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What NOT to Do If You Want to Launch a Successful Political Campaign

The best, or shall I say worst, way to torpedo your campaign out of the gate is to be so fearful of spending money on professional fundraising that you do not raise the funds required to meet your budget.  It’s that simple.  Let me explain.

My name is Kristin Oblander, President of The Oblander Group. We’re a political fundraising company based in Atlanta. Over the course of our nearly 20 years in business, we have gotten calls from a vast array of people new to politics who seek our help with raising funds so that they can mount a competitive campaign for office.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a Democratic candidate seeking to challenge a multi-term Republican incumbent. Like many people, they had some questions about our fundraising services. They told me they had interviewed other fundraising consultants months earlier, but decided to not hire any of them due to budgetary concerns.

It was evident from their line of questioning that their main concern was how much we would charge them, not how much more money we would be able to help them raise. Marketing people would suggest that they were too focused on price where they should have been thinking about value.

Indeed, after drilling down into more detail about where things stood with their fundraising, they finally admitted that over the course of 7 months of fundraising on their own without professional help, they had raised a total of $52,000… and now they were effectively screwed.

Political Fundraising Isn’t Just About Raising Money

Okay, it’s mostly about raising money. But what I mean is that while the money is used to pay for campaign expenditures, it also works to show how well the candidate is doing compared to the other people running for the same office.

No matter if you’re planning to run for a local race or for the presidency, the law requires that every dollar contributed to a campaign and every dollar spent by a campaign needs to be reported. These reports are then made public, and anyone, including the press, can look at them. Anyone can see how much cash has been raised. Anyone can see how much money has been spent. Anyone can see how much cash is on hand.

Do you think that might impact your campaign and how it’s perceived? Do you think that people will be comparing the numbers from one campaign to another? Trust me, they will do that and political reporters, in particular, pour through these financials and use them to write stories – good or bad.

Start with a Plan

With that in mind, let’s return to that caller, the one who felt that hiring a professional fundraising consultant was going to cost too much money. Seven months into the campaign, they had raised $52,000. When people see that figure, they will come to the conclusion that they have no momentum.  What little they have raised was spent, so they have little cash-on-hand. While the press wasn’t writing about the lack of funds raised, they were ignoring the candidate altogether – like they didn’t even exist.

Beyond that, they have lost valuable early time in the cycle to build up their networks and targeting lists.  One of the first things a seasoned political fundraiser will do is to work with the candidate to create target lists of people they know well and develop targeted ask amounts. While a $100 contribution might seem great, if the person giving that would have been willing to give their campaign $2,000, they effectively lost $1,900.

Sure, they could try to circle back and ask for more, but that doesn’t send a particularly good message. It implies that they don’t know what they are doing. It implies that they didn’t really have a plan. It also wastes time because instead of working to attract new donors to the campaign, they are spending time calling back people who could have made a larger contribution in the first place with an appropriate ask.

Kristin Oblander with President Barack Obama

President Obama couldn’t have won without effective fundraising.

There is only so much time between the time a candidate decides to run for office and election day. If the caller had a solid plan in place, the initial calls could have netted the dollars needed to hire critical staff, conduct polling, create websites and to be present on social media.

Instead of staging professionally run fundraising events in the community, or developing and delivering messaging through broadcast, direct mail, phone banking, email, and social media, this candidate is stuck behind the eight ball, with little time or hope to change the situation.  All because they were so afraid of spending money on an effective and professional fundraising company.

It seemed that the caller would rather that their campaign wither on the vine and twist in the wind – which is exactly where I left them.

Could Anyone Have Helped the Candidate Raise Campaign Funds?

Most competent professional political fundraising companies likely would not take on a client like this for a number of reasons. These are the ones that leaped out to me during our call:

  • Being overly timid – In politics, you must be bold and be willing to really put yourself out there in order to run your best race.  Trust me, I know that no one likes to make fundraising calls, and no one likes to ask their friends and business associates for money. Get over that – you’re not asking for money to support your family, you’re doing it to serve your community or country. Don’t be timid when it comes to fundraising – be bold – a seasoned political fundraiser will be with you every step of the way to keep you focused and to stay on track to hit the goals. If you go all in, we’ll go all-in with you.
  • Mismanaging the fundraising operation – It costs money to run for office in the United States. But don’t let a fear of expenditures rule your key early decisions. Either you raise money from supporters of your campaign, our you can pay for it all on your own. As my caller showed, they were only able to raise $52,000 on their own over seven months. That sends a terrible signal to other potential contributors, and to the voters. If you can’t mount an effective campaign, that signals that you are a bad decision-maker, and America needs the best decision makers in office.
  • Lack of respect for other professionals – You may be an absolute genius in your professional career, but that doesn’t mean that you know how to do political fundraising. The candidate I reference is a Medical Doctor, a respected professional who is well-compensated for their work. Should someone seek their care, most people are willing to pay their fee because of the value of that care. Yet this candidate was unwilling to take advantage of my professional skills because of a fear that it would be too expensive. Am I compensated for my expertise? Of course. But that’s because I have a proven track record of political fundraising success helping candidates win election to the local city council to the Presidency of the United States.
    My campaign fundraising colleagues and I avoid working for candidates who indicate that they don’t respect us as professionals.  Our effectiveness is diminished when every email we draft, list we target, or event we plan is questioned and second-guessed by someone with zero experience in our sector.  Respect begets respect, and every professional on a campaign deserves to be fully respected.
  • Poor management skills – Effective managers in any field seek to bring on the best talent they can find. They do this to build a winning team, as well as to develop and promote the talent to its best abilities to create a top-notch operation.  Everyone wants to have the funds needed to mount a winning campaign. They want to be able to allocate it for polling, field canvassing, and media production and advertising. But the only way to afford all of that starts with hiring an effective political fundraiser. Proven fundraising firms like the Oblander Group raise the funding that campaigns need for those expenditures, as well as to hire quality campaign staff.

What’s the First Thing To Do for My Political Campaign?

My recommendation is to talk to a professional fundraiser FIRST, before you even file your paperwork register your campaign committee.  Work with them to develop a budget for the entire race, put all the pieces together with them involved from the very beginning.  Then, get out there and work your butt off so that after months and months of fundraising you’ll have the ability to effectively communicate with voters closer to the election.

At the Oblander Group, we’ve done this successfully for twenty years, and we have proven that our strategies and tactics work.  Do this right, and I promise you will not regret adding that line item for professional fundraising services in your budget, because otherwise, it can get pretty lonely out there in the wind twisting on that dried up vine.