On the day of the Illinois primary in March, I jokingly told a client, “you have an experienced consulting team, but if you were looking for the folks who have run a campaign during a pandemic, you are out of luck.”
That day most of us knew little about COVID-19. The term social distancing was just making its way into our vocabulary. No one could envision wearing a mask to go to the grocery store. The idea that our world was going to stop for at least the next two-and-a-half months was unfathomable.
As a consultant, I had no idea what to expect. Would campaigns fold? Would candidates just refuse to fundraise? Would donors think we were callous for sending out fundraising solicitations?
While some candidates decided to halt their normal activities, many of our clients saw this moment as an opportunity to grow their campaigns. Based on our experience, here are a few ways campaigns can have fundraising success during the pandemic:
Invest in call time.
Who would have a thought a global pandemic would help candidates fall in love with call time again. Ok, maybe not fall in love with call time. But candidates are spending full days at home looking for an outlet to communicate. Call time is that perfect outlet, and for the most part, connection rates and pledges have stayed steady. Typically donors are too busy but are now a much more captive audience.
Automate social media.
As Americans mindlessly scroll through their favorite social media platforms over and over, day after day, we’ve begun to communicate more with potential donors through social media. By automating some simple messaging tasks, we’ve been able to create first-time givers that would typically never make it onto our radar.
Up your virtual event hosting game.
Like many Americans, we’ve spent countless hours on Zoom calls during this outbreak. We’ve found ourselves getting creative and using virtual events to create a feeling of community.
We’ve put together a few virtual trivia nights, held a virtual discussion on mental health and addiction with ex-Rep. Patrick Kennedy for the Natasha Guynes campaign in Baltimore and, next month, will host a name-that-tune virtual game night for a client. Virtual events give donors that level access and allows a chance to participate in something that feels more social.
Talk about leadership.
We generally advise our clients to lean on their bio and talk about the core Democratic values they share with donors. We’ve shifted the conversation to competence and leadership. The nation has seen what happens when we elect weak leaders who govern by partisanship and not reason. We’re urging our clients to have real conversations about how they plan to lead and create solutions when elected.
Learn some new skills.
Our entire team has had a chance to take sharpen our skills and learn new tricks. I’ve spent a little extra time looking into some FEC filings and writing some long-overdue election and fundraising analyses for clients. Meanwhile, my business partner has become a GIS mapping savant. A little extra downtime to sharpen some skills is never a bad thing.
When 2020 started, our entire profession was ready to go 24/7 through November. Instead, we’ve had to watch the world grapple with a pandemic — and its repercussions. Now, the next time a candidate asks if his team has run a campaign during a global pandemic, we can say, “yes we have.”
Nick Daggers is a co-founding partner at the 1833 Group, and award winning consulting firm that provides general and fundraising services to Democratic campaigns nationwide. He's been a political fundraiser for over a decade and was recently named to the AAPC's 40 Under 40 list for 2020.