Ten secrets for a successful political fund-raiser – Opinion

Dotty E. Lemieux

Candidates seeking to hold fund-raisers for their campaigns often envision throngs of eager supporters coming to a feast of goat cheese souffle and artichoke sections encrusted with pecans on a bed of arugula, who then will fork over good money for the cause.

Little do they know events are the hardest way to raise money for a campaign, and take up the most time and effort for the smallest return. I often tell my clients they could raise more money in a 10th of the time it takes to have a decent event by soliciting friends and colleagues over the phone. Still, they’d rather rent space, get caterers, beg for wine from the local vineyard, print invitations and return envelopes and spend money on the mailing rather than pick up the telephone.

Campaign fund-raisers are, like bumper stickers and buttons, a necessary evil. Put them in the budget, because they are going to happen. You might as well make them pay for themselves, generate a little buzz for the campaign and maybe even make some money.

Here are 10 tips for having a successful fund-raiser:

1. Keep expectations realistic. Determine well in advance whether you really need to make money with the event, or if generating publicity and galvanizing your campaign volunteers is enough.

2. Plan well in advance. Reserve a space or get someone who has a fabulous house that supporters would be willing to pay to see. Remember you need time to gather a sponsor, print and mail invitations and make follow-up phone calls. You’d be surprised how many people bury the invitations under their stack of bills to be paid at the end of the month.

3. Have a team of volunteers in charge of the fund-raiser, overseen by a chairman who will train the team well. Offer them first crack at the food, but not the booze. Make sure they get the contact info for everyone who comes through the door. Have literature and donation envelopes available.

4. Get the bulk of the money up front. This means offering an incentive to major donors to sponsor the event. Give them a title depending on the level of giving; those who give $1,000 can be angels, $500 beneficiaries, etc. Tell them their name will appear on the invitation that goes to thousands of the town’s prominent residents.

5. Get food and wine donated if possible. Many restaurants are willing to give a platter of goodies for a worthy candidate. If you have boutique wineries or small breweries in your neighborhood, they often will donate a case or a keg. Don’t forget to mention them in the invitation and on the program. If you get a chef to offer services, you’ve got one more selling point for the invitation.

6. Try to entice a local chamber group or pianist to perform. They can use the exposure, and you’ve got instant atmosphere. If it’s an evening event, you might even see if a jazz or swing band can play dance tunes.

7. Use a union print shop for your invitations. You may be seeking union endorsements, and your invited guests may be looking for the union label.

8. Get as much press as you can. Try to get it listed ahead of time in the local events section of the paper and on the radio if possible. If any environmental groups or unions endorse your candidate, ask them to announce the fund-raiser in their newsletters and at meetings. Print extra invitations for your volunteers and supporters to hand out wherever they go.

Invite the press, and try to get a photo in the society pages. Your sponsor list of local dignitaries may be more newsworthy than you think.

9. Have your fund-raising chair or best speaker ask for campaign cash. People who want your candidate to win should always be able to give a little (and often a lot) more, but you have to ask. Have envelopes on the chairs or scattered about the room with plenty of pens. Consider having a shill in the audience who will write the first check. That first enthusiastic donation should prime the pump for the others who’ve come.

10. Sincerely thank everyone who made the event possible. That includes volunteers, sponsors, donors, the caterer and the host. They will come through for you again if they feel appreciated. No matter the outcome of the event, these are your mainstays, and you need to let them know you value their time and energy.

Above all, don’t be disappointed if you make less than expected. At worst, you will have had an event that brought the most ardent supporters together for a pep rally. At best, you’ve made some money for the next phase of the campaign and maybe found new volunteers for the all-important get-out-the-vote effort.

Dotty E. Lemieux is founder of Green Dog Campaigns, a small general consulting firm running Democratic and liberal non-partisan campaigns in northern California.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Campaigns & Elections, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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