Brightside Communications’ Principal and the founder of The Win Equation blog, Bijoy Datta, joined Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor on his radio show and podcast “Issues and Interviews” to talk about the 2018 New York State Governor’s Race, Trump’s affect on local races and more.
Anyone who has worked on a local political campaign knows that the task that no one wants to do is asking for money. But unless the candidate is going to write a big fat check themselves, you need to fundraise if you’re going to have a shot to win.
Before you start to push back, wondering if I’m saying that money buys elections, let me make a few things clear. Money doesn’t buy elections. Money isn’t the only thing that matters. Money doesn’t assure any campaign of victory. Having more money or less money (even by a wide margin) doesn’t preordain the outcome of your election.
With that said, you DO have to raise enough money to get your name and message in front of likely voters if you’re going to stand a chance. Simply put, while money certainly isn’t the only thing that matters in a campaign, it does matter. You can’t effectively and repeatedly deliver your message to the voters without some means of paid media – meaning money to send mailings, air TV/radio/web ads, print lawn signs and billboards, etc. Earned media is not enough to get the message to sink in, especially in local races where voters’ attention is thin.
So what’s one of the easiest ways to get started on political fundraising? I usually recommend embarking with a simple fundraising letter to a list warm prospects immediately after you announce your candidacy. That’s when, theoretically, you’ll have some nice “new car smell” to drive enthusiasm. (Note: Read this post for instructions on how to build your list)
Here’s a brief primer on what a basic fundraising “Beg Letter” package should include:
1. A Carrier Envelope that gets the recipient to actually open the package. Too many campaigns make the mistake of having fundraising mail (or any political mail, for that matter) look like political mail. Then the mailing ends up going straight from the mailbox to the recycling bin. Instead, I recommend making the envelope look as personal as possible. Use the candidate’s name and home address in a simple font for the return address, as opposed to a slick campaign logo that makes the package look like a dozen other political mailings the recipient may receive. Also, use a live stamp rather than a postal indicia. You can do this even if you’re using Bulk/Standard Mail; just ask for political consultant or printing company/mailhouse.
2. A Reply Envelope, preferably with pre-paid return postage (Business Reply Envelopes are better than pre-stamped return envelopes in terms of cost efficiency). The idea here is to make it as easy as possible for prospective donors to send you a check. Your returns assuredly will increase if you provide an envelope and pay their postage. Plus the contributor can’t screw up by sending the contribution to the wrong address.
3. A Reply Card/Form so you can collect information about the contributor for legal requirements and future marketing. Aside from needing the appropriate personal information for financial disclosure filings (the requirements vary from state to state and for federal races), this piece is your chance to easily collect supporters’ email addresses and cellphone numbers. Then you can market to them throughout the campaign to keep them apprised of happenings – and, of course, to again ask them for consider contributing. It also is your opportunity to set contribution “pricepoint” options.
4. The Letter, of course! None of the above three items matter if you don’t have a decent “ask” to make. For most campaigns, a letter directly from the candidate is the best option. For some other campaigns, a letter from a supporter (could be a spouse, prominent supporter or other surrogate) makes sense. It really depends on the particular race.
A soon-to-come future post will provide detailed suggestions for content for the letter, but here’s are a few tips to get you started for now. Regardless of who signs it, the letter absolutely must contain three key things:
A. Directly ask for a contribution.
B. Really, I’m serious. You need to directly ask for a contribution.
C. Can I be much more clear? YOU MUST DIRECTLY ASK FOR A CONTRIBUTION!!!
This might seem obvious, but if I had $20 for every draft “fundraising” letter I’ve seen that didn’t clearly and directly ask for a contribution, I’d have enough to fund a small City Council race. I’ll discuss some details about how to make this direct ask in the aforementioned future post but, as a rule of thumb, you should directly ask at least 2-3 times in the letter. It may seem repetitive, but the reader needs to understand loudly and clearly that it’s a call to action; not just an update on the campaign or the usual “vote for me” political mail.
So, back to our original question: Should you send a fundraising letter? Unless you’re funding the campaign yourself, the answer is undoubtedly “YES”.
Check back in soon for more detailed suggestions on what content to include in the fundraising letter….
I’ve said time and time again to anyone who would listen that “the past equals the future” when it comes to voting behavior. What that really means is that voters are generally consistent and predictable in the types of years that they vote.
In other words, someone who has historically only voted in Presidential Election years is likely to only vote in future Presidential Election years. If you’re not running in a Presidential Election year, you’re going to ignore them. If you’re running in a Presidential Election year, you’re going to talk to them. Similarly, someone who has historically voted each and every year is likely to continue doing so in the future.
So how do we figure out which voters will vote in which years?
Did you know that your voting history is available for anyone to view as a public record? Don’t get confused; no one can see who you voted for. But anyone can see if you voted in any given year.
That means that enterprising political consultants or campaign managers can obtain a database of all registered voters in your district, and then analyze which specific people voted in which specific types of elections. This allows us to determine not only the percentage of registered voters that will turn out, but also create an actual list of those voters, including their addresses and phone numbers. This list is called your voter “universe”.
This database list is the most important piece of basic information that any successful campaign is built upon. Why? Because it tells you where to invest your time and money.
For example, if there are 100,000 registered voters in your district but only 50,000 of them are likely to vote in the year you’re running, you just cut your mailing expenses in half. You’re going to ignore the 50,000 who aren’t likely to vote. Someone who has been registered to vote for years but has never voted isn’t likely to vote in your election – no matter how hard you try. So don’t waste your time and money on them.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but this is a percentages game designed to cut down on your expenses by making your campaign more efficient.
One of the most frequent questions I get early on in local campaigns is, “How can we take contributions over the internet?”.
Since you might have the same question in your campaign, here’s a quick guide to get started using PayPal, which I’ve found to be the simplest solution:
BRIGHTSIDE’S SIMPLE SETUP OF PAYPAL FOR POLITICAL CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS
- Go to: https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/product-selection.
- Enter email address. Use the Treasurer’s personal email address so he or she sees every transaction as they come in.
- Sign up for an account using the campaign committee information as the business contact information.
- Fill out the business information (Individual/Sole Proprietorship; Services – others; Services (not elsewhere classified); Up to USD $4,999.
- Enter Personal Info (last four digits of SSN and birth date; this can be the Treasurer’s info, not the candidate’s).
- “How do you want to start getting paid?” -> On your website.
- “How do you want to process card payments on your website?” -> All payment, including debit and credit cards, through PayPal.
- How do you want to set up PayPal on your website? ->Option B -> Create payment buttons.
- “Choose A Button Type” -> Donations; Organization Name/Service -> Use Campaign Committee Name; “Use my primary email address”.
- A) Select the option of HTML code for “Email” and then copy and paste that HTML code. You’ll need this code snippet to paste into Email software or Facebook.
B) Select the option of HTML code for “Website” in order to create a graphic button on your website, if you have one.
- After someone contributes to your campaign, the Treasurer will receive an email notification that includes the name and address of the contributor and the dollar amount.
- You can withdraw funds from the PayPal account at any time through an electronic transfer or by having a paper check mailed. The individual contributions can be reported on the Financial Disclosure Reports just like regular paper check contributions.
PayPal is hardly the only way to go for online contributions; there are tons of other options out there with varying degrees of simplicity/complexity and security.
But, for small campaigns, this is a good place to start. However, it’s important to remember that PayPal takes a fee of 30 cents + 3% per contribution (which should be reported as an expense in your Financial Disclosure Reports). It’s also important to remember that different states or types of campaigns have different reporting and recording rules so you may want to consult with an attorney or local elections expert before starting.
In Part 1, I asked if you’re really ready to run for elective office. I’m assuming the answer was “yes” if you’re reading Part 2….
To reiterate a quick but important point: This blog won’t help you accomplish any of the goals you want to achieve in public office. We’re here to help get you elected, which is as important as anything you’ll do while in office. Because if you don’t get elected, you can’t accomplished a damned thing in public office.
While you’re running for office over the next few months, you only need to focus on one number: 50% plus one. Because 50% plus one is the number of votes you need to win.
The manner in which you get to that number is your Win Equation (which is why that’s the name of this blog).
Once you’re in office, then you should be concerned about, and pay attention to, 100% of your constituents.
But, until then, you need to free yourself from the idea that you can (or should even try to) win the vote of everyone you meet. In my experience, this is one of the hardest concepts for candidates to put into practice – even seasoned candidates.
You need to focus only on things that help you earn 50% plus one of the vote. Here are a few simple but key ideas that make winning elections a lot easier than you think:
- It’s okay to ignore huge swaths of the electorate altogether;
- Nothing in your campaign will be as important as having a list of only the people who are going to vote (i.e. not every registered voter; rather, just the ones who are actually likely to vote in that particular year);
- Your win will be more about effectively delivering your message to the right people rather than having the smartest ideas or catchiest slogans;
- Getting on the news may make you feel important but it’s a remarkably ineffective way to actually win votes; and
- You don’t have to change a damned thing about who you are or what you stand for.
For more on getting started with your campaign, check back in on this blog regularly. You can also find some practical tips from last year’s four-part series “So You’ve Decided To Run For Political Office. Now What?“.
Are you sure you really want to do this? Put your family’s life out there in public view? Receive scrutiny for every decision you make? Make friends of enemies and enemies of friends?
If your answer is “yes”, congratulations on taking the plunge of running for elective office.
America needs more people like you. People who are willing to sacrifice to make their community a better place. People who have the guts to make tough choices instead of taking the easy way out. People who are willing to lead when most would rather follow.
Being a local elected official is a hard job. You have to learn complex budgeting and balance competing community needs against spending precious taxpayer dollars.
I’ve run major campaigns and I’ve held a high-ranking local public office (though I was appointed, not elected). Holding the public office was more difficult; no question about it. It was the toughest balancing act of my professional career.
This blog won’t help you accomplish any of the goals you’ve set for yourself once you actually hold public office.
But this blog will help get you elected (like providing a quick and dirty 12 Step Guide on what actions to take when getting started on your campaign). And that’s as important as anything you’ll do while in office. Because if you don’t get elected on Election Day, you’ll never get the chance to accomplish anything in public office.
I received a great question today from a top volunteer within the inner circle of one of my active campaigns. She asked for tips on motivating volunteers and keeping them engaged.
We all know that recruiting volunteers is hard, and keeping them engaged for months upon months is really hard.
Some of the tasks I worked on early in my career as a junior campaign staffer were volunteer recruitment and volunteer activity management (a fancy way of saying overseeing mail-stuffing projects and GOTV phone banks). So I’ve done my time and seen what does and doesn’t work.
Here’s a primer on five ways to motivate and keep campaign volunteers:
1. Direct candidate contact. The volunteers are there for an emotional reason: They have a personal connection to the candidate or a cause that the candidate supports. Volunteers respond best when asked for help directly by the candidate. This obviously isn’t always practical since the candidate can’t spend all day schmoozing volunteers, but it helps wherever possible. A candidate’s spouse or grown children are great surrogates in this role, too.
2. Be specific. Lots of people will answer “yes” if you ask, in general terms, if they’ll help out on the campaign. Then you never see them again. The best way to actually rope them in is to be specific about what a volunteer is going to do and when they’re going to do it. So, instead of asking, “are you willing to volunteer for Joe?”, instead ask “Are you willing to make phone calls on Tuesday night from 7 to 8:30 PM from Joe’s house?”.
3. Be prepared. When a volunteer gets to your HQ, there’s no worse experience for them than seeing total chaos and having no one tell them what to do. When volunteers arrive, someone should be dedicated to introducing themselves immediately, telling the volunteer what the project is, and then giving them specific instructions on what they’re expected to do, and for how long they’re expected to do it.
4. Feed them. It’s doesn’t have to be filet mignon and lobster. Some pizza, doughnuts and soda can go a long way. Just make sure you have napkins, paper plates, etc. so your HQ doesn’t devolve into filth.
5. Show real appreciation. After someone has volunteered, send them a thank you note within a week signed by the candidate. It shows that the candidate actually knows who is helping out. Every last volunteer should also get invited to the victory party on election night, and maybe you even provide complimentary tickets to fundraising events to a handful of really dedicated volunteers that might not otherwise be able to afford it. It also doesn’t hurt to send volunteers a gift or other expression of appreciation after Election Day so they know you haven’t forgotten them after you won (or lost). In one campaign I managed, we printed up nice 8″ x 10″ photos of our winning candidate holding up the newspaper headline about her victory. We personalized it with a handwritten note in marker on the photo (mass-printed but it looked handwritten) saying “Thanks for everything. I couldn’t have done it without you.” We mailed them in oversized envelopes to every volunteer and every donor (and we did it just days after the election when most candidates and campaign managers were lounging on the beach). It cost a bit but those supporters are going to be a lot more willing to volunteer their time or open their wallets next time around.
Remember, volunteers have a lot of better things that they could be doing rather than helping you for free. Treat them right and they’re like money in the bank. Treat them wrong and you’re in trouble.