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Practical Fundraising Tips - Asking for Money


By Robert Kaplan

Money is the fuel that powers the engine of all political campaigns. Despite the importance of money in campaigns, the act of raising it is the least favorite part for most candidates and finance committee members.  That means, all things being equal, the candidates and committee members who fear fundraising the least will likely be more successful.


The job of a professional fundraiser is to help clients and their volunteers overcome their fear of fundraising.  One component of that effort is providing a written fundraising plan. 


The fundraising plan is a road map, allowing clients and finance committee members to understand the big picture of the fundraising campaign, where they fit into that picture, what is expected of them and a calendar of deadlines to push for performance.  With appropriate candidate and volunteer leadership support, the road map helps maximize dollars and resources and, if properly implemented, greatly improves the campaigns' ability to get out its message.


My first draft of a fundraising plan is usually very aggressive, allowing for the give and take necessary for the client and finance committee to tone it down, buy into it and own the plan.  It is here where they must learn the first tenet of fundraising  negotiation -- that you never get more than you ask for…and that you may never get all that you ask for, but you will likely get more than you would have had you not asked for so much in the first place.  This is a core principle of fundraising.  Candidates and finance committee members who understand this will have a higher rate of success.


The process also highlights the importance of setting the agenda – telling people what you expect of them.  We are all more comfortable letting people tell us what they will do for us or contribute to a campaign.  That is the wrong approach.  Fundraising is about setting the agenda, telling people what the campaign needs and getting people to respond to those needs. 


Most candidates and finance committee members will find all types of excuses to avoid making phone calls – with fear of rejection and disappointment being the primary and hidden reasons.   While there are various techniques to get clients on the phone (more than simply scheduling call time), these fears must be addressed. I still must address the fear of rejection and disappointment experienced by clients and volunteers.


Using the following practical phrases and approaches often can help clients and their finance committees mitigate some of their fears and achieve greater fundraising success.


Asking For Money
Right Way / Wrong Way.


The Wrong Way - being too general


"Will you help my campaign by making a contribution? 
“Thanks for taking the time to talk with me; I hope you'll send me a check for whatever you can afford.”
“Okay, I'll send you an envelope and some information.”


The Right Way - be direct / be specific


The business community is trying to determine if I'm a viable candidate.  I cannot show them my viability without your immediate and generous help in building my bank account.  Can I count on you for a contribution of $1,000?


Will you join my campaign right now by making a contribution of $1,000?  I can give you my FedEx account number or have someone pick-up the check tomorrow at 2 PM.  Which do you prefer?  


"I wouldn't be asking for so much if both the need and the opportunity were not so great.  Can I count on you for a contribution of $1,000?"


"I need to raise $5,000 this week to finish funding my first mail piece.  I'm $2,000 short of that goal.  Will you help me close the gap with a contribution of $1,000?"


"I need to raise another $750 today and I am $450 short of my goal.  Will you help me close that gap with a contribution of $225?"


Always Negotiate Before Retreating


If, after you ask for a contribution of $1,000 and are offered, for example, $250, do not say, "Ok, that's great, thanks.”  This is the time to negotiate by saying, “I appreciate that, but I must ask if you would reconsider the $1,000. I wouldn't be asking for so much a second time if the need and opportunity were not so great."   


If they tell you no again, it is time to drop your ask to $750 by saying, “I understand this is a lot of money, but we've known each other for a long time, been through the trenches together and I really need your help now.  Your help will be instrumental in my ability to advance the agenda in which we both believe.”


If they say no to that, then drop to $500 by saying, “I'm not trying to push you, okay, maybe just a little, but this is really important to me and my opponent is never going to support the issues that are important to you and me.  I have a real shot to win this, but I can't win without money.  Will you please consider a contribution of $500?


If they say no, then respond with the final push by saying, "Okay, I appreciate your commitment, but let me ask if you could add just another $100 to your pledge…every bit helps." 

  • Every solicitation should have at least four asks and pushes.  Another good phrase for the final push is "How close can you come to that number?"
  • If they tell you they have to talk to their spouse, partner or boss, ask them when they will have that conversation and how much they are going to tell their spouse, partner or boss they want to contribute. After you have those answers, tell them you will call back the day after they talk with their spouse, partner or boss.

The Closing – The Right Way

  • "When can I send someone to pick-up the check?"
  • "Will you be mailing the check today?"  ("If not today, what about Tuesday or Wednesday?")
  • I appreciate you wanting me to send you an envelope and some materials, and will gladly do so.  However, I would like to know at a minimum what contribution amount you are considering.  With that information I'll be able to work off a minimum budget.  And, of course, you know, I'm truly expecting you contribute more than that minimum.”

Great Lines To Remember - Use Them!


How close can you get to that number?


If I can't count on friends like you, who can I count on?


How can I expect strangers and members of the general community to invest in me if my friends and family do not invest with me first? 


If we don't fight for ourselves, no one else will…and if we fail, the only ones to be blamed for that failure will be those who refused to answer the call and step-up to the plate.


"It's my belief that if we fail to act now, we will be reacting forever."


"I will respect your decision not to contribute if you oppose my campaign. However, I have a hard time accepting your "sitting this one out" given the historic opportunity, what is at stake and our relationship.”


"As a friend (colleague) I would like to ask you to step off the fence and make a decision to support and contribute.   Will you do that?"


"I am coming to you as a leader in our community (or family) and asking you to take a position of leadership in my campaign.  Will you do that?"  Will you stand-up with me and (use names of other donors) and be counted?"


"There is no time to wait for things to shake out.  If we do not start getting out our message now, not only will the battle be more expensive later, but the risk of defeat becomes that much greater."


"The opportunity to participate is on-going, but the need is immediate."


Always Remember ....


You never get more than you ask for.


Your prospect may never contribute what you ask them for, but they will likely do more than they would have if you had not asked them for so much in the first place.


Set the agenda.  Force them to respond to you.  Ask for a contribution before they offer one.  It is a lot easier to lower the amount you are asking for then it is to get them to raise the amount they are offering.


No matter how little someone contributes, if anything at all – thank them for their time.  They may not contribute today, but may do so later and we do not want to alienate them.

  • We want everyone to make a capacity gift.  Everyone's capacity is different, but  everyone has the ability to give – even if it is only $5.00.
  • Use your humor and put a smile in your voice – it will make the process less difficult.

Robert Kaplan has served as the Finance Director for more
than 125 initiative and candidate campaigns and
PACs at the national, state and local levels. He has
raised in excess of $100 million in campaign contributions.
A member of  the Board of Directors of the American Association
of Political Consultants. Robert can be reached at (310) 451-8919.
 Robert Kaplan - Email This Author 

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