Everything changed during the 2020 election season. The COVID-19 pandemic mostly put a stop to in-person campaigning. That includes in-person events, town halls, and door-to-door canvassing. This forced politicians to change their campaigning strategies.
Regardless, campaigns for local office still face the same challenges they always have. One of the first and largest obstacles is raising enough money to become a viable candidate.
Online or offline, fieldwork is critical to success. To succeed, you also need a solid organization and an effective outreach strategy.
Depending on your location and the local voting demographics, a campaign for local office can easily cost a few thousand dollars. If you live in a city, expenses may even reach millions of dollars. If you want an idea of what your election campaign may cost, research previous successful races for the same office. That will give you an idea of your total cost and your potential cost per voter.To get an idea of what your election campaign may cost, research previous successful races for the same office. Click To Tweet
How do candidates fund their elections?
Political candidates get their funding for primaries and general elections through a variety of methods. Outside contributions are the most common source of funds. Tactics may include direct solicitation by mail, phone, text or online. Fieldwork by volunteers and donor events are also crucial.
For Congressional and state offices, the three main sources of financial aid include political action committees (PACs), large individual donors and small donors. Some political campaigns are self-financed. This happens more in both local elections or larger races or where the candidate is independently wealthy.
The costs of elections seems to go up every election cycle. If you are a first-time candidate running for a state or federal position, the expense can be staggering. Even a local campaign for town council, village board, school board or mayor can be expensive. Judges and sheriff candidates don’t have it easy these days, either. You’ll need to determine your fundraising goals based on previous elections and the current situation.
Many first-time candidates have no idea how to to raise money for a political campaign. Your strategy should begin with your decision to run for office. This is true whether you are running for a local elected position – or even a state or congressional race.
Most candidates don’t have a lot of money to put up themselves to pay for early expenses. Seed money donations are required to get things started – along with a campaign bank account. A financial team or treasurer is also needed to help track donations and expenditures.
Tips to kick off your political fundraising campaign
- Start with Friends and Family
- Hold a Campaign Fundraising Event
- Make it Easy To Donate
- Use Online Channels
- Start Fundraising Before You Even Announce
- Go Big
- Keep Building Your Prospect List
- Be Thankful To Your Donors
Start with friends and family
Initial help for local political campaigns often comes from the people they know best – friends and family.
This is the most common way that local candidates raise initial seed money. Just making the ask can be tough, but if you want to raise money, you need to start with your most potential donors. This could be family members, colleagues, friends and wealthy supporters. You can reach out directly or through mail. Tell your prospects why you are running, why you think you can win and how their support can help.
Host a campaign fundraising event
Once they announce their candidacy for office, most candidates start with a ‘kick-off’ fundraiser event.
The goal of a kick-off event (and all your political fundraisers) is to collect money, begin to spread the word, and generate excitement. The event can be a sit-down dinner, auction, golf event – almost anything. Use the money you collected from friends and family to bankroll your first event. If someone can donate a location and services, that’s even better.
If you have a more formal event, include a special place for VIPs and charge more for those tickets.
Again, with the 2020 pandemic, social distancing has limited in-person crowds. This has had a negative effect on raising money. To make up for this, some politicians have taken to live streaming virtual events on Facebook and Instagram as a way to interact with voters and supporters. Creating an online event requires the same preparation as an offline event. You will want to have an event page on your website, social media notifications, email invitations, continual reminders and a donation page ready to go.
Make it easy to donate
Political fundraising has evolved in the 21st century. Where mail-in donations by check were once the primary way of collecting contributions, today online donations are the norm. These days, supporters fully expect candidates and organizations to solicit and accept donations on the web. Those who stick with the old ‘mailers and envelopes’ will have a have tough time keeping up for opponents who are more technologically savvy.Supporters expect candidates and organizations to solicit #donations online. Those who stick with the old 'mailers and envelopes' will have a have tough time keeping up for opponents who are more technologically savvy. Click To Tweet
Accept online donations
It’s not very difficult to accept online donations. Your best place to set this up is through a secure campaign website.
A website lends credibility and creates a hub for your online campaign. Many people will not donate money through a Facebook page or a Twitter link. A campaign site provides a fixed place to send donors so they can learn more about the candidate and make contributions. Depending on your fundraising system, you can often create specific donation landing pages for different audiences and solicitations.
Just remember that your website exists as a conduit through which to raise money, not as a means unto itself.
Use online channels for communication
Having a good online presence, even a small one to start, tells potential donors that you are serious about winning the election. Political fundraisers can be promoted through a variety of online channels.
Here are ideas to raise money for your political campaign:
- Use social media to raise awareness. You can start this process through your personal Facebook and Twitter contacts. Ask them to become the first followers of your campaign’s social media accounts. Use those channels to keep followers informed and to ask for money throughout the campaign. Advertising can help you reach more local voters and potential supporters.
- Don’t forget about email. It can be one of your most effective digital channels. Start building your email list as soon as you can, starting with friends and relatives. Writing fundraising emails can be tricky, as you have get a reader’s attention with an interesting subject line and compelling message.
- Some campaigns use Pay Per Click advertising to appear when voters are searching for candidates or topics related to important issues. If you are running a local campaign, don’t expect to raise much money through pay-per-click ads.
- Even local campaigns are using IP Target Marketing to reach voters directly. They can use voter address data, donor and party affiliation data to match physical addresses to IP addresses. Then they can send digital ads directly to those households.
- Peer-to-peer texting is increasing in popularity. It allows you to mobilize volunteers to directly recruit others to help a candidate, issue or political party. P2P lets you form stronger relationships with donors, but it does require engagement throughout the campaign.
- Turn one-time donors into recurring supporters. Provide the opportunity for donors to give on a recurring basis through Election Day.
- Set up specific landing pages for your different online fundraising campaigns. Tailor each landing page to match the ‘ask’. In other words, don’t just send everyone to the same donate page. You will have a better conversion rate if your landing page matches what your site visitor expects. If you donation request is about a particular issue, the landing page should address that issue in some way. It should reinforce the reasons for giving.
What political fundraising service should I use? There are a number of services that process political donations online. Many services have tools that go beyond simple transactional processing and bank transfers. They may allow you to take donations directly through your Facebook page, provide landing page creation and to track different fundraising channels. You can even use these services to process donations at political fundraising events.
Start raising funds before you even announce
Crowdfunding is a process where individuals pool money and other resources online to fund projects. For local campaigns, crowdfunding can provide a jump-start for your initial fundraising. It can help candidates who cannot afford to self-fund their own election campaign.
Raising donations through this method can work by starting with close acquaintances and family. If you can raise enough seed money through them, it can get you over that initial financial hurdle.
You can even research who contributed to past candidates. For example, for state level races, try followthemoney.org. The site claims that is has documented more than $100 billion in contributions. If you find like-minded donors, you could reach out to them to see if they might lend you support.
Crowdfunding sites set conditions for financial support. The process can help determine if you are viable as a candidate. You can determine what support initially exists and help secure initial financial pledges before establishing a formal campaign. It’s like a ‘conditional’ fundraising campaign before you formally declare your candidacy.
After you decide to run, you can continue to use your account throughout the general election.
Note that some positions, especially judicial candidates, may be limited as to when they solicit money – and even when they can start spending campaign funds.
A lot of small donations are great, but big donors pay the bills.
Don’t be afraid to ask for large donations, especially from those who have the means. If you ask for too little, you may short-change yourself.
Your local party may be able to provide you with information on large contributors. These may be individuals, businesses or organizations. Other candidates who have won elections in the position you seek or currently hold a similar elected position may be able to provide you with donor leads. The more information you have about potential ‘big’ contributors the better.
When soliciting potential donors in person, through letters or email, craft your request to the recipient.
Research your donors before you approach them:
- What issues do they care about? How does your campaign address those issues?
- What other causes are they a part of? Do they relate to your organization?
- Do they have a history of giving? If so, at what level?
Always follow the rules. For example, under federal law, contributions over $200 to federal candidates, political action committees (PACs), or parties must be itemized and disclosed to the Federal Election Commission. There may be additional individual contribution limits that apply as well. If necessary, seek legal advice.
Keep Building Your Prospect List
Along with your email list, your donor list will eventually become your most valuable asset.
Keep your donor information up to date with contributors, amounts and other information as required by donor filing laws. Keep building your list with supplemental donor information. What issues are of importance to them? How do they tend to donate – through the mail or online? How much influence do they have online or offline? Who else do they know or have relationships with that can help your candidacy?
Grow your email list for online political fundraising prospects
Get people to sign-up for your email updates through your website and social media accounts. Include sign-up forms at every event and rally to capture emails offline. (Don’t forget to mention that your campaign will be in touch with them if they provide an address.)
These methods will allow you to build a list of donors that you can tap into throughout the election.
Be Thankful To Your Donors
Always follow up with some sort of acknowledgement. A personal note makes a great impression on a donor. It will increase the likelihood that they will give again.
A successful campaign for office takes a lot work. In a competitive local election, every vote counts. Learning how to fund a political campaign is just a part of the process. Be prepared to devote hours each day to fundraising calls, and more time at political fundraising events. Putting together a solid plan will help you get started.
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