It’s no secret that political givers are getting pretty tired of the deluge of donation solicitations they’re receiving. Data collected by digital campaigners on the Republican and Democratic side have shown that donors are getting burnt out, and have started tuning out online contribution solicitations. The overly aggressive and occasionally deceptive emails and texts that donors and voter receive with increasing frequency are starting to erode donor trust. The problem is not limited to small-dollar donors. Major-donors - those who typically give $1,000+ to a campaign or group - are equally as frustrated. Now more than ever, it is important for candidates and campaigners to build meaningful personal relationships with the funders whose contributions enable political groups to operate effectively.
Here we’ll discuss major-donor fundraising strategies and tactics focused on building meaningful relationships at scale.
Political fundraising is a critical aspect of any successful campaign, and major donor fundraising is an especially important part of this process. However, it is important for political fundraisers to approach major donor fundraising with authenticity, in order to build strong relationships and inspire trust.
One of the key reasons for the need for authenticity in major donor political fundraising - in particular - is that today's donors are more savvy and discerning than ever before. With access to a wealth of information online, donors are able to research candidates and causes more thoroughly, and they expect to be able to engage with candidates and campaigns in a genuine and authentic way.
Another reason for the need for authenticity in major donor political fundraising is that donors want to feel like their contributions are making a real difference. By being authentic and transparent about how their donations will be used, fundraisers can help donors to feel more confident in their investment and more motivated to support the campaign.
Authenticity in major donor political fundraising can also help to build stronger, more lasting relationships between candidates and donors. By being genuine and authentic, candidates, campaigners, and fundraisers can create a sense of trust and connection with donors, which can help to foster long-term, continued support and engagement.
When giving to political campaigns, what many donors may not have anticipated is the sheer volume of texts and emails they receive from candidates following their first donation. For many, this onslaught of digital messages can make donors feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, and that these emails and texts are nothing more than spam. As a result of this digital barrage, many donors have found themselves tuning out or opting out of donating to political campaigns entirely. This, of course, can be highly detrimental to a campaign, as they rely heavily on their donors to provide them with the funding they need to stay competitive.
Providing an opt-in, opt-out option for donors is a smart way of building trust. Those who have abandoned political donations because of the spam problem may now feel more comfortable donating to a campaign, knowing they can choose the candidates they wish to receive emails and text messages from, and trusting that their information won’t be sold to other organizations. This could be as easy as providing donors with a list of candidates and providing them with a checkbox next to each candidate’s name that they wish to receive campaign information from.
Having the ability to opt-in and opt-out of political campaigns also helps to protect donors’ privacy. When donors are only receiving emails and text messages from the candidates they have selected, they can rest assured that their personal information will not be shared with any other candidates. This allows donors to remain confident that their information is secure and that it is only being used for the purposes of the campaigns they are supporting.
Political candidates rely on the support of major donors to help fund their campaigns and advance their causes. However, it is important for candidates to approach these conversations with a focus on building meaningful relationships and having genuine, authentic discussions.
One way for political candidates to have better, more meaningful conversations with major donors is to focus on building trust and connection. This can be done by being transparent and genuine about the candidate's vision and goals, and by engaging with donors in a personal and authentic way.
While candidates and campaigners may be eager to get to the "hard ask" banging donor prospects over the head for their credit card number isn't always appropriate. Being too aggressive can actually be detrimental. There is absolutely a place and a time for hard asks, but tactful raisers will recognize the opportunities to make soft asks, or give the prospect a chance to engage before stroking a check. Some examples of soft asks might be simple things like:
- Complete a survey or participate in "Focus Group" where they can share their thoughts, opinions, values, and perspectives
- Join the Steering Committee, or Finance Committee
- Attend a roundtable or meet & greet style event (virtual or IRL)
- Watch a video and share their feedback
Catering to individual preferences
Political people (that is, candidates, campaigners, fundraisers, and the like) tend to lump people together and give everyone more or less the same treatment. The truth is, every donor is different, with different priorities, preferences, attitudes, and motivations.
Recently, Trailmapper conducted a series of interviews with some of the most prolific major donors to gain a better understanding of their preferences and to take steps to build trust.
The results of these interviews have revealed some interesting insights. One major donor - who gave over $250k to various candidates and committees in the 2022 cycle - stated that they found voicemails to be a much “richer” communication medium vs. emails or text messages. According to them, voicemails get “much closer to my undivided attention” than other methods of communication, which he had started to tune out.
Another donor revealed that they preferred voicemail communication because they felt it gave the donor more control over who they chose to talk to. Through voicemail, they said they could make a decision to “call back someone [that they] want to talk to...”
Other major givers told us that they "never listen to voicemails" and much prefer a text message. One such donor stated that he used text messages as a "screener" and only responded to messages that seemed like they were sent by a "real person."
The common thread was that donors were looking for ways to take back control over the conversation, or at the very least, have some say in the process.
These results show that there’s real potential for fundraisers to build trust with major donors through asynchronous communication like voicemail, text, and one-to-one email. Not only does it allow for a more personalized means of communication, but it also gives donors a new sense of control. Instead of simply reading through a barrage of campaign spam, a potential donor can listen to a candidate’s voicemail, read the text message on their own time, and then decide if they want to learn more.
Many donors told us that when they do reach out in response to a voicemail or text, they were especially interested in learning more about where their money is going. The way a donor’s money will be spent is obviously a key selling point. Why give money to a campaign if you don’t know how it’ll be spent?
Many raisers have developed bad habits on the campaign trail, habits that cause them to approach every conversation like a stump speech or media interview. This type of one-sided-conversation can be very off-putting. In an attempt to impress their audience, the candidate will focus almost exclusively on themselves.
Political candidates can improve their conversations with major donors by listening actively and attentively to the concerns and interests of the donor. By showing interest in the donor's perspective and taking the time to understand their motivations, candidates can build stronger, more lasting relationships.
Pulling it all together
Overall, political candidates can have better, more meaningful conversations with major donors by focusing on building trust and connection, listening actively, and being transparent about how donations will be used.
By providing potential donors with alternative options that avoid the problem of spam texts and emails, such as voicemails and opt-in, opt-out lists of candidates that they want to receive campaign information from, they can create stronger, more lasting relationships and inspire greater support for their campaigns.