This time of year many animals get busy gathering food for the winter. Candidates should follow nature’s lead, although, for some, building up a store of contributions is counter instinctual. In fact, fundraising is one area that many candidates ignore, fear or don’t fully understand.
Getting your fundraising started or expanding an existing operation can seem overwhelming. The first step is often a flurry of suggestions coming the candidate’s way. It can seem like everyone in his or her orbit wants to offer names, organizations and businesses to contact for money.
Pulled in a variety of directions, many candidates have trouble bearing down and getting to work raising money. Whether on cycle or during an off-year, the fall is ideal for candidates to rev up their fundraising. To help with that, here are some common questions I get from clients new to the process.
Q: I’ve exhausted my friends and family, where do I go next?
A: Recognize who you are. What are your values, policy views and the goals you want to achieve when elected? This information will provide the path to your fundraising. You wouldn’t call a charter school supporter if you’re a strong advocate for public schools. Rather, you’d reach out to public school leaders, as well as teacher unions. If you’ve worked in the private sector, you’ll have a built-in list to use. If you’ve been on boards, reach out to the board members. These are the first steps in building your fundraising base. Moreover, add these contacts to the campaign’s database and sort them by category.
Q: Should I hire a fundraising consultant?
A: Often candidates think they can save money by not hiring a fundraiser. But as your campaign escalates and more connections are forged on the trail, you may become overwhelmed with all the names, emails and phone numbers. By having a fundraiser working on the campaign all the necessary information will be added to your database in an organized manner. If you hire an experienced fundraiser, he or she will help you to evaluate which names have the potential to be a contributor to you. An immediate goal for your campaign and fundraising staff will be to update and add names to your database.
Q: Why is it important to have a good database program for fundraising?
A: It provides you the option to manipulate the contact information for various activities. When doing an event, you’ll want to use names that fit the host and group being targeted for the function. In your database you should label each person’s historical contribution level. If it’s a high dollar event you won’t invite people who are on your small contributor list. Remember, this database is for fundraising only and shouldn’t be confused with a voter-contact database.
Q: Should I buy lists?
A: Lists that you may buy won’t be exclusive. Other candidates will be using those same lists. And many times these lists aren’t current and don’t reflect the type of contributor who will support you. It’s far better to build your own list.
Still, there are a couple areas where a purchased list may offer some value. For instance, an alumni list from your university, or a list from a professional organization can be useful. If you’re a legal person get a list of lawyers. If you’re a finance person get a list of businesses within your field of expertise. Once you have the lists, an experienced fundraiser will advise you as to which names from the list are worth calling and adding to your database.
Q: How do I follow the contribution limits for my campaign?
A: Depending on the office you’re running for, the limits are set by city, county, state or federal guidelines. Read and understand the amounts PACs can give, as well as what individual contributors and small contributor committees can donate per cycle. Your database program, as well as your fundraiser and treasurer will track the contributions and advise the campaign if a contributor has exceeded her totals.
Renée Hatchwell founded Renée Hatchwell Company in 1994. The full-service company provides candidate development, fundraising, event planning and database set up and organization.