Smart Political Fundraising

You’ve decided to run for office, and you know your campaign needs resources. A smart fundraising strategy can help keep you focused on what matters.

You likely did not decide to run for office because you love to fundraise. Yet fundraising is, nonetheless, a very important part of a political campaign. Of course, you need resources to pay for many of the ways you will communicate with voters — from yard signs and flyers to billboards and television ads. But fundraising is also an opportunity to engage others in your vision, and to invite them to play a role in helping to achieve it. That said, there’s obviously so much more to a successful campaign than fundraising, so it’s important to approach your fundraising in a way that ensures you get the resources you need, without completely consuming the candidate and campaign.

It can be done!

Read on for some tips on developing a smart fundraising strategy can help you get the most out of your fundraising…so you can move on to bigger and better things:

What’s Your Budget?

While your needs will evolve over time, it’s important to have an early estimate of how much it will cost to run the campaign you want to run. The quickest way to do this is to look at public reports on the amount of money campaigns have raised and spent for this position in previous cycles. Interviewing potential campaign staffers/consultants is also a great way to learn from several experts in the field about what they think a winning campaign looks like, and the budget it would take to execute it.

How Will You Raise Money?

Now that you have an idea of what you’ll need to raise, you can start figuring out how you’re going to raise it. Generally, there are a few different ways to bring in campaign cash:

(A) One-on-one outreach, aka “call timePersonal calls, emails, texts, and other direct messages, soliciting individual support
(B) Mass-outreach → Blast emails, messages, or posts, making hundreds or thousands of solicitations simultaneously 
(C) Fundraisers/Events → In-person opportunities to meet many potential supporters at once, and to solicit both individuals and the group of attendees.
(D) Online Fundraising → Usually small-dollar solicitations of a large audience online via paid digital advertising.

You should assume you will need to raise as much as 75% or more of your budget through call time, and only about 5–10% will come from each of the other three approaches. Most campaigns must rely on medium and large sized contributions to meet their budget, and these tend to require a more personal touch from the candidate — usually a combination of phone calls, personal emails and texts (“call time” in political lingo). Even if you’re expecting to have a relatively low-budget campaign and/or rely more heavily on small-dollar donations, it can take a lot of personal prodding to amass the volume of small-dollar contributions you need to meet even a modest budget.

So start with the assumption that 75% of your budget will be raised this way — you can always adjust this expectation later, if you see other methods over- or underperforming.

Do the Math

Raising 75%+ of your budget from call time and personal outreach is no small task, and it’s important to do the hard work first of pulling together and analyzing your personal and professional network (see more about how to do that here.) It’s important to allocate the proper time and focus required to hit your call time fundraising goals. To do so, you’ll need to do some simple math.

Let’s work on an example together. In the sample campaign below, I assume there are 30 weeks until Election Day, and that, on average, the campaign raises $250 per hour spent on call time.

  • Total budget: $100,000
  • Raise from call time: 75% of $100,000 = $75,000
  • Total hours of call time: $75,000 divided by $250 per hour = 300 total hours of call time needed
  • Hours per week of call time: 300 hours divided by 30 weeks = 10 hours per week of call time needed

A similar math should be used to determine how you will approach other fundraising methods. For example, if you need to raise 10% of your $100,000 budget from events, make sure you are setting realistic goals for what each of your events must raise in order to collectively bring in $10,000.

Put it on the Schedule

If you know you need to do 10 hours a week of call time to meet your budget, put it on your schedule, and make sure you’re prepared to use that time wisely — and don’t be afraid to use technology to help you maximize that time. Be sure, too, to revisit your plan every few weeks, to update your assumptions periodically, and to adjust your fundraising plan accordingly.

As you can see, it is likely you will need to a bunch of call time. But, if you make a plan ahead of time, you can be sure your fundraising gets the attention it needs to fuel your campaign, but doesn’t take over your life.