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Friday, October 12, 2007
posted by Justin Hart | 8:20 AM | permalink
So, the primary season is coming to a close. And then... it starts all over again! Only this time... the opponents will be clear and the focus will be forward. Time to prime ourselves on what it takes to raise money.

Here's the one rule you need to know about fundraising, everything else is ancillary. It is the one guiding principle I've used to set expectations and predict success over the last three years.

In short: fundraising is very hard work.

But with the right model in place and the requisite sweat equity, you can accomplish amazing things.

Here are some quick thoughts on what it takes to raise money.

First and foremost, understand some of the underlying rules of fundraising:
  1. "People give to people to help people"
    I've been working with non-profit organizations for almost a decade. Without fail, a general clarion-call for money will fail compared to a plea for a specific cause, especially when it is linked with a picture and a story. You need to have a compelling story with a person who can conjure up a compelling reason to compel people to open their wallets.

  2. "People give relative to their means"
    No matter what the cause, the dollar amount donations from the 35-65 crowd will far outweigh the 20-30 crowd for one simple reason: they have $ to spend. This is why online fundraising has not yet exploded on the scene. As Patrick Ruffini has noted, the Dean revolution was an email revolution not a website coup. The Facebook, blogging and Web 2.0 crowd are truly young at heart. It will be a few years before they can churn out the $$$ to make a difference in the fundraising sector.

  3. "Those closest must set the pace"
    When Romney kicked off his exploratory committee with a national call day January 8th, the 5 Romney boys set the example for the other 400 fundraisers by sticking at their tables for the entire duration of the event. When Meg Whitman, CEO of Ebay takes 9 hours out of her day to sit down and ask her friends for money it makes an impact on everyone around her. The candidate, the board, the members, the founders must make their efforts public and powerful.
Next we need to take a look at the trends in fundraisings. I note some of the efforts that I've been involved in as quick case studies for each point:
  1. Growing use of the Internet for fundraising.
    Again, "growing" is the operative word. By most accounts donations raised via the Internet are pithy and underwhelming. Only a handful of non-profit organizations and candidates can boast more than 6 figures in online fundraising. The trend is obviously toward the Internet but it has not been the harbinger of $$$ that many expected

  2. Innovation and adopting new practices and models.
    The key to fundraising is innovation. I wager that any one of us receives half-a-dozen letters a week soliciting for donations. Standing out above the noise is the key to successful fundraising. Take for instance Romney's "Students for Mitt" program where college students can receive 10% back on everything they raise for the campaign.

  3. Involve everyone in fundraising
    I know some professional fundraisers who were very upset at the Romney campaign for opening the floodgates to anyone and everyone. But it's paid off. For example, as a "Patriot" level fundraiser I have the ability to create "associate fundraisers" I get credit for whatever money they bring in and they in turn get credit for being part of a successful team of advocates. Many non-profit organizations are building bonus structures for their staff based donations that they bring in.

  4. Contemporary corporate marketing practices
    Like any aged market, the political sphere has its own consultants, approaches, and software packages. Most every political campaign uses Aristotle Publishing for voter lists and most every 501(c)4 uses Capitol Advantage for online advocacy. Romney has broke the fundraising mold by utilizing a contact management system called SalesForce.com typically utilized by large and dispersed sales and business development groups. Many non-profit organizations are using ROI models to predict success and maximize margins on the donations.

  5. MOST IMPORTANT: FOCUS ON DONORS
    When you give $2300 dollars to a campaign you are the man (or at least you should be treated like "the man".) Next to your unpaid fundraisers, you must focus like a laser beam on your high end contributors. By creating incentives and time factors into your efforts you create an energetic need to get involved and "max out". Everytime a donation comes into the Lighted Candle Society, I personally call the contributor to thank them.
Lastly, you need to understand WHY people give:
  • They believe you are making a difference in a cause they care about.
  • They value your work
  • They see it as an investment
  • They get something in return
  • They feel good about themselves
  • Returning a favor
  • Solving a problem
  • Sending a message
  • Receiving quality information
  • Aligning with peers
  • Bringing justice to the world
If you cater your message to these efforts your fundraising effort might just work. But note this: by my calculations 60-70% of the money that Romney has raised has been at in-person events.

You may have heard about the $80,000 we've raised at MyManMitt.com for the Romney campaign. I should admit here openly and honestly that $40,000 of that money came from me working the phones. Of course, the website became the fulfillment engine for those donation, but the work to get the people there was manual.

But once that momentum was in place I was able to do some amazing things online. In the last two days of the quarter we raised $5000 and I didn't make a single phone call. I basically customized an email to my previous donors and asked them to make a difference.

Next week I'll talk in more detail about why I think the Democrats have been so much more successful at fundraising online that the GOP.

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