Fundraising is the biggest challenge most campaigns encounter. Some candidates hate it because they see it as begging while others think it distasteful to cultivate relationships with the express purpose of asking for money.
Another challenge is that there aren’t that many big donors. To wit, just 158 families have ponied up nearly half the presidential primary campaigns’ early funds, according to The New York Times.
Yet campaigns don’t function without money. Some candidates circumvent the fundraising challenge by self-funding. This solves the issue of cash flow, but a secondary benefit of fundraising are the connections a candidate makes. When a campaign acquires a major donor, they obtain an investor and a committed cheerleader with a deep Rolodex.
With this in mind, it’s important to understand the psychology and primary motivations of major donors, who we’ll define as someone willing to contribute $500 or more to your campaign. Few people enjoy asking for donations, but by understanding the typical thought process of major contributors, candidates and finance directors can mollify the anxiety that comes with asking someone for money.
Let’s start by examining an individual major donor prospect – a person who fulfills three important criteria: the ability to give, the proclivity to give and the motivation to give.
These three criteria can be boiled down to a prospective donor’s financial capacity to contribute, their history of campaign donations, and their willingness to give to your effort. If someone meets these benchmarks, they’re a solid prospect.
Here are some of the most common motivating factors influencing a donor’s willingness to make a significant contribution:
o Duty: peer pressure or a sense of obligation.
o Fear: a desire to defeat a candidate or cause.
o Passion: a strong belief in a candidate or cause.
o Sympathy: an emotional response to a heartfelt plea for support.
o Logic: an opportunity to invest in positive representation.
o Power: the chance to shape the outcome of an election or ballot measure.
o Access: a desire to gain influence with a current or future public official.
While not comprehensive, these seven reasons are often the psychological triggers that motivate donor behavior. The key is determining which factors influence the behavior of a particular major donor in relation to their decision of whether or not to contribute to your campaign.
Now, let’s talk about how to communicate with major donor prospects. First off, it’s important to project intelligence, passion and gravitas.
Donors want to invest in what I call S3 candidates — those who are smart, serious and sincere. During face-to-face meetings with major-donor prospects, S3 candidates typically do four things:
1.Communicate a clear plan for achieving victory. Donors hate losing. They want to hear how their investment will be spent wisely.
2.Articulate thoughtful, educated, and common sense viewpoints on key issues. Some contributors are extremists, but most donors are savvy professionals. They want to hear practical approaches for tackling key issues.
3.Maintain control of the conversation, focus on the prospective donor’s interests, and employ emotional and/or logical appeals for funding. Some donors make decisions based on logic. Others are highly susceptible to sentiment. Your story about how granny will lose her home without Social Security benefits might be what’s needed to inspire a significant donation.
4. Always ask for a specific dollar amount before leaving the meeting. Make the case for a large donation. All the prospect can say is no, or perhaps offer a lesser amount. My father was in professional fundraising for 38 years. He had a saying I’ll never forget. “Remember son,” he said, “in fundraising you’ll always fail to get 100 percent of the money you don’t ask for.”
If you struggle with fundraising and want to learn how to become an S3 candidate, consider investing in the services of a skilled fundraising consultant. That way you can develop your presentation skills, identify prospective donors, draft fundraising letters, develop online solicitation strategies and plan fundraising events. You might even get a psychology lesson to boot.
Chazz Clevinger is the vice president of business development and campaign services for SevenTwenty Strategies, an integrated public affairs and public relations firm in Washington, D.C.