Jess Phoenix on how to “crowdfund your run for office”

We sat down with this first-time candidate to learn how Crowdpac helped boost her campaign

As an earth scientist, Jess Phoenix spends her days in her work boots in the Mojave Desert, educating students through her nonprofit. She’s chased volcanic movements across the world — from the depths of the Pacific to the heights of the Andes.

But, after Trump’s election, she was moved to run for Congress in California’s 25th Congressional District, a seat that has been held by Republicans since 1993.

The first-time candidate has run an entirely grassroots campaign, and her strong climate change message quickly gained traction. Her viral Crowdpac campaign has raised over $123,000 from 2,904 donors and counting.

So, how is Jess standing out in a crowded primary against two well-funded opponents? We checked in with her to find out how to successfully crowdfund your run for office:

What’s the biggest key to successfully crowdfunding your run for office?

When you decide to run for office, you need to choose between a grassroots campaign, or one funded by wealthy donors that are accustomed to giving to establishment candidates.

Crowdfunding has the potential to change the game since only 0.58% of the voting public in the United States donates to political campaigns! It’s a great way to take a grassroots approach, but it can be very challenging. Here’s a few tips to help you stand out with first-time donors:

  • Remember that many small-dollar donors, like those on Crowdpac, are giving to a political campaign for the first time in their life. You have to emphasize the importance of donating to campaigns, and where their dollars are going (i.e. staff, yard signs, etc.)
  • Your message is key. Make clear what you stand for and fill out your profile completely.
  • Ensure clear updates and take the time to explain the process to your donors.

What were some easy wins when you first began fundraising?

Nothing in this race has been easy. When you’re trying to do something that’s different and not in the boundaries of the normal system, it’s like pushing a boulder uphill. It took some experimenting and using a realistic quarterly deadline as a way to encourage supporters to donate. We have also used the Crowdpac page to promote videos and increase our online supporters to over 50,000 on Twitter and over 20,000 on Facebook. Sharing the link and videos across social media platforms has been one way to stay in touch with supporters.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while fundraising?

Many interested donors want to give to the campaign that will win. When there are many others in the race, this can be a challenge. So you have to reduce the barrier to entry for supporters — instead of asking for the maximum amount of $2,700, we asked for anything donors could give, from $5 to $40. This approach has brought in nearly 6,000 unique donors, and it’s allowed me to focus on the issues that matter to me the most: listening to the community, attending events, informing myself on issues the community cares about, and broadening the umbrella of supporters to help spread the message.

We may not have the most money, but we have enough to run a campaign that I believe in.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to new candidates about fundraising?

Running for office will require money. Until we can publicly finance elections, candidates are going to have to get the money from their personal network and make sure they have a strong message. Your network may include wealthy individuals, or — like in my case — friends who found a way to give as much as they could to help me get started in amounts of $25 to $250. Those initial donations helped me begin to assemble a team.

I knew without a doubt what I believed in, so it was easy for me to be consistent in my message and to let my passion shine through. Our message, followed by our engaging content, allowed us expand on that initial base of support and get us to where we are today.

Fundraising still takes up a lot of time; there are the emails, inviting people to events, saying thank you, creating engaging content, posting donation pages on social media, and so forth.

Most importantly: never underestimate how much it will cost to run. Don’t be surprised to hear that whatever you raise won’t be enough. In our political climate and current campaign laws, no amount of fundraising is ever enough.