Top 10 Political Fundraising Do’s and Don’ts

1. DO have a fundraising plan.

Every campaign, no matter how small, must have a fundraising plan in place that spells out how much money is to be raised, when that money is needed, what it is needed for and how it is going to be raised. In order to fundraise successfully, this plan should be in place before an individual announces his candidacy for office.

2. DO have a fundraising event immediately after announcing.

Unless local custom prevents it, the candidate should have a “kick-of” fundraiser on or shortly after the day she announces her candidacy.  Such an event not only injects needed funds to the fledgling campaign, it also tests the fundraising apparatus and gives the campaign momentum.

3. DO ask for more that you think a person (or PAC) can give.

If a donor says “yes” to the candidate’s first pitch, then the candidate has undersold himself (unless that pitch was for the legal maximum the donor could give.) Before asking potential donors or political action committees to contribute, the campaign should decide how much it thinks each person could give. The candidate should then ask the donor to contribute 20% more than that amount. The donor will usually offer to give an amount somewhere in between the two numbers.

4. DO use fundraising networks.

There are two ways to get a donor to contribute to your campaign: you can ask her to donate money herself, or you can ask her to get her contacts to contribute. The successful fundraiser does both. The campaign should encourage donors to set up fundraising networks, with donors asking friends and associates to contribute to the campaign.

5. DO make follow up appeals.

The people most likely to contribute to your campaign are those who have already made a contribution. Donors have an ongoing stake in your success. Candidates should be sure to use this to their advantage by contacting each donor several times throughout the campaign. A good rule of thumb is to contact donors three times during the campaign: once in the beginning, once during the middle, and one final “emergency” appeal near election day. If the campaign keeps donors informed with a newsletter or other “insider information,” they will be even more likely to contribute a second and third time.

6. DON’T have only “big” or “small” events.

The best way to make sure every possible donor contributes is to have both “big ticket” and “small ticket” events. There’s a large pool of donors who will not be able to contribute $500 for your black tie gala, but would be happy to attend a $25 barbecue. Similarly, there are a good number of donors who would not come to a $10 coffee, but would gladly attend a $450 candidate’s night. Be sure to offer events that tap each pool of prospective donors.

7. DON’T have fundraisers on Friday nights.

Unless your local custom provides otherwise, steer clear of Friday night fundraisers. Fridays are when your potential donors are the most tired, most likely to be traveling out of town, and most likely to want to get home as quickly as possible. For events that must be on a weekend night, Saturday is a better choice.

8. DON’T have volunteers or staff make “big ticket” calls.

Having the campaign staff or volunteers make fundraising calls to small donors or for tickets to events is fine, but never have anyone other than the candidate make fundraising calls to big donors. Such “big fish” expect personal contact with the candidate, and will be far less likely to give if anyone but the candidate is the one who contacts them. It is usually O.K. to have staff make follow up calls to big donors who have already given to the campaign.

9. DON’T forget to follow up.

When making fundraising calls to smaller donors, the staff should have “pledge cards” with blanks to fill in the donor’s information and pledged amount. The cards should read something like “Dear _______, thank you for your pledge of $_______ I enjoyed speaking with you on the phone today. Please send a check for the amount to Harrisson for School Board, 123 Main Street.” The campaign can then send these cards out to encourage donors who have not forwarded their pledge to the campaign to do so.

10. DON’T violate the law.

The federal government, all states and even most counties and towns have individual campaign finance laws that spell out who can contribute, how much they may give, what contributions may be spent on, what needs to be reported, etc. Before beginning any fundraising, the campaign must make sure that it understands and is ready to comply with all applicable laws and regulations.


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