I’ve worked in campaigns and fundraising a long time, and I’ve seen some bad habits repeated over and over again. Fundraising often gets a bad rap because for most people, money feels personal and asking for donations can be hard for some candidates. If your candidate or campaign can avoid these common mistakes, raising money should become easier and less anxiety-producing for your staff and stakeholders.
1. Thinking it’s transactional
Fundraising is essentially the act of organizing money. As with all organizing work, it’s about building relationships. Unfortunately, too often folks try to get “easy” money without a strategy, without focusing on the people, and without investing in relationships. Raising money isn’t a side activity that just happens in your campaign — it needs to be part of the strategic plan, and not just a means to the end.
When done strategically, fundraising will fit in seamlessly with the other work that your campaign is doing and will do more than just raise money, but help raise the campaign’s profile and build important relationships that can be leveraged for more than just financial asks. Donors are people, and no one wants to feel like a human ATM machine. When fundraising asks feel transactional, they’re not only less successful, but may turn off donors and prospective donors altogether.
2. Letting money dictate direction
It’s important that your candidate or leadership team sets strategic goals and regularly checks in and reevaluates them. That way you can ensure that the policies and statements you’re creating fit what the community needs and align with the values and goals of the candidate.
One common pitfall is creating policies to fit funding opportunities. This is how candidates’ messages get muddled — by adding new policies that don’t fit the narrative just because there’s money attached. It’s okay to diversify and expand the scope of your message, but do it because that’s what’s best for the campaign and community, not because there’s a single donor that will fund the change in direction.
The strongest candidates decide on their priorities and then pursue funding that meets their values. If there’s a good policy that’ll help address true needs in the community, with the right strategy and messaging you’ll be able to find the funding from folks who believe in your campaign.
3. Not diversifying
I’ve seen so many campaigns focus on only one or two funding streams, and most commonly those are high-capacity individual donors. When your strategy depends heavily on one source of funding, you’re leaving money on the table. You’re also chasing the same funding sources that everyone else is chasing: the more competition, the less likely you are to get the checks.
An exciting part about running for office is expanding the tent and bringing new people into the political process – your fundraising approach should reflect that.
4. Not asking enough
The most pervasive problem that I see across the campaign sector is not asking for money frequently enough. There’s this common misconception that people are so tired of fundraising asks that they won’t give again, so fundraisers don’t even try. Just because you already sent a fundraising email this week doesn’t mean you should find a reason to avoid sending another ask today.
Your supporters probably aren’t as tired of fundraising asks as you think they are, and some are able to continue giving. The more fundraising appeals you make, the more opportunities you are creating for your supporters to connect with your campaign. Don’t presume to know the financial situations and priorities of your supporters or if they’re tapped out in certain weeks or months — ask anyway.
Fundraising doesn’t have to be a bad word or something to fear. By avoiding these common stumbling blocks, you can protect not only your campaign’s financial health, but also your fundraising staff’s mental health and stress levels. Raising money doesn’t have to be anxiety-producing, scary, or even difficult, as long as it’s strategic.
Nicole Varma is a veteran fundraiser and the operations specialist at ACM Strategies, a team of digital organizers and strategists that specializes in helping progressive leaders and organizations win uphill battles.