When I ask a potential fundraising client about their campaign, they often tell me why they’re running, what they have done in public service and who’s supporting them. Others respond by saying, “I will have my campaign manager send you literature,” or they’ll tell stories not related to asking for money.
Rarely do they volunteer the information that a contributor wants to know: Can you win and how will you win? Candidates often mask their discomfort with asking for money. They enjoy talking to constituents, going to meetings and being part of events, but put off whenever possible doing fundraising. Fundraising doesn’t have to be a negative experience — and it won’t be, if you make it personal.
Sure, asking for money doesn’t come easy to most people. To ask, you need to be ready to answer the question: Why should I give you money? And responding to the question requires a candidate to talk about his or her qualities. Most people have a difficult time talking about their qualities.
But if a candidate gets comfortable talking about himself or herself, fundraising will be a much easier and more pleasant task. Moreover, once that comfort level is achieved, here are some ways candidates can help grow their fundraising hauls.
Divide up the contact list
The candidate and campaign team must work jointly to maximize the size of the contact list. The candidate should be able to gather information for her friends and colleagues, community activists and political players in addition to labor and business leaders. Other groups such as environmental, health, energy, and tech are likely to be in the candidate’s orbit.
All of these groups are an integral part of a campaign’s outreach. Still, it’s the fundraising team that should determine which of the contacts will be asked for a contribution. Not all people in the groups listed above are contributors, and not all contributors are voices for your campaign plan.
By recognizing the difference, the candidate’s time will be better spent for fundraising. The lists presented to the candidate for calls and meetings will be strong with potential and proven givers to campaigns. Leave the other people for your campaign activities.
Do the prep work before call time
Call time provides the opportunity to communicate and connect with potential contributors and current supporters in a personal way. Yet placing calls is frustrating and difficult. Most of the time you get a voicemail, which defeats the purpose of the personal touch. A good approach is to have the campaign’s fundraiser or staff member do advance calls to get the best time and phone number for the candidate to call. This method alleviates the frustration of leaving a message.
Work on your call style
On the phone, a candidate should be positive, friendly and concise. Moreover, they should be straightforward as to why they’re calling. One way to start is by saying that this is a call to gain support and a contribution. Contributors appreciate the honesty and it lets them know the purpose of the conversation.
Make sure to close with a strong statement like, “I hope that this conversation has provided you with the necessary information to have confidence in me and to support my campaign. Your help would be greatly appreciated.”
Write a follow-up letter
Handwritten notes might be somewhat archaic in the era of social media and computers, but they provide an added personal touch and help a candidate stand out. Moreover, they’re an effective way to follow up from your phone call.
If you have a form letter, add a handwritten note at the bottom that shows respect to the potential contributor. These personal touches help build relationships that’ll provide a solid base for all of your fundraising.
Pick your events carefully
For the candidate, it’s easier to ask for a contribution for an event. In fact, that’s why candidates like to have events. But they’re time intensive and, if not well planned with a host or underwriter, can be costly. There are two types: Small contributor events, which are generally for friends and friends of friends who’ll contribute up to $100. As contributors they’re an important group because small-donor money is viewed by pundits as an indication of broader support within the community.
The other type of event is the large-dollar, major-contributor fundraiser. These events are usually small in number, yet produce large amounts of money. They’re harder to organize as they require a solid commitment from the host or host committee. For this type of event to be successful reach out to someone who’s prominent in political circles who can offer names for the guest list.
These events are usually at a private home or may be held at a hotel or restaurant. Cost for this type of event must be underwritten or else the campaign will spend unnecessary money.
Renée Hatchwell is the founder of the Renée Hatchwell Company, whose fundraising clients range from local, state and federal candidates to organizations and associations.