The Nitty-Gritty of Raising Small-Dollar Donations

People often ask how to raise small-dollar donations. It is a crucial question for anyone who doesn’t want to be corrupted by money, so if you’re asking this question, congratulations! You are on the right path.

We wouldn’t feel right writing an article about small-dollar fundraising without mentioning public financing of campaigns. If your city has good public financing laws, then you will not be competing with people who are getting large corporate and billionaire funds. Please support these measures! But since most elections don’t have public financing yet, we feel it’s important for every candidate and politician to create their own system of raising funds that does not lead them to become beholden to the 1%.

The first step in raising many small-dollar donations is to move the center of fundraising out of the candidate’s brain. Candidates are often thinking about fundraising to the exclusion of all else, and this leads to a disconnect between their progressive values and what’s front of mind. Read more about this concept in this blog post.

Candidates do need to spend time fundraising: calling through their personal contacts, thanking donors, and making follow up calls to people the campaign thinks might make regular large donations. But that system is one that only works with a limited number of large contributors; after all, the candidate is only one person and has only 24 hours in a day. Raising small-dollar donations is all about convincing thousands or millions of people to donate and keep donating, and that is simply impossible for any one candidate to do using the phone.

The campaign must get very good at the practical process of catching every potential donor. Then it must become expert at convincing potential donors to donate the first time, become repeat donors and increase the amount they give each time.

Here we get into a few of the nitty-gritty details of exactly how to organize your campaign to get and keep donors. Note: this article is designed for someone who does not have experience fundraising for campaigns. We’re just touching on the basics here.

Fundraising Team

First, put together a fundraising team. This should have a head of fundraising, who doesn’t have to be a professional fundraiser, because this whole model is different from the establishment model. If you have an experienced fundraiser lying around, great! But don’t hesitate to put someone in this job who is tech savvy, detail oriented, comfortable asking for money, and 100% reliable. Those are the qualities you need.

This fundraising team will make sure that every potential donor gets “caught in the net” so to speak and put into the database. You’ll need a good campaign database so you can track not just who donates but how often, how much, and why, and also who attends events or offers to volunteer.

Lay out the net

Every event you participate in should be aimed at listening to, educating, and mobilizing the people. That’s your job whether you are a candidate, a politician, or on the campaign fundraising team. So when you do a town hall, meet with a union, or attend any event, you need to create a net to try to catch both the info and donation of every attendee.

Before the event starts make sure you have sign-in sheets and clipboards (or tablets for those campaigns doing electronic sign-in). Your fundraising volunteers will make sure that everyone who attends is asked to sign the sheet (with at least name, email, phone). These volunteers should be encouraged to be chatty and to learn people’s names if they see repeat attendees.

Close the net

At the end of any event is where the candidate can focus on fundraising. Mobilizing is one of the most important skills any candidate has — to motivate people to vote, protest, volunteer, or donate. At the end of every event there should be a frank appeal for donations. Your candidate can talk about the issues at hand, the high stakes, the contrast between her and her opponents, and can impress upon the crowd that without many small donations, her campaign cannot triumph and the needed policies will fail.

It’s crucial to get information on every donor. Someone who gives three dollars today might give ten next week and a hundred next month. They might also have friends who can donate more. You must be able to reach them after they make their donation. So if you’re going to pass the hat at the end to get cash, use pre-printed envelopes to do this. Hand out the envelopes before you pass the hat, and ask people to put any cash inside an envelope — the envelope should have spaces for their name, email, and phone number. If you feel confident in your process of “laying the net” then you can just ask for the name and match them up to the sign-in sheets later.

Make sure you can also accept credit/debit card payments. There are many card readers that work with a computer or mobile phone. Sometimes people might want to donate but have no cash on them — don’t miss out on these people. Your fundraising team should be able to accept money in any form, cash, check, or card, and it should be able to collect contact information for all of these.

After the donation

How should you contact donors after they have given money to your campaign? First, remember that the donor is far more important than the donation. Thank each donor. Thank them without asking them for more money. Be as personal as you can. For early donors or large donors, you can either call them or write a truly personal note. Let them know what their money helped pay for. Feel free to give them details to bring them into the process so they know how valuable their donation is. If a lot of people donated that day, you could tell them how the day’s donations will help the campaign — this is especially good when the event was within a community. So if you visited a union and that visit brought in $1000, the donor can not only feel good about their own contribution but feel pride in their whole group.

Put donors on a special email list that occasionally thanks them for their generous donation and asks them to donate again. Track which of your donors have donated multiple times and which have also volunteered. These people deserve personal attention. Someone on the fundraising team can call them to let them know how important they are to the campaign. And during this call, ask if they would enjoy hosting a house party. House parties are the most scalable fundraising tool you have. There are lots of blog articles on how to run successful fundraising house parties.

Build on success

People love to be part of a winning campaign. Tout your fundraising successes to both donors and non-donors alike. Use deadlines to give urgency to giving money. Social media can be an excellent tool for this once you’ve had success with in-person fundraising.

A final notes about fundraising:

The number one reason why people give money is because they are asked.

So make sure that you ask every person you come in contact with. Then treat them with respect. Donors want to feel appreciated and part of a winning team.


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