Making Fundraising Asks During a Time of Extreme Economic Uncertainty - National Democratic Training Committee

Let’s name it: we are in some dark times economically. Some of your strongest supporters may be facing unprecedented financial struggles at home, and we are collectively facing the real possibility of the situation getting worse before it can get better. For some perspective, over 6.8 million people filed initial jobless claims during the week ending March 28, according to the Department of Labor. That’s more people than the combined populations of Iowa and Nevada…in a single week. Twelve hundred dollar checks can’t even begin to compensate for the damage that the Trump administration has enabled through its negligence. Only real changes in leadership and governance can do that.

In no uncertain terms, that means your campaign needs to stay active and financially solvent. The only way to do that is to continue fundraising.

So, how do we carry on this important work in a way that still honors the reality of the present moment? Your campaign will continue to encounter its fair share of expected “nos,” but you and your volunteers need to also be ready for conversations with people who may have donated in the past but are no longer able to, as well as folks who might be squarely offended at the notion of soliciting money in an economic crisis.

Step one involves checking in with yourself. If you’ve joined any of NDTC CEO Kelly Dietrich’s Online Q&As, you’ve heard it repeated over and over that “you are not your donors.” Don’t let your own assumptions or anxieties negatively project onto your campaign’s fundraising plan.

Now is an important time to review your fundraising plan, with particular attention given to your budget and projections. Your campaign needs to strike a balance between responsiveness to this new reality and staying the course you charted when you first wrote your fundraising plan. You may have to make significant adjustments, and that’s okay. If that’s the case, be sure to revisit the Budgeting & Financial Compliance Course in the NDTC Online Academy for the tools and templates you’ll need.

As your campaign aligns internally on strategy and next steps, continue checking in on your supporters. Share support opportunities with them, if you can. From state-by-state Resource Guides for Workers to Childcare and Education Policy Updates, there’s a wealth of useful information accessible electronically. You’re still campaigning, and your genuine care and concern will go a long way. Encourage volunteers to prioritize active listening now more than ever, and if your campaign hasn’t yet updated its story bank, be sure to capture the narratives that emerge. Let your supporters know you are counting on their vote and counting on them to talk with their friends and neighbors to help you win.

At its core, fundraising is organizing, and organizing is relationship-driven. Especially now, be sure you’ve thoroughly assessed your candidate’s network for potential donors, in addition to seeking out new donors. If your campaign has the capacity to give added individualized attention to those who have donated in the past, now is the time to put your human capital to work.

Good organizers also always have an ask. Your supporters each bring different strengths and levels of commitment to your campaign, whether in the form of money or time. Meet people where they’re at and be mindful of changes to life circumstances. Folks who might have been able to contribute financially before might not be in a position to do so now. Conversely, those who might not have committed time before may now be motivated to do so.

Whatever the level or type of commitment you are seeking, make your asks tangible and give people opportunities to see the impact of their contributions and efforts. You might share mockups of potential mailers with donors and let them vote on the winning design, publish a virtual donor board, or highlight some rockstar volunteers with appreciation posts on social media.

It’s also essential that your team — from volunteers all the way up to the candidate — is aligned regarding how the campaign is communicating and framing fundraising asks during this time, especially asks for financial support. What the country is now experiencing is the coronavirus, yes, but more consequentially, we are feeling the compounded effects of decades of Republican efforts to undermine institutions and erode public trust in the American experiment, at every level of government. What messages are you sending to explicitly make this connection for people? How are you incorporating the urgency of our current situation into a message that highlights the importance of keeping campaigns like yours alive? In the context of texting and phone banking, be sure that you update scripts and prepare for call time with language on how to pivot to COVID-19-responsive messaging.

There’s no way around it: your campaign’s approach to fundraising needs to adapt to community and individual hardships. And you need to be prepared to end every interaction on a positive note, whether the supporter can give now, later, or not at all. Now especially, gratitude is an investment in your relationships with supporters. Ditch the form letter and find moments to add personal touches like handwritten notes. Stock up on thank-you cards and stamps (shout-out to the folks at U.S. Postal Service). If your campaign previously had a threshold for donation amounts or volunteer time that received specific forms of acknowledgement and communication, consider revising those benchmarks to allow for wider reach of individualized attention to your campaign’s donors and volunteer corps. These personal touches are crucial to maintaining connections with your supporters as your campaign moves onward to Election Day. After all, you can’t re-solicit a donor you haven’t thanked.

Look, our work between now and November is going to be tough. It’s hard to ask people to give more when we already collectively feel like we’re sacrificing so much. Now’s the time for your campaign team and supporters to refocus on what winning your election actually means. Winning means competent governance. It means representation that actually represents communities. It means building an America in which conversations about healthcare aren’t tabled for a pandemic. And right now, it’s the continued financial support and time commitment of your community that is going to power that win.

So, how is your campaign sustaining its momentum? What steps are you taking to ensure fundraising continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Learn more about managing your campaign during COVID-19 by registering for an upcoming virtual live training!

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Zachary Packineau

Zachary Packineau (he/him/his) is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and a descendent of the Santa Clara Pueblo.

Zach has spent the better part of his personal and professional career advancing social justice advocacy in the Upper Midwest. While mastering the art of wearing multiple hats in movement building, Zach has worked on two incredibly successful campaigns to defeat two restrictive ballot measures in North Dakota, each by a 2-to-1 margin. Zach is an experienced facilitator and sexual health educator, as well as a proud alumnus of the Midwest Academy of Organizing for Social Change, the Social Justice Training Institute, Camp Wellstone, and the North Dakota Change Network.

Zach's work experience includes the American Indian Public Health Resource Center in the Department of Public Health at North Dakota State University, and successful stints with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library.