Two Campaign Activities Most Candidates Hate

by Kenneth J. Drum

There are two campaign activities that most candidates and campaign workers hate. They are, asking people for money and staffing a campaign telephone bank. However, they are probably the most important resources in a campaign. In this issue we will discuss both of them and why they can make or break an election campaign.

Raising Money

Running for any political office takes money. The higher the office the more money you have to raise. Over the past ten years the cost of campaigning has risen dramatically. Even for small local elections. There are several reasons for this. One reason is the creation of early voting which not only sets up a new category of voters but also extends the "window of decision" that voters make. Campaigns have to allocate additional resources to cover the extended time period. In other words, instead of one election day a campaign has several election days due to early voting. Early voting has been a great convenience for voters but has made campaigning more expensive.

Another cost driver is technology. Campaigns now must deal with the popular trends of personal messaging, a campaign website, using facebook and various other technical advances. It will often require the hiring of consultants to develop these communication tools for the campaign. Campaign software or the use of a "cloud" has gotten to the point that it is extremely beneficial for even a local campaign to have it. There are many versions of campaign software. Most of them allow a campaign to keep track of campaign contributions, manage voter lists, record supporters, keep track of volunteers, organize communications, etc. While all of that is available you also have to have the hardware to operate the software. That might require more additional expense.

Voter contact is more expensive. It's not unusual for a political mailing to cost $1.00 per person or more. The can be a killer for a small local campaign. Especially, if you’re an unknown or first time candidate. Some consultants say that a voter must have at least five encounters with a candidate's name before name recognition takes place. That requires a campaign to use a variety of communications to reach voters. It also may require retaining a communications consultant. The quality of a candidates communications says a lot about a candidate and the voters know it. Candidate should not skimp on their communications.

A candidate should start early in the campaign to raise money. In fact, it should be the first thing to do after the campaign announcement. It's best to start with friends, relatives, business acquaintances when asking for campaign contributions. In other words, people who know you best and respect your ideas and your work. You can branch out from there. You can expect that people who give larger campaign contributions will usually like to talk directly with the candidate. Therefore, if you feel that you can't ask people for money you probably should re-think your decision to be a candidate. Money doesn't always determine the winner of an election but it's also a political fact of life that it's difficult to win an election without it.

Phone Banking

The major purpose of having a phone bank is to identify your supporters. It's the first step in a get out the vote (GOTV) effort. GOTV is crucial in any election campaign. Many times elections are won or lost on election day due to voter turnout. Some voters are under the impression that phone calls on behalf of a political candidate are subject to the "do not call" list. The legislators in their infinite wisdom excluded political calls from the "do not call" restrictions on the grounds of not wanting to restrict free speech. A rather convenient argument.

Since the calls are not restricted you should use them. The number one priority of a campaign is to get your voters to the polls. It's as much true for a student council election as it is for an election for a high public office. You can't win without votes. Knowing who is voting for you is paramount. A well run phone bank will help determine that.

The nature of the phone call often has a big part in the acceptability of the call. Persuasion calls are often found offensive by voters. That's why a good phone bank won't use them. Phone banks are after voter identification. Calls to voters giving them information on precinct locations, absentee voting procedures, election dates, etc are often better received because the voter is receiving important information. During the course of conversation an attempt can be made to ID supporters. These calls should last no more than thirty seconds. There are multiple strategies to be run off of phone bank information which could easily be the subject of another newsletter.

The use of robo-calls is an evolving campaign technology. Personally, I find them offensive because I'd like to talk with a live person on the other end of the telephone call. It is my opinion that to use them as persuasion calls to the general public is a waste of campaign resources. However, they may have some other uses as the technology evolves. In GOTV programs the robo-call can serve as a reminder to supporters to vote. It's also a way to keep in touch with members of an organization who has given you an endorsement. Or, they can convey an endorsement from a prominent person. Robo-calls can also be a way of getting out information to supporters in order to counteract a rumor or event that has taken place. It can be a fast way of communication and for that reason they shouldn't be completely ruled out as a resource for a campaign.

How Can a Local Campaign Raise Money?

Any candidate for any public office faces the question of how to raise enough money for their campaign. Whether large or small all campaign fundraising has some similarities. The first consideration is the methods used to raise money.

The place for any candidate to start is to assess their own personal funds and how much they can personally contribute to the campaign. Usually, these funds are used as starter money to get the campaign rolling. Many times the candidate will report these funds as a "loan" to the campaign in order to retrieve the money once contributions come in from other sources. Some local elections are so small that they do not require much of an expenditure. The candidate ends up funding the campaign out of their own pocket. It has also happened on rare occasions with much larger campaigns where the candidate does not accept any contributions as part of a political statement to voters. In a large campaign only the very, very rich can afford to do it.

As mentioned above the best place to start is with people who know you. Relatives, friends, business acquaintances and others who know your work are more likely to contribute to your campaign. After that, here are some other sources of raising campaign money and how to best approach it.

The Bigger Donors

Typically, the people who give the larger contributions want to talk directly with the candidate. "Dialing for Dollars" is unacceptable with this group unless it's the candidate that does it. Larger donors are usually looking for access to a candidate and like the fact that they can communicate directly with the candidate after the election. The bigger donors should be one of the first steps in a local campaign. Simply put, if you don't get them to contribute someone else will. Larger donors also are likely to be opinion leaders which can bring more contributions to a campaign.

Money Bundlers

There are folks that other people respect for their judgment and advice. They can often raise money for a cause by simply distributing a contribution appeal letter or by making personal contacts with their associates. Often they are the ones who collect the contributions and then turn in the money to the campaign along with the proper documentation. They are a valuable resource to any campaign. Especially, to a local campaign where the politics are generally "grassroots" in nature. People talking to other people.

Fundraising Events

Up to this point all of the previous discussion involves activities that do not require much of an initial investment of time and money. Almost all campaigns conduct some type of fundraising events in order to raise money. Some of them bring in a lot of money while others don't. Some of the events sell tickets in advance that require a level of contribution from everyone. Others just invite people and then solicit contributions at the event. Both methods work but it takes a lot of planning and organization to make either one successful. Smaller campaigns should carefully examine their chances of raising a lot of money with a large fundraising event. There is also the unfortunate possibility of losing money if the event turns out to be a dud. That could put them out of the race before they've really begun.

Mass Mailings

Candidates can obtain a voter file from the appropriate agency conducting the election. The file can usually be sorted in a number of ways that allow a candidate to segment the list of voters. Once all of that is done judgments have to be made about who is likely to respond to an appeal to make a campaign contribution. I'll leave the details of how to do that for another time. Once that is done the list has to be consolidated. I don't recommend sending mailings to more than one person in a household, military personnel serving in a foreign country or persons with addresses in a foreign country.

A campaign contribution mailing usually contains three or four pieces. An outer envelope, a letter of appeal from the candidate, a "puff" piece on the candidate and a contribution envelope that fits inside the outer envelope. Depending upon the postage and printing a mailing may cost the campaign more than a dollar per house. In a local election this involves a substantial investment. That's why targeting your efforts is important.

Some candidates will take part of a list and see what the response is. If successful, they will send to another part of the list and so on until the list is completed. If it turns out to be not worthwhile the list will be abandoned. Another view on this is that even if the list does not break even it's still a method for a candidate to get their name in front of voters. Is it worth it? That's a decision that every local campaign must make.

Internet and Web Site Appeals

Larger campaigns have recently raised a lot of money through the internet and personal messaging. It really hasn't hit local campaigns in the same way. A broad general appeal like the equivalent of a mass mailing is subject to spam laws. The personal messaging techniques that larger campaigns use requires consultants and a financial investment. It doesn't lend itself to a "do it yourself" approach. However, a smaller campaign can use some of the personal messaging techniques like Facebook, Twitter, etc as long as the communication is permissive.

Every local campaign should have a web site. It's possible to raise campaign contributions through a web site by using vendors like Pay Pal. It usually will not be a large source of campaign contributions. The science of this is evolving and smaller campaigns may be able to utilize more of it to raise money in the future.

Meet and Greets

A dual purpose event. One that allows the candidate to interact with voters as well as solicit campaign contributions. Meet and greets usually take place in a small group setting billed either as a coffee or wine and cheese party. The host either donates the refreshments or the campaign will pay for them. Many meet and greets take place at people's homes or clubhouses. It's up to the campaign whether or not to call it a fundraiser but there should be contribution envelopes on hand.

The format is that the host or a committee invites the guests. The candidate and the host greet the attendees as they arrive. There is time for socializing at the beginning. After that the candidate delivers a short "stump speech" followed by a Q and A session. An appeal for campaign contributions is made. The event ends with more socializing as the candidate continues to work the room. It's a simple yet effective format for a small local campaign.

Political Action Committees (PACs)

Political Action Committees can be a source of campaign contributions without much investment on the part of a campaign. A contribution by a PAC usually involves an endorsement by the PAC, although not always. A political party might have a policy to give contributions to its members who are candidates running in non-partisan elections, for example.

Endorsements are usually made by a committee. Many times the committee will interviewthe candidates before making an endorsement. Candidates should research which PACs would be likely to contribute to their campaign. Often a local union or trade association PAC would be more than willing to donate to a local candidate's campaign. They won't if they're not asked.

The Final Word

The second consideration in fundraising is the candidate. The candidate's attitude is critical. It is the linchpin of the entire fundraising effort and a candidate must always assume that everyone wants to give them money. As they say, "it's a dirty job but somebody has to do it."

This article was reprinted with permission of Kenneth J. Drum & Associates, 8404 Mallow Lane, Naples, FL 34113. Copyright 2013. Kenneth J. Drum & Associates. All Rights Reserved. For more information about the author go to:

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