A lot of candidates I know are afraid of fundraising. I know, I know…no one likes asking for money. Not exactly a big revelation.
But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here with this post.
If our campaign re-starts our fundraising efforts, will we risk coming off as insensitive given everything that is happening and how much people are struggling?Campaign Manager, Howard County Maryland
These days, people are ultra-sensitive and for a good reason. The news is dominated by headlines directly related to controversy and violence, and much of it is local to the communities in which they live.
Does a candidate’s request for a campaign donation make them seem insensitive or blind to the current issues facing society?
For some, the answer will always be yes. But that doesn’t mean candidates can afford to put off their fundraising goals. We already know that apart from Name ID, the variable most associated with winning elections, is a financial advantage.
When candidates ask me for input on whether they should make fundraising pitches during shifting circumstances, I like to remind them of a few things they already know.
First, in any competitive election, there will always be people that want you to win and people that don’t. You can manage your supporters by providing them with talking points they can use when engaging others in the community or online. Think of your core supporters as the first line in the offensive – those troops need to be armed and resupplied as needed.
But dealing with folks that do not support your candidacy, especially the most vocal, can be tricky. I’ve seen over-sensitive candidates burn tons of staff time deliberating over what to do about negative Facebook comments.
The opposition has a job to do, and it’s to attack you at every opportunity. If they are well organized, your opposition will attack you on every front, simple as a means of judging your strengths and weaknesses. Over-react to negative Facebook comments for example, you can be sure the opposition will materialize lots more negative Facebook comments in hopes you’ll waste more time.
Fundraising works the same way. A well-organized opposition will always criticize your fundraising campaigns because they want you to stop raising funds. After all, their job is to win.
The Only Way Is Through!
It always amazes me how quick candidates are to halt fundraising efforts when the opposition mounts public pressure. After all, it’s the opposition’s job to criticize everything you do. Get used to it or get out of the race!
I’ve seen candidates stop all fundraising efforts even at the possibility of being criticized, especially when tragedies hit the headlines.
In April and May, as a means of being sensitive to families struggling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many candidates halted their fundraising campaigns. I think this was ill-advised and here’s why.
Any candidate seeking public office should give the voters a reason for voting for them. For some, that reason may be based on previous professional experience, for others, positions on important public policy can suffice.
When a candidate’s operating environment evolves, as it did in April when COVID-19 forced its hand on America, the candidate’s platform had to evolve, too. Effective evolution is strength. Shutting down does nothing more than signal weakness.
So how does a candidate make fundraising requests in a shifting operating environment?
Go back to basics. Stay on message. Be simple, concise.
I like to start with the basic question…knowing what we know today, why is your candidate best suited to serve the people in this position of public trust?
Make a list of those qualities and match them with current events. If the unrest they see on TV has your supporters longing for steady leadership, then base your fundraising requests on the notion your candidate is the steady leader the community needs and deserves.
But do you risk offending the vulnerable when you ask them for money? Maybe, but probably not.
For years, political candidates have aggressively asked for money, and most people have become desensitized.
How you ask for that money is a different story.
If your campaign presents your candidate as a sensitive and careful leader, then an overly aggressive pitch for cash might serve to confuse your brand and offend your core supporters.
I like to remind campaign teams to think of fundraising pitches, at least in part, as advocacy pieces. For fundraising pitches to be successful, they must echo the candidate’s platform. Stray too far and risk diminishing returns.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Chicagoland area, but I always appreciated the notion Rahm Emanuel put forth when he said there is always opportunity in every crisis.
He’s right. When a candidate signs up to run, he or she acknowledges the reality that, when elected, they will be faced with unforeseen challenges. And by seeking that office, candidates in effect commit themselves to prepare themselves to meet whatever problems might occur on their watch.
Campaigns have a similar requirement to evolve and be responsive to a shifting political environment.
COVID-19 is a great example. When many campaigns chose to shut down and present themselves as sensitive to the pandemic, others shifted strategies and updated their narratives so campaign operations could continue.
Hindsight is 20/20, but which strategy do you think was more successful and led more candidates to victory?
Is your campaign struggling? Do you need a fresh set of tactical ideas that can help your team score some quick wins? Contact the VOTEGTR team today.
Sean Murphy is the CEO and Founder of VOTEGTR, a digital media service that provides websites and digital advertising to political candidates, political action committees, and ballot initiatives in the United States.