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New Political Fundraising Techniques

By Dawn Juergensen-Garridoat

Savvy fundraisers are turning to auctions to add more dollars and donors to their political campaigns.  Fundraising auctions give parties, candidates and causes the ability to increase donations without “wearing out” their donor base.

A recent auction in Florida shows how the technique is used.  “Are you all in… all done…. and all through on the big red, white and blue elephant?” chanted auctioneer Wade West.  “Fair warning…. and it's SOLD to the smart lady on the right!”

“Next up is the Ronald Reagan commemorative poster from the future president's first California gubernatorial  run…. nicely matted and framed.  This is a piece of Republican history…. perfect to hang in your office…. a great way to honor and remember President Reagan.  Do we have an opening bid of $800.00?”

West quickly worked the framed political poster up to $1,500.  Then bidding fever took hold and the price skyrocketed.  “Three bidders really wanted this memorabilia, and there was only one poster,” said West.  The prices jumped a hundred dollars at a time until it finally crested at $3,600.  The buyer was glad to take it home, and the local party executive committee was glad to add the $3,600 to their campaign treasury.

“Three things amaze me about the auction,” said fundraising chair Gerry Brailey.  “First, how intensely some of the bidders wanted the items.  Secondly, how high the prices went.  We ended up with more than $40,000 for just one small event.  Finally, how much fun everyone, bidders and spectators alike, had at the auction.  It was much more fun than just another typical political speech.”

Auctions solve a serious problem for political finance officials.  For fundraisers, database marketing has been a blessing and a curse.  Sophisticated software identifies the best donors, but the programs' successes are also their undoing.

“Everyone can get the same information,” says one Democratic veteran.  “Since we all have access to most of the same lists and the computer programs to manage them, dependable contributors are soon inundated with hundreds of mail pieces per week.”

Voters have complained for years that their contributions just seem to fuel more mailings.  One Republican congressional fundraiser has seen handwritten notes on reply cards; “Stop mailing me and I'll start giving again”

Political fundraising auctions solve the problem of donor burnout while adding new contributors.  By holding a fundraising auction at a political rally, candidates can raise money while they build new supporters.  “Auctions have a number of advantages over traditional “begging-based” fundraising,” says Dawn Juergensen-Garrido, Vice President for client services Global-West Auctions.

“Not only do the donors appreciate getting something in return for their donation, but if a person who has not donated before wins something at the auction, they often turn into a strong supporter.  It's not unusual to have someone who has no intention of giving to a campaign win something at an auction and become a long-term supporter as a result.”

Global-West has raised more than two million dollars through fundraising auctions.  Juergensen-Garrido's tips come from experience: 

1. Hold your auction before the candidate speaks.  That way, the emotional energy remains high and the auction warms up the crowd for the candidate. 

2. Don't purchase anything for auction.  Auction professionals can teach you how to get donated items worth thousands of dollars.  In addition, they can obtain donations for your program that will bring high prices from the bidders. 

3. Live auctions bring in much more money than silent auctions and silent auctions can be a lot of work.  It's not unusual for items in a live auction to sell at three or four times their silent auction value and a good live auction is fun and exciting. 

4. Use a professional auctioneer who specializes in fundraising auctions.  An experienced fundraising auctioneer can more than double, even triple your profits.  In addition, a good fundraising auction company does much more than just call bids.  They can arrange everything from donated prizes to the complete event itself.  A good auction may look like nothing more than an auctioneer calling bids, but in reality, it's a carefully orchestrated “sales ballet” between the auctioneer and the audience.  Professional auctioneers bring dollars and entertainment to your campaign and the experienced ones are excellent at it.

5. Follow-up with successful bidders.  They appreciate what they won and as a result, appreciate the party or candidate too.  Ensure you call all successful bidders within 72 hours to offer a word of thanks.  That's also a good time to invite them to another event or ask for other support.  This is especially true if the winning bidder has not been an active supporter in the past. 

6. Think big.  Some of the items Global-West has arranged for include trips to Europe and the South Pacific, cruises for 12 on a private 165-foot mega-yacht, artwork worth tens of thousands of dollars, and more.  Auction prizes such as this translate into huge contributions for the candidates or party.  

7. Use local merchants for some of your donated prizes.  They like being associated with a winning candidate and appreciate being announced as a sponsor at a political fundraiser.  Not only does it give the sponsor multiple mentions before a receptive crowd, but customers like to shop with merchants who share their beliefs and values. 

There's one more benefit to political fundraising auctions that isn't readily apparent at the sale.  Donor burnout can greatly reduce contributions.  If you go to a donor one too many times, not only will they decline that specific request, but the donor may stop giving altogether.  Auctions are completely different.  Because the donor is getting something tangible for his or her donation, donor burnout actually decreases while contributor loyalty increases. 

In any election year, candidates and their consultants need to maximize fundraising.  No candidate ever lost an election because they had too MUCH money. Political fundraising auction are the great way to increase your campaign bank accounts, without tapping your traditional donors. 

For more information, call Dawn Juergensen-Garridoat
(407) 896-4500 or 1-866-99-AUCTION.

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