Fundraising consultants have long been the lone wolves of the consulting industry. Part of the reason for that was down to the fact that they could effectively run a business by themselves, even pick and choose who they worked with, if they had strong relationships with deep-pocketed donors locally or nationally.
That’s still the case for many, but the business isn’t what it once was, in part, because of online fundraising, which is typically done through digital firms.
That’s created a choice for fundraising consultants in today’s market: Lean into their speciality or diversify their offerings by branching out into related services. Many are choosing the latter.
Ken Christensen, CEO of The Politics Company Inc., moved into video six years ago to help his clients raise money online. “In my business, moving forward to be successful, you really had to get into different lanes,” he said. “If you didn’t adjust, your business could have failed during COVID.”
Christensen has experience with video going back to the 1980s. But it wasn’t until he saw video as intrical to his fundraising business that he started commercializing his experience.
“From all my years of doing this, that is sort of the progression,” he said. “The evolution of fundraising means you have to have a video. It has to be a very biographical, compelling, eye-pleasing video so that people go ‘OK, I didn’t know about this candidate, but now I can see it.’”
Another part of what prompted the long-time fundraiser’s diversification was cost. Christensen doesn’t work with incumbents and he found his clients priced out of the services offered by media firms, which can often run up to $50,000 for a highly produced bio spot.
Borrowing straight from the entrepreneur’s playbook, he saw an opportunity to offer more effective video services for a lower cost. “Working with media consultants over the years, I picked up all the best practices,” said Christensen, who subcontracts with video teams out of Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Back in 2020, Christensen was working with Navy veteran Phil Ehr who was running against Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz in Florida’s 1st House district. He produced a 13-second video for Ehr that went viral, ultimately getting 1.5 million views. “It just gave people an impression that this guy was a credible individual who was really reaching out to voters and doing it in a professional way,” he said. “That led to raising over $100,000 in three days.”
Ehr’s campaign then reinvested that money into more fundraising, eventually raising some $2 million.
“That’s why videos can be so important,” said Christensen. “All videos don’t go viral, but some videos do.”
Even fundraisers that have brought into big numbers for clients are adding additional services. In Pennsylvania, Andrea Ramunno is coming off a cycle where she helped Sen. John Fetterman’s campaign raise more than $75 million.
Still, her shingle, Rise Political Strategies, isn’t confining itself to just rainmaking. She’s also offering a training and mentoring component to her services. “It’s balancing both [services],” she said. “There’s still going to be that traditional model.”
But Ramunno sees an opportunity in the training aspect of fundraising because campaigns in 2023 and beyond may be hit by “an intense staffing shortage,” which she can help alleviate by setting up the “structures and systems that you can teach a fundraiser.”
“Fundraising is all about the little minutia and details,” Ramunno told C&E recently. “Do you have a call time follow-up procedure where you follow up every time someone makes a pledge? How do you look at a list for the first time — what is [a donor’s] capacity to give? Why do they care about your candidate?
“It’s working with some of these folks who have never had to do that before.”