I hate calling people to ask for money. I hate begging. I hate fundraising! It usually takes less than a full day dialing for dollars before the fundraising-induced rage starts to build for your candidate.
As a professional fundraiser, I see the financial aspect of campaigning unfairly targeted time and time again by candidates. They hate it. I get that. The animosity candidates have toward fundraising isn’t just a problem for them. It’s a major problem for the political professionals, too. For the candidate, It’s hard to even approach competitiveness in an election when you’re near penniless or underfunded. For the consultants and vendors, and I’m not questioning your charitable altruistic hearts here, but I doubt most firms take a candidate’s undying adoration as a form of payment.
This is why it’s the consultant’s job to make candidates embrace the ask. To get there, you have to first put aside your frustration with a candidate who simply doesn’t want to pick up the phone. It starts with understanding why it’s a process they hate. From my experience, there are three major reasons.
It’s Demeaning and Unfulfilling
Did little Johnny Candidate ever say, “I’d like to be a telemarketer or a panhandler when I grow up?” Of course not. However, that is largely what a candidate is vocationally reduced to for months on end despite having developed marketable, specialized skills in his or her career. Fundraising can be tedious, boring and repetitious. It’s a creative, right-brainer’s nightmare.
It’s Too Truthful
When your candidate knocks on doors, speaks to civic groups and attends political events, lots of people call themselves supporters. We all know, however, a substantial percentage of these people are proven to be dirty, rotten liars every election cycle. Still, your candidate loves hearing it. Asking someone to donate is like administering a great elixir of truth regarding their support and often candidates want to live in the land of make believe to postpone the pain of reality. Fundraising is the one area of campaigning that consistently and continually offers a steady stream of rejection, refusal and dismissal from friends, associates and total strangers.
It’s Emotionally Distressing for Lazy People
A generation or so ago, our grandparents commonly recognized a condition that caused particular individuals to be incapable of completing routine tasks that required significant effort applied in a consistent fashion. It was called laziness. Pronounced: la’-zi-ness (likely of Low German origin). Today, using this term to describe apparently stricken individuals is considered coarse.
If you feel your candidate may be suffering from this condition, there is a sure test. Administer a list of fundraising calls to the patient and come back in an hour or so. Repeat this process for several days. If the candidate becomes delusional, fabricating stories about imaginary calls and curling up in the fetal position when fundraising is mentioned, you may have a bad case on your hands.
A point in clarification: The above are reasons your candidate will not physically execute the tasks required for fundraising with the appropriate regularity or in the necessary volume to reach your fundraising goals. There are other elements that weigh in heavily regarding a candidate’s fundraising capacity which include their personal sphere of financial influence, amassed personal wealth, and favor curried with major individual and organizational contributors. We do not address these here, but rather are instead interested in the amount of fight in the dog, not the circumstances of the dog in the fight, lest readers feel compelled to make excuses for their underdog. So here are a few ideas to give your pup some pep:
Forget Results, Measure Actions
When you say, “We need to raise $1,000,000 this quarter,” what you really are stating is a desired result. Unless your candidate is a practiced alchemist, he can’t actually accomplish that feat in one fell swoop. All the candidate can tangibly and measurably do in most cases is to communicate with prospective donors in some fashion.
Break your quarterly goals into bite-sized pieces and assign the appropriate amount of candidate communication to reach the goal based on likely statistical outcomes. At some juncture in a campaign, you get a good idea of what percentages of people are reached per call, what percentage contributes and what an average gift equals.
Of course these range widely day-to-day, but over time data emerges that provides you a numerical basis sufficient for mathematically backing into your quarterly goal. It’s not perfect, but it beats guessing. An action plan to meet your fundraising goal might look like this:
- 60 phone calls per day, Monday through Friday
- 8 small group visits per week
- 4 full-blown events per month
- 20 new prospects added to the database per week
While these actionable suggestions are far too elementary to adequately reflect the complexity of campaign fundraising in a large campaign, the point of this exercise is to get you comfortable with the idea of focusing on inputs instead of outputs. Once your candidate meets the action goals, leave them alone to relax or move on to more enjoyable aspects of campaigning. If these are not sufficient to produce the results necessary, then reevaluate and renegotiate them with the candidate.
No Safe Harbor
When it comes to avoiding the hard work of fundraising, candidates often look for safe harbors of escape in the persons of other members of the campaign team outside of the finance silo. This could mean an endless strategy meeting with the campaign manager, a 30-minute chit-chat session with your pollster or an hour-long gossip gathering with your field staff about lauded county politicos who will never lift a finger in your campaign anyway. It’s your job to make sure the candidate doesn’t get off track.
Everyone on the campaign team must consider fundraising time holy and sacrosanct unless they would like to contribute their salary to the campaign and work on a volunteer basis. Candidates recovering from la’-zi-ness must not be afforded a quick fix in idleness or dilly-dallying. Stop enabling. You wouldn’t bring liquor to an AA meeting, so don’t tempt a candidate with cathartic distractions. They may soon fall off the wagon.
In summary on this point: fundraising isn’t just the responsibility of the fundraiser. It’s everyone’s responsibility.
The Truth, It Hurts So Good
It is unhealthy for a candidate to stay submerged in a sea of ass-kissers for too long−they begin to look pruny and their suits wrinkle. If you are responsible for fundraising, you must from time to tome insist the candidate disembark from U.S.S. B.S. and look at the cold, hard numbers. Alas, quarterly filings wait for no man. In the professional field of politics, it is tough to call a spade a spade, but it is your solemn duty.
Most candidates have never thoughtfully considered, with personal introspection, why they hate fundraising deep down and what sizable internal obstacles they must overcome with their own willpower to succeed. Help them understand now that you know. Convince them of fundraising’s monumental importance for success in winning elections.
Even though it’s the fundraising team’s job to motivate the candidate, never beat up on your candidate because of failing to reach a fundraising goal when their abilities or circumstances would not permit it. On the other hand, never fail to admonish them wholeheartedly for laying down on the job and not following through with discrete action plans.
Be an encouragement to your candidate. Praise their actions, courage and persistence in bracing against the avalanche of “NO!” Highlight the successes and celebrate them. Downplay the setbacks, when outside of their control, and focus on the next opportunity.
In the end, your candidate can’t control how much money comes in the door, but the candidate does have absolute control over their own actions. So educate and equip them in the realm of campaign finance so we can erase the hate of fundraising.
Brandon Lewis is the author of “How to Raise Money for Political Office.” He is founder and president of MyCampaignTreasurer.com, a digital campaign fundraising boot camp and software solution for candidates and staffers.