Walk around any gathering of political professionals and you’ll find something dreadfully amiss. People are talking at each other, but not with each other. They’re networking to be sure, but they’re not making personal connections. They’re gathering Facebook friends, but have seemingly little desire to gather actual, abiding friendships.
Now, if you and I were having a beer, perhaps I should say a virtual pint so as not to lose the audience, we could talk about this phenomenon in a broader sense, but given this is a blog you likely want me to get to the point. So here it is: I believe we’re doing our candidates a great disservice by focusing on the mechanics of fundraising exclusively while ignoring the power of friendship.
I can hear many of you now. “Everyone knows donor relations are of the utmost importance,” you tweet. The problem with that piece of fortune-cookie wisdom is most people’s concept of “donor relations” is far afield from actual friendship. Donor relations, at least according to my university, is having a college student call me during dinner, using a name I don’t use and then send me a luggage tag for my contribution to Big Red. Unfortunately, many campaign’s concept of donor relations isn’t far removed from this — simply substitute a bumper sticker for the luggage tag.
The kind of friendship I’m talking about here is built deliberately over time between a candidate and his tier-one donor base. The lynchpin of this friendship is a feeling on behalf of the donor that the candidate genuinely, personally and authentically cares about them and their family, business or viewpoint. The candidates who build the best friendships are the ones who aren’t afraid to invest time in their donors because they actually value the friendships above, beyond and independent of the financial rewards to their campaign.
In every campaign cycle, you see the same cast of characters consisting of ancient, perennial political donors, donors with personal or professional interests at stake at the time, and those with unbending political agendas. Your candidate must certainly make friends in these circles. However, in every election, you also see a unique set of donors emerge that are participating financially almost exclusively because of a personal connection with the candidate. These donors may not give again politically for 10 or 20 years and they represent a genuine competitive advantage that’s unwavering and untouchable by your opponent.
These donors can find an extra $5,000, $50,000 or $500,000 to help you meet quarterly goals when you thought all hope was lost. When your opponent launches a negative salvo on the airways and politicos are jumping ship left and right, your donors gained through true friendship are the ones standing up for you in the editorial columns. If you or your campaign makes a misstep, often your closest tier-one donors can relate because they understand mistakes often go along with taking a risk or accomplishing something truly significant.
So encourage your candidates to move beyond building relationships — ask them to make lasting friendships. This way, once the money is all spent — and you know it will be — they’ll still have something valuable remaining.
Brandon Lewis is the author of “How to Raise Money for Political Office.” He’s founder and president of MyCampaignTreasurer.com, a digital campaign fundraising boot camp and software solution for candidates, caucuses, and staffers. @FundraisingApp