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First-Time Candidates Are Freaking Out about Fundraising (with good reason)

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

The average cost of running a successful congressional campaign in 2018 was $2 million. That’s a big number.

Local races are a lot less, but they are still a lot. For instance, the average successful city council campaign will need to raise $8,000 - $12,000.

It’s enough to make a first-time candidate for office freak out. A full-scale fundraising program can quickly get complicated. If you are just getting started or have a sophisticated plan for fundraising, keep the following five things in mind to do it well:

Commit to Fundraising

When first-time candidates consider running for office, they often imagine themselves doing the sexy things - convincing voters to support them, doing media interviews, seeing themselves on television or a billboard, and winning. Very few picture themselves spending hours on the phone asking friends or even strangers for money. But none of the fun parts of running for office are possible if you don’t raise the money necessary to run a campaign.

Fundraising is a necessary part of running a political campaign. There is no escaping it. You can’t escape it.

Successful candidates schedule time every week - or even better, every day - to focus on fundraising. Those who do it well put it on their calendar and refuse to let anything interrupt this critical time. Here’s a tip that I’ve seen candidates use effectively: Get a staffer or volunteer to be your call-time partner. Their job is to keep you making calls, even if you don’t feel like doing it. The accountability helps. So does the encouragement. So does having someone who can queue up your next call so you don’t waste time.

Invest in Tools to Help You

  • Compliance - You will likely need to report your fundraising to your state or the Federal Election Commission. Filing your fundraising reports accurately and on-time is essential. Investing in either a finance director or a compliance tool is worth it.

  • Platform - You’ve got to make it easy for people to donate to your campaign. Using a platform like ActBlue, CrowdPac, or WinRed is imperative. All of them will give you a fundraising landing page as well as integrations for email, social media, and your website.

  • CRM System - In sales, companies use customer relationship management (CRM) systems to keep track of their prospects and clients. You need to use a similar system designed for campaigns to keep fundraising from getting out of control. The CRM system will remember all of the details about your donors that you would forget on your own. Nationbuilder and FundHero are two great examples of streamlined CRMs.

You’ve Got to Dial for Dollars

If you’ve read this far, you’ve already gotten the idea that you’re going to need to call potential donors and ask them to support you. Write a script and refine it as you go. Start with friends and family. Check out a list provider like Grassroots Analytics to expand your universe of donors. Get someone to be your call-time partner (we talked about that above). And see if a technology tool like can help you be more streamlined in your fundraising calls.

You Need an Email Program

Email is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to raise money for your campaign. There are a lot of components to an email program that makes an email program work well, but here are the basics:

  • Collect email address on your website and all your events. People who visit your site or come to meet you want to hear from you.

  • Email regularly. None of us like to receive spammy emails every single day, but if you don’t regularly communicate with your supports, you can’t expect to raise money from them. Develop a rhythm for your emails and keep to it.

  • Vary your message. Some emails should tell your personal story. Others should talk about the issues that matter to your voters or the news of the day. Sprinkle in “direct asks,” where the sole purpose is to raise money, especially at the end of the month or when you’re coming up on your reporting deadlines. People will respond to the sense of urgency. Just don’t overdo direct asks.

Know Your Goal: The Campaign Budget Template

Still freaking out? Yeah, I understand. Fundraising can suck. But you’ve got to do it ... along with everything else that you’re doing to run a campaign. It can be overwhelming. Plus, you've got to know what you're shooting for. Fundraising is much easier when you know what your goal is.

That's why I've put together a free Campaign Budget Template. It's a dynamic, customizable spreadsheet that will work for campaigns large and small. Just click the button below, and I'll get you immediate access to the Campaign Budget Template.

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