by Carol Hess, Political Resources
Once you have decided to run for office, one of the first questions you should ask is, can I raise enough money to win? In an ideal world, the best person would win whether or not he or she can raise sufficient funds. However, in reality, if you are not independently wealthy and can't ask for money, you should reconsider running for elective office.
As a candidate, you need to raise money early and raise money often. This advice holds true for the incumbent as well as the challenger. The best contributors are those who have already contributed to your campaign. Having made a contribution, your donors already have a vested interest in your success. Don't be afraid to ask them again. A professional should help you plan how much you will need to run a successful campaign and to develop a fundraising strategy. Some basic tips to consider:
- First you must examine your own reserves. If you are not willing to make a contribution toward your own campaign, you can't realistically ask others to contribute.
- Next you should ask your family and friends. While this may seem awkward, your family and friends are your early seed money, to get you started. Your close family and friends should be approached in person. But - do not sit down with your family and friends until you have a good reason as to why you are running and an explanation as to how you will use their money. You should have the written outline of a plan of action. If you can't ask this close-knit circle for donations, you should reconsider running for office.
- Next you should compile a list of your acquaintances, your business associates, your high school and college friends, etc. They should be called or sent a personal letter from you. What you say and how you say it is important. Consider having a professional write this letter for you. Once you have a commitment from your friend, get this person to spread the word for you. They can write letters on your behalf, call their friends, hold fundraising parties, etc.
- Next try to get hold of member lists of your life's activities: college class, any civic or professional or religious association you are member of. If you are active in any group, this should be on the top of your list. People who know you or have heard of you are more likely to give to your campaign than strangers.
- Next, if you not in a primary, you should approach your local, county or state party organization. They won't make any lists available if your election is contested, but, if you are the party's candidate, you should press them to share their lists or do a mailing for you.
- If you are an incumbent, you should contact every person who contributed to you in your past campaigns. People often feel insulted or neglected if they supported you in the past and they are not contacted again.
- Next, contact former candidates or officeholders. If they share your political beliefs, they may allow you to use their lists. At minimum, they may suggest some prominent individuals to contact or they can share their own fundraising experiences.
- If you are the challenger, your opponent may have made some enemies. You should contact these groups or individuals and let them know that you are running and can offer an alternative.
- Next, go to the Board of Elections and check on their filing reports of past candidates for local and state elections. Since all candidates must file a list of donors to their campaign, this might be an excellent list to pursue (be certain to check whether in your locality, it is legal to use those names).
- If you are running at the county, state or national level, you might consider approaching a List Broker. This might be especially helpful if you are running on a particular issue. (Abortion, Gun Control, Environmental Issues, Family Values, Limited Government, etc.). A List Broker can help find lists of likely donors who fit your criteria. However, there is usually a 5,000 name minimum for each list you might be interested in, and, unless the area you are running in has a large population base, you may not find a sufficient number of names. Also, lists are rented for one-time use, so this can be a costly way to raise funds.
- If you are running at the state or national level, there may be some PAC money available. This requires planning and should only be considered once you are a viable candidate.
The best fundraising advise - raise money early and raise it often. Best wishes in your campaign.
Carol Hess is a List Broker and is president of Political Resources, Inc. She was a political consultant and campaign manager in the 1970's and early 1980's. The tips on raising money haven't changed.