VRL’S 5 Circles of Donors

It helps to think of your fundraising networks as circles – a constantly expanding set of people who have an interest in seeing you elected to office. Work Your Circles. Campaign fundraising is all about tapping your networks to financially support your political vision.  Start with your friends and family and move outward to demonstrated supporters, to known prospective donors, to like-minded activists, then to strangers. Referrals and introductions from the inner circle help make connections to the next circle, and so on.

1. Friends and Family

Your friends and family are your earliest supporters and the easiest people to access. They have the honor of being your very first donors. The amounts of their contributions do not have to be big – but do tell them that every little bit counts. Just like a first “round” of funding that entrepreneurs undertake, your friends and family are helping you get on your political feet. With their early support, you can buy your first set of literature and make other initial campaign investments.

2. Your Community

Professional networks, extended personal networks, your in-laws’ in-laws, the soccer parents, old friends from high school and college – these folks are all a part of your community. Think about the people who live near you, who belong to the same organizations, your employee resource groups, religious institutions, unions and other affinity groups. They are “your people”, too, and should be tapped early for contributions to your campaign. Don’t forget your online community here: who are your best Facebook friends throughout your region, across your state, and in other states?

 3. The Party

Find your local political party chapter and meet with the party leadership, as well as active party leaders.  We’re talking about your county Democratic Party group or Congressional District Republican Party group.  Sometimes these are called “clubs” or “chapters” of the state political party. You’ll want to meet the party chair in your area, the top elected officials, and influential committee people. Let them know you are running and why you are the right person for the job! When asking for their support, don’t forget the value of their endorsement, their ability to ask others to raise funds, their potential to throw a fundraising event for you, and other ways they are able to contribute to the financial success of your campaign. The local party and party leaders’ support can easily snowball into individual donations from party members and other local political players.  Quick Tip: Many VRL alums tell us their local party is not always immediately open to their candidacy, especially when they faced a competitive primary. Too often, this can be because of the “old boy’s club” model or a previously anointed successor chosen for that race. In this case, give party leaders the opportunity to donate to you and your opponent, or ask them to simply stay out of the endorsement process until the primary votes are counted. You have a right to run for elected office, but you should think strategically about building support within unreceptive political party structures.

4. People Impacted by the Issues

In your campaign, you will find a variety of policy issues that you and your community care about deeply. These issues become part of your campaign’s policy platform. If you are getting endorsements from issue organizations or policy groups, then tap their top donors and others who will generally benefit from the kinds of policies you plan to act on; they can be prime donors to your campaign. Often these are people you already know, especially if you’ve worked for the issue prior to your campaign for elected office. For example, think about who else would care about eliminating certain taxes, or expanding the social safety net, or living near a proposed redevelopment project, etc.

5. “Not happy with the other guy” Donors

Some people may simply be opposed to your opponent and just want to see them defeated.  Get these folks to donate to your campaign! Yes, this might include people who are in your same political party (for partisan positions), but also includes those affected by your opponent’s past political doings or future plans, including those from different parties. If you are the better alternative, give them the opportunity to keep your opponent on their heels.

 2 Things to Keep in Mind When “Working the Circles”

Cultivate the Top 20%

With few exceptions, 80% of a campaign’s income will come from 20% of its donors. This is the “80/20 Rule.” This rule holds true for candidate campaigns subject to contribution limits: the majority of income comes from donors who give the maximum donation allowed by law. With your foundation of friends and family support, turn your focus to cultivating the commitments of high donors in each next circle. This is the backbone of a strong fundraising program. The strategy – targets, time and resources – should reflect the reality that a few big donors are going to get a lot of the candidate’s time and attention.

Nurture Mr. and Mrs. Maximus

Those who already gave to your campaign, but have yet to “max out” are great to go back to in critical times during the campaign. You probably get these asks all the time as a donor. Your campaign staffer can be asking previous donors to max out as the race “gets heated,” when you need to respond to a negative ad, or when a big filing deadline is coming up. These donors will understand that you, the candidate, are busy working the campaign trail and will understand why you urgently need the additional support. Don’t forget to try to get their partners/spouses to also max out on individual contributions.

Download this pdf here: VRL’S 5 CIRCLES OF DONORS (Part 1)

Download the "Circle of Donors" chart (Part 2)