Fundraising: Quick Tips for Candidates

Fundraising: Quick Tips for Candidates
by Bob McDevitt, Christensen & Associates, Inc.

Candidate A has a vision, a popular message, a great press staff and would make a terrific member of Congress but thinks that fundraising is secondary. Candidate B has his own self-interest in mind, flip-flops on issues and does not comprehend the problems facing our country, but raises lots of money. What happens? Candidate A cannot afford television. Candidate B steals Candidate A's message and blows him away with television ads that he produced with his mammoth war chest. Be smart and avoid this scenario.

By setting up a proper fundraising system first and early, your campaign will set the foundation to raise money and meet its financial goals. Other than gathering the proper signatures to insure that you are on the ballot, nothing is more important than having your fundraising team in place. By raising money early, you will be able to have the proper resources to ensure you can afford all the additional aspects of a campaign apparatus.

Fundraise often.

There is limited time in campaigns. The candidate should spend four to five hours six days a week fundraising. Just as those who invest early in retirement have more money later, those campaigns that start fundraising early and dedicate the time are able to resolicit donors and amass a war-chest. A candidate who is serious about winning will do this. Creating a sense of urgency with your fundraising is critical. One successful way of doing this is by setting up a seperate media account at the beginning of the campaign. If the campaign budget determines that 80 percent of the budget will be spent on media, then eight out of every ten dollars that comes in goes directly to the media account. By doing this, the campaign will be under constant pressure to meet its obligations. By doing this, you will position yourself to reach your paid media goals. While it is more fun to talk strategy, the bottom line is, you have to have to have money in order to get our your message. And another thing...PACs will not even look at your race seriously until they see your campaign has raised a substantial amount of money from individuals. I am often dumbfounded by candidates who think they will receive all this money from heaven. Campaigns must be viable in order for PACs to contribute more than a token amount. A big part of validity is cash-on-hand come financial filing deadlines.

Hire professionals.

Why spend weeks or months trying to figure out how to raise money? By hiring a fundraising consultant, you can turn your campaign into a fundraising machine. This may be your first, second or even third campaign. Consultants have worked dozens, even hundreds of campaigns. They know the unexpected pitfalls in fundraising and they know what works. More importantly, the right fundraising consultant will actually save you money. I am still amazed when I walk into a campaign and they are spending 50 cents to raise a dollar. Would you try to make your own commercials? Then why try to go it alone on your fundraising. The investment in a qualified consultant is like a capital investment in a business. You need to spend money to make money.

The candidate as fundraiser.

The number-one fundraiser in your campaign is the candidate. The most cost effective and successful way to raise money in open seat and challenger races is through candidate calling. Period. The candidate is the product and will reap profit if willing to fundraise. You will never receive if you do not ask, and a solicitation from the candidate is the strongest and most cost effective method of fundraising. Staff also needs to dedicate substantial blocks of time for fundraising.

Keep it simple, Stupid!

There are hundreds of ways to raise money. Your campaign should focus on approximately six or seven fundraising systems with maximum and minimum goals to achieve your overall revenue stream. Focus on systems that are the most cost effective and least staff intensive. Nine times out of ten, I know a campaign is in trouble when they tell me they are large event driven.

If you want the gold, you have to dig for it.

There are no magical lists (except for your own past contributors). Fundraising is hard work! Period! Candidates must tap into personal relationships, including social and professional, certain interests and past contributors. Often, campaigns believe that if they just mail Senator So and So's list that the flood gates will open and cash will roll into the campaign coffers. Simply not true! I have experienced campaign after campaign that have blindly mailed lists wasting thousands of dollars looking for that magic list. If you are a first-time candidate, and a fundraising firm is trying to sell you a great list, watch your wallet. Potential contributors have to be identified and targeted for specific amounts of money. If the candidate does not ask for specific amounts from individuals, then it is not a commitment on which the candidate can rely. How can you buy $300,000 of paid media down the stretch when you can not identify where it is early?

If you are serious about raising money -- particularly big money -- you have to invest in the proper fundraising staff and systems in order to achieve it. Just as you wouldn't start a small business without a budget and revenue stream, the same should apply to your campaign. If you do not, then you are kidding yourself! Avoid the pitfalls of fundraising and hire a professional, qualified fundraising firm early. They will put together your fundraising apparatus right from the beginning of your campaign so that in minimal time the kinks are worked out and you are well on your way to raising the money necessary to cover your budget. Go ahead and do it. Looking for magical shortcuts to raising a half million dollars is wasting precious fundraising time. Remember, bumper stickers and signs are fun, but it is money that wins elections. A solid fundraising system makes the difference between being a candidate...and being a winner.