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Want to do political fundraising? Interview with Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority

Joe Garecht

Joe Garecht

Joe Garecht is a consultant, author and speaker that helps non-profits raise dramatically more money to fund their work.  He is the founder of The Fundraising Authority  and the author of The Non-Profit Fundraising Formula, The Silent Auction Handbook and the soon to be released Raising Money without Going Crazy.  Joe, his wife and four children live in Philadelphia.

I chose to interview Joe because I was interested in his political fundraising background. With so many more women getting involved in politics, the advent of nonprofits helping women run for office and succeeding in getting elected, I think we all owe it to ourselves to look at each other and say, “Why doesn’t she run?”

“Women, even at the highest levels of professional accomplishment, are significantly less likely than men to demonstrate ambition to run for elected office. Women are less likely than men to be recruited to run for office, less likely to consider themselves “qualified” to run for office, and less likely to express a willingness to run for a future office. (Lawless and Fox 2005). However, when women do run, they win at equal rates to men.” (From She Should Run.org)

0. Joe, what is your fundraising background, and why political fundraising?

My fundraising background is: I got involved in politics because when I graduated from college I didn’t want to get a 9-5 corporate job, I had always been interested in politics, so I decided the best way to do something unconventional but that would have an impact by getting involved in politics.

A certain party’s conference came through Philadelphia. I met my future wife there, I had the time of my life and got a HUGE range of connections in politics. I decided to move down to Washington to get even more involved.

As I looked around to see what I could do in political campaigns, you can do a lot of different things in politics.

  • You can do online media,
  • You can be someone who writes, direct mail or newsletters,
  • You can be an operations person.
  • The one part of the political world who has the most clout is the fundraiser.

It takes money to get elected. The first thing any candidate thinks is, “Am I going to be able to raise enough money?”

I wanted to learn how to raise money but work with people I believed in, and help them raise the money to  do what they want to do. That’s what I did, I took as many courses as I could on political fundraising and read books and more. Then I launched a website (now defunct) called LocalVictory.com in 2000 and it was one of the first free how to run for office websites. That allowed me to build a little bit of a national profile. I ran with it and I had a good time working with political candidates around the country and internationally, and it allowed me to get a lot more experience than your average nonprofit fundraising office.

The main difference with political fundraising is that it is a lot more upwardly mobile than nonprofit fundraising. Unlike in NP fundraising where you’re maybe going to start with direct mail or grants and raise a lot of money over time, political fundraising is a lot faster and you get to hire a staff pretty much instantly and do whatever it takes to get it done.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren wins!

After a year, someone says okay I want you to run fundraising for my campaign and I need you to raise $10 Million. It’s completely up to you, hire your own staff, do your own thing, and report back to me.

Very shortly thereafter I was running major fundraising operations for candidates. I had this unique opportunity to start multi-million dollar fundraising organizations from scratch and build them up. That being said, eventually, as much as I believed in what I was doing, the campaign life ground me down. I got married, we had our first daughter, and we wanted a more quiet life.

When the candidate runs, the staff is up before the candidate and they are in bed after the candidate, the candidate looks haggard, but trust me, the staff look worse.

After I decided to slow down my life a bit, I said to myself, I have this great skillset in fundraising, so what can I do? I had volunteered in our local church, and I thought maybe there was a chance to do something more. As it happened, Philadelphia Children’s Alliance was looking for someone to launch their first ever professional development office, so I took every class I could, and launched as a development director, and then moved to another org as an executive director, and decided that I wanted to teach and have a bigger impact on training other fundraisers that way.

I started a website called The Fundraising Authority.com, and now I work with lots of nonprofits doing classes, webinars, and coaching, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

2. How is political fundraising different, in your opinion, from regular nonprofit fundraising?

There are a lot of things that are the same. Political fundraising you’re building relationships with people. Political fundraisers are prospecting, cultivating, making asks and stewarding donors and it’s still all about relationships. There’s a ton that translates really well. Even on the tactical side. Events, direct mail, and major donor acts.

The Differences
Speed. One is the speed with which political fundraising moves. Nonprofits cultivate a major gift over a year. The political campaign fundraising moves very fast. You have to meet a new prospect, cultivate them and make the ask in two months! And that’s that little bit of the knowledge that has helped me on the nonprofit side. You can move faster than people think you can.

If a candidate wins they are going to want to steward that donor and make a lifelong political career. You do it as quickly and crassly as possible. You have to build relationships in 2-6 months. One of the things I do with nonprofits is rapid-growth fundraising. People who are looking to bring in their first fundraising officer, how to rev up your fundraising without ruining relationships.

Ideology is a barrier. The other major difference is the climate. Half of your potential universe isn’t your universe. On the nonprofit side, fundraising for a homeless shelter, everyone wants to feed the homeless. Almost everyone can rally around what you’re trying to accomplish. In political fundraising you have a set of policies that 50% of your donor base vehemently disagrees with. On the political side you have to tailor your message that way, understand going into asks, when you go into a prospecting situation, you want to do some donor research and prospect research.

On the nonprofit side if you do an ask, the worst that’s going to happen is they might say no but they will say I know someone who might be interested.

On the political side you have to think, is this person on our side? The meeting is a complete and total waste of time if not.

I think there are far more similarities than there are differences.

3. What makes a difference in terms of candidates winning? Is it that they knock on more doors? Shake more hands? Does the person who raises the most money win?

It’s not sexy but a lot of it comes down to demographics.

What are the demographics of the race? I may have all the money i need, a great campaign staff, and a position that 55% of people agree on, but if I’m in a district that is not agreeing with me, I’m not gonna win. It’s not gonna happen.

So you have to take a look at who lives in your district. Whether it’s a congressional district or a fire district. The question is who lives in that district, and do my views match the views of the people who live in my district? Believe it or not, most candidates don’t tailor their political views to their district, they tailor their message to their district. For the most part the campaign tailors their message to their district. If I’m in a competitive race, what are your views on these 20 issues? And then you look at the voting district, do you match up well? Maybe on 10 of these you match up, and 2 of them you match REALLY well what they think. So let’s run on those two issues, If they agree mostly with me and less with your opponents, it’s called a cutting issue.

Policies, it matters what you stand for, and how that matches with the population of the district.

Fundraising does matter, money does matter, I can be a great candidate, if people don’t know who I am, raise my name ID, then I am not going to win, because obviously there is going to be another candidate with better name recognition. I can go door to door and hold town meetings and win if it’s a tiny race.

Toni Carter Women Winning

Toni Carter, first African American woman to serve on a county board in Minnesota

But nearly impossible to win a county commissioner, state rep race or congressional race, just by going door to door. That’s a key consideration, it’s going to take most of my free time over the next year or two. Is it worth it? Do I have a chance to win?

4. What do you think of campaign finance reform?

I am personally of the view, I’d prefer no limit on what people can give to candidates. That stems from my libertarian leaning views, we lament so often that good people that want to get into office don’t. Is it mud-slinging? Sometimes, but it’s really more about the money they raise.

You saw in the late 60s early 70s, as 3rd parties started to gain in traction, you saw third party traction. When he ran, he raised several million dollars because one or two donors believed in him. I think Ross Perot proved that you can raise enough money and have an impact on the debate. You could never have that kind of money under 200,000 or 300,000 limitations. You wouldn’t have to run sideshow campaigns.

Much as with a nonprofit, they could get a few major donors and run.

Libertarian and Green party candidates can’t now, Folks running in a primary can’t now get this. But if donors could have given 1,2,3 million, they would have been able to raise that and been able to effectively compete. They say money corrupts, but Being deeply involved in Politics, I don’t think that is a problem.

There are some politicians that are too beholden to corporate interests, labor interests, special interests, but the antidote to that is public knowledge. I would never suggest that as citizens that we would not know where candidates are getting their money. As long as we know where their money is coming from, and they operate legally, then it’s okay.

There’s a law against quid pro quo actions, and that should stand. I have worked for a lot of candidates, and they say so and so get a lot of money from labor. Or so and so gets a lot of money from wall street. The truth is, for the vast majority for those candidates, they hold those views long before they got the money. Maybe they came up through the ranks in labor. Normally, usually the money follows the policy, not the other way around. I’m not changing my policies because I need that money, they want to give to you if you already believe in them.

If I’m interested in gun control, I will financially support a candidate who is interested in gun control.

5. Does the tagline of the political campaign matter?

Sure it does. It’s not determinative of winning, but when it comes to campaign communications is what is the question of the election? Every voter goes into the voting booth asking themselves a question about the election. And the candidate brings that question with them.

In 2004, the question was “Who is gonna keep me safe?” Is GW Bush going to keep me safe? Is John Kerry gonna keep me safe? The bush campaign knew this, and revolved around this. Kerry Campaign wanted the question to be “Who is going to bring change to Washington?”

Oddly enough in 2008 the candidates wanted the same questions. McCain wanted “Who is gonna keep me safe?” Obama wanted the question to be “Who’s gonna change Washington?” This time Obama was successful. And they knew that if that was the question that got asked, they would win. You want to frame your tagline, commercials and message so that you pick what the question of the election is.

6. What web software do you recommend for emails and political donation tracking?

That’s a great question. I wish I had a great answer. The various systems like donor database systems, they change on the political side every couple years. I don’t feel qualified anymore to recommend anything. I haven’t used political donor software in 6 years. On email management, I know a lot of campaigns use software that includes email management. People could use Constant Contact and Aweber, but as with the nonprofit side, there are a number of good options at different price points, it’s an important decision for a campaign, and it needs to be done faster than on the nonprofit side. In a political campaign, they don’t have a lot of time. Don’t use Excel! You SHOULD be doing things like moves management. Let people open their Rolodex to you. Once you get to 100-200 donors, it’s impossible to do moves management with excel.

7. Do lawn signs work for political fundraising?

They don’t work for fundraising necessarily, but we use yard signs 75% to drive name ID, 25% to show that campaign has support in certain areas. You want the voter to see the name 5-6-7-8 times. The world is so cluttered with advertising, you must reinforce the candidates name. They do have some small effect on fundraising.

For funding, on the nonprofit side we have foundations, and we have online fundraising, direct mail, major gifts. On the political side we have PACs. They are a multi-agency funder that takes the place of foundations on the nonprofit side.

8. What advice would you give to budding politicians?

I would tell them to get involved. The best way to launch a political career is to simply get involved on a local level. That’s the best training for politics. A lot what happens on the local level, it is similar to what happens as you move up the ladder.

People think you have to wait til you’re older, til you have some money, people think they have to wait for the local party leader to ask them to run for office, that will never happen!

The truth is most people who run for office launch their campaigns at the bar. They are sitting around with their friends at the bar, and they say I want to run for office, their friends say you’re crazy, and then you say, I do want to.

A lot of candidates lose in their first time out, it has no bearing on their success in politics.
Abraham Lincoln lost more times than he won.
Newt Gingrich lost 3 times and then won the 4th time.
Local candidates I know have lost multiple times,

If you run and you lose, you are NOT done. You are CLOSER to winning the next time, because your name ID is up. People tend to like knowing that you’re going to stick around.

One of the operating theories, if they lose and run again, the voters like that they’re giving it another shot. They love that you’re going to give up another year of your life for this.

However, if you didn’t win after 10 tries, then people see you as someone who just runs for office for fun. So don’t bother.

Get involved, just get started, and if you lose, try again.

Emily Larson

Emily Larson, City Councillor at large

9. Anything else you wish I had asked? Anything you’d like to mention?

No, just the thing I end up saying a lot is that something I say about nonprofits too.

Fundraising isn’t evil. Believe it or not, political fundraising isn’t evil. Most people who get into office are in it for the right reasons.

There are 500,000 people in elected office in the US. People want to make the library better, they want to make the county more efficient.

If they are in it for the right reasons, and if we realize that it takes money to get your message out, then it’s actually a good thing.

On the political side, most of the big decisions are decided at the political level. So politics is important. And if politics is important, and policies are important, then fundraising is important and is an objective good.

Political fundraising is not smarmy, it’s not slimy, it actually can be, and most cases is a good thing. And just as with nonprofits we don’t want to let the exceptions color our view of the whole. Not all politicians and not all political fundraising is some front for illegal or corrupt activity. A lot of people have different reactions now.

Thank you Joe for giving me this fantastic interview!

So now I want to know, what have you failed at lately?

“If you want to double your success rate, triple your failure rate.” -Cory Doctorow

If you want to run for office, maybe you jolly well should!

4 responses on “Want to do political fundraising? Interview with Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority

  1. James says:

    I do political fundraising for a living, and we charge a retainer, not a percentage.

    • Mazarine says:

      Thanks for chiming in James! Are there any good books you could recommend on political fundraising? I’ve got a friend who is running and she could really use some help.

  2. Mazarine Mazarine says:

    hi Emily,

    Wow, I didn’t know that! That’s so interesting. Thanks so much for letting me know about that!

    Peace,

    Mazarine

  3. Emily says:

    I’ve done political fundraising before. He didn’t mention that you get paid a percentage of what you bring in, which, is against AFP Ethics. I truly believe that political fundraising and non profit fundraising are two completely different beasts, cousins if you will. The operations and devices used may be the same, but you’re asking someone to invest in a person, who in turn can do something for them, nonprofits don’t have that luxury. The only thing you get back is a “feel good.”