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What Can Political Fundraisers Teach You About Fundraising?

Posted by Ashley Shaw on 11/10/16 12:46 PM


The election is over, and I am sure you can’t wait until you don’t have to hear about it anymore. But I’m not going to let it end quite yet. Sorry! Here is the thing: I might be about to talk about the election, but I’m going to do it from a fundraising POV. That’s unique, right?

Anyway, as I have spent a lot of time both reading about fundraising and side-eyeing the election coverage, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve lately been reading a lot about political fundraising. Worlds colliding, amiright?

Throughout my partially unintentional study of political fundraising, I have noticed that there are a lot of helpful tips and tricks that are often employed at political fundraisers (and just campaigning in general) that could really be beneficial to all you great nonprofits out there sincerely trying to make a difference.

To help, I have compiled a list of six of those nonprofit fundraising ideas that I think you should be doing if you can.

6 Elements Political Fundraisers Have That Your Fundraising Should Use


1.    The Stars

Fundraising with Stars

What do George Clooney, Katy Perry, Cher, Lady Gaga, Lin-Manual Miranda, the cast of Will and Grace, and definitely NOT Susan Sarandon have in common?

They all hosted and/or helped at a Hillary Clinton fundraiser.

Now, you might be saying this is clearly a tactic that did not work because Trump had very little star support and still won, but that isn’t really the point of this post. We are talking about fundraising right now, and in that, Clinton was far and away the winner.

As of October 28, Clinton (meaning Clinton, not her super PACs, etc.) had managed to raise $866.6 million, compared to Trump’s $453.1 million. That’s a huge difference!

Now, here is a helpful hint for you:

If you want to have a star-studded fundraiser, you don’t need Beyoncé. (Though if you can figure out a way to get her, then I’d highly recommend you do it!)

What constitutes a star is relative, after all. Your community probably has “stars” that my community has never heard of. Use them!

  • The local news anchor
  • That guy who always dresses in costume and stands around downtown
  • The star of that cheesy car commercial for your neighborhood Honda dealership

Your community’s stars are unique to you. But if you can get one of them to come make an appearance at your fundraiser, then do it. People love their local B-list stars just as much (this may be an exaggeration to make a point) as they love their Queen B’s.

2.    The Press

Press on Fundraising

Trump’s fundraising numbers might have been lower than Clinton’s, but he was a master at something else:

Drumming up free press!

Trump received an estimated $3 BILLION (yes, that B is correct) in free advertising. If you add that into the total fundraising, then stars or not, Trump kicked Hillary’s fundraising butt.

What does that teach us?

Use media outlets whenever you can!

  • Offer press passes
  • Network with reporters
  • Contact local media outlets to let them know about your event

If you can get the media talking about you, then you’ll save yourself a whole lot of money you would have had to spend on advertising. And the less you spend, the more you have to support that great cause you’re all about!

3.    Online Donations of All Sizes

Online fundraising

If you wanted to donate to a party’s campaign, but couldn’t make it to a fundraising event, you wouldn’t have been out of luck. You could donate online, ya’ll!

Now, since GiveSmart is a mobile bidding technology company – in part; we also do a whole lot more, but I’m digressing since this isn’t a sales piece – then it makes sense that I’d be all for people using technology to expand their donor bases.

But my love of this ability isn’t all because it’s how I earn a paycheck: it’s because using this technology is just plain smart.

Because politicians aren’t restricted to taking donations from the elite who can afford a $33,400 pair of tickets to sit at a table with George Clooney, then regular shmucks like (possibly) you and (definitely) me can still give our measly $5, which, when a million of us do that, actually begins to add up.

Take Bernie Sanders, for example. He prided himself on the fact that his impressive fundraising numbers came from your average, everyday $27 donation, which helped him eventually raise over $200 million.

Not only that, but Trump himself became a champion of small donations, in large part through an email campaign, where he raised close to $100 million in a very short amount of time.

Wouldn’t it be great to find out that you could raise that much money for your cause through small, everyday donations on top of the big bucks you raise from your big wig donors at your fancy gala?

Fundraising technology not only makes your life easier, but it lets you have the best of both worlds:

All of a sudden your small donor base grows –

  • People who don’t live in your vicinity
  • Those who are out of town
  • Individuals who cannot make it the night of your event
  • People who do attend your event
  • Those who cannot afford your ticket price
  • Individuals who would rather just donate and not actually have to go

All of these people and more suddenly are open to you because you made it easy for them to find and support you. Plus, bonus point: you can collect donations all year long instead of at specific fundraising events!

So don’t discount small donations, because over time they can really build up. And definitely allow people to donate online, because then pretty much anybody can donate, regardless of location, schedule, or income.

4.    A Good Story

Fundraising stories

If you consider yourself a republican (or simply a person who doesn’t support Hillary Clinton), then it doesn’t matter how many of your favorite celebrities sing at her event, you aren’t going to give her money.

That’s common sense, right?

But the same holds true for your cause. If people don’t believe in your purpose, then it doesn’t matter how amazing you made the event, they aren’t going to shell out any of their hard-earned cash.

When it comes to politicians getting cash from their constituents, there is a trick:

They convince these donors that they want to give money.


By showing them that what the politician will do with the money is what that supporter wants done.

Do you believe in X, Y, and Z? So does Clinton.  And she is going to work hard to make sure that those things happen, all you have to do is stand with her.

But then again, maybe you think that the only way to make America great again, is to focus on A, B, and C. Well, guess what? Donald Trump understands. And he is going to fight for you to make sure that A, B, and C come true.

To really ensure the message works, politicians test and craft, shape and change their message until it starts to work.

Telling a compelling story, one that touches on heartstrings and plays to emotions, is the backbone of political fundraising.

But it’s your backbone too. Without a good story, you aren’t going to get the support you need.

Make sure your story and message convey the following, just for starters:

  • Why should I want to donate to your cause?
  • What will happen if I do give you money?
  • How will my donation actually help that cause that I want to help?

Tell me a story and make me believe it. And then ask me for a donation. Because I can promise you that I am much more likely to break out my card if you can convince me I want to do so.

5.    Clarity and Openness 

Open fundraising

One of the best things (in my mind) about political fundraising is that air of openness. In so many ways, politicians on both sides of the aisle try to hide and suppress wherever they can, but not with fundraising.

I can tell you how much a politician has raised over all and in any given month, how much they raised versus a Super PAC, and where about they spent that money. I can tell you all this not because I am a genius (though it would be nice if that was the truth), but because I know how to use Google.

Campaign finances are public property. And that’s good because it answers a lot of my questions as a potential donor.

  • Where is my money going? If it’s directly to a millionaire’s pocket, then no thanks.
  • How will my money be spent? If it’s on creating more negative commercials, then I think I want to pass.
  • Will my money make a difference? If not, then why bother.

Showing your finances has quite a few benefits. Here are some examples:

  • It makes you look more trustworthy when people can see what you are doing.
  • It garners enthusiasm. (You’re only $100 away from your goal? Yes! That’s exciting. We’re almost there. Let me get you over the edge!)
  • It showcases progress. (Last year we only raised $10,000. Yet here it is only partly through with the year, and we are already at $12,000.)

6.    Social Media

Social Media and Fundraising

#MakeAmericaGreatAgain #ImWithHer #JillNotHill #GaryJohnson

(Sorry if there is a wittier one for Johnson, but I didn’t see it.)

But you get my point. Politicians use social media to get the word out both about their campaign and about the fundraising events they are having in order to fund said campaign.

There are a bunch of hashtags out there perfect for nonprofit use. Pick some and make sure you are telling your story through all relevant channels, but most certainly through social media.

Final Thoughts

If you gain nothing else from this election season, then I hope you gain this: follow politicians’ leadership when it comes to throwing an awesome fundraiser, even if you don’t want to follow them in any other way. And if you really want your fundraising to see great results, check out GiveSmart’s mobile bidding and fundraising solution.

Topics: Campaign, Fundraising, Mobile Bidding, Tips and How To's

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