How a fundraising plan comes together

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Once you have a plan, learning the right way to ask for money is essential to success.


Who could imagine that Hannibal Smith of “The A-Team” (played by actor George Peppard) would be dispensing advice to political candidates about the importance of planning? His famous tagline: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

With the average congressional campaign costing upwards of $2 million in 2012, potential candidates need to get their fundraising plan together as early as possible if they’re thinking about running in 2014. And even if you’re not ready to run for Congress, you’ll still need to raise money for your state or local election.

So how do you start? Simply put, you need a finance plan—a road map to guide you in your fundraising efforts so you can run a sustainable campaign. You may have an engaging message and a brilliant campaign plan, but if you can’t pay the bills, your campaign will fail.

Raising money for political campaigns isn’t some recent novelty. Mark Hanna, campaign strategist to William McKinley’s presidential campaign back in 1896, once said, “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”

There are plenty of fundraising techniques to consider when you’re developing a plan—finance committees, events, direct mail, social media and telemarketing, just to name a few. But before you dive into all of that, you have to start by learning how to ask for money. Doing it right makes all the difference.

My standard advice: make a list of 100 people you know that you can ask for an initial investment. Go through your Rolodex (yes, people still use them), your Christmas or holiday greetings list and your Facebook and LinkedIn contacts. Aim high—it’s better to ask for $1,000 and negotiate than to ask for a minimal amount.

When Democratic super-fundraiser Julianna Smoot first met with then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2007, he had only a thin list of donors from his previous campaigns. According to the Washington Post, her first piece of advice to Obama was that if he truly wanted to be considered a serious presidential contender he needed to quickly start raising the cash. “Start calling,” Smoot told him. “And don’t forget to ask for their credit card numbers.”

Thus began the Obama 2008 fundraising machine that ultimately raised more than $800 million. The plan that Smoot hatched with Obama advisers Steve Hildebrand and Pete Rouse included a minimum of 10 hours a week of call time by the candidate himself. Smoot began to travel regularly with Obama so he could work the phones, albeit begrudgingly under her watchful eye. He made the calls and the money started to flow.

As a candidate, you must build call time into your schedule. Like it or not, you’re the top salesperson for your campaign, and if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

Your self-confidence is critical to your success as a fundraiser. Studies show you have just 21 seconds to make a first impression with someone, so you had better walk into a donor meeting with the poise of an Olympic star. Hold your head high, have a firm handshake and make eye contact. If you look like a winner, you’ll have a better chance to persuade a donor to contribute.

Dale Carnegie, who launched his business 100 years ago, wrote the definitive primer on motivation when he penned “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Carnegie used to advise his students to greet every stranger with the enthusiasm of a puppy dog. While I don’t advise that you start licking the faces of potential donors, your personal outlook is an essential key. Be glad to be there.

Several years ago, Uno the beagle became the first beagle to ever make the finals of the Westminster Dog Show. When Uno stepped into the ring, with his head held high and a swagger in his step, 3,000 human beings gave him a standing ovation. This is what you call presence. Uno went on to be named “Best in Show.” (While Carnegie publishes in dozens of languages, who knew that dog was one of them?)

As former Democratic National Committee Chairman and now Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAulife once quipped, “Anytime you can call versus sending a piece of mail, your response rate will go up five times.”

So prepare a script to use when you’re phoning or planning a donor meeting. Build a strong case for support. Find a common denominator between you and the potential donor, and remember, with Google and Facebook you can find out almost anything you need to know about anybody.

Develop a 30-second, a two-minute and a five-minute sales pitch that’s from the heart. It should be emotional and passionate. Ask questions and listen twice as much as you speak. And most importantly: close the deal. If you don’t ask for a contribution, you’re not going to get one. Politics is emotion, and fundraising decisions come from the heart, not the head.

Remember Karen Klein? She was the New York school bus monitor who was videotaped being verbally abused by middle school bullies last year. The video went viral and has been viewed on YouTube more than 1 million times. Hard working Americans sent her more than $700,000. She has since started an anti-bullying foundation with the funds. Her story pulled at people’s hearts, made them angry and led total strangers to spontaneously send her money.

Instead of following an intellectual path to persuade donors to give, wander down the emotional path instead. A wise man once said, “Capture their hearts, and you capture their minds.” In fundraising, you use the heart to capture their wallets.

So, just like the “A-Team” developed a plan, you can launch your own successful fundraising plan, too. The mission: replace cold calling with warm communication. Your ability to make emotional connections with potential donors can move them from concern to passion to cash.

Nancy Bocskor is a fundraising professor at The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the author of “Go Fish: How to Catch (and Keep) Contributors: A Practical Guide to Fundraising.”


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