By David Salie
House parties have been used for years to raise funds. But today's grassroots house party programs directly engage large numbers of grassroots supporters – hundreds and even thousands of voters at a time.
The 2004 presidential election pioneered exciting new ways to use technology to engage supporters. Grassroots House Parties grew out of the Howard Dean campaign and were quickly adopted by everyone from John Kerry to George Bush to advocacy groups and charities. Why? Because with their low cost and high voter outreach, these events combine a campaign's fundraising and field programs in very effective ways.
Grassroots fundraising events cut out the middleman. You speak directly to voters — and donors – right in their living rooms. Supporters who already know about you reach out to their own friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. It is people-to-people politics the old-fashioned way – with a little help from inexpensive technology such as email, the Internet, and conference calls.
Many candidates have tried to launch a house party program by posting a date on their website and waiting for people to sign up. It rarely works. House party hosts are almost always recruited by a campaign staffer or volunteer. Emails, blog posts, and web links should all be critical elements of your house party promotion strategy, but be sure to plan on personal phone calls to key supporters to get the first parties started. Then, recruit two new hosts from every party. Your party program will grow geometrically!
If you are planning to raise funds, it is critical to train your supporters. Few have experience asking friends for money. So it's important to make it as easy as possible for your hosts.
Provide invitations that they can email, encourage guests to contribute online when they RSVP, suggest strategies for managing the party, and, with some basic fundraising tips, your supporters can become effective grassroots fundraisers. As your program grows, plan regular conference calls so you can train hosts as a group. Encourage successful hosts to share their stories — hearing success stories gives new hosts confidence.
Raising funds is just one way to use house parties. Your supporters live and work with prospective voters. Your party program gives supporters a fun and easy way to invite people to learn more about your campaign. Research shows that knocking on a door and speaking with a voter dramatically increases the odds that the person will vote and vote for YOU. House parties multiply that effect – instead of a quick two minute conversation, you'll have their attention throughout the whole party!
Candidates are finding new and exciting ways to use the house party model. Some hold simultaneous conference calls or webcasts. Others plan a day of action followed by parties across the state or district. Still others are organizing “petition parties,” “phonebanking parties,” “neighborhood walk parties,” and more.
All are effective ways to use the power of parties. Party2Win encourages candidates to plan precinct parties the weekend before the election to energize and motivate voters. Tie these amazing community building events together with a conference call or web cast with your candidate. It's the ideal way to make sure that your volunteers are energized as they work to ensure that voters have a ride to the polls, know where to vote, and are ready to vote for your candidate.
Of course, candidates are just one of the groups using house parties. Advocacy groups use house parties and events to raise awareness of issues, ballot initiatives, and pending legislation. Charities bring supporters together to raise money for their cause. Organizations celebrate key anniversaries by holding house parties to link members across the country.
One recent event held by the Humane Society Legislative Fund focused on “Leave No Pet Behind.” Hundreds of parties were held across the country to focus attention on an important pending bill — which then passed the Senate unanimously. They also raised over $130,000 at the same time. Field AND Fundraising combined! Some highly successful programs are pushing the envelope of the house party model.
Whether a group is raising money, recruiting volunteers, or taking action, they are engaging individual supporters by making it easy to organize small, simultaneous events. A few magical moments of centrally coordinated activity can then turn these isolated groups into one, big, powerful community.
Whether it's a conference call with a prominent figure, a webcast training session, a DVD screening, a day of action, or a combination of the above, individual participants all feel that they have been part of a much bigger event—and they forge deeper connections to the campaign or organization. Grassroots programs are incredibly effective ways to leverage scarce staff resources to achieve your organization's key goals.
David Salie was the Director of House Party Fundraising
for Governor Howard Dean's presidential
campaign. In 2004, David co-founded
Party2Win.com and PartyLaunch.com.
He can be reached at Click here to contact this Author.