One question on the minds of many is why there aren't better, more qualified people running for office in the United States? The answer is that there are many people who would like to run and are passionate about making our country a better, more equitable place, but there are barriers that keep good people out of the running for offices at all levels of government.
One of the biggest barriers for independent candidates running for office in the United States is the lack of access to the same level of resources and support as major party candidates.
The fact is that participants in the two-party system have access to well-established fundraising networks, party infrastructure, and media coverage that make it easier for their candidates to get their message out to voters. Many states also have ballot access requirements, such as fees and a minimum number of signatures to get on the ballot, that are difficult for independent candidates to meet.
Additional barriers to adequate fundraising include:
* Lack of established fundraising networks: Major parties have well-established fundraising networks that independent candidates often can't access. This can make it difficult for independent candidates to raise the necessary funds to compete with major party candidates.
* Campaign finance laws: Laws governing contributions to campaigns in the United States favor major party candidates by allowing them to receive larger contributions from individual donors and limiting the ability of independent candidates to receive public financing.
* Lack of party support: Independent candidates simply don't have the same level of support from an established political party as major party candidates do. This makes it difficult for them to gain traction and raise money.
* Perception of viability: Donors are hesitant to contribute to independent candidates due to the perception of viability. Even the few times a popular independent has surged, barriers like lack of media access and funding often sink their campaigns.
* Limited media coverage: Independent candidates often receive less media coverage than major party candidates, which can make it difficult for them to gain name recognition and contributions from potential donors.
Fortunately, social media and crowdfunding have democratized the process somewhat. With some creativity and the ability to leverage these important advances, independent candidates may finally have the means to overcome historic barriers and break the two-party stranglehold on the electorate.
Before you can start fundraising and beat them at their own game, it's important to understand how it's run.
Unfortunately, money is at the root of all that is wrong with the American political system. It's also necessary to sustain any sort of political campaign, especially as we move beyond local races into the national arena.
In a nutshell, fundraising is the process of soliciting and political donations from individuals and organizations to support individual campaigns.
Why does it cost so much to run for office? Here's a breakdown of necessary expenses:
* Financing campaigns: Fundraising is necessary to pay for expenses such as advertising, travel, staff salaries, and events. Without enough money, campaigns may not be able to run competitively or reach voters as effectively as someone with the power of the establishment behind them.
* Raising awareness and name recognition: Financial contributions allow a candidate to introduce themselves to potential voters through advertising and events. The more money a candidate has, the more they can spend on marketing and other methods of reaching voters. Those are the main ways to build name recognition and boost a candidate's chances of winning.
* Building a campaign infrastructure: Fundraising is necessary to hire staff, establish field offices, and develop a ground game that reaches voters. Well-funded campaigns can build a stronger electoral infrastructure, which can help increase contributions and turn out voters on Election Day.
* Demonstrating political viability: Fundraising can be used to demonstrate a candidate's viability to potential donors and voters. A candidate who raises a significant amount of money comes off as more serious and credible, and that's what helps attract support.
* Responding to attacks: Funds from contributions can also be used to respond to negative advertising or attacks from opponents. A campaign that has a sufficient amount of funds can quickly respond to attacks and defend its candidate's record or character.
The legal and regulatory framework surrounding political fundraising in the United States is complex and multifaceted. Rules, regulations, and requirements for funding campaigns were formally set down in 1971 under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Keep in mind that the Federal Election Campaign Act has not been meaningfully amended or altered since 1974, which is nearly 50 years ago.
There was a bill introduced in 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, aka, the McCain-Feingold Act), that sought to reduce the impact of soft money on political campaigns by requiring candidates and political action committees to disclose information about their finances. It also limits the amount of money individuals and organizations can contribute to candidates and parties, and it established new disclosure requirements and banned certain types of corporate and union contributions.
However, the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and the way that establishment candidates configure the rules to benefit themselves only further entrenches the two-party system.
Two other key agencies involved in regulating donor contributions are:
* Federal Election Commission (FEC): This is an independent regulatory agency that enforces campaign finance laws and regulations at the federal level. It's responsible for overseeing the disclosure of financial information, enforcing contribution limits, and enforcing rules governing independent expenditures and electioneering communications.
* Internal Revenue Service (IRS): The IRS plays a role in regulating political fundraising through its oversight of tax-exempt organizations like political action committees (PACs) and nonprofit organizations. These organizations are subject to specific rules regarding their political activity and fundraising.
In addition to federal financial regulations for campaigning, each state has its own set of rules and laws that govern fundraising for state and local elections. These laws can vary widely from state to state, but generally cover disclosure requirements, contribution limits, and restrictions on certain types of contributions.
There are also groups like Open Secret, Influence Watch, and the Center for Responsive Politics that track the flow of money and influence in politics.
Overall, the legal and regulatory framework surrounding contributions of political funds is designed to promote transparency and accountability in the financing of political campaigns while also ensuring that the influence of money is not unduly felt in the political process. Such rules are also the basis for efforts to ensure responsive politics and good governance.
However, that aura of fairness and transparency no longer seems to translate to real-world campaigns and elections. Until such a time as the two major political parties and their donors loosen their grip on American politics, independents must devise creative ways to get their message out and increase viability within the frameworks that exist in American politics today.
As such, we can't overstate the importance of grassroots support as an essential factor for independent candidates running for office.
Unlike major party candidates, independent federal candidates typically don't have the backing of a national party organization, which means that they must rely on grassroots support to build their campaigns and win elections.
Here are a few ways that grassroots support can help with your team's fundraising effort:
* Overcoming resource limitations: Independent federal candidates often have limited financial resources compared to major party candidates. This means that they must rely heavily on volunteers and grassroots supporters to help with election activities like door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, and organizing events.
* Establishing personal connections: Grassroots support allows independent candidates to connect with voters on a personal level, which is critical in building trust and earning support. Independent federal candidates may be able to leverage their personal connections to local community groups, business leaders, and other influential individuals to build national support for their campaigns.
* Amplifying your message: Grassroots support can help independent candidates amplify their message and reach more voters. Supporters can help spread the word about the candidate's platform, share campaign-related materials on social media, and encourage their friends and family to vote for the candidate.
* Mobilizing voters: Grassroots support is critical in mobilizing voters to turn out on Election Day. Independent candidates may not have the same level of institutional support as major party candidates, but they can still build a strong ground game through grassroots organizing and volunteer mobilization.
Before you even announce your intention to enter a race, you need to have clear campaign goals and a budget in place. Effective money management is crucial to long-term political viability because it helps:
* Plan and prioritize spending: A solid, realistic budget allows your campaign to plan how it will spend its resources by providing a framework for allocating funds to activities like advertising, staffing, and events.
Your budget can also prioritize spending based on what is most important. For example, a campaign may decide to allocate more funds to specific advertising platforms if it believes that reaching voters through television or digital media is critical to winning the election.
* Control costs: A budget can help campaigns control costs and avoid overspending. By setting spending limits for different activities, a campaign can help ensure that it won't run out of funds before the end of the race.
* Contingency planning: Proper budgeting helps campaigns prepare for unexpected expenses. By setting aside funds for emergencies or unforeseen circumstances, a campaign can ensure that it's ready for any situation that may arise.
* Enable expense tracking: Tracking independent expenditures is important for several reasons. First of all, it tells your team where resources are paying off and where money is being wasted. This can help a campaign adjust its spending if it's not meeting fundraising goals or if certain activities are not generating the desired results.
By having a clear understanding of its finances, campaigns can make informed decisions and maximize their chances of success on Election Day.
So, how do you set realistic, attainable fundraiser goals? By following this five-step guideline:
1. Assess your campaign's financial needs by estimating the cost of various campaign activities like advertising, staffing, and events. Even the price of campaign materials should be taken into account.
Once you have a general idea of how much money it will cost, you can set appropriate parameters to reach fundraising goals and milestones.
2. Evaluate your fundraising potential. How broad is your donor base, for example, and what is the viability of your various fundraising strategies? Are there external factors that will inhibit fundraising, and how can these be overcome?
3. Set specific, measurable goals that are realistic and attainable. If your campaign has a goal of raising $50,000, create a hard deadline for reaching that amount and use tools to measure your progress. Many online crowdfunding platforms and social media provide built-in metrics for evaluating success and forecasting future trends.
4. Use historical fundraising data whenever possible. If your campaign has historical fundraising data, you can use this information to set more accurate and realistic goals in the future. For those who are new to political campaigning, using comparable, recent data on the cost of activities like advertising and event planning can provide an accurate guideline for budgetary planning.
I created my first budget by analyzing the budgets of the five previous officials to hold my position and making changes to reflect current realities.
5. Evaluate and refine your progress regularly. It's important for you and your campaign manager to evaluate your progress regularly and adjust your fundraising goals as needed. If you're not on track to meet your goals, you may need to re-evaluate your fundraising strategy or adjust your goals so that they're more attainable.
Allocating funds wisely where they will have the most impact can help stretch your campaign budget without skimping on essentials. For example, if your base of support is mostly active on social media, you can plow resources in that direction and limit more traditional media advertising so that it's strategic. This could include things like being active on social media throughout the campaign and saving TV, print, or radio ads for a more critical date that's closer to an election or major campaign event.
When funds and access are limited, creating a diverse network of supporters that includes friends, family, and community members is essential for the success of a political campaign. It can help you reach a broader audience of potential supporters, increase contributions, and lend your campaign some credibility.
Building a strong, diverse base of supporters also provides you with greater fundraising potential. When a candidate has support from individuals with different backgrounds and income levels, they may be able to tap into a wider range of fundraisers and donor pools.
Volunteers usually come from your personal support network initially, and they will continue to play an important part of your campaign moving forward. However, broadening your base of support is important for political candidates, especially federal candidates.
When individuals from different backgrounds become invested in a political campaign, they're more willing to volunteer their time and resources to help the campaign succeed.
Your volunteer network helps your campaign in other ways that will save money and other resources over time.
For example, campaign volunteers can be enlisted to:
* Solicit donations from their own personal and professional networks
* Help with phone banking and canvassing for donations and other support
* Recruit volunteers
* Host campaign events
* Provide administrative support, such as preparing reports, tracking donations and expenses, and managing donor databases
* Publicize your campaign at home, at work, and on social media
That's why it's so important to expand your network beyond friends, family, and work colleagues. In order to do that effectively, you need to think like a marketing professional.
After all, most elections are actually just marketing campaigns for people and ideas.
Cost-Effective Engagement: The Power of Social Media and Email Campaigns
There are several ways that you can raise money and awareness while keeping voters engaged in the digital realms and the real world.
Before you start fundraising, use social media to gain awareness. It's one of the most affordable ways to generate interest, and social media integrations are powerful tools for expanding your network and engaging with followers. Combined with targeted email campaigns, you'll utilize two powerful tools for independents running for political office.
A two-pronged approach of social media and email campaigning allows your campaign to:
* Reach a wider audience: Social media platforms and email allow independents to reach a wider audience than traditional campaigning methods. By leveraging these platforms, independents can connect with potential supporters from all over the country and even the world.
* Build a grassroots movement: A social media and email campaign allows candidates to engage with supporters directly. By sharing updates, posting videos, and responding to comments, independents can build a strong base of support that is passionate about their message.
* Raise more money: By sharing donation links and offering exclusive content to donors, independents can encourage their supporters to donate and help fund their campaign.
* Amplify your message: Social media and email campaigns allow you to share your ideas and positions with a wider audience. By posting regularly, sharing infographics, and creating shareable content, independents can get their message in front of more people and increase their visibility.
* Stay connected with supporters: By sharing updates, thanking donors, and responding to messages, independents can connect with voters and build a strong relationship with their supporters that will last beyond the election.
Through strategic social media activity, you can respond to comments and messages immediately and personally whenever possible and actively engage with your followers. This will help to build a relationship with and encourage them to share your content with their own networks.
If the campaign becomes too big for personal daily messages, hire a social media manager to keep you on brand and on message for day-to-day interaction. You can then respond personally to major posts and events.
Your content should provide value to your audience. Think in terms of news articles, press releases about your campaign, and information about issues that your voters care about. This will tell supporters that you're on top of important issues and establish your campaign as a trusted authority.
Using relevant hashtags will make your content more discoverable to people who are interested in your campaign or the issues you're addressing. Make sure that you understand the meaning and history of specific hashtags. This will lend authenticity to your campaign and help avoid unnecessary tone-deafness that can turn voters away.
Although modern methods of online engagement are essential for any viable campaign, it's important to note that not all voters are active online. Local, real-world engagement is still an important component of running for any office. Therefore, hosting and attending events is another great way to expand your network and get your message to the masses.
Whether you're hosting a large, formal fundraiser or a small local gathering like a town hall meeting, here are some tips for leveraging the momentum.
1. Be strategic about event selection. Attend events that are relevant to your campaign or the issues you're addressing. This will help you to connect with individuals who are likely to be interested in your campaign.
2. Engage attendees. When you attend events, be sure to engage with other attendees. Mingle, introduce yourself to individuals at the event and ask for their feedback or opinions. Be authentic and actively listen!
3. Host your own events. In addition to attending relevant social events, create and host your own dedicated fundraising events. Consider town hall meetings to discuss specific issues, in-person meet-and-greets, and dinners. For larger events, create a host committee to nail down details and keep the event flowing smoothly.
4. Get involved in community outreach. Community outreach is an essential component of any political campaign. In fact, it's how I and many others became involved in local politics. Start by identifying local community or interest groups, business associations, labor organizations, and activists who are engaged in issues that concern your constituents and the community at large.
5. Attend community meetings and engage with individuals who are involved in these groups. This will help you to establish relationships with key influencers in the community. Participate in community-based events like parades, festivals, forums, and meetups. Donate items to a local cause. These activities will increase your visibility and connect you with potential supporters.
Publicize these appearances beforehand and during the event, and thank all participants after. Mention any new contacts of relevance by name.
5. Participate in virtual events. One of the best things about social media is the ability to be in more than one place at a time and create a buzz that transcends geolocation. In addition to creating events like Facebook Live virtual town halls or news conferences, stream real-world appearances live as they occur.
Raising money for your campaign is much easier than in the days of direct mail solicitations. Online donation platforms and crowdfunding certainly beat just pasting the link to your website at the bottom of a poster or TV ad.
Outside of starting a GoFundMe campaign, there are several popular online platforms and tools that are specifically tailored to aid with a political campaign fundraiser.
Here are three of the most popular:
1. ActBlue: ActBlue is a fundraising platform that specializes in helping progressive candidates and organizations raise money online. It allows campaigns to create customized donation pages, track donations, and manage donor data. ActBlue also offers a range of tools and resources to help a crowdfunding campaign maximize its fundraising efforts.
2. CrowdPAC: CrowdPAC is a nonpartisan crowdfunding platform that allows candidates and organizations to raise money from individual donors. It offers a range of fundraising tools, including customized donation pages, email fundraisers, and social media integration. CrowdPAC also provides data analytics to help campaigns target their fundraising efforts more effectively.
3. Anedot: Anedot is a fundraising platform that specializes in helping a political crowdfunding campaign or nonprofit raise money online. It offers a range of tools and features, including customized donation pages, recurring donations, and text-to-give campaign functionality. Anedot also integrates with a range of other campaign tools, such as CRMs and email marketing platforms.
In addition to these three, there are a couple of tools that help raise money and track donations, and they'll help build your email list for future campaigns and outreach:
* Donorbox: Donorbox is a fundraising platform that allows campaigns to create customizable donation forms and track donations in real time.
* Fundly: Fundly is a crowdfunding platform that allows campaigns to create a fundraiser to share on social media and other channels.
Keep in mind that your efforts to raise funds for your campaign should be a little more subtle than "Please send me money now, even if it's only a few cents". Efforts toward responsive politics aside, voters are leery of politicians. That means you must carefully build relationships with donors through trust, transparency, and authenticity.
Keep these best practices in mind when creating an email solicitation or crowdfunding page:
1. Start with a compelling subject line. The subject line is the first point of contact with voters and potential donors, so make sure it's attention-grabbing and clearly communicates the purpose of contributions through the email or crowdfunding campaign.
2. Personalize your message. Address the recipient by their name and use language that speaks directly to them. This helps to create a connection with the reader and makes them feel valued.
3. Tell an engaging story. Use storytelling techniques on your crowdfunding page to illustrate the impact of your cause. Add images where appropriate. This helps to make the issue more relatable and creates an emotional connection with the reader.
4. Be clear and concise. Keep your message soliciting funds short and to the point. Use bullet points and bold text to highlight key points and make the message easy to scan.
5. Make it easy to accept donations. Include a prominent call-to-action button or link that directs the reader to a donation page. Make sure the process of making contributions is easy and straightforward, using as few clicks as possible.
6. Show your impact. Share stories and statistics that show how donations are making a difference. This helps to build trust with donors and reinforces the importance of their contributions. Social proof in the form of testimonials from groups or individuals and endorsements from business leaders or labor organizations will also lend credibility to campaigns and increases contributions
7. Always follow up. Thank donors for their contributions and keep them updated on the impact of their political donations. This helps to build a long-term relationship with donors and encourages them to continue supporting your cause.
Remember, raising political funds is about building relationships and creating a community of supporters. By following these best practices, you can devise compelling political fundraising ideas that inspire people to take action and support your cause.
Building support for your political campaign is about more than just raising money and awareness. You're cultivating long-term relationships with people who are passionate about your message and confident in your ability to follow through.
Return their respect and confidence by keeping them informed and in the loop.
Show your donors that you appreciate their contributions by sending personalized thank-you notes or emails. This will help to cement your relationship with them and encourage them to continue supporting your campaign.
It's also important to keep supporters informed about your campaign and the progress you're making. This can be done through email newsletters, social media updates, or even phone calls. By keeping your donors informed, you will help them to feel like they are an integral part of your campaign.
Build a community around your movement by creating opportunities for donors to connect with one another. This can be done through events, online forums, or even group text messages. By establishing a sense of community, you'll help to foster a sense of belonging among your donors.
Make sure to ask your donors for feedback about your campaign and how you can improve your messaging. This can be done through surveys or focus groups. By listening to your donors and incorporating their feedback, you will help to build a stronger relationship with them.
Recognize milestones in your donors' lives, such as birthdays or anniversaries. This can be done through personalized messages or even small gifts. By recognizing these milestones, you will help to build a deeper connection with your donors.
Keep in mind that gifts shouldn't be exorbitant or expensive. Keepsakes like t-shirts are conventional and useful. In fact, t-shirts with a memorable message are a cost-effective form of advertisement.
We've all heard about, read about, or perhaps even been part of political campaigns that ended prematurely simply due to lack of money. By starting at the local, grassroots level and following the above tips, many more viable independent candidates may finally get their chance to raise the funds needed to win elections and serve their constituents.