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Grassroots Basics: Fundraising for emergent parties

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This is part of an occasional series, Grassroots basics for emergent parties.

I hesitate to write about this because I have not done any fundraising myself. However, you cannot hope to have a political movement without funds. As a wise politician once said, if they only thing wrong with your campaign is lack of funds, there is something more wrong with your campaign than lack of funds.

Ideally the local committee will elect or appoint someone to be chair of fundraising. (Note, the treasurer must be a separate office.) Don’t worry is that there is no possibility of raising serious money, the great thing is to get started.

It is essential to raise your money early in the season, which is why this post is being written in January. Have you ever wondered where the Emily in Emily’s list came from? Early Money Is Like Yeast, it raises dough. Your ability to raise money in September will be greatly enhanced if you have some in February. Moreover, you will need funds early in the season to pay for the voters list, web server, and other basics. You will also want to donate enough to your candidate to cover a basic run of grip cards, the essential tool of grassroots politics.

So, while I have not actually done a fundraiser, here are some ideas of things that I know have been done with success.

Hold a screening of a film (be sure to get permission, your opposition is waiting to pounce on you with some legal challenge.) Any Michael Moore film works well, as do the films of Brave New Films, or other documentaries that would appeal to your supporters.

Put on a dinner with auction. So where should you hold the dinner? At the home of a supporter and do it pot luck style? Or at a restaurant? It depends. It may be that none of your supporters are interested in hosting such a dinner. Your committee may not contain the sort of people who enjoy potluck dinners. Potluck dinners are the most economical way to hold a fundraiser. If you go with a restaurant, you might want to pick one that is owned by a supporter. Emergent parties have so few ways to reward supporters, it is vital to take every opportunity.

Once you decide what sort of dinner to have, you will have to sell tickets. Start with your email list (You do have one? You can use your committee blog to build one. More on that when I talk about online communications for emergent party committees.) Email is a poor way to move people to action, but it is a great start,. You can also use direct mail. This works because they checks can be sent in the return envelop. Legacy parties usually recruit large donors to be sponsors. Usually the cost of the dinner is covered before the first invitations go out. This may not be realistic in the case of local emergent party committees.

If you augment your dinner with an auction, you will need a few big ticket items to raise serious money. If someone in your group has a beach cottage or condo, they might be willing to donate a weekend at their vacation home. Thus the sort of item that might cost $1000 could be had for $200 - $500, depending upon the bidding. You will need two or three items like that. Then you will need items for the silent auction. If any of your supporters runs a beauty or barber shop, they might be willing to donate a hair cut. That sort of item does very well. Remember that this is a silent auction, not a church rumple sale, so nothing too junky. Much depends upon the auctioneer. Get someone with a cheery personality to perform your auction.

HeadRoc does some fundraising concerts for the local Green Party. If you are lucky enough to have a talent like that, go with it. But pay your artist! The beauty of a local band is that their fans will come to your event, so you can build your committee and raise money at the same time. The same would apply to using a comedian.

If you have the sort of website that can accept online donations (including capturing all the information you need for the FEC and local reporting requirements), you may be able to get away with an all email operation. If you have someone gifted enough to write the sort of email appeals that generate funds, use them. But be reasonable. Once a month, and again once at the end of every quarter is enough. Do not push your luck with your supporters. If you are lucky enough to have someone like that, paying them a small percentage of they raise is a reasonable investment in your fundraising operation.

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