Candidate FAQ: Political Campaign Fundraising

You have some questions about fundraising. We have some answers.

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There are no two ways about it. Money is essential to communicating with voters and winning elections. Unfortunately, it’s also often the most daunting part of the campaign.

Fear not. We assure you: campaign fundraising isn’t rocket science.

With a little knowledge and practice, you’ll be able to effectively ask for donations and reach your campaign fundraising goals.

The following questions are some of the most frequently asked during our live trainings.

(FYI: For more detailed help to create a successful political fundraising campaign, be sure to check out our Raising Money and Making the Ask courses!)

Question: How Do I Find Big Donors?

We hear this all the time. Unfortunately, there’s no magical list. The truth is, big donors don’t normally just give right away. Campaigns build their own lists and gain momentum, which attracts more interest — and larger donors.

The challenge facing every campaign is how to build a list of supporters invested in your race. Many candidates overlook the obvious first place to start: yourself. You need to begin by rolodexing yourself and, of course, we have a couple blog posts on how to do just that effectively.

Who are the friends and family that are close to you? Which of these folks do you know or hope will be willing to donate to your venture?

Once you’ve made this list of potential donors, your next step is to network and form new, intentional relationships throughout your community.

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There are a variety of ways to do this, which we discuss in-depth in our Building Your Network  course.

The goal is to expand your ecosystem and introduce yourself to new groups who share the same values as you do.

Within these new network connections, you’ll find new donors or even important community members willing to endorse you. Endorsements from these leaders offer the potential of additional donors from their supporters as well.

The most important part of finding donors within and outside of your personal circle is to do your research. Look into the contribution history and background of all those who you’d like to ask to give to your campaign to determine what their giving capacity might be and how much you can ask for.

And, finally, the best part: you make the ask. An effective ask, used often, will glean positive results for your fundraising goal.

Unsure if your ask is effective? We can help you craft and develop the perfect ask in our course, Making the Ask.

How Much Money Should I Invest In My Campaign to Get Started?

The answer here is: it depends. At the start, every campaign relies on some money from the candidate.

There are initial start-up costs for every political fundraising campaign, which will fall on your shoulders. These include:

  • Registering a domain name and creating a website
  • Renting a post office box
  • Setting up a credit card service to manage your donations

These are all necessities to begin a fundraising campaign and receive donations. Therefore, you’ll likely need to front the money (as either contributions or loans) initially.

But what if you have more to contribute?

Even if you have enough personal wealth to fund the campaign, think about when and how you want to use your personal money. The goal of early fundraising reports is to show strength and momentum. Do you have enough to scare opponents away? Will you trigger any contribution limits or caps that allow your opponents to raise more money? Be strategic.

If costs are a concern to you, you should evaluate your own budget. Have a conversation with your partner, or anyone you share financial obligations with, and decide what you can comfortably contribute.

Just remember — if you don’t invest in yourself, how can you ask others to?

What’s the Difference Between an In-Kind Contribution vs. a Loan to Your Campaign?

The rules regarding these two types of contributions vary by state, so be sure to research exactly what procedures you need to follow regarding each form.

In-kind contributions are donations made in the form of goods and services. These need to be recorded on the campaign’s financial report. For example, a local restaurant can donate food to a candidate for a political fundraising event.

Loans are contributions from your personal funds in which you intend to be paid back. All loans received by a committee must be itemized and continuously reported until they are paid off, regardless of if they come from an outside source or the candidate themselves.

For more information on these kinds of contributions, and for definitions on other political terms, be sure to check out our Political Dictionary.

Disclaimer: there’s a lot of baggage with loans. A candidate is the last one to get paid back — if your campaign can’t meet all its expenses, be sure to keep this in mind before making a loan.

Should You Work With a Professional Political Campaign Fundraising Consultant?

Political campaign fundraising consultants can be very helpful (full disclosure: I’ve been one). However, they can’t guarantee you money or success.

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The good ones can bring structure, the best practices, and a few relationships to you, but will tell you that there’s no magic list.

A potential donor may take your call because a fundraiser asked them to. But they’re going to give based on what they think of you, not because the consultant told them to. Be wary of anyone who says otherwise or if they seem too good to be true — always check their references to help you make the most appropriate choice.

Also, set some clear goals and expectations in advance.

Most consultants work on retainer rather than a percentage. In fact, percentage-based fundraising is highly frowned upon in the political fundraising world.

The real strength a fundraiser can bring is teaching you how to raise money and put the systems in place to make you more successful. However, you as the candidate will still have to put in a lot of the heavy lifting: call time and making the asks yourself.

Do you have any questions regarding political campaign fundraising or another issue NDTC can help with? Post them here and they might be included in a future post!

  Campaign Fundraising and Finance