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Consultants Guide to Down-ballot Fundraising: Part 1, Expectations and Education

If you're a consultant who works for candidates seeking state or local offices, you have your own set of unique fundraising challenges to overcome. Unlike larger federal races or statewide efforts where a full-time finance director is at the helm, your candidate is likely running while holding down a full-time job with part-time campaign staffers or a motley crew of volunteers.

From your perspective, fundraising serves two purposes: It increases the probability that your candidate will win and it allows you to eat in a regular fashion, which is equally important.

Since there's so much at stake when it comes to fundraising, why is it often approached in such a haphazard way? We have door-knocking and direct mail down to a science. Coalition building and social media outreach must be done using best-practices - we all agree on this.

Still, many general consultants give their state and local candidates a financial goal of $30,000, $100,000, or $300,000 then pat them on the back, give them a pep talk and shove them out the door. Why are we surprised when they fail to meet the fundraising goal? It's the largest complaint among GC-s working on small and medium-sized races.

The first step you can take to keep from working with poor-performing candidates is to set expectations. Ask them pointblank if they will make 15 fundraising calls per day for the entire campaign and make it part of your signed agreement. Ask them if they know of 10 people who can help them raise $5,000 each. Ask them to call someone they know right there on the spot for $1,000. Ask them to call someone they don't know at all for $50.

All of this might sound a little intense, but if they can't commit to acting or are waffling in their answers, you may want to simply say you feel their campaign may not be a fit for your consultancy. You're running a business, not a soup kitchen. If they perform poorly in fundraising, your business suffers. Set expectations from the start and only work with candidates who are willing to work on fundraising and are prepared to demonstrate it.

The second step you must take is to educate and equip the candidates you do accept as clients. Most of your clients have never raised money extensively before and have all kinds of preconceived notions about what does and doesn't work. I can tell you from my years of experience they are almost always wrongheaded. Few of your candidates have ever had any fundraising training and what they have received is usually glossed over quickly so the trainer can get to the so-called "fun stuff."

Most candidates don't have the foggiest notion of how to ask for money, determine what amount to ask for, build a finance committee, organize an event, write a letter or put together a database. It's your job to put together a step-by-step program that gets them on the fast-track to fundraising success, or at least helps them avoid the biggest mistakes and seize the largest opportunities.

To help do that, write all the dos, don'ts and best-practice advice you can muster into a three-page document. Review this document in detail with your clients and make sure they have bought into doing it your way.

Help your candidates put together a finance plan - not to be confused with a campaign budget. Typically, down-ballot campaigns are remarkably fuzzy about just what income sources will produce the revenue necessary to help them reach the cash-on-hand goal that you assign as a general consultant.

If you set expectations and properly educate your clients, you can expect to see measurable increases in fundraising performance, and that will increase their chances of winning and improve your gross profits.

Brandon Lewis, Owner/Founder – www.MyCampaignTreasurer.com

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