is a run of show/TickTock?

A run of show or TickTock is a minute-by-minute agenda of how an event will go. This agenda is very important to setting expectations with staff, hosts, and even you as the candidate, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Provide a script to the hosts. It’s important to remember that not everyone has the same expectations for an event. The host may think they should talk for 10–15 mins when, in reality, they probably shouldn’t speak for more than 1–2 mins to kick off the event.

For example, a TickTock for a political fundraising event includes the time staff need to arrive at the location of the fundraiser, the time the candidate (you) will arrive, what time the event will kick off, who will introduce you, how long they will speak, how long the question and answer section will last, who will close the event and make the asks of the guests, and when the event should wrap up.

Here’s a sample tick-tock template for a fundraising event:

Run of Show/ Tick Tock

3:45 PM YOU call [STAFFER BRIEFING]

3:45 PM – 3:55 PM [STAFFER BRIEFING] briefs YOU

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM YOU arrive/enter meeting [LINK]

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [EMCEE] welcomes guests and delivers housekeeping

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [EMCEE] introduces [GUEST SPEAKER(S)]

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [GUEST SPEAKER(S)] deliver(s) remarks

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [GUEST SPEAKER(S)] introduces YOU

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM YOU deliver remarks and fundraising pitch

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM YOU take questions from attendees

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [EMCEE] closes

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM YOU depart/leave meeting

What is a fundraising event briefing doc/memo?

The fundraising event briefing memo is a document prepared for you, the candidate, to make you as prepared and authentic as possible for the fundraising event.

It should include a brief summary at the top about the event, time, and location.

It should also include a brief summary about the co-hosts, their relationship to each other, and their relationship to you, the candidate. The memo should include a list of potential topic areas that you should cover in your speech and any flags on those issues that have come up recently in the press.

The memo should also cover topics or areas you might want to avoid or that might offend the hosts or guests.

Additionally, the memo should include a list of each attendee, their bio, a photo, and any other notes that might be helpful so that you can be as personable as possible. Lastly, it should include the event TickTock.

The briefing memo should only be shared with you, not the co-hosts or guests.

[CANDIDATE NAME] | BRIEFING MEMO

To: [PRINCIPAL]

From: [CAMPAIGN TEAM]

Re: [EVENT NAME]

Location: [VIDEO LINK / ADDRESS]

Date: [DATE]

Time: [START TIME – END TIME]

Staff: [INDIVIDUALS STAFFING]

Background

YOU will be participating in a virtual fundraising event in support of [CANDIDATE]. The purpose of this event is [PURPOSE]. This event will be successful if [OUTCOME].

[ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND]

Format

This is a virtual fundraiser event in support of YOU. The event will be held on Numero Live. [EMCEE] will kick off the event, welcome attendees, and run through brief housekeeping. [GUEST SPEAKER] will then speak before introducing YOU. After delivering remarks, YOU will take questions from the audience. [STAFFER] will close and you depart.

Run of Show (ET)

3:45 PM YOU call [STAFFER BRIEFING]

3:45 PM – 3:55 PM [STAFFER BRIEFING] briefs YOU

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM YOU arrive/enter meeting [LINK]

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [EMCEE] welcomes guests and delivers housekeeping

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [EMCEE] introduces [GUEST SPEAKER(S)]

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [GUEST SPEAKER(S)] deliver(s) remarks

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [GUEST SPEAKER(S)] introduces YOU

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM YOU deliver remarks and fundraising pitch

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM YOU take questions from attendees

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM [EMCEE] closes

3:55 PM – 4:00 PM YOU depart/leave meeting

Technical Housekeeping

[ADD IF VIRTUAL EVENT]

VIP Guests

person with a suit

Kent Davidson is a former Strategist for President Hughes and Meyer. MIT Graduate (mathematics and musicology). on Statistics Magazine’s “30 under 30” list when he was 29 and fluent in sign language. Davidson last contributed $500 to the campaign on 9/12/2020 for a total of $1,250.

How do I find a host/co-host to set up a campaign fundraising event?

If you’re running a high-dollar fundraiser, you should look for people who have maxed-out to your campaign. They will often have friends with similar resources to support your campaign. Invite your maxed-out donors as guests as well. You will do better with supporters in the room—your maxed-our donors will feel appreciated, you can recognize your donors, and knowing their friends have donated makes others more comfortable giving.

Maxed-out donors often have groups of like-minded friends who support each other’s causes, so those donors can usually tap into their networks to support you.

If you’re running a low-dollar grassroots fundraiser, you should look for people who have a decent following on Twitter, who are outspoken in your community on issues on which you take a stand, and who have donated small amounts to your campaign. They can rally their friends to support you.

What does a co-host need to do?

If you’re hosting an in-person event, one of the co-hosts will need to provide their home or an event space for the event. It’s also helpful if they provide appetizers and drinks for the event, which should be classified as an in-kind contribution. Next, they need to send out your fundraising invitations to their friends and family to register for the event. They’ll also need to send follow-up emails and likely make follow-up phone calls to the people they invite to get them to donate and attend.

Here’s an example of an invitation email a co-host can send to their network:

Hey {SALUTATION} —

I hope all is well! I just wanted to send you a note to personally invite you to a fundraiser for my friend Sally’s run for Congress this Saturday from 1-3PM in Any Town.

FiveThirtyEight named Sally’s race in Orange County, CA the bellwether for the country — if we flip this seat, the house will flip. I’d love to see you this Saturday and I’d love your support.

You can RSVP at {TICKET_URL}. Feel free to share this invitation with your friends!

John Smith

Alison Lee and John Jensen

invite you to a reception for

Sally for Congress

April 14, 2018

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Click here to RSVP

Any Town, CA

Thanks so much!

-John

How do I track how much each co-host raised?

There are two ways you can track how much each person raised. You can create a spreadsheet, manually record each of the contributions, and then email each of the co-hosts asking them each to go into the Google Sheet and put their name next to the person they were responsible for donating. You’ll need to do this every week until the event.

Alternatively, political fundraising software like Numero, NationBuilderCallTime, or NGP VAN can automate the entire process for you. For example, once you’ve created a fundraiser form in Numero, you can add the email addresses of the people who will co-host the event. This step will send the co-hosts a unique link for them to send to their friends and family that will track all of the contributions that have been made through their outreach. They will also receive an email notifying them each time a contribution has come through their unique link.

Who do I invite to a campaign fundraiser?

The purpose of holding a political campaign fundraiser is to bring in new potential donors that wouldn’t otherwise contribute from a phone call to see you in action before deciding whether or not to donate. With this in mind, your finance team or co-host should seek out people who they think will appreciate your candidacy and the opportunity to meet you. Most of all, look for people willing to give money to support your candidacy if they like what they see during the fundraiser.

When building your invite list, consider where you are holding the fundraiser. If your fundraiser is in Austin, TX, look through your network or donor database for contacts that live in the surrounding area to add to your list. If your fundraiser is in-district and led by a co-host, have them look through their network (friends, coworkers, phone, or email contact lists, for example) to identify people they think would be amenable to an invite.

Lastly, figure out if anyone in your network has a history of giving to Democratic candidates. If someone has given money in the past and is in your extended network, there’s a very high likelihood that they will give to you. Keep in mind that looking up donor history can be very time-consuming to complete. However, there are a couple of powerful tools that look up giving history for any of your contacts by searching all publicly available contributions (federal, state, and local), like RevUp. These tools can be beneficial for co-hosts as they can upload their contacts and immediately see who in their extended network has given to a campaign.

How long should a successful fundraiser last?

An in-person fundraiser generally lasts about an hour and a half. Let’s say the event starts at 7:00PM. You’ll likely kick off the event at 7:20PM or 7:30PM. The host will talk for 1–3 minutes. As the candidate, you’ll talk for about 20 mins and then do an additional 20 mins of questions and answers. You’ll then have a 5-minute closeout where the host will get up and ask everyone for an additional contribution. Then you’ll have about 20–30 minutes to mingle afterwards, and eventually people will start to leave.

A virtual fundraising event generally lasts about 45 minutes. Let’s say the event starts at 7:00 PM. You’ll likely kick off the event around 7:05 PM. The host will talk for 1–3 minutes. As the candidate, you’ll talk for about 20 minutes and then do an additional 20 minutes of questions and answers. You’ll then have a 5-minute closeout where the host will get up and ask everyone for an additional contribution. And then you will close out the event.

What should I wear to a fundraiser?

As the candidate, you should generally wear business formal and can dress it down a bit if you feel it’s appropriate. For example, if your event was in Manhattan, you would likely wear business formal as most of the guests will attend in business formal attire, but if your event is in San Francisco, most guests will attend in business casual/jeans.

How do I use events to raise more money?

Events are a great way to raise money with greater urgency. You can use the set date for the event to encourage people to donate by that date to attend the event. Having a forcing function, such as an event, is really helpful because it gives the donor a sense of urgency to make their contribution. Such events are particularly helpful if you’re a month or two away from the end of the reporting period.

Additionally, it’s not just you calling donors. Co-hosts are calling on your behalf as well, which helps you expand your network of potential donors. You can even have a co-host introduce you over email to a number of their friends; then you can call them and make the ask instead of the co-host.

Lastly, having your friends from different cities or friends in a group—such as your friends from your undergrad or other social groups—hosting the event it gives them an additional reason to join as they’ll not only want to support you and your campaign but also see friends they haven’t seen in a while.

How is a fundraiser different from call time? Why do I have to do both?

Calls can be a great way to break the ice and form a rapport that allows you to expand your list of potential attendees for actual fundraisers.

Some donors prefer to connect with you individually and may not enjoy attending fundraising events. Call time is really great for getting to know donors, having longer conversations with them, and reaching people when they’re available to take a call.

Other donors want to attend an event and socialize with others during your virtual event or in-person event, and they need the forcing function of having a date of an event to make their contribution in time

How much money should a successful event raise?

How much money a successful event raises depends on the level of campaign and the contribution limits, as well as whether you’re hosting a low-dollar grassroots event or a high-dollar event. For a high-dollar event, a local campaign could raise between $500–$5,000 for an event. A state campaign could raise between $2,500–$10,000. A federal campaign could raise between $10,000–$25,000.

How much should I pay for venue costs and food?

Typically, a co-host pays for the venue and food, but traditionally, you should try to keep these costs as low as possible. Food and drink costs could come in the $1,000 range if the co-host is paying. If the campaign is paying, it should be less.

Most in-person fundraising events have 20–50 people in attendance. Attendees are not expecting incredible food or drinks, just something to nibble or sip on while they talk to others.

Do I have to report in-kind donations like food and drinks?

Yes, food and drink donations are considered a contribution, so please have your co-host who pays for the food and drinks report the cost to the campaign. That way you can report the in-kind contribution. Please note, rules may vary by jurisdiction.

How do I raise money at a house party?

A number of donors will donate the minimum amount to attend your fundraiser to get a sense of who you are as a candidate and if they want to invest more into you and the campaign. Often, seeing a candidate will inspire them to donate more. When your event is closing, you or a co-host should make an ask to up donors’ contributions.

If you’re doing a virtual event and you’re using Numero Live, you can ask them to make a contribution immediately.

If you’re at an in-person event your co-host should ask attendees to raise their hand if they’d like to donate more. Then have your staff take donors’ names, phone numbers, or emails, and get them to fill out a paper form with their information to contribute.

You really need to get people to donate in the moment; otherwise, either you as the candidate or your finance staff will likely need to follow up at least five more times to actually collect the contribution.

FAQs

  1. How to run for office with no money? It’s not really possible to run for office with no money, but don’t worry. Fundraising is the primary goal of every political campaign. Seeking contributions starts with those closest to you and fans out as supporters help spread your message. You’ll also need to invest in yourself by putting some of your own money into the campaign. This self-investment will show potential investors that you’re serious about your goals.
  2. Why are political campaigns so expensive? There are a lot of expenses in running a political campaign. Hiring staff and hosting events cost money, but so do tv and social media ads, mailers, stickers, yard signs, and more. You’ll want to invest in spreading your message far and wide to gain funding and voter support.
  3. Are political campaign contributions tax deductible? Simply put, no; they aren’t tax deductible.
  4. What can political campaign funds be used for? Political campaign funds can be used to cover daily operating expenses (staffing, office space, supplies, etc.), advertising (television, social media, merchandise, etc.), and other expenses—such as campaign-related traveling and hosting fundraising events. Campaign funds cannot be used to cover personal expenses.

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