Starting out, very few candidates find fundraising easy. Frankly, longtime fundraisers still find it difficult. There’s good reason for this: political fundraising is not easy. The candidates who tend to do the best at it – and ultimately tend to win – develop an effective personal psychology in their approach to fundraising.
Whether we like it or not the amount of money and other resources a campaign can bring to bear has a significant impact on the campaign’s likelihood of winning the election. To be sure, the political environment, the match-up between each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and myriad other factors play a role. It also is not always whether a candidate has the most money, but whether a candidate has enough money to do what he or she needs in order to win the election.
For instance, if you are an incumbent U.S. Senator running in a competitive state in an election cycle where your political party is facing a tidal wave of public opinion opposition, then the incumbent fundraising advantage you likely enjoy will mean less than in other cycles. However, while the challenger in that U.S. Senate race will not necessarily have to raise the most money, he or she will still need to raise enough cash to be competitive. Regardless, you need money and most likely, more money than you think it will take.
GETTING IN THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND
That means asking for money effectively and consistently from even before you file to run for office.
There is a lot that goes into making a political fundraising operation successful, much of which will be covered elsewhere on Political Trade Secrets. But the first thing candidates who fundraise the best typically do is put themselves in the right frame of mind to effectively ask for money.
What does it take to get into the right fundraising frame of mind?
KNOW WHY YOU’RE RUNNING
First and foremost is to know why you are running and why your prospective donor should care and ultimately donate. This seems pretty simple, but unfortunately many candidates fail to communicate this basic information and oftentimes because they haven’t quite figured it out.
Clearly you should know why you are running for office, but there is a follow-on psychological trick that thoroughly understanding why you are running will provide: psychologically removing yourself from the equation.
Look, many of us grew up being taught that it was bad or impolite to ask for things. We have developed a mindset that asking for money is like asking for a handout. This mindset is prevalent and present in nearly all of us, including candidates. In our experience, it is the number one hangup for candidates when it comes to fundraising.
A close cousin to the “handout” hangup is a candidate’s feeling that if he or she asks a person for money that they will then owe that person something.
UNDERSTAND IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Knock down these two hangups by realizing this election is not about you.
You are not asking prospective donors to give you money personally as a private individual. Their potential donation is not going into your wallet or your personal bank account. If it is, I hope orange looks good on you, cause you’re going to be wearing it for a while.
By thoroughly understanding why you are running and what your candidacy represents and has to offer, you can effectively remove yourself from the equation in your mind. You are giving potential donors the opportunity to invest in something truly special, a cause greater than themselves, an objective they care about. You are just a conduit to achieve the objective.
Let’s say you are running because you know education in your community could be better, but the politicians in your state aren’t addressing the real problems. If your fundraising operation has done the job of putting you in touch with like-minded prospects, then it is pretty easy to mentally remove yourself from the equation. You are giving them the opportunity to personally invest in better education. If they don’t take that opportunity, it’s their own loss.
This one change in your frame of mind will not make fundraising easy, but will make getting started easier, consistently fundraising everyday a little easier, and helping you to actually make the “ask” as opposed to beating around the bush.
To further bolster this mindset, invest in your own campaign. This doesn’t mean you have to self-fund, but at a minimum loan to your campaign an amount around what the maximum donation limit is appropriate. This will help you further make the case that you are committed to the shared objective and lead by example.
MAKE FUNDRAISING A PRIORITY AND KEEP FUNDRAISING TIME SACRED
Remember the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race. The candidate is the #1 fundraiser on the campaign.
Commit to the necessary time to fundraise effectively, 2-3 hour blocks, and keep those blocks of time as sacred.
REALIZE FAMILY AND FRIENDS ARE YOUR BIGGEST SUPPORTERS
Duh. This seems obvious, right? You’d think so. But why is it that almost every candidate uses the “I just can’t ask family or friends for money” excuse as a reason not to call their absolute strongest and closest supporters? This may go back to the mindset that you feel like you are somehow asking them for a personal loan or to cover dinner when forget your wallet. But again, you are not.
The truth is that if your family and friends don’t support you this is going to be a rather difficult endeavor. Another truth is that the people closest to you are the ones who want to see you succeed the most and are your “low hanging fruit.” Their donations are the “seed capital” and will provide the necessary resources and momentum for your campaign to get enough lift to get off the ground. Be proud of what you are doing and excited to recruit your closest supporters to stand alongside you in this effort. Go to them first and build out from there.
REALIZE EVERYONE CAN GIVE SOMETHING
Most likely if you are reading this, you live in the United States or another first world nation with democratic elections. That means almost everyone you know can give something so EVERYONE is a potential donor.
Do not be afraid to ask anyone to help your campaign financially. If they believe in you, they won’t be offended. Even if they don’t believe in you, they still won’t be offended. So what’s the worst that can happen?
DON’T TAKE “NO” FOR AN ANSWER
Everyone knows this, but there is more to it. “No” is an opportunity. An almost magical psychological effect happens within the other person in the moments after they tell you “No.” That is the absolute best time to get a “Yes” out of them. Some people may not be able to do exactly what you want them to do, but they can do something.
KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE BY SETTING REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
This is just like any kind of sales; you can’t take rejection personally. Again, remember this is NOT about you anyway.
You need to go into your fundraising call time realizing that you will at best only get a third of your prospects on the phone and getting 1 out of 10 prospects you call to donate to you is positive progress. This is normal. Knowing this you need to schedule more than enough fundraising time to contact more than enough prospective donors as possible in a day.
Fundraising should take up more than 80% of your time and it is critical that you make it a priority because you need every bit of success you can get to keep up your positivity. When it gets tough – and it will get tough – you want to give yourself every opportunity to succeed because if you start to get negative it will come across in your fundraising pitches. In the book “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion,” Dr. Robert Cialdini lays out six universal principles of persuasion. One of Cialdini’s six, is the principle of “Liking.”
I remember a fundraising friend telling me one time about a candidate he was working with in what was a pretty important congressional race. The race was tough sledding at the time and my friend described the candidate’s pitch this way: “When he calls he might as well be asking if he can take a [crap] on their porch. It would be about as effective.”
If you aren’t excited and positive and can’t build rapport with your prospects, then they are less likely to like you and help your campaign.
UNDERSTAND THAT IT’S OKAY TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE
If you have developed each of the right mindsets above; you have built the right fundraising mechanics, systems and support around you; and you have truly made fundraising a consistent priority for you and your campaign, realize that it’s still going to be uncomfortable at times and that is just fine. Just imagine you decide to make swimming every single day a top priority. No matter what, each day when jump in the water, you will feel cold. As long as you give yourself enough time in the water to get acclimated, you will have a productive swim. Give yourself a large enough block of fundraising time each day – at least two to three hours – so you can jump in, get acclimated and be productive.
Come on in; the water’s fine.