Fundraising online is getting easier because of the bevy of new tools available to candidates. Innovations ranging from #cashtags to digital video donation platforms are expanding the opportunities for campaigns to accept dollars online.
But for rookie candidates or those expanding into online fundraising for the first time, bringing money in through email or a homepage can be challenging. A digital consulting firm may not make sense when you’re at the beginning.
In fact, be suspicious if a consultant offers to raise large amounts of money for your campaign when you don’t have a proven list. Before you bring on a consultant, here are a few ways to build a fundraising base online.
Most candidates will do the bulk of their fundraising on the phone and occasionally in meetings with larger-dollar donors. Online fundraising is a great supplemental tool, however, but it doesn’t get you out of call time. Online fundraising is very much email-based. Social media is great for many things, but it doesn’t yet deliver the day-in, day-out funds that a solid email program does. This means you should start by building an email list of your supporters (here’s one way). If you don’t have a large and engaged list, set expectations low.
Find A Good Customer Relationship Management Platform
There are lots of great CRM software solutions for things like mass email, fundraising and online actions. Each has a different price point. You could begin with something like Constant Contact, but another option is MailChimp. For a list of under 2,000 people, it’s free.
NationBuilder is a good all-in-one affordable CRM tool for smaller campaigns, with email, fundraising, social media and even a voter file all in one. For Democrats, most campaigns will use NGP VAN for compliance, and often for mass email and donations, too. There are other options for Democrats such as Salsa, BSD and ActionKit, to name a few.
What you don’t want to do is use somebody’s personal email account for sending mass campaign mail. It doesn’t look professional, people will be reluctant to donate, and you may run into deliverability or sending problems for more than a small handful of emails. Moreover, you have no way of seeing stats to know whether people are opening and interacting with your emails. Is your email program a success? A failure? Hard to tell without data.
Build A Decent Website
You’ll need a basic website with a prominent email signup link, which should also be included on your social media properties. It’ll be hard to fundraise online successfully and to show your organization has credibility without those at a minimum. If you can’t afford a professional website at the beginning, see if wherever you have your domain name registered offers cheap or free solutions for building a simple one-page website. Truly, that’s enough to get you started.
But even on a simple page it’s important not to skimp on photographs. These will be used for print, for the media and in some cases may be a voter’s first contact with the campaign. Don’t flub your introduction with terrible shots, or worse: stock photos from a different locale. You’ll also need a way to process online donations via credit card.
These days most donors don’t have the patience to mail off a check so make it easy for them to give via credit card. If you’re a Democratic campaign or a 501(c)4 take a look at ActBlue, or NGP VAN if you’re using it for donations. If you’re a Republican, there’s Raise the Money, PayPal, NationBuilder or whatever CRM you’re using. Note that if you’re not using a full CRM now, down the line you may want one for your campaign. Still, MailChimp and PayPal are good tools for when you’re just getting started and need to keep costs low.
Build The List. The Money Will Come
The size and quality of your email list will have a large effect on how much you can raise. You can grow your list by partnering with an organization, going through old records like Christmas card lists or targeting donors online. But having a good list is only part of it, you also need to ask for donations.
Laura Packard is a partner at PowerThru Consulting, a Democratic digital strategy and web development firm. For more about online fundraising visit their blog at PowerThruConsulting.com.