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How to raise campaign funds in a challenging economic climate

This year, more than ever, a large number of Americans feel the urge to run for public office in order to effect positive improvements in their states and in their districts.  Not all of these new candidates have previous campaign experience.  Accordingly, they are often at a loss as to where to begin. 

Candidates need to focus on the most important aspects of their campaign.  At the beginning, at least for candidates who do not have sufficient media experience or who are not relying solely on a ground war based strategy, fundraising is the lifeblood of their campaign.  Even for those who do have media savvy or who are fortunate enough to have a dedicated group of door knocking volunteers, fundraising is still crucial to the campaign. 

While crafting a fundraising strategy, two questions need to be asked: 1) How should I fundraise? and 2) When should I do it? 

The second question is the first that needs to be addressed while planning your long term campaign strategy.  It is also the most complicated one, as the answer varies according to the dynamics of your campaign. 

If you are not well known in your area and you have sufficient media expertise, or volunteers who do, your first few months should be spent primarily on building up name recognition within your district, while vociferously advocating for the issues that are the motivating factor of your candidacy; the issues that made you want to run in the first place.  This will establish your candidacy and make raising funds easier when they count.  In fact, many candidates may not be able to fundraise at all without laying this important groundwork.

Stealth is also an important factor to consider when deciding when to commence fundraising activities.  Any money that is donated directly to a campaign must be reported.  It becomes public record and is viewed by your opponents the moment it is filed. 

If you are able to self finance, or can raise enough in a short amount of time, the later you raise funds, the better.  There's no need for a campaign to be viewed as a threat or as being in the lead if the campaign can accomplish what it needs to while working behind the scenes, unfettered by other opponents. 

There are numerous other factors to consider when deciding when to commence full time fundraising, such as the affect of being (or not being) perceived as viable early on.  But the above are the general factors that must be considered when planning out your campaign timeline.

That said, in most cases fundraising needs to begin the moment that you announce your candidacy.  This is because most campaigns start out with a level playing field.  Where there's no compelling reason to donate specifically to your campaign, previous contribution totals play a crucial role in the decision of contributors whether or not to support your candidacy.   So, if you cannot raise large amounts on short notice, getting a head start becomes increasingly important.

Regardless of when you start your major fundraising push, here are the crucial steps that need to be followed once you begin:

Start by compiling a friends and family list - Imagine that you were throwing a party and could invite anyone who you had ever met.  Compile exactly such a list for your campaign.  Include people who you've known since you were born, even if you've lost contact with them since.  This includes classmates, friends, acquaintances, people you've done business with and anyone else who you can think of.

Call each person on the list and tell them that you're running for office.  Tell them why you're running and talk about the issues that you believe will be of most interest to each. 

Then ask for their financial contribution.  Tell them how much their support means to the campaign and how their donation is seed money and a show of support that is crucial for being able to raise other funds.  Ask directly and do not be embarrassed.  When asked, many people would like to help with a small contribution that acts as a show of support    

Remain constant - Once you have started fundraising, don't stop.  You don't need to start out strong, but you do want to expand the fundraising campaign each and every quarter until you've amassed enough for the entire race.

Large donors can be of extra help - Donors who are interested in the causes and issues that are central to your candidacy can support political advocacy organizations known as "527s" (named after the section in the US tax code that pertains to their formation).  These organizations bring attention to various issues in districts where supporters of their primary causes are running for office.  PACs, or "political action committees," work in a similar manner and each state has its own laws governing the regulation of state political committees. These are a few of the venues through which a major donor may be able to play a role in advancing the causes that are central to your candidacy, above and beyond their own direct contribution to your campaign.

Innovative methods - At the right time, begin selling campaign stickers or other memorabilia.  These items can be sold directly or offered as gifts to contributors.  Either way, if sold through your campaign, sales must be reported as contributions. 

Have donors cultivate other donors - Supporters can host fundraisers and "meet and greets" at their homes or places of business.  The campaign needs to design an invite for each such reception that conforms to campaign finance law (containing a proper disclosure, etc.) and encourage the host to share the invite with their friends and business associates.

Most of all, stay strong, stay focused and stay committed to the purpose of your candidacy.  Sincerity, perseverance and dedication are vital to maintaining your passion and enthusiasm throughout the entire elective process.

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