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February 3, 2023

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Grassroots fundraising: Building a strong donor base

Jono Kupferberg

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Political campaigns need money to function, let alone win. And when it comes to raising money for campaigns, one could use a myriad of tactics, and entire industries have been built in the name of campaign finance. 

But this post will focus on just one fundraising strategy that campaigns of any size can use at any time – grassroots political fundraising. Regardless of the size of your campaign or where we are in the election cycle, small donor outreach and grassroots fundraising are the foundation of any winning effort.

If you want to learn about grassroots fundraising best practices and how to use particular grassroots fundraising tools, you are in the right place. Small donor fundraising is critical to any successful campaign. To develop your grassroots fundraising campaigns, you must consider community fundraising, door-to-door fundraising, and peer-to-peer fundraising. 

If you want to launch a direct mail or event fundraising campaign and improve your grassroots donor engagement goals, this article is for you.

What are the main types of fundraising?

Fundraising is pretty straightforward. Your campaign needs money to function, and you obtain that money via fundraising. Fundraising can take many forms, including those who donate and what they contribute.

You can target high-net-worth individuals, corporations, and PACs (political action committees). These groups are typically good for large one-time donations and capital investments in the campaign. Or you can establish relationships with individuals who can afford to donate recurring gifts and in-kind contributions.

Most campaigns rely on a combination of all these fundraising avenues and will accept cash however they can get it. Whether peer-to-peer fundraising, direct mail fundraising, individual small donor, or community outreach, campaigns will count on whatever brings money. It’s that simple. 

And of the many fundraising tactics, grassroots fundraising has proven the most versatile and reliable if executed properly. A campaign built on grassroots fundraising has a steady stream of money coming in and isn’t beholden to any single donor. The campaign is people powered and propelled by community support and enthusiasm.

What is grassroots fundraising?

Grassroots fundraising is raising funds for a cause, campaign, or organization by mobilizing groups of people and individuals. Grassroots fundraising focuses on small and recurring donations from multiple individuals. 

The goal of grassroots fundraising is to build a strong base of individuals in your fundraising process and empower small donors. Successful grassroots campaigns use online and offline tactics such as digital fundraising, community events, and door-to-door canvassing. Most often, grassroots fundraising is used by political campaigns, nonprofits and member organizations.

Grassroots fundraising and small donor contributions

How does grassroots fundraising work?

Grassroots fundraising is a combination of micro and macro fundraising. Micro means that single individuals will be the main funding source and macro in terms of needing to scale up and sustain grassroots donor engagement tactics throughout a campaign. Small and recurring donations certainly add up, but grassroots fundraising can only support a campaign if achieved at the macro level.

How do we contact and motivate many individuals to solicit small donations? That is the question at the crux of grassroots fundraising. And lucky for us, there is no one answer.

There are multiple ways a campaign can get a message out to numerous community members as part of our grassroots mobilization efforts. We can broadcast campaign messages and solicit donations via direct mail, calls, texts, and emails. We can further personalize small donor fundraising efforts with door-to-door canvassing, peer-to-peer fundraising, event fundraising, and community outreach. 

Donating for political campaigns using grassroots fundraising and online media

A successful grassroots fundraising campaign comes down to this simple formula. Effective small donor outreach tactics (micro) + large-scale application, repetition of winning strategies, and recurring gifts (macro). 

Grassroots fundraising Pros and Cons

There are a couple of main benefits of grassroots campaigns that focus on small donations:

  • They are more cost-effective than many other fundraising strategies
  • They offer more authentic engagement with individuals and potential donors
  • High chance or recurring donations from the same individual throughout the campaign
  • Community support and individual donations show the campaign is powered by the very people it aims to help, which only begets more support from like-minded individuals
  • Easy to highlight the voices and perspectives of valued supporters and individuals 
  • Reach a more targeted audience with messaging tailored to segmented communities and audiences

However, grassroots fundraising comes with some challenges as well:

  • Less control of the fundraising timeline, hard to know what will motivate the most people to donate and when
  • Less control of messaging when people are free to share or not share, select communications coming from the campaign
  • Results are highly unpredictable because grassroots fundraising relies heavily on human emotion, timing, and the financial standing of strangers

How many grassroots fundraising tactics do you need in political campaigns?

Short answer: as many as it takes to reach your goals. The question isn’t “how many” but rather “what can be executed and what should be prioritized when working with finite time and resources.” 

Remember, grassroots fundraising aims to secure small donations from as many individuals as possible, making this largely a numbers game. Get your message out to as many people as possible quickly and often. 

Sure, that’s how it works in theory. But you will need more time and resources to explore every possible grassroots fundraising tactic and tool. It’s best to consider your goals and try to match what we know about different grassroots fundraising strategies to your target audience and desired outcomes. 

The two major questions to answer are: 

  1. What is the focus of the campaign? Are we talking about a small-town city election focused on local issues; or a national presidential campaign? The nature of the campaign dictates the scope of the messaging, from specific and local, to broad and national. To generate grassroots mobilization, your campaign messaging must address potential donors’ concerns. In other words, know your audience.
  1. What is the size of the potential donor audience? This is a simple question of logistics. After defining your campaign messaging, the next step is to get that message out. And the delivery medium you choose will depend largely on the total audience size. 

For example, a campaign focused on local issues with a small potential donor audience would call on door-to-door fundraising as their major grassroots fundraising tactic. 

One-on-one personal conversations with individuals are great when dealing with issues close to home in tight-knit communities. 

Compare that, for example, to a national campaign addressing broad issues and targeting a massive potential donor audience. The door-to-door approach would be limiting and unproductive. Large-scale broadcasting tools like digital media, emails, calls, and texts are great for grassroots fundraising campaigns dealing with broad topics that must reach many people.

How can we measure the effectiveness of our grassroots fundraising efforts?

That’s simple: is it bringing in money? And if so, can it be scaled and replicated? The goal of grassroots fundraising is to raise funds. 

So the first benchmark any grassroots fundraising campaign needs to clear is profitability. Is the money coming in greater than the cost (of time and money) to execute the campaign? If not, kill it and move on to another strategy.

If the campaign is profitable, you want to look at ways to replicate that success. If we’re talking about a successful door-to-door fundraising campaign, the next step would be to expand the walking perimeters and recruit more volunteers to knock on doors. Or if you’ve struck gold with a digital media grassroots fundraising campaign, time to double down and reinvest in what the analytics show to be the winning formula. 

What are some popular grassroots fundraising campaigns/events?

Here are some simple ideas for popular and effective grassroots mobilization campaigns to get you started.

  • Host a campaign kick-off event in the candidate’s hometown. This will ease you into the community and small donor engagement with home field advantage.
  • Organize a door-to-door fundraising expedition in the early days of the campaign. Door-to-door actions will immediately establish your campaign as one invested in the community and set the groundwork for future peer-to-peer fundraising efforts.
  • Send out some direct mail asking people to support your campaign. Direct mail is grassroots fundraising 101. If you need money and support from individuals in your community, start by asking them directly!
  • Host a phone banking hour, which is like door-to-door fundraising on steroids. You get all the benefits of personal one-on-one conversations with the ease and speed of making phone calls with calling scripts from the comfort of your home. And be sure to check out HubDialer’s free trial when you’re ready to start.
  • Host a virtual town hall in which the candidate answers questions from the audience. This is like hosting an in-person event, except it will reach a larger audience and give the campaign an initial target list for digital fundraising efforts. 

Starting with this list and experimenting with different methods is vital to identify the best-performing tactics early on.

Use grassroots fundraising for your campaign

Your grassroots fundraising playbook doesn’t need to be complex. The theory behind grassroots campaigns is quite simple; your next task is implementing it. Now that you know how critical grassroots fundraising is to win an election, you can apply these lessons to your next political campaign. 

And for those looking to add phone banking to your grassroots fundraising toolbox, we’d like to give you 500 free minutes when you sign up for a free trial of HubDialer. Set up is free, and no subscription cost or credit card is required.

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