Every campaign needs money. Plain and simple.
It’s how you pay for your filing fee and buy snacks for your volunteers. Without money, you can’t afford your campaign literature, website, or yard signs (don’t get us started on yard signs…) - and, if you’re lucky enough to have a campaign staff, chances are they’ll want a paycheck.
Money gives your campaign a chance to be competitive. You need it to help you win. And, unless you’re a billionaire that’s planning on self-funding your campaign, if you want money - you’re going to have to spend time fundraising.
Fundraising can be tough. I get it. But, candidates at every level raise money. Regardless of if you’re running a multi-million dollar race or a $1,000 race, the same general practices apply. When it comes to down ballot races, the same principles can be followed.
Here are three things that a down ballot candidate needs to think about when they’re fundraising:
There is nothing wrong with asking someone to give you money. There is no reason to be uncomfortable or shy. And if you do feel uncomfortable, remind yourself to Be Bold. (*Note: Be Bold is an approach to campaigning and a candidate’s attitude we recently wrote about.)
Check your attitude. Imagine someone was calling you to ask for money.
Would you rather give money to a wishy-washy candidate who feels bad about making the call, or would you rather give to the confident candidate who is telling you exactly what they need, why they need it, and when they need it?
Want to know the real secret when it comes to fundraising?
I know. Shocking, right? Wouldn’t it be great to one day open your bank account and see an extra $100 sitting there, given to you by an unprompted stranger?
Be bold. Believe in yourself. Empower the person you are talking to to help you win your race. They want to help, tell them how.
Tell your donor specifically how much money you need, why you need it, and when you need it by. Make them tell you no.
I have some bad news for you. You aren’t Barack Obama. You aren’t going to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. You won’t be able to raise every dollar you need through a massive email fundraising network.
That’s okay. No other candidate is going to be able to do it either. You are not alone in facing fundraising challenges. Be realistic with yourself when it comes to your expectations.
Your campaign doesn’t need millions of dollars. It may not even need $10,000. And that’s okay. What is most important is to have a campaign plan that lays out a path to victory - with a budget!
If you’re running for a down ballot office, raising $2,500 might be great for your campaign. Shoot for more, but know what you need.
Raising money takes time and patience. It will be a slow process that might not pick up much steam until a few weeks before election day. You may start with just a small handful of donors.
There will be times when it feels like you aren’t able to raise any money. You’ll think that the process is going too slowly or that there isn’t any money out there for your campaign. But, if you stick to your fundraising plan, you will be successful.
Grow Your Circles
Let’s face it. Most of your donors aren’t going to give you thousand dollar checks. A vast majority of candidates, especially for local offices, do not start their campaign with rolodexes filled with wealthy and powerful connections.
If someone donates $15 to your campaign, great. You’ll want to thank them, but that shouldn’t be your last interaction with them.
They probably know 5 other people that would be willing to donate to your campaign. Ask them to introduce you to these other donors. Grow your circles wider and wider. Every dollar helps you gain momentum and brings you closer to victory.
Building your network is key to any campaign.
There’s an age-old question in the fundraising world: Would you rather have 1 donor give you $1,000 or 100 donors give you $10?
Well, I’d rather have 5000 donors giving me $10, but they all spend the same. Not everyone has access to big contributors and you have make the most of what you have.
Remember, there is no magic list. Fundraising happens slowly. Growing your circle is a key way to speed up the process.
Raising Money is Raising Money
Your campaign is going to need money.
Regardless of what level of office you are running for, the principles that you follow when it comes to raising money are going to be generally the same.
By keeping these three things in mind, down ballot candidates will be able to make the most out of their fundraising.
Kelly is the Founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee.
He has worked on dozens of campaigns at every level across the country. Kelly's specialty is in new campaign creation, candidate and staff training, and fundraising.
In addition to working for 18+ years in Democratic politics, he teaches a class on political campaigns at DePaul University in Chicago, where he lives with his family and dog, a large hungry blue Weimaraner named Jack Bauer. Kelly started his career in 1998 with Rep. Dennis Moore in KS-03. He's an avid basketball and poker player, though never at the same time. His wife would point out that at no time in this biography was he described as "good" at either hobby. That was a conscious decision.