Is political fundraising easy?

Is political fundraising easy?

The simple answer is yes, if you base all your campaign fundraising activity around promoting specific events.

Is it really that simple? Well, yes and no. The boffins at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich conducted an interesting study of fundraising data before and after the 2004 tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia.

What they uncovered is that we humans all follow universal behaviors regardless of our country of origin when it comes to making donations. Moreover, they found that time dictates the number and size of donations. There's a “logistic growth equation” based on when a disaster takes place. “Herding behavior” plays an important role on how individual donors affect each other. And the donation volume pattern matches SIR infectious disease transmission models.

In other words, people give in the same way they catch a contagious disease. Let me rephrase that. Donation trends move through a population in the same quantitative manner as a virus moves through a population. 

You have a population of Susceptible (prospective donors), Infected (donors), and Recovered (people who have given… or died from the disease). That is where the "SIR" comes from. The giving pattern moves through the population in a very predictable manner, just like FriendFace, or social herding, driven by the media or social networks. 

So what does that mean for political fundraisers?

One of the most interesting take-aways is that we may be able to accurately predict the pattern and volume of donations based on the size of potential donor populations and the amount of mass media promotion for a specific event or disaster.

The second is that to fundraise, you must have a trigger event. This is easy in politics. You have Election Day; you have primaries; you have a constant stream of rallies and press events. Take each one of these events and use them to infect prospective donors.

If you're a simple nonprofit looking for operational funding, then your path is harder. You must artificially create events to infect your prospects. This is why there are Something-A-Thons, winter banquets, college reunions and Girl Scout cookies. Once the donation flow starts slowing down, it's time to start working on your next event.


Erik currently runs sales and marketing for CMDI, the largest Republican fundraising technology platform. Prior to joining CMDI, Erik founded numerous fundraising technology companies whose products have raised over $300 million for hundreds of political and cause-based organizations.

A version of this post was also published on CMDI’s blog.


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