By Allan Bonner
Money is the mother's milk of politics, they say. Well, I know a little something about milking real cows that is. It's all in the technique.
You have to nuzzle your head in the soft crux between the cow's back leg and stomach. You tie off the top of the teat with a firm squeeze between the thumb and index finger, as if you're making the "OK" sign. Then you roll down the teat with the middle, ring and baby finger, successively, in a smooth motion. Repeat with the other hand on another teat.
Real pros can get a rhythm going and chew tobacco between squeezes. They can also get a little tune going with the sound the high speed milk makes as it hits the side of the bucket. The notes change as the bucket fills up.
I live in the big city now. But the mother's milk of politics is just as hard to extract as real milk is. To make matters worse, techniques change over the years, as if cows and hands and teats changed shape.
Traditional fundraising dinners are great. I once worked for a politician who held a $15,000.00 a plate dinner with white gloves on the waiters and no media. The next year it was $1.49, but you were expected to make a big donation. Depending on the tax structure, the Christmas basket or Thanksgiving Turkey that you buy for $100.00 and get a tax receipt for $75.00 can work really well. A strategic alliance with the grocery store helps.
In succession, snail mail, the phone, the fax and the email have all lost some of their bite. At least they need fine tuning. There was a time that massive mail outs in the millions could fund a great campaign on a two per cent return. But those were the days of "the more you tell, the more you sell." Two page letters that started out on bland philosophical notes don't work any more. Too many letters begin like this: "Now that the new year is upon us, we must all set new goals and scan new horizons. Like you, I am concerned about the future of our communities."
Whoever is sending me this gets a one way ticket to the garbage.
Speed dialers that cause a short pause after I answer the phone make me hang up. So does an 800 number on call display. I no longer get hundreds of junk faxes, but I still get hundreds of emails. I employ someone to delete them, so a fundraising message better be appealing to her.
But it's not all bad news. People want to be involved in politics. Many who don't have time will give money or goods in kind. Reaching them is the issue.Years ago I got involved in politics because a friend of mine ran for office. I had a rolodex of contacts from outside politics. I had fantastic success selling tickets to fundraisers to people who had never been approached before.
One day a woman wandered into the campaign office and we pounced on her, offering coffee and telling her how great the candidate was. She said she just thought the place was for rent and wanted to run a kid's gym class in it. Although she had no interest in politics to that date, we recruited her. She raised a bundle of money by bringing in her new rolodex as well.
My most successful event came after a brainstorming session with the finance committee. We decided that we'd hold the event in someone's home to save money. But whose? Somebody knew that multi-millionaire cable magnate and current owner of Skydome and the Toronto Blue Jays, Ted Rogers, had a nice home.
"Yeah, but whose going to call him?" Somebody asked. As the young Turk, I offered. I really lucked out because I was an executive at a TV network and Mr. Rogers is known as a hands on guy who actually returns his own phone calls. Perhaps he also thought I had some legitimate business with his cable company.
He called back the same morning and took 25 seconds to agree to lend us his home. I sold 135 tickets. The cost of the event was a few bucks a person for snacks and drinks and the profit was huge. The draw was Mr. Rogers home and perhaps the candidate, "the double whammy!"
Whether it's asking for money or selling tickets, telephone volunteers need a connection to the issue, the candidate or preferably the person they're calling. I can just hear the pages of the telemarketing script go by: "Hello, Mr. Bonner. How are you this evening?" "Fine" "That's great. I'm just calling to thank you and your family for your generous support in past years for (insert political cause, institution or candidate). We're running a charity hockey game this year. Are you a hockey fan?"
On and on this goes, like the old two page telemarketing letters. Even people who went to my universities or prep schools are wasting their time chatting me up like this.
I made $5,000 per night calling parents of my kid's prep school with a 15 second pitch like this: "Hello, it's Allan Bonner. I'm a school parent and your son Jeff is in the same class with my boy Michael. Each year I volunteer to raise money for the school. Tuition only covers about 80 per cent of school activities and a lot of us want the rest to be deductible, directable and discretionary. How much can I put you down for?"
If there was a protest about having no money, I'd say any amount would be great, just so I could report 100 per cent giving from the class parents. Some groaned and gave me $25 and some $3,000.
My surprising rule then is "ask!"
Don't get me wrong. There are pros out there that can help you with push-polling, slicing demographics, fake lobby campaigns (astro-turf vs. grass roots) and such. But in most campaigns its volunteer armies that win the battles. That army needs low overhead, new blood and simple techniques.
Allan Bonner has coached 8 heads of government and
several dozen cabinet level politicians. He is the author
of several books on communication and
can be reached at Click here to contact this Author.