Last week, hundreds of federal candidates and PACs filed their quarterly fundraising reports with the FEC. While the compliance firms and accountants were preparing those reports, fundraisers everywhere were crafting finance plans for the third quarter of 2023. Almost all of those fundraisers recognize that this could be one of the most challenging quarters of the cycle.
More than a year before the general election, summer is traditionally one of the toughest for fundraising in campaigns. There are a number of reasons for this: many donors hit the road for some R&R in July and August, the 2024 election seems like a long ways away to those of us not working in campaigns daily, and we’re all constantly combatting donor fatigue.
These are all issues campaigns will face over the summer months, but here are a few ideas on how to combat them:
Incorporate vacation vibes into your program.
One of the biggest obstacles fundraisers face in the dog days of summer is donors going on vacation. This makes it tougher to reach donors as they ignore their email inboxes, let their office lines go to voicemail and turn off their cellphones.
If you’re lucky enough to catch a donor on vacation, they’ll likely be pushing to end the call, so your candidate should be polite, understanding and try to secure a better time to connect. Most donors will appreciate the understanding and welcome the later call — make sure you remind yourself to make that call happen.
Higher-profile campaigns can pack their bags, head out to the swankiest vacation spots, and host events where the donors spend their summers. While donors will want a break from talking to many candidates, many donors would welcome the chance to hobnob with senators and other political elites while relaxing in their summer retreats.
Remember that 2024 is an eon away.
Most of us in professional politics think about campaigns 24/7. No matter how far out an election is, we’re running at full octane to support our candidates. Many times, we forget the rest of the world doesn’t live like that — even donors.
As fundraisers, we need to be respectful of the fact that to most donors, the next election feels like an eternity from now, it’s also a good excuse for donors to use to sit on the sidelines, so your candidate should have some good talking points to help the donor understand the importance of early money in campaigns.
Campaigns should also find creative ways to create a sense of urgency. Many campaigns rely too heavily on fake deadlines, and while sometimes they work, you quickly become the candidate that calls important fundraising deadlines make or break one too many times.
Campaigns should be frank when explaining why giving now is so essential. Remind donors that early-money-is-like-yeast — it helps raise the dough. And demonstrate ways how early money is, in fact, helping build a movement, not just a campaign. Finally, point out how all eyes are always on fundraising numbers.
Find ways to combat donor fatigue.
There are only so many donors, and the most influential donors are under a constant barrage of solicitations from candidates nationwide. This inevitably leads to donors being tired and put off by the endless appeals for cash.
Candidates should be prepared for this fatigue and expect it. The best thing you can do is be respectful and understanding: being rich isn’t easy. When talking to tired donors, candidates should remain cheerful and try to keep the conversation going, if they can. Sometimes, the best play is to wrap the call and ask if there’s a better time to connect.
The other way to combat donor fatigue is to invest in finding new donors who have a propensity to give to a campaign, but haven’t yet. With the amount of consumer data, a campaign can build a profile of likely givers while excluding those with giving histories.
Expanding your list is a great thing to do during the dog days of summer. Use the time while traditional donors aren’t picking up the phone to engage new ones.
Nick Daggers is a co-founding partner of the 1833 Group, a Chicago-based Democratic political consulting firm focusing on fundraising. He has worked as a campaign fundraiser since 2008 and has worked on dozens of races from coast to coast since then.