Visualizing money sounds like the first step from a get-rich-quick playbook. Picture stacks of bills and then go out and get them. Harder than it sounds, right? When it comes to campaign fundraising, though, it could be that simple.
Fundraising efforts are about allocating resources to gather the most cash possible. When you’re approaching fundraising for your campaign, start by visualizing three piles of money situated in an open field and understand there are constraints and concepts that inform your strategy in collecting each of them.
The first pile of money is massive (think Scrooge McDuck’s money bin). The money in this pile can only be gathered by the candidate and he or she can use a snow shovel to put it into the campaign’s coffers.
The second pile of money is of middling-yet-respectable size. The money in this pile can be gathered by the staff only after the candidate has initiated contact or otherwise made a lasting personal connection with the donor. The staff may use a standard size shovel to put this money into the bank account.
The third pile of money is small. It can be gathered by the staff and the staff alone, but they’re relegated to using a tiny plastic shovel like one you would give a three-year-old on the beach.
As you envision these three piles of money, I want you to consider three other environmental and situational forces that will come into play and affect how large the piles are and when campaign staff may have the opportunity to use a larger shovel and effectively employ their own efforts through direct solicitation, mass communications, and technology to gather funds.
The greater amount of emotion that surrounds a campaign or political effort, the larger the piles of money become at every level and the more likely donors are to give their contributions directly to staff-led efforts without candidate engagement.
The larger the personality and celebrity of the candidate, the more likely donors will be open to give money without candidate contact through staff-led efforts.
Take an inventory of the fundraising resources in your campaign. How much do you know about fundraising as a profession? How much time does the candidate have to devote to fundraising? How much money in total will be raised by the campaign and will an adequate amount of it be devoted to fundraising staff and infrastructure to initiate complex, mass solicitation efforts?
Now that these concepts, situational forces, and constraints have been revealed to you, how should they inform your fundraising strategy? Let’s take a look at two extremes.
The State Representative Candidate
For our first example, let’s consider a candidate running for state representative. Most of the issues surrounding this race are not particularly emotional to potential donors. The candidate has no celebrity status and is perceived as just your average civic leader or business owner.
Because they’re running for office part-time, the candidate has a limited amount of time to devote to fundraising and only one part-time volunteer coordinator. Additionally, staff have virtually no knowledge of fundraising best practices or principles.
The prescription for this particular candidate is to focus all of their time and resources on the first pile of money. All technology, staff resources, and candidate resources should be brought to bear here and here alone. In truth, most campaigns at this level run out of the resources, time, and quite frankly lack the work ethic necessary to even make a dent in this first pile of money. In essence, they just leave most of it sitting there untouched.
The Statewide Candidate
Looking at a second example, let’s picture a statewide candidate who’s running against an opponent in the opposing political party who has high unfavorables and is disliked by the candidate’s base of support nationwide.
Additionally, let’s say that the candidate in our example is well known because he or she has held another high-level office or has been active in building a following among grassroots supporters on a broad scale.
A campaign must set out to take the long view from a fundraising standpoint. In this example, all piles of money will be readily accessible and the campaign will be required to maximize the return from every pile and all the appropriate technological and staff resources must be marshalled in order to be competitive financially.
Here it’s the finance director’s duty to convince the candidate that systems and technology must be invested in early in order to be competitive in the arena of mass solicitation. That includes direct mail, email, and the gathering of emails through social media and online outlets. It means that crowd funding and empowering donors to raise money on the campaign’s behalf without supervision through technology platforms is a possibility.
When the stakes are high and your competition has fundraising talent on board that’s professional and seasoned, you will have to bring your “A” game in order to maintain financial momentum. The final set of concepts I want you to consider, especially in this last example where you’re faced with an avalanche of choices, are yield and opportunity costs.
Just because you can use mass solicitation efforts to raise money from a certain group of donors doesn’t mean you should. The more your candidate is involved in using high-touch, personalized methods the larger your contributions per donor in that pool of individuals will be.
It’s imperative that your largest donors are systematically identified and singled out early in the process so they’re not approached in the same fashion as lower-level donors. Take particular care to treat those who would serve on a finance committee or as “bundlers” like the rock stars they are for your campaign.
In fundraising, when you say “yes” to using a particular medium or technology to raise money, you necessarily say “no” to something else, because even large campaigns have limited resources. Make certain that you’re not employing new bright-and-shiny methods at the expense of tried and true techniques.
In the end, it’s not about the emotional high you get from being on the bleeding edge of a trend, it’s about having more money than the next guy, or at least as much as you can efficiently and effectively lay your hands on.
Visualize these three piles of money. It will help maximize your campaign’s return on investment from a time and treasure standpoint. But make sure you take into account all of these irrefutable, time-tested concepts. These concepts should be used to inform your overall fundraising strategy, and your strategy will dictate what tactics you use to carry it out.
Brandon Lewis is the author of “How to Raise Money for Political Office.” He is founder and president of Campaign Treasurer, a digital campaign fundraising boot camp and software solution.