Political fundraising events are an essential part of any candidate’s race, big or small. Not only do they allow you to land big donors in person, they also let you get up close and personal with important members of your community, giving you outreach as well as fundraising potential.
Whether you’re planning an elegant dinner in an upscale hotel or a low key barbecue in a supporter’s back yard, the difference between a successful fundraising event and a total failure comes down one thing: getting engaged and passionate people in the door.
Follow these steps to make sure your event is a fundraising success rather than a financial flop.
1. Set a Fundraising Goal
First up, you need to know how much you need to raise. Aim high but be realistic! You should look at how any past events of a similar nature have done, and ask the host what (if any) fundraisers they have hosted in the past have raised.
Attach the fundraising goal of the event to the real fundraising needs of the campaign - this makes a compelling talking point on the day. Asking for $1,000 to put an ad on local radio is better than asking for it because "that’s what we’ve gotten before".
Work backwards from your fundraising goal to create your budget. Add the total for all the line items for the event (drinks, food, etc) to your net fundraising goal to get a gross dollar amount that needs to be raised on the day.
Finally, make sure to check the laws relevant to your event to ensure you’re in compliance. You may find some helpful allowances that will edge you closer to your fundraising goal - for instance, you might be able to take advantage of things like the in-home hospitality rules that allow for federal candidates to have home owners cover some expenses. Of course you should always check with your hosts about what they are willing to cover before the event!
2. Track your RSVPs
An RSVP needs to be more than just a verbal “sure, I’ll come along” from a potential donor. RSVPs need to be recorded with contact details in a database.
Having your RSVPs in a database is the best way to make sure your event is headed for success, not failure. This data will give you real time knowledge of confirmed attendees, and help you make sure you get as few no-shows as possible.
Start by getting an event page set up with essential event details (day, time, etc), information about the candidate, the event agenda, and a form to gather contact details from RSVPs. This page will serve as the focal point for all your outreach efforts, whether through persoanl outreach or social media.
This event page's form should feed contact data into a CRM (Contact Relationship Management system) or event management software. Good software will be able to automatically send confirmation emails to RSVPs, as well as updates and reminders that are essential for minimizing attendee drop-off and ensuring people actually attend.
Word to the Wise
Elliot Rysenbry | Community Strategist | NGP VAN
It’s a good idea to get the event page, confirmation emails, and reminders set up well before you start inviting people. Go through the signup process yourself ahead of time to look for typos or other errors. There's no point in losing your first couple of attendees to something silly like a confirmation email without a subject line, or the wrong date on a reminder email!
3. Get A Co-Host + Start Inviting!
The best way to attract people to an event is a good headliner. Unfortunately we all aren’t friends with Beyoncé or President Obama, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. A headliner who’s influential or well known in your community can make an excellent substitute for POTUS and/or Queen B.
Find a friend that’s well connected and excited about your campaign, and ask them to host and fundraise for the event. It’s always best to have a host that’s on board with your candidacy and excited to work with your campaign - so don’t just pick the person with the nicest and/or biggest place!
To maximize the amount of donors attending your event and contributing your campaign, your host shouldn’t be the sole promoter or fundraiser. With the help of your host’s personal network, build a host committee of well-connected and enthusiastic individuals who are willing to promote your event in the community. You’ll need a group willing to pitch the event to friends, co-workers, etc — and, of course, able to inspire people to contribute.
Send your candidate and co-hosts a template email invitation that they can personalize and send to their networks. It’s also a great idea to send along a call script and encourage folks to get on the phone and personally invite important people.
Social media is also a vital invitation channel. Write sample tweets, Facebook statuses, and LinkedIn updates with a link to your RSVP page, and give them to your host committee to share. Consider creating tracking URLs with tools like bit.ly so you can track what’s working, and what’s not.
Word to the Wise
Eben DuRoss | Finance Director | Catherine Cortez Masto for Senate
Try to get your host committee members invested in the event by asking each member to raise a certain amount of money and get a certain number of RSVPs. With individual goals they will be more accountable and aware of their own contributions. Like your overall event goal, the amount should be achievable but aggressive.
4. Follow up (Call, Call, Call!)
After the invites have been sent out, it’s call time!
The importance of call time cannot be understated. One of the most effective ways to boost the number of attendees is for the candidates and members of the host committee to get on the phone, and follow up on important invitations.
Call time will help secure commitment, but you should follow up by email with confirmations as well. You can use your CRM/event management software to schedule follow up and reminder emails automatically, but if it's an important donor then a personal email should be considered.
Secondary asks are also critical. If someone pulls out of the event, see if they would still consider contributing to the event or perhaps volunteering. Lower-level asks like these help you get maximum value from the event.
Word to the Wise
Tina Stoll | President @ CFC | Consultant for Senate + Gubernatorial Races
Call time is the best thing for your event. Emails tend to get lost in overwhelmed inboxes, so the extra effect of a follow-up phone call cannot be over-emphasized.
Do whatever it takes to keep the candidate happy in call time. It they need to have lunch, make it available. If they need cookies and a cup of tea, no problem. Some candidates like to dial themselves, others prefer to use several callers to maximize results.
Whatever it is the candidate needs, call time is so important to all campaigns that if fulfilling a small request helps them make more calls, then it’s well worth it.
5. Reminders, Reminders
Make sure to send reminders to all attendees the day before the event. Use this touch as a chance to remind them to bring their checkbooks or contribute ahead of time online via your donation page.
Once you’ve reminded your attendees, make sure to check in with your host. Are they all set on food, parking, seating, etc? Make sure they know what time the campaign will arrive (we recommend early to set up name tags and do other event prep), and what sort of potential problems there might be and how to handle them.
6. Prep Your Host Committee + Candidate
When the big day arrives, take the time to make sure the campaign, candidate, and hosts are prepared.
The candidate will need a detailed briefing on attendees and the event format. Make sure the candidate knows who they need to go out of their way to thank. To avoid a cringe-worthy error make sure candidates and hosts know all the important attendee’s names (and how to pronounce them).
You should consider checking in all attendees with name tags - this helps people get acquainted with each other, makes it easier for your host committee and candidate to approach prospective donors, and allows you to track attendance on the day. After sending your final reminder email, print your name tags, but be sure to leave a few blank sheets for those last minute RSVPs.
As go-time gets nearer, make sure all volunteers are properly positioned and aware of their roles and responsibilities. Make sure each person knows whether they’re to thank a specific person, staff the check-in desk, take coats and jackets, or even work the bar. You should also make it clear that staff and volunteers should avoid clustering in groups - nothing is less welcoming than campaign staff huddled in a corner.
After the Event, Don’t Stop!
After the event, the work doesn’t stop. Make sure calls are made and notes are sent to everyone that chipped in and helped make the event a success.
Just like with event invitations, people love to hear from the candidate - so if that’s you, don’t farm off the work to someone else. Make sure as many people hear from the candidate as possible - you’ll want to ask these people to contribute again down the road, and making them feel appreciated now will make them far more receptive in the future.
I hope your fundraising event is a success!