The First Fundraising Letter in a Campaign
(Or how to start your campaign with a successful fundraising effort)
By Steve Grubbs, CEO of VictoryStore.com
Raising money for a political campaign is not a guarantee of victory on election night, but it sure helps.
Frequently local and legislative candidates assume that it is more difficult for them to raise money than it is for an incumbent. That's not always the case. In fact, I was able to raise more money during my first challenger race than in my first re-election campaign.
Whether you are a challenger or incumbent, every candidate needs "seed" money to pay for literature, yard signs and phone bills. The best place to get the beginning money that will "leverage" all the later money is from the candidates' friends, family and acquaintances.
The first fundraising that a candidate should do is to this group because they will contribute despite party affiliation. A simple fundraising letter to family and friends can bring in enough money to get started.
First, a candidate needs to compile a list of potential donors. This can be done by compiling names from the rolodex, Christmas card list, church or service club directory, employees at the place of employment and any other list that might be available. In addition, be sure to include all of the professionals that you deal with such as dentists, insurance agents, doctors and lawyers (and don't forget your former teachers or students). I once helped a policeman who was running for mayor. He regularly patrolled the local grocery stores at night and was very popular. He attained the grocery store employee lists and did pretty well garnering their financial support.
Compiling a list is not difficult, but a candidate must be bold. Many candidates are self-conscious about asking those closest to them to contribute. Keep in mind however, that these people will be offended if you don't include them and if your closest friends won't contribute, then how can you expect complete strangers to give.
After a list is compiled, a fundraising piece needs to be developed. This should consist of 1) a well written fundraising letter, 2) a hand-addressed outside envelope, 3) a return envelope tucked inside the first envelope and 4) a reply piece for givers to provide you vital information, (like how much money they intend to send).
Writing an effective fundraising piece is almost an art form; so if you don't have someone who is experienced at this type of work, follow these rules: First the letter should answer some basic questions like what are you running for? Why are you running? Hew much money do you need in total? How much money do you need specifically from the person reading the letter? What is the money needed for? What is your deadline for paying your bills? What benefit is there for your reader in seeing that you are elected (better schools, lower taxes, etc ) ?
By answering these questions in a cohesive and compelling letter, you will get beyond the reasons your reader may think of not to contribute.
Personalize the letter as much as possible. If you have a laser printer and a simple mailmerge program, then you can create a personal salutation and even have personal references throughout your letter. In fact, you should assess which of your letter recipients are in the high donor category and which are in the low donor category. Always ask the high donors for a specific amount at the hundreds or thousands level. You may choose to send your grandmother in Oklahoma a letter asking for $50 or $25, but it never hurts to ask for too much and get a little less. Remember that the suggested amount will generally define the level of giving.
See that the letter is not visually threatening to your reader. By this I mean that the letter should have short paragraphs, with underlining of important passages and spaces between paragraphs. In addition, forget the conventional wisdom and don't be afraid to send a two, three or even four page letter.
Finally, I suggest that you pull aside some of the direct mail that comes into your mailbox and study their techniques You may learn some tips and writing styles from the professionals that sent it to you.
One concept used in the spring or early summer is to draw an analogy between planting a seed and giving a candidate "seed money". To drive home the point and make it more memorable, you will want to include a small packet of seeds in the envelope. Not only will the seeds make your letter more noticeable to your reader, but all the time the flowers are sprouting and growing, this person will be thinking of your campaign and may likely give a second or third time.
Be sure your outside envelope is hand addressed and has an actual stamp and not an ink indicia. Even bulk mail should have a "stick-on" stamp and not simply a postal permit number printed on the envelope. The first mail that people throw away is the letter that has a label and lacks a real stamp. Also, you should consider using a colored envelope so that your letter stands out from the fifteen white envelopes stuffed in the mailbox.
Never forget the third element of your letter, the return envelope. The convenience it provides will increase your response rate. The return address on this envelope should be that of the individual asking for the money. If that's you, then the return envelope will go back to your house, but if it's the local banker asking for money on your behalf, then make sure the envelope is addressed back to the banker.
You may also want to investigate using Business Reply Envelopes that pay for the postage of those who chose to give to you. Your local post office can explain the costs and restrictions involved with this. The theory is that even though it may cost a little more, if it convinces just one or two people to send a check that might not otherwise have a cut, then it will recover the cost. In the alternative you may just want to pre-stamp the return envelopes for your close at friends and associates that you expect to give.
The reply piece is the fourth element of your direct mail package. It should contain all the right disclaimers required by your elate law. In addition, you will want to use it to suggest a certain contribution amount and provide space for vital information like the contributor's name and address. This will help your record keeping and allow one last mental suggestion to your reader before they make their decision to give.
This simple fundraising letter will not by any means solve all your fund raising problems, but it will get you started. I've never seen a campaign where it didn't raise enough for the first brochure and still pay for a few yard signs.
About the Author: Steve Grubbs was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives at age 25. He served three terms and then served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. Since then, Steve has started two companies, Victory Enteprises, Inc. and VictoryStore.com. Victory Enterprises is a Republican consulting firm and VictoryStore.com is a yard sign & campaign supply store.