Small Dollar Donations

The importance of small dollar fundraising

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Fundraising is a key component of your campaign, and with the laws on money in politics becoming more lax, fundraising becomes more and more important.  For candidates who are in the race to change policy on issues they care about, raising funds can be challenging and sometimes disheartening.

How can you use your passion about issues to drive fundraising?  How can you reach more donors in your limited time?

Two models of fundraising

It’s important to note that there are two quite different types of fundraising.  The first is the one you’re probably most familiar with: call time. This is where the candidate spends a certain amount of time each day or each week making phone calls to potential donors.

The other type of fundraising is events-based and/or digital.  Here we’ll be talking about events-based small dollar fundraising; you can find more information about digital fundraising here. This is where campaign staff set up public events, and at each event the candidate makes a pitch for small donations.  

Your campaign should really be comfortable with both types.  They each have their place, and can support each other.

Let’s compare the two.

Call time leads to a steady stream of funds.  It requires very little setup. The candidate has to learn a one-on-one sales pitch.  Events-based fundraising requires considerably more time invested in events organizing and community outreach.  The candidate has to learn to motivate a crowd with either a town hall or a speech.

There are hidden issues with call time that first-time candidate’s don’t realize until they try to get elected to a higher office.  When a local elected official becomes a candidate for statewide office (or a state official runs for a national office), they may need to raise ten times as much money.  

Since there are only so many hours in a day, the easiest way to make this happen is to call wealthier donors, whose policy goals may not match your own. In national offices, this leads to a very different life than people expect when they first get involved in politics, where sitting politicians spend the vast majority of their time calling lists of wealthy donors.

On the other hand, prioritizing events-based fundraising enables the candidate or politician to spend more time listening to and educating large numbers of constituents about issues.  And there are other advantages to events-based fundraising.

Every event leads to new lists of people that can be asked to donate or volunteer, which call time does not.  And as to the problem of raising ten times as much money, staff could organize ten times as many events, or get ten times as many people to each event, or use video and social media to allow the candidates message to be heard by people far and wide.

There are many articles on how to excel at call time, so here we’ll focus on best practices in events-based, small dollar donations.

Fundraising events: The basics

At the event:

  1. Lay the Net. Catch as much information as you can for as many people as possible. If you’re hosting the event, have sign-in at the door. If you’re not, have volunteers with clipboards offering to sign people up. Your signup sheets should include email, phone, and snail-mail address.
  2. The Event. This depends on the event; just run a good event that participants enjoy.
  3. The Pitch. At the end, the candidate makes a convincing argument for why people should donate.  Some pitches are better than others.
  4. Close the Net. Have envelopes for cash, check, or credit. If you can, use square (or another technology) for taking credit cards right away. Make sure you get the name of each donor, but get all other info at the door (to avoid putting a barrier between them and donating).

After the event:

  1. Thank, Thank, Thank. Thank immediately. Tell them thank you personally. Say thank you without asking for another donation.
  2. Impact. Tell donors what their money is going to and about exciting things happening in the campaign. What impact is their donation having?
  3. Ask. Only after thanking and informing, ask again

Types of events

There are many events that can be used as fundraisers. Here we’ll only talk about house parties and town halls.

House Parties

A volunteer opens up their home to guests. After 45 min of appetizers and drinks, someone makes a pitch for the candidate or organization. There is a lot of information on the web about how to run a house party.  The best benefit of house parties is that the candidate does not have to be there.  A volunteer or staff member can be responsible for training volunteers to host excellent house parties, and this revenue stream will continue without the candidate’s direct involvement.

Town Halls

There is a specific kind of town hall that works particularly well for fundraising.  Here’s how it works.

Before the town hall (all planning can be done by campaign staff or volunteers):

  1. Choose the constituency. Choose a group of people who have common issues and concerns.  Different people have different needs; this is your opportunity to understand what it’s like to live in a coal mining town, on a reservation, in affordable housing, or in a nursing home.
  2. Contact. Contact the group leaders and set up a meeting to talk to them about your campaign.  
  3. Time and location. Your town hall should be on the group’s own turf, in a location where they usually meet.
  4. Questions. Work with the group’s leadership to come up with questions that relate to concerns the group has (in addition to others).

At the event:

  1. Intro. Have the group’s leadership introduce you, then introduce yourself briefly and explain that you’re here to learn from them.
  2. 70% listening. The reason this type of town hall works so well is that you, the candidate, will be listening to your constituents.  The majority of the event consists of you asking questions and the audience answering. Summarize what you hear.
  3. 30% educating/mobilizing. Let constituents know why the policies they want are not being passed. This could include your opponent, their donors, or other powerful interests in your area.  
  4. Pitch.  Use the pitch at the end to mobilize them into action.  Specifically ask for donations, and have envelopes and other means of paying readily available through volunteers.

You can get more in-depth info about this type of event here.

Healthy Fundraising

Small dollar donations are essential to any campaign. With a healthy mix of call time and small dollar fundraising will ensure that once you get elected, you’ll be able to spend your time being the agent of change you want to be.  

This post was written by Anna Callahan of  The Incoruptibles.

  Campaign Fundraising and Finance
Anna quit her career as a software engineer in order to volunteer full-time for the Bernie campaign. She then helped mobilize other Berkeley volunteers for a local slate that included five progressive candidates, public-financing of elections, education funding and affordable housing ballot measures, all of which won (except one candidate). Anna continues to volunteer for Our Revolution, Indivisible, and DSA, while she works full-time at The Incorruptibles. She believes that to effectively battle against the 1% and corporate takeover of our government, it is vital to have a truly grassroots national movement that can develop a deep bench of politicians at the local level.