One of the biggest mistakes first time political candidates make is thinking that once they declare their desire to run for office, they can just pick up the phone and call “the usual suspects” to ask them for money.

Likewise, many candidates think that after someone makes a donation, they can deposit the check into the campaign checking account, and then never talk to the donor again, at least until the campaign needs another donation.

Seasoned political candidates know the truth: that cold calls rarely work, and that donors expect communication with the campaign both before and after making a donation. Much as with any type of fundraising, political campaigns need to draw donors through a fundraising funnel in order to maximize the amount the campaign raises.

What Is a Fundraising Funnel?

A fundraising funnel is simply a process for finding new donors for your campaign and building a relationship with them so that they want to give to your campaign. The political fundraising funnel has four steps:

Step #1: Prospecting

Prospecting is the process of finding people who are likely to want to donate to your campaign. Despite what you might think, this process normally does not involve simply picking up the phone and dialing through a list of “political donors” who you have never met before. Instead, it starts with people the candidate already knows – people the candidate has worked with, is related to, is friends with, or knows socially.

This list of prospects extends out from the candidate’s personal connection to his or her spouse’s connections, as well as new relationships built through the Finance Committee. The campaign should also have plans in place to constantly bring new prospects into the candidate’s orbit. This means finding ways to make “warm” introductions to new potential donors so that the candidate can build a relationship with them.

Step #2: Cultivation

Cultivation is the process of communicating with your prospects and building a relationship with them. This is the step of the fundraising funnel where most campaigns fail… they want to move straight from meeting a new prospective donor to asking him or her for money. Cultivation must always come before the ask.

If you want people to make a donation to your campaign, you need to make sure they feel like part of your team. This is particularly true if you want them to make a large donation or to give on a recurring basis. The way you make people feel like part of your team is by talking to them, inviting them to events, sending them your campaign’s e-newsletter, and getting them involved.

Of course, unlike many other types of fundraising, when it comes to political fundraising you are dealing with a very condensed schedule… the money needs to be raised (and spent) before Election Day to have any impact. Thus, while every donor should be cultivated before being asked, this cultivation process shouldn’t take forever. Instead, your goal should be to move new prospects to the point where they are ready for an ask in just 1-2 months.

Step #3: Asking

People won’t give to your campaign unless they are asked.

Once you have cultivated a prospect, he or she is ready for the ask. In order to be effective, the candidate (or some other appropriate surrogate) needs to sit down with the donor in person or on the phone to ask them for a campaign donation.

Donors can also be asked online, through direct mail, or through fundraising events, but for first-time larger donations to the campaign, the best way to ask is in-person or on the phone.

Step #4: Stewardship

Once a donor makes a donation to your campaign, your work is not done. The final step in the political fundraising funnel is stewardship… this is the process of continuing the relationship and communication with the donor after they have made a donation.

Why do you want to continue to grow the relationship? For two reasons: first, you want the donor to make another donation before Election Day if they have not already maxed-out (or to give again next campaign cycle). Second, you want the donor to make referrals by introducing the campaign to other prospects who might want to make a donation.

Your current donors can be very valuable assets to the campaign going forward, if you steward them correctly.

Relationships Must Come First

The four-step political fundraising funnel is a must for every political campaign, no matter how small or large. As you can see from the outline above, one of the key rules for using the funnel successfully is to understand that relationships must come first, before you ask for a donation.

Instead of picking up the phone to ask for donations from “cold prospects,” try to get a warm introduction, then spend time getting to know the donor before you make the ask. Likewise, once a donor gives to your campaign, thank them, stay in touch with them, and continue to make them feel like part of your team before you ask for another donation.

Photo Credit: muffinn