Political Fundraising 101

Elections are a multi-billion dollar business. In fact, in 2016, candidates for all federal offices spent more than $6.8 billion in the hopes of getting elected. Before candidates could rack up campaign expenses of that size, however, they had to raise all the money. As a veteran of countless campaigns, I know just how challenging fundraising can be for any candidate, from presidential hopefuls to small-town mayors. If you’re trying to improve fundraising for your campaign but don’t know where to start, take a look at this list of potential strategies.

Minimize Costs

Ironically, fundraising costs money; as a result, you’ll need to dedicate a portion of the money that you bring in to pay for the costs of your fundraising efforts. With that in mind, try to reduce the amount that you spend on fundraising in order to increase the amount of money that you have to spend on the actual campaign. Perhaps instead of having your next rally or reception catered, you can have a cookout or even a potluck with your supporters in order to shrink the bill.

Set Various Tiers for Events

Try as you might, you won’t be able to finance your campaign solely by hosting $500-per-head dinners. Instead, you’ll need to diversify your fundraising efforts, which you can do by creating different categories of events that target different classes of donors. For example, you can design a suite of VIP events—like formal dinners or cocktail receptions—that target high-value donors, and at the same time, you can develop initiatives that engage a broader audience but generate smaller contributions, like social media or direct-mail campaigns. This way, you’ll be able to run fundraising efforts simultaneously by targeting multiple groups, and you’ll prevent yourself from tapping out a certain donor base by putting all of your fundraising eggs in one basket.

Leverage Relationships

People don’t like to be cold called, let alone cold called and asked for money. It’s far more effective to reach out to a potential donor with whom you have an existing relationship or connection. When you begin your fundraising efforts, make a list of all the potential high-value donors that you have a relationship with and ask your staff to do the same. Reach out to these individuals first: You can use your relationship or connection with them to ask for a contribution or to ask if they can put you in touch with their friends or colleagues who might be interested in supporting your campaign. In doing so, you can cultivate an entire network of engaged donors who feel personally connected—and, with any luck, invested—to your campaign.

Political Polling: An Introduction

When you watch or read the news, you often encounter a myriad of statistics describing the public’s attitude on any number of issues or events: 56% of the country supports a bill currently before Congress. 48% of Americans want reform on a given issue. 61% of voters approve of a speech given by a major candidate. You may be wondering where all of these statistics come from, and the answer is simple: polling.

Public opinion polls have been staples of political campaigns for decades. The first opinion poll was conducted in 1824 by a Pennsylvania newspaper and showed Andrew Jackson ahead of John Quincy Adams in that year’s race for the White House; Jackson went on to win the popular vote but lose the election. Unlike the straw polls that predicted a win for Jackson, today’s polls are highly sophisticated and can forecast electoral victories, describe public opinion, and more while controlling for various factors, including age, gender, education, race, socioeconomic status, and so much more.

The complexity of modern polling requires thorough planning before a poll is even put into the field. This begins with the question of the poll’s purpose: What information do you want to learn, or what attitude do you want to measure? Will the poll guide your campaign’s strategy or is it simply intended to take the public’s temperature? Furthermore, it’s vital to consider the poll’s audience—will it be for the candidate’s eyes only or for public consumption? And, of course, you’ll need to develop the language for the questions you’ll be asking, which can be a difficult task.

There are also various mediums of polling, so political operatives and pollsters must consider the most effective medium to structure and conduct polls. While telephone-based polls were the standard method of polling for much of the twentieth century, they’re much less of an viable option today since fewer and fewer people actually answer their phones. Instead, many of today’s polls take place online, which are radically less expensive and faster. Online polls can offer campaigns a wide range of additional options, but they do present their own challenges, including issues with surveying representative samples of the population in order to achieve the most accurate results.

Despite the challenges and investment of effort required to conduct polling, however, most candidates and strategists agree that polling is an invaluable asset for any campaign. If you don’t believe that, we’d be happy to put a poll together to prove it.

The Art of Campaign Ads

The ultimate idea of a political campaign is to engage communities. Candidates give speeches, for example, that they hope will resonate with their constituents-to-be and inspire them to vote. Today, thanks to the proliferation of new technology, there are more ways than ever to engage members of the public through avenues like social media, the internet, and of course, campaign ad videos.

These videos, which are typically about a minute long, allow candidates to present their position or attitude on an issue, discuss their philosophy, and speak directly to voters. One of the many benefits of campaign ads are their tremendous reach: In presidential elections, for example, campaign ads can reach as many as 87 percent of American adults, which makes them an invaluable medium for candidates who want their message to reach the largest audience possible.

Campaign videos first came onto the political scene during the 1950s, as more and more Americans were bringing television sets into their homes; in 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first presidential candidate to incorporate video ads into his campaign, and they were wildly successful.

Since the 50s, the popularity, scale, and scope of campaign videos has increased dramatically. Today, they are a fixture of races at every level, from presidential contests to local elections and even referendums or ballot initiatives. In fact, Lincoln Strategy Group develops campaign ads for its clients, including these two videos which were designated Gold Winners in the 2017 AVA Digital Awards.

We were honored to receive these accolades for our work, but beyond that, we were particularly proud that we were able to present such a strong articulation of our clients’ message, whether it was in support of clean energy initiatives in Nevada or for quality leadership in Arizona. And we’re happy to say that both campaigns were successful!

While there are myriad approaches to producing a political campaign ad, many voters tend to dislike ads that “go negative,” or deliver ad hominem attacks against specific candidates. Instead, voters prefer positive or optimistic ads, such as President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign ad, “Prouder, Stronger, Better,” more commonly known as “Morning in America.” It remains one of the most celebrated campaign ads in American political history.

How to Make Your Voice Heard

Contacting U.S. elected officials to ask questions and share your opinions is an important element of democracy, but it can often feel like your voice isn’t heard or valued. Representatives are hard to get a hold of during their busy schedules, and a form-letter response you may receive after sending a letter or phone call to their office can make it seem like you aren’t getting your point across. Here’s a list of tips you can use to help make your voice heard by your elected officials.

Visit their Office

It can be hard for your representatives or members of their staff to read and respond to every letter or telephone; after all, since the size of the average congressional district is more than 710,000 people, your letter or call will be one of thousands—perhaps millions—in a year. But while a call or letter can be overlooked, it’s impossible for your representative or their staff to ignore an actual human being in their office. Learn the location of your representatives’ offices and make a point to visit regularly so that you can ensure your voice gets heard and isn’t lost in the shuffle of a busy office.

Join a Group

If there’s an issue that you’re passionate about, do some research and see what groups in your area are working to bend the ear of your representative on that topic. These groups have more of a chance to make contact with representatives or catch their attention since they can leverage the work—and potential votes—of large numbers of people towards a common cause; this makes it easier to broadcast a message since it’s carried by many voices. Your group can visit your representative’s office, attend their town halls, or even invite them to one of your own meetings. Or, if you can’t find a group that’s right for you, go ahead and start one yourself!

Write Letters to the Editor

If you’ve made several attempts to contact your representative but haven’t made any progress, you can consider writing a letter to the editor in a newspaper explaining your view and asking your representative to respond. While you can shoot for a national newspaper like the Wall Street Journal, you have a greater probability of being published in the local paper—plus, since your representative will be concerned with the press coverage they receive within their own district, they’ll also be more inclined to respond to you, either directly or in a follow-up letter of their own.