The most effective way for a local candidate to raise money is through personal contacts and solicitation… by building a personal fundraising network. National money and PAC contributions will be few and far between for aspiring local elected officials. In order to accomplish the necessary campaign tasks and achieve success on election day, the candidate and staff must ruthlessly cultivate every contact they have, and ask their contacts to do the same. I call this activity “Viral Fundraising” because, similar to virus, it spreads; and as it does, it multiplies, with each new level of fundraising bringing more and more resources into the campaign’s coffers.
Who’s in Your Rolodex?
Before the campaign starts its activity, the candidate (and his family, too, if that would be beneficial) must sit down and figure out every possible contact he can solicit for campaign contributions. While the candidate may be reluctant to call all his acquaintances, or prefers to solicit contributions only from close friends, this type of thinking cannot prevail. The candidate should work outward in concentric circles, from close friends and family to business contacts, social contacts and neighbors, acquaintances from church and the PTA, and friends he may not have seen in years. At the outermost limit of the list, the candidate can include a whole class of possible contributors, whose whereabouts and names are easily obtained, such as alumni of his high school and college classes or members of his old fraternity. The candidate should, of course, list as many of the members of those groups as he can possibly remember.
Ask for More than You Think You Can
As the candidate contacts those on his list, he should always ask for more than he anticipates that individual will give. If he believes, for example, that a friend will give him $50, he should ask for $100. Usually, the actual contribution will end up being something in between. It is easy for a potential contributor to work the number down, but the reverse situation — a contact offering $70 instead of the requested $50 — almost never happens.
I ask You, You ask Your Friends
Most local campaigns stop at the point of asking personal contacts for contributions. When they do, they miss perhaps the biggest fundraising tool of all: The Network. When the candidate calls a contact to ask for a donation, he should also ask the contact to pledge to raise more donations from other people, or to put the campaign in contact with others who are likely to donate. If a person cannot give, the campaign should always ask for the names of others who might be able to. Contacts should be cultivated for more contacts, who should in turn be cultivated for more contacts, and so on, so that the fundraising network grows exponentially. Campaigns should check their local campaign finance laws and be sure that friends of friends actually contribute on their own, and are not used as illegal conduits to allow individuals to exceed contribution limits.
Do I have to Make the Calls Myself?
The most effective way to get a potential contributor to say “Yes” is personal contact. If the candidate calls the contact himself, the contact is much more likely to contribute than if a campaign staffer calls. The likelihood of success flows away from the candidate. Thus, the person is more like to say yes to the candidate than to his wife, more likely to say yes to his wife than to his friends, and more likely to say yes to his friends than his staff, and so on. Of course, individuals are most likely to say yes to whomever they know personally, be it the candidate himself or one of his campaign staffers. The key is using personal contact to make “potential contributors” into “regular contributors.”
The fundraising strategy should not stop at one contact, however. People who donate to a campaign feel like a part of the campaign, and want it to succeed. Thus, donors can be contacted again and again (within reason) for additional contributions. Many successful local campaigns use the “rule of three” — contributors will be asked once during the beginning of the campaign, once in the middle, and once near the end. If a contributor reaches the legal limit of what he can give to a campaign, however, he cannot be solicited again for money, but can usually be asked to host events in his home (check your state’s rules on in-kind donations) or introduce the candidate to others who may contribute.
In short, networking for funds works. Successful local campaigns must cultivate contacts, who in turn cultivate other contacts, and increase the fundraising network so that the campaign can raise the funds it needs to run its campaign — and win!