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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fundamentals and Ornamentals

When you're involved with a campaign or organization, everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing. Receiving this constant input of advice, you need a way to categorize what you're hearing. You should separate it according to whether it affects your fundamentals or is purely ornamental.

Fundamental issues are things that directly affect money and votes. Ornamental issues are things that are nice, they sound good, but they have an, at best, indirect, affect on money and votes. Ornamental things are those that are faddish and sound intriguing, but aren't leveraged impacts, they aren't game-changers.

So, when someone tells you they have a new way to send out press releases more efficiently, you might say, "well, that saves me time, and time is money" but that's an indirect benefit. It's an ornamental improvement.

When someone says "I know a guy who can put on two fundraising events next weekend" that helps your fundamentals. It directly raises money. 

Focus on fundamentals and don't spend too much time on ornamentals. 

There are endless ways in which outside groups, vendors, consultants and donors want to encourage you to use some ornamental thing. They want you to focus on trivialities. You have to stay focused on fundamentals.

It's only when you have a firm footing can you indulge a few side items, a few minor distractions from money and votes. 

All the clever gadgets and schemes in the world aren't useful to you, your campaign or political organization if you don't have money and votes. 

Stay focused on money and votes.

When you receive advice from people, categorize it in your mind. Stay focused on the advice that benefits your fundamentals and save the ornamentals for your spare time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Photographers: Always Beware

The media is rarely your friend. When your candidate is around, every move they make is a liability. Whether it's the local whacktivist asking impolite or scandalous questions, or inopportune photo angles, the job of the media is to make your candidate look bad.

If you're on the left, they want to make you look like an insane zealot.

If you're on the right, they want to make you look cold and heartless, a crypto-fascist.

For any incumbent, they want you to look perpetually out-of-touch or, a personal hypocrite.

These are the overriding archetypes that the media works from, and tries hard to confirm through images. When a reporter arrives, they're not trying to do you any favors, or to help show your candidate in a favorable light, they are trying to sink your campaign by making you look bad.

If you have media around, you have to control them so they don't get outlandish shots of your candidate. Their cameras can take so many pictures that just by being normal, they'll be able to find a facial expression that makes your candidate look ridiculous.

You should provide a variety of posed and candid shots on your campaign website for media use. And if you allow them into your events and to photograph your candidate, be extremely careful and cautious that they don't derail your campaign with a momentary photograph, image or moment which, out of context, can doom a candidacy or career.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What are the different types of fundraising?

For campaigns and organizations, fundraising is the most valuable skill. Being able to bring in the cash is the most valuable trait that anyone can have, yet many don't realize there are several different types of fundraising, and you might be good at one and not even realize it.

Here are the various fundraising types with a short description:

Direct Mail - The classic fundraising method, sending out thousands of letters and getting a few replies that make it worthwhile. It's labor-intensive and easy to lose a lot of money if you mail a bad list or accidentally mail an excel list of names that you reordered and jumbled by accident. Direct Mail requires precision, strong writing, and a small labor pool to stuff envelopes and get the mail going, and process the return envelopes. It's the base of almost every political organization and also serves to identify and screen a large pool of people for more focused fundraising efforts.

Direct Solicitation - Called by a variety of names, major donor fundraising or major gifts or just plain development, this is the process of meeting with wealthy people in person and asking for them to support your project and organization or campaign. It's tough and you want to look polished, you want to do your homework. If you are good at reading people, charming and above all, persuasive, then this is the right type of fundraising for you. Read "Road to CEO" to learn what you need to do in order to be among the wealthiest people in your area, and then unashamedly ask them for thousands of dollars.

Grantwriting - Less relevant for campaigns but very important to organizations, grantwriting can be a regular, reliable source of significant funds. If you've ever completed a series of paperwork for committee approval, you've done grantwriting. If you enjoy a defined process, you should consider learning how to write grants and peruse sites such as the Foundation Center that can give you great resources to become a great grantwriter.

Events - Campaigns can always benefit from a quick coffee social where people pledge significant donations and hobnob with the candidate. Most organizations put on some sort of annual event where fundraising is an integral part of the purpose and goal. Events have high overhead and can be risky because costs can get out of control, but if you can handle lots of details and manage chaos well, perhaps you should consider being an event fundraiser.

Online - The great white whale of fundraising, a mythical source of funds where there's no overhead and all cash. In practice, this means knowing the intricacies and enormous frustrations dealing with a financial intermediary like Paypal, as well as email marketing and various social media platforms. Common is the group that has 20,000 friends and thousands of 'likes', but can't raise $250 in a month online. It's a tough fundraising world online, and while it's been repeatedly promised as the future, it has yet to significantly deliver on that promise.

A large organization likely uses a mix of these types, a large campaign is doing anything it can to effectively raise funds. If you can learn one or several of these types, you can always be politically valuable and will likely always be employable. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Managing your time effectively

There's never enough time to do all the necessary work on a campaign. There are always more letters to get out, more calls to make, more literature to distribute, more random assignments to complete.

You will get overwhelmed quickly if you don't have a good system.

Learn to manage your time, keep track of it in writing somewhere. The more you manage your time, the more effective you'll be. Also be sure to prioritize your time and tasks. If something is unimportant, don't do it before you focus on the important tasks. Rank your tasks for the day in order of importance and work on them one-by-one, focusing as much as you can on one thing until it's done. Complicated, multi-step projects, should be broken out into smaller pieces for you to keep better track.

If you manage your time and prioritize your tasks, your productivity will soar. If you write it out, you won't forget what's happening or drop the ball on something you need to get done.

Get organized, manage your time, write it out, and prioritize your tasks. You may not be able to get 48 hours of work done in a day, but you can at least focus on the most important things and get those done first.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Poor Man's Pollster: Door Knocking

Door knocking is one of the first things most people think about when they think of politics. Yet surprisingly few campaigns actually go out and do it. Many campaigns rely, instead, on high-priced consultants, television ads, mailers and robocalls. They spend time with major donors at fundraisers and forget that the common folk's vote is the same as the wealthy.

You could say, well, if I spend time with the wealthy I can get their votes and money.

But the common folk can tell you something the wealthy can't do as well: give you a good read of the current zeitgeist, the popular perception of your candidate.

If you go door-to-door and drop off literature, ask people what they think of your candidate. You'll often learn surprising things such as voters confusing your candidate for another, major misconceptions that you can answer for them right then and there. Other times you might hear real reasons that people dislike your candidate that you can't get from a consultant.

I was advising a local race in a small mid-western state, and one of the primary issues was where in town our candidate lived. Those on the east side of town looked down on those on the west side, and everyone disliked the perceived elitist part of town. This was a town of only 10,000 people.

That rivalry, partially inflamed by rival high schools, was never going to show up in a poll and would likely go unnoticed by a consultant. It was one of those things that someone learns by walking the streets, listening to people, and taking notice of small details that can make a large difference. When you have very local races, often with low-turnout, be prepared for these kind of unanticipated issues to arise.

I was meeting with a potential donor in New England when he told me that donating wasn't possible because of a staffer whom he disliked. The fellow hadn't worked there in ten years, and when I explained that, he was willing to donate. If I had sent a letter or made a phone call, he probably wouldn't have shared that tidbit. Meeting people face-to-face will cause them to be more honest and open with you. That's a unique opportunity to get good feedback and find out the underlying issues.

Door-knocking to distribute your candidate or organization's literature is a great way to gauge the public's mood, make a point to do it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

System of setting people down to fundraise

As I've explained before, one way to learn how to fundraise is to do it yourself. And one great way to get real experience in politics is to run your own campaign.

If you decide to do this, though, you need the practical skills and system to make it work.

Fundraising is best done by the principals, the head of a campaign or organization, or people at the top. People who control things, who can direct the ship.

As well, even people who claim they're "good at fundraising" find it awkward, tough, and emotionally draining. To get constant rejection is never easy.

If you have a principal, or a small team of people, making phone calls, the best thing to do is to sit them down in one room and have a goal for them to make calls. They should be required to make a certain number of live connections, live conversations with real people, not voicemails or wrong numbers.

Set a goal for live conversations, make it aggressive. 20 live calls an hour is a good start, adjust as necessary.

This means before anything starts, however, you need a list of phone numbers ready for them to call. You'll need a few hundred phone numbers and a process to handle pledges, so that you have their fulfillment card ready to mail out that day.

-have the phone numbers ready
-have your fulfillment letters ready (including a reply envelope, letter, pledge card)

-process to mark which calls are pledges and for how much, also to note where you left voicemails

-chasing old pledges, making sure they came in, and where you need to do follow-up phone calls
-thank you process and donor appreciation process
-data entry into a donor database, or at least an excel spreadsheet for your donor data and giving history, aka your "house file"