What’s So Special About Fundraising?
The bright lights of federal elections often take precedence over the importance of local elections, but consider for a moment how much your daily life is impacted at the local level, from city councils to school boards to county commissions. They are just as important as federal offices and a great place for conservatives to lay the ground work for winning locally that percolates to the federal election.
The math is simple. A city council or school board race usually covers just a few precincts and for the cities where those two elections have become “at large” (where every member is up at the same time and no one is constrained by precincts or districts) the number of voters is still so small that with an organized plan, a candidate with minimal funding can win.
Notice we said “minimal funding,” which means that there has to be some and that some is driven by fundraising.
Where do you start fundraising?
This is a conundrum for many campaigns. Many cannot think of a way to start solving it because they don’t know where to start.
Start small. We mean that. Start with your friends and family, even if they don’t live in the area. Make a list of anyone and everyone you can think of, even your second cousin’s second cousin twice removed. With some time and thought, you should be able to come up with a list of 50 to 100 people.
Don’t ask them for a $1,000, either. Ask for $10 or $25 to get started.
And remind yourself, Don’t. Be. Afraid. To. Ask.
Once you get someone committed to giving you any amount of money, make a second ask: ask them for any friends who would be willing to match the amount they just gave you. You will be surprised at how many people have 4-5 others who they can put you in contact with right away who will match their donation.
Many will want to know why you are running. Have a few bullet points written down of why you are running and why your city, state or country needs you.
Make your talking points definitive. If you don’t know why you are running, others won’t either and you’re dead on arrival.
Once you’ve figured that out, write down some bullet points of what your campaign is doing to do.
Which precincts do you need to win? Where will you make public appearances? May we suggest you start with local political clubs and, if you can get in front of it, the local Kiwanis club. Having even a brief plan of what you are going to do to win your race has a positive affect upon would be donors.
You want to project that 1) you are the person for the job and 2) that you have a plan in place to win the race.
Many conservatives fall short in political runs because they don’t know where to start, they fool themselves into thinking they don’t need money to win and then if they do have it, they often times build their campaigns on cookie cutter “plans” that consultants love to make money from.
If you are running for office, do not fall into that trap. Instead, use the funds that you raise to build the right kind of political pyramid, from the ground up.
We love the dollar math of Donald Green and Alan Gerber and their Get Out The Vote studies. Consider a city council race that has the funds to pay block walkers. Let’s say in a city council race the win number in a primary is 1,500 votes. According to Green and Gerber’s studies, you can lock down a voter for yourself (or your candidate) for $15 if you are paying block walkers. With some quick math, that means to get 1,500 votes, the total cost to win that election is $22,500.
For some first time candidates, that seems like a really big number. It’s not. Especially when you consider that, again, a city council member is one of nine that potentially decides multi-million dollar budgets.
Money is the milk blood of politics. You have to have it to win. Do you need as much as your opponent? No, but you do need some. A general rule of thumb from our perspective is that you will need at least 25% of the money that your opponent has. IF you are running against an incumbent city council member who has a war chest of $50,000, then you will need to raise a minimum of $12,500 to have a fighting chance (and you will have to rely on volunteers to knock doors for you). Are you running against a sitting Member of Congress who has a $1 million dollar war chest? You will need to raise at least $250,000 dollars to be a viable candidate.
Some will see those numbers and think, “Those are big numbers from where I am sitting.” Some will say, “That’s not enough.”
When it comes to modern campaigns, many incumbents that conservatives will challenge have a very set campaign routine based on consultants driven by money. It is TV, radio and mail. Many consultants today actually have a ring binder with their “plan” to win. If a campaign’s political structure is built with those three elements being the largest part of the campaign, and therefore the foundation, it will be an expensive and frankly ineffective campaign.
But if you build a campaign with a pyramid whose foundation is door-to-door activity, you can immediately eliminate a lot of your major costs in running for office. IF you are running for a federal office, will you need to be on TV? Yes. Radio? Yes, but these should not be the mainstays of your campaign. For the dollar for dollar comparison, you can pour your money into door-to-door work and effectively level the playing field against a much better funded candidate. With a general rule being that 10% of registered voters showing up to vote in a primary, the total votes cast in a Congressional Primary could be as low as 40,000 votes. With the Green and Gerber door-to-door numbers, with one in 12 voters being contacted by canvassers, you would lock in almost 17,000 votes for yourself if you spent $250,000 dollars on door-to-door activities.
A note to first time candidates-prepare to spend as much as 70% of your time raising money.
Donors want to talk to you and to build a successful campaign, you will need to raise the funds to fuel it.
So as you launch your campaign, lay out a plan for success. That success will be fueled by fundraising. Commit to it. Go do it.