The goal of political fundraising is to support the campaign and its objectives. A campaign must secure more votes than its opponent to win an election or a race. The best way to do this is by effectively communicating with voters and relying on financial contributions from supporters to cover costs and fund campaign activities.
As a result, the success of a campaign depends on the ability to raise those funds to reach voters and persuade them to cast their ballots in favor of your candidate.
Fundraising is a powerful tool for campaigns, especially when it comes to grassroots donations. By seeking financial contributions from supporters or community members, campaigns tap into the collective voice and vision of the people they wish to represent.
In this complete guide to fundraising, we will show you the most important areas you need to focus on when starting a fundraising campaign. The same methods and tactics we refer to in this article can be applied to campaigns of all sizes, whether small local campaigns or congressional races.
People donate to campaigns for many reasons. Understanding these motivations is key to successful fundraising.
Individuals who contribute to a campaign invest in a shared vision for their community. Or in other words, individuals express their desire for change and talk with their wallet.
As a campaign and fundraising professional, you want to provide supporters with the means to have their voices heard and demonstrate how their contributions will impact everyday life. By showing people how their support can bring meaningful change, you encourage them to shape the direction of society or a community actively.
On the other side, campaign officers have to communicate the campaign’s needs and set clear objectives that can be accomplished with fundraising.
People and individuals can support a campaign in various ways, not just through financial contributions. People can donate their time and efforts by helping with activities such as volunteering, door-to-door canvassing, and making phone calls. And most critically, voting on election day!
Nevertheless, not everyone can donate time or vote – supporters have private duties or live outside the campaign activities. In these cases, a financial contribution is a meaningful way to support the campaign.
Getting financial support for a campaign is challenging – donors don’t simply appear out of nowhere with their contributions. Building relationships with potential donors and earning their trust is essential to fundraising. Every person your candidate has ever met is a potential donor.
As a candidate, it is vital to constantly seek out opportunities and connect with people interested in supporting your campaign. As a campaign officer, your goal is to build a network of supporters and find individuals who can introduce your candidate to others interested in donating.
Donors often have different priorities and experiences than you do. If you understand what motivates people to contribute, you can plan the efforts that resonate with donors. At the same time, you will inspire them to donate to your campaign.
It is important to note that donors can make significant contributions if you present them with the proper case for it. If donors believe they can make a difference through their donations, you will have much higher chances of succeeding with your fundraising program.
We can divide the pool of potential donors into a few main categories.
The core of any campaign’s fundraising efforts consists of the candidates themselves. If a candidate can show their commitment to the campaign by making an initial contribution, this will be a positive sign for other potential donors.
A donation from the candidate also helps get the campaign off the ground. If the candidate is willing to contribute to support their campaign, it will be easy to convince others to do so. Any fundraising campaign starts with the first domino fall; candidates usually fill that role well.
The next group of potential donors is the candidate’s network, which consists of friends and family members. They are motivated to contribute because of their relationship with the candidate.
When a campaign begins, you want to reach out to this group of supporters and ask for their contribution. As a result, you will generate momentum for the campaign. This initial support can then be expanded as the campaign progresses.
The third group of potential donors is those who share the same ideology and campaign ethos. For most campaigns, this group of people eventually becomes a significant source of funding.
Most of the time, these donors don’t know the candidate, but they want to contribute because they believe in the candidate’s vision. Building relationships with these donors and earning their trust takes time, so you need to plan the resources for reaching out to this group.
In short – nurturing relationships with donors that share the same ideology and support similar causes will motivate them to support your campaign financially.
One important aspect of ideological donors is that many support campaigns that are likely to succeed. These donors want to know how their financial contribution will make a difference and how reasonably the candidate they support will win.
So if you work on the fundraising program, you must have a clear case demonstrating why your candidate is the best choice. You want to focus on the compelling arguments, why your candidate will win, and what positive impact the win will have.
Besides the ideological donors, some donors contribute to campaigns for personal reasons. These donors may not necessarily support your campaign, program, or goals. Instead, they are more focused on seeing the opponent lose and therefore keep a campaign with the most significant chance of winning against that opponent.
These donors are often more hesitant to contribute until they are confident in the candidate’s political potential. To secure support from these donors, you must show a strong chance of victory and emphasize how your candidate’s win impacts them.
Donors with personal agendas often contribute later in the campaign, so you need to build relationships with them early on and keep them informed as the campaign progresses.
The final group of potential donors is those who contribute to campaigns to connect with decision-makers. The donors from this group could include lobbyists and political action committees (PACs).
These donors are typically hesitant to contribute to campaigns until the candidate’s chances of success are high enough. While building connections with goal-oriented donors take time, they can still be valuable. Once you receive the contributions from this group, you will also be able to get new connections, which will pay off in the long run.
Remember that goal-oriented donors are power motivated – they seek a relationship with the person who will have the power in the future. Often those donors will finance opposing candidates to improve their chances. And you want to avoid any arrangements that could potentially be illegal or unethical.
You can better target your fundraising efforts by understanding different donor types and their motivations. Whether planning fundraising meetings, events, or calls, you will know which of these tactics is the best to target a specific type of donor. As a result, you can create a better fundraising strategy and increase the chance of getting valuable donor contributions.
Expert tip: how you ask for a contribution often depends on a candidate’s familiarity and existing relationship with potential donors. For example, if a candidate has a relationship with a donor, you can ask for a contribution sooner. On the other hand, if a candidate has no connection and hasn’t ever established contact with a potential donor, the candidate will first have to build a relationship before requesting a contribution.
As a rule of thumb – the closer a candidate’s relationship with a potential donor, the earlier you can ask for a contribution.
Remember, you don’t want the donors to feel used. Instead, your goal needs to be a genuine relationship with the donor, during which you can explain how a contribution can make a meaningful difference.
As mentioned, a campaign must raise funds to finance its activities and improve the chances of winning a political race. To collect the funds, fundraising professionals or managers raise money through different revenue channels, often called campaign revenue streams.
There are 6 main channels that you can use to collect funds for a campaign:
Let’s have a close look at each of these channels.
Contacting potential donors via phone is critical to fundraising for a campaign. It allows the candidate and its staff to connect directly with potential donors and build relationships with them. This channel is an efficient and cost-effective way to raise money since you only need a phone line, a calling script some time, and someone to do the calls.
The candidate can directly engage and convince donors to invest in the campaign by calling donors and explaining how their contribution can make a difference.
Political events can have different forms when you aim to raise money for a campaign. The events are often informal, primarily when organized to support local campaigns with casual gatherings such as coffee meetings.
While political events require more time and money to manage, donors can connect with a campaign and understand why they must contribute. So if you have yet to consider events, think about how you can engage with donors and allow them to learn more about the campaign.
An important note is that political events take money and time to organize. Your potential donors will attend the events primarily to learn more about your campaign. That means you must focus on managing an engaging and informative event that allows donors to connect with the candidate and learn more about their campaign goals.
The most crucial goal of any political event is to build a personal connection with donors, which eventually results in higher chances of getting the donors’ investment in the campaign.
Direct fundraising mail might seem like an old-school tactic, but this channel is still very effective. Before sending thousands of mailers, consider how this fits your overall fundraising strategy.
Sending a bunch of mail takes time and money, and your success depends on how different donors respond to various mailings. A diverse and well-planned strategy with other approaches is how you want to plan your mailing activities.
When you think about your donors, you can find new donors, typically called prospecting. Prospecting refers to reaching out to potential new donors and creating new lists of potential campaign supporters.
Your previous donors are the other group you want to target with mailers. This process is called resolicitation and targets donors who have already contributed to the campaign in the past, which makes them vital for the success of the mailing program.
So while direct mailing is expensive and takes time, it is still a tactic you should include in your fundraising mix. With many communication mediums that are digital these days, getting a physical letter can grab people’s attention.
There is no doubts that digital channels have the most significant potential for raising funds for any campaign. However, it would be best to focus on a couple of channels that make the most sense, such as email and social media.
We have a dedicated section for digital channels below, so keep reading to learn how to use it for your campaigns.
A finance committee typically involves people working together to raise money for a campaign. The committees usually comprise volunteers or supporters who invest their energy to help the campaign reach its fundraising targets.
Finance committees work because they use campaign supporters’ existing networks and connections. The structure of a finance committee needs to be clear and organized, with defined goals and timelines in place.
For a financial committee to be successful, its members should understand their roles and responsibilities. The members must also have a solid connection to the campaign and its purpose. If set up correctly, a finance committee can help a campaign reach the fundraising goals and significant revenue to the total funds raised.
Nevertheless, you need to carefully outweigh the benefits and drawbacks of forming a finance committee before setting one up. While finance committees can be valuable, they can also be time-consuming, might not necessarily produce much value, and may only sometimes provide the desired return on investment.
Some potential benefits of forming a finance committee could include the following:
On the opposite side, some potential drawbacks of forming a finance committee include the following:
Remember, you want to carefully compare the potential benefits vs disadvantages of forming a finance committee before dedicating significant time and resources to it.
Political action committees (PACs) are another valuable revenue stream for campaign funding. Like finance committees, you also want to research before approaching them and asking for their help.
If you want to include PACs in the campaign, you should understand the essential issues of the PAC and how your campaign aligns with their agenda. While PACs can financially support your campaign, they can also provide you with advice and expertise.
Finally, PACs might pass on your campaign – if they need to see a clear benefit from getting involved or if your campaign is too small.
A diverse range of fundraising strategies and revenue streams ensures that your campaign has more chances of success. We suggest planning in advance how these 6 revenue channels can support your campaign goals, target audience and resources.
For instance, phone calling and phone banking are often primary channels for collecting funds. Nevertheless, the fundraising team must carefully assess how vital each revenue source is and how many resources the campaign needs to dedicate to each channel. You don’t want to involve your candidate and campaign staff in activities that don’t have the potential to generate enough funds.
When you start working on your fundraising plan, you must plan for more than one revenue source. By diversifying the revenue streams, you will avoid the scenario in which your leading revenue sources didn’t work as intended. The broader the range of tactics at your disposal, the more you can optimize your fundraising efforts.
And by understanding the motivations and interests of each potential donor, you will be able to approach them in a personalized and respectful way.
When you start implementing various fundraising actions and the volume of potential donations increases, your candidate must allocate time to build a relationship with some individuals.
While your candidate’s time is a valuable and limited resource, you must remember that every donor, regardless of their contributions, is crucial to the campaign’s success. You want to ensure that you involve the candidate only when the potential return justifies it.
As a rule of thumb, the amount of time a donor receives should be proportional to the size of the potential contribution. So if a donor is likely to give $10, she or he requires only a phone call. On the other hand, someone with a potential contribution of $5,000 will probably need an in-person meeting before making that donation. By managing both the candidate’s and the donor’s time, you can maximize the number of supporters concerning their contribution potential.
When you work on your fundraising plan and lay out the activities, match your actions with potential donations. For instance, everything less than $10 will be collected only via digital channels, direct mail is used for donations in a $100-$200 range, phone banking and calls for donations between $200 and $1000 and any contributions beyond that will require personal meetings with potential donors.
Digital fundraising includes seeking or asking for donations using online channels and deserves special attention with any campaign. While every political campaign has a website to receive donations, most of these visitors do this due to previous political events or phone calls.
However, recent political campaign history in the US has shown (and we expect this to be even more present in the future) that a rising amount of donations come exclusively from digital fundraising methods that rely on email and social media.
Most for-profit businesses have discovered the advantages of digital channels for many years. From our experience, the political area still relies heavily on traditional channels, and many campaigns are still realizing the full potential of digital fundraising.
That being said, you want to include digital channels in your fundraising mix because:
While many digital professionals use social channels to spread the word about their campaigns and to reach new donors, social media can’t compete with the effectiveness of email channels.
Being able to personalize, share actionable information and engage with potential donors are reasons emails convert much better than social media. While having both channels is vital to your fundraising marketing mix, remember that you can expect to receive more contributions from a carefully planned and executed email program.
If you are still trying to convince yourself how digital campaigning and fundraising can help you grow your contributions, here are some statistics that show the new trends.
ActBlue is a nonprofit online fundraising platform that provides tools for collecting small donations, focusing on grassroots coalition building. According to their 2020 Election Cycle Review report, digital fundraising is achieving some remarkable figures:
A simple conclusion is that digital technology allows campaigns to raise more funds from individual donors. Email campaigns and social media posts allow viewers to use their mobile phones and donate their contributions easily, securely and effortlessly.
Digital fundraising activities that use email and social media are still not the primary source of funds for most campaigns. Online statistics and estimations show that digital solicitation contributes around 10% of total fundraising revenue. Even to get to this 10%, campaigns need to have a dedicated team and a strategy and execution system in place.
Advantages of small contributions
Digital activities are very scalable, and after the initial investment (like people, processes, tools and analytics), you can systematically reach out to thousands of potential small donors.
Many campaigns use email and social media to reach potential donors and ask for smaller contributions (such as $3 or $5). Small donations can add up quickly and, as a result, may provide a significant funding source for the campaign.
Small contributions work because it is easy to donate small amounts over and over, which is why resolicitation (or reaching out to donors who have already given to the campaign) is vital for your fundraising activities. By convincing previous donors to make new contributions, the campaign builds a strong base of support that helps solidify a campaign’s financial position.
Although online channels present ample opportunity, digital fundraising has its limitations.
Only some campaigns will get the same benefits from digital fundraising. A local campaign might focus more on local events and meetings, flyers and use digital only to complement the main efforts.
A presidential campaign will benefit more from digital since it can reach people in all corners of the country. What matters is that every campaign needs to assess early on how much potential for fundraising there is and not replace traditional revenue sources such as phone banking.
To succeed with digital fundraising, you will need to think about a couple of main things:
The first step is to have a dedicated team of people for digital channels. A more extensive campaign will have a deeper bench and most likely have some digital team working closely with a fundraising team. Smaller campaigns might cover digital channels inside their fundraising team, which means having a couple of people focusing on all aspects, from creation to implementation of content.
Once a team of people has a clearly defined set of email and social media responsibilities, they will need to limit their activities’ scope. This often includes creating a content calendar, copywriting, creating visual assets, email campaigns, social media posting and paid ads.
And of course, there will be lots of data coming back from all these activities, which means that someone needs to analyze the data and create reports for the rest of the team.
Finding the right tactics, reaching your revenue goals and learning from the experience will help you be more efficient with current and future campaigns.
Now is the right time to introduce grassroots fundraising. While we have a dedicated article about grassroots fundraising and why it matters for political campaigns, we want to discuss it here quickly.
The 2020 presidential race is an excellent example of how grassroots fundraising can be powerful. Total estimated cost of the 2020 election was around $14 billion, while small donor contributions made around 22 percent or $2.8 billion.
Grassroots fundraising focuses on small-dollar contributions, usually those under $200 and received through digital channels. In other words, the donors that donate smaller amounts are often called digital donors. And digital donors were the focus of this presidential campaign.
It’s not only presidential campaigns that need small-dollar contributions. The importance of digital channels has been the focus of many candidates in recent years.
According to Americans for Financial Reform, in the 2018 election cycle, first-time Democratic congressional candidates, on average, raised 17% of their budgets from small-dollar (digital) donors. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign took this even further, with approximately 62% of her 2018 fundraising coming from small-dollar donors.
And according to traindemocrats.org, this focus on small-dollar contributions was also evident in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, where almost 78% of the total funds raised came from small-dollar donations.
A fundraising plan is a formal document that lists your main activities, different revenue streams, main channels you will focus on in your campaign, goals, budgets and success tracking. A good campaign needs at least some kind of plan to measure how well the campaign is progressing.
If a campaign has a high-level role, such as a fundraising director, she or he can work with a campaign manager to create a fundraising plan and lay out resources, time, money, budgets, etc. Ideally, you want to create a plan specifying channels with the most excellent chance of hitting your campaign fundraising goals and financial expectations from secondary channels.
A fundraising plan needs to narrow down financial elements as much as possible. In addition to everything mentioned above, you will want to assign roles, targets and deadlines for each activity. If your campaign is big enough to have a dedicated fundraising team, the plan should include:
And once you have your financial plan written, it will be a living document. You and your team must update, review, and ensure you are hitting your targets.
A written plan that covers the whole campaign period will serve as a roadmap that everyone on the fundraising team understands.
It is better to have a simple and easy-to-follow plan that everyone agrees with than an in-depth plan that is hard to follow and understand.
You don’t have to be a planning mastermind to create a fundraising plan. Simply laying out the most vital steps and adding appropriate levels of detail can work just fine.
For instance, below is an example of what a simple yet effective fundraising and financial plan could look like. In this example, we focused on the phone calling channel since we have much experience with phone banking and calling at HubDialer.
|Total campaign fundraising goal||$ –|
|Plan period||from – to|
|Campaign budget||$ –|
|Contributed so far||$ –|
|Revenue goal for phone calling||$ –|
|Ratio of phone calling revenue in total fundraising revenue||–|
|Goals per milestones||$ –|
|Q1 financial goal and targets||$ –|
|Total calling hours planned||–|
|Pledges from existing contacts||$ –|
|Pledges from new contacts||$ –|
|Focus activities||Existing network vs. new contacts vs. follow-up solicitation|
A plan such as this one should be shared with the team early enough so everyone on the team is on the same page. You can work much more effectively when strategy and fundraising goals are clear. While some supervisors may want to keep a plan private from everyone on the team, our experience shows that full transparency keeps people more engaged.
If you can’t access the plan when working on the campaign, you should ask the campaign staff about the overall fundraising goal, the main channels you are targeting, any guidelines for volunteers and team members, etc. Without knowing what exactly you need to achieve and why you can’t get far with your work.
So far, we mainly talked about how your campaign gets donations from new donors. This part explains why nurturing relationships with donors is vital to your fundraising efforts.
In a nutshell, fundraising is all about building donor relationships. Every campaign needs to know its potential donors and understand why they want to be engaged in politics. If you build trust and learn the interests and values of potential donors, the candidates will have a better chance of securing contributions for their campaign.
As we mentioned before, it is rare for a candidate to ask for a lot of money from someone she has just met – it takes at least a couple of conversations to start a relationship.
Once your campaign builds a relationship with a donor, you should not only ask donors for their support. You also want to keep them informed about the campaign’s progress. This can be done through regular newsletters or updates and inviting them to events or informal “catchup” opportunities.
Keeping your donors up-to-date will ensure that donors feel appreciated and are vital to the campaign puzzle. As a result, you will foster a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship that doesn’t stop when the campaign is over.
Every extensive campaign will have a fundraising team. This team is responsible for creating lists of current and potential donors to which a candidate can reach out. While often your goal is to collect financial contributions, you may use the donor’s relationships to meet people in the donor’s network.
Besides that, the fundraising team should think about how the candidate will call and thank donors who made large donations, what email updates will be sent and when, and which donors will be invited to future events.
Again, it is all about a solid and ongoing relationship with your donors. Any channel or tactic that supports this goal should be used during the campaign.
Whatever your role in a campaign, you want to ensure that your fundraising team understands how to bring a current or potential donor from a primary to an active supporter of your campaign.
While getting a donation from someone is great, you want to identify donors who can help you collect funds for your campaign. If a person has a network of potential donors, they will also help you attract funds from their network.
Donor relationships can vary depending on the needs and preferences of each donor. Some donors prefer a more personal approach, while others seek a more structured and formal relationship. As part of the fundraising team, you must recognize these differences and adapt your approach to each donor type.
Higher-value donors (such as members of finance committees) often have a more direct relationship with your candidate. Some people prefer to communicate directly with a candidate, while others are fine with being passively involved. Whatever your donors choose, acknowledge that and not force them into a capacity they don’t prefer.
With that in mind, you can follow two primary relationship types when communicating with your donors.
Building relationships with donors is crucial to any campaign. It takes time and effort to establish trust and to be seen as authentic. The candidate needs to communicate regularly with donors, which is especially essential when it comes to personalized relationships with donors.
A good donor relationship involves talking and listening while showing a genuine interest in the motivations driving the donor. Building multiple quality connections takes time, but the more effort a candidate can invest, the more comfortable she or he will be in fostering meaningful relationships with campaign supporters.
Strong relationships with donors require a personalized approach. For a candidate, that means being aware of donor motivations and adapting the conversations accordingly. A candidate will often need to share with donors why they chose to run for office, how the campaign is progressing and their opinion on important social and community issues.
A critical aspect of building relationships with donors is the ability to listen and ask questions. A good candidate must show interest in the donors’ life, political views and business. The more natural a candidate can run conversations, the better chance a candidate will have to learn about what motivates the donor. And get more generous donations.
Taking notes during personalized conversations with donors is another vital skill. The candidate can use reference notes in future interactions, showing the donors that they are being heard and valued. And being listened to and valued reinforces authentic and two-way relationships that secure critical donor support. So make sure to track information such as donation history, communication preferences and other specific points.
Finally, you can show that you value your relationship with donors by following up on the topics you discussed. Those follow-ups can be personal details or anything donors mention during one-on-one conversations. Small gestures like this can go a long way in building strong and lasting relationships.
Engaging with your donors by listening, asking questions, taking notes and following up on previous conversations is the best way to establish relationships that help your fundraising efforts.
While personalized relationships are vital to any political campaign, you can’t establish one-on-one connections with all donors. The reality is that most donors will hear from you as part of the group relationship.
Typically grouped relationships during a campaign include sending and receiving newsletters, emails, calls, texts and interacting with the donors at events. Even though you can’t talk to all donors directly and personally, you still need to find ways to strengthen and nurture group relationships to ensure the campaign’s success.
While digital channels change the nature of communication, you can add personalization elements when approaching donors. When you contact donors through email and social media, knowing why someone supported the campaign is challenging.
However, you can still push the core elements of your program, such as the candidate’s vision, their values and general updates on the campaign’s progress. Sharing your values and messages will help you get funds from donors that share your vision.
The most significant advantage of a grouped relationship is that you have much more data to work with. You can always check out how different groups of people behave – which information they like and what kind of content they share.
Additionally, digital channels come with detailed analytics – you can track email open rates, engagement, click-through rates, etc. If you can analyze that information correctly, you can learn much about your potential donors and adjust your future messages.
While a grouped relationship can’t get you the same level of feedback as personalized relationships, you can still track how your audience behaves.
For example, potential donors will comment on social media, write their posts and reply to your emails from time to time. Insights like this often show how well you are doing and if you need to change something about your fundraising approach.
You can personalize digital messages in many ways when asking your donors to do something. You can use boilerplates and add donors’ names in subject lines when writing emails. And you can do much more, like share information relevant to their location, content that a potential donor has shown interest in and refer to (if applicable) donors’ past actions.
Ultimately, it all comes down to asking donors for a specific action; the more you do your homework, the better chance you have to raise campaign contributions.
We hope this guide helped you understand how powerful and effective fundraising can be for any political campaign. Even if you are in charge of a non-profit or educational institution that relies on raising funds from donors, you can use the tactics and main principles outlined here as well.
Whatever your area, start with understanding your potential donors and what motivates them. After that, consider the channels you will use and how much you can rely on digital technology and small donor contributions. Finally, wrap everything together in a solid plan and set up a team of people to execute said plan.
And once you come to the calling activities in your campaigns, check out Hubdialer’s predictive dialer system. We support many clients with their fundraising activities and give them the tools they need to reach their campaign goals.