How to Raise Money for Political Office with Brandon Lewis CW 33- transcript

Raising Money for Political Office

John Tsarpalas: It’s time we got to one of the most important topics in the world of political campaigns. That’s fundraising. Today my guest is the author of the book How to Raise Money for Political Office: The Original Guide to Winning Elections through Aggressive, Organized Fundraising.

He is that; he is organized and he is aggressive. He has a great system to focus all your efforts on and to give you a reason to be out raising money and a way to be successful at it. So today, Commonwealthy #33, How to Raise Money for Political Office with Brandon Lewis.

Well today on the Commonwealthy podcast, my guest is Brandon Lewis, author of book How to Raise Money for Political Office: The Original Guide to Winning Elections through Aggressive, Organized Fundraising.

I am so excited to have a professional like Brandon here with us today because we’ve talked about grassroots, door knocking. We’ve talked about messaging. But we are forgetting the big third part of every campaign and that is money. Fundraising is essential. I don’t care what office you are running for; there’s going to be some money involved.

Brandon, welcome and thank you.

Brandon Lewis: Well, I am excited to be here, John. Thank you for helping broaden the horizon of so many people seeking office out there. We have a lot to cover and a short amount of time to cover it. I am excited to be here.

John Tsarpalas: Well, let’s jump right in. Where does someone start with fundraising?

Brandon Lewis: Well, there are a few things that I think are critically important for people to understand. The first is it all starts with you as the candidate. There are few statistics that should motivate you to be interested and excited about fundraising.

The first is according to most studies, when you combine state, federal, and local elections, there’s a huge advantage to the person with the most money. In fact, in federal races, the candidates who raise and spend more money win over ninety percent of the time. Sometimes it dips down to eighty-eight percent. Sometimes it is as high as ninety-three or four percent.

But there is a tremendous correlation between the money you have in the bank and what ends up happening on Election Day. It is simple for many reasons. Number one is running a campaign is largely a communication game. It’s about both the quantity and the quality of that communication.

There are some things you can do with labor only and volunteers only. You can door knock. You can make phone calls and a handful of things. The smaller your race is, the easier that is to use to tip the balance.

As your races get larger and you have to reach more and more people, what you will discover is if you do not have a catalyst to go out and communicate in the paid media realms, such as TV, radio, and mail, you are at a decided disadvantage. Not only that, money also amplifies and turbocharges your grassroots efforts.

So while it is easy to recruit volunteers and you can do it with hardly any money, it sure is nice to be able to put gas in the minivan. It sure is nice to be able to reward them with a pizza part. It sure it is nice to be able to buy them t-shirts and to do other things that keep morale up.

So all and all, it’s kind of what my grandfather used to say: It’s just as easy to marry a rich girl as it is a poor girl. It’s just as easy to run a well-oiled grassroots campaign with a lot of money. In fact, it’s even easier with no money. But it is easier to do it with money. So given the two alternatives, you need to start with fundraising and work on it.

John Tsarpalas: Absolutely. I have yet to see a campaign win purely on grassroots. You’ve got to have some money somewhere to make it, especially to get your message out. But obviously, yes, to treat your volunteers better, too.

So what does a candidate do who knows they need to raise money? We are going to get into how they figure out their campaign budget in another podcast. But so they know what their goals are. Is setting goals the first step?

Brandon Lewis: Well, it’s one of the first steps. There are a few fundamental concepts you need to remember. Number one, fundraising takes longer than anything else you’ll do in politics. If you will notice when statewide campaigns gear up, they have typically the candidate, a fundraiser, and maybe a campaign manager and what we would call a driver or a body man.

They will run with that core team of a handful of people for months and months, sometimes even a year or a year and a few months. It’s because the first three quarters to three fifths of a campaign, the larger it is, is typically spent at raising money. It takes a long time because it is all relationship-driven.

Even the President of the United States has to get on the phone and make phone calls. The Speaker of the House spends much of their time (you would be surprised at how much time) on the phone raising money. So if you think that you are going to be any different when you are running for county commissioner of whatever small town or burgh that you are in, or even a metro market mayor’s race, you are fooling yourself.

This is a personal relationship business. Those take a while to build. You cannot go from not knowing anyone to getting a donation any quicker than you can go from not knowing a girl in the produce section to asking you to marry you.

It can be compressed and expedited, but the less time you spend with people, especially larger donors, the less money you will raise. You cannot compress the interactions towards the end of the election and get the same amount of money.

Most people kind of approach it bass ackwards. And by that I mean they will set out how much money they are going to spend and they’ve got no idea how they are going to raise it. Instead, what I encourage people to do is worry about spending it once you get it. Good luck to you getting it. That’s the hard part.

So you have to basically start from Election Day and work your way back. You have to begin the process of accumulating contacts, first personal, which are the easiest to go after and the first ones you are going to want to assemble and put into a list. Who has the biggest list usually wins the day.

And then you are going to have to go out and look at people who have historically given. You are going to have to kind of compile and aggregate some data. And then you are going to have to start working that list.

John Tsarpalas: Right. One of the advantages an incumbent has is he’s already raised money from some people. So he’s ahead of you on that list if you are a newcomer. He’s developed those relationships.

Brandon Lewis: If I may interject, yes and no. Most state and local candidates, I kid you not, John, every year start over like they’ve never ran for office. I can’t tell you how many people when I say, “Who gave to you?”, say, “Well, I don’t know. I think that’s in the election commission filing.”

John Tsarpalas: They don’t have databases?

Brandon Lewis: No, no they don’t. That’s giving way too much credit. When I go to work with people, even people who have raised a fair amount of money, the thought of keeping a database updated and of doing any fundraising in between elections just rarely happens. Most people get all hot and bothered about ninety days before it is time for the reelection campaign.

The warning for that if you are an incumbent is this: You need to get going early and you need to choke off the supply to everyone who is out there. The good news in it for people who are running as incumbents is people are often a lot more intimidated by incumbents than they need to be.

If you will get out there and work hard (most people are exceptionally lazy about the fundraising) and use best practices, you can often stay toe to toe. Depending on your personal background and network of people, you can often surpass an incumbent.

John Tsarpalas: Well, that’s encouraging. I like that thought. But it is about getting started early and working hard at it, correct?

Brandon Lewis: Yeah, you have to.

John Tsarpalas: That’s interesting that incumbents don’t have a database. Where do you keep a database? Something like an Excel spreadsheet? Or do they get into a fancier Salesforce CRM type management situation? I guess it depends on the size of the campaign, too.

Brandon Lewis: You know, I have encouraged and tried to get people to use a fundraising database for years, but is kind of like getting Sally Struthers to use a treadmill. Candidates just don’t want to do it. They just don’t. They don’t have any interest in it for the most part.

It is what you should do. It is not what anybody does. So at the bare minimum, you need to have an Excel sheet and it needs to have at least an aggregate at the end of the campaign. You need to know who has given what and how to get in touch with them.

It gets unwieldy for most state and local candidates. Excel spreadsheets are meant for temporary projects. You export a list. You do a mail merge. You export a list, adjust it, and use it for a campaign tracking sheet or for a fundraising event tracking sheet. You export one and you give it as a list to donors to call where they make their notes.

But once you start taking notes, once you start having multiple donations, and once you start having multiple cycles, and if you start assigning certain people to solicit, it gets very hairy very quick.

In truth, most local campaigns could frankly do, if they would do it right, one single solitary fundraiser, pick up eighty percent of everything they will ever pick up, and spend the rest of the campaign raking in the scraps and focusing on their efforts.

But what people try to do instead is have fifteen thousand really crappy neighborhood fundraisers where somebody sets out a fish bowl. Nobody asks for a specific amount of money. Nobody put any effort into it. Nobody mailed anything. Nobody called anybody. Nobody asked for a specific amount of money.

So instead of doing one event the right way to avoid all of the things we don’t like in fundraising, like hearing no, we do fifteen of them the bad way. The sad fact is they still don’t raise as much money as one good one.

John Tsarpalas: So let’s talk about the good one. That seems to make sense.

Brandon Lewis: I take a lot of time in my book talking about this because it is really the difference between running into a herd of cattle and coming out with five or six of a hundred, and running into a herd of cattle and coming out with seventy-six. People run into that herd. They’ve got no plan and they are timid and afraid, and the herd just scatters.

You can only scatter a herd so many times before the herd gets smaller and smaller. So what you want to do is do it one time and do it right. So that means that you’ve got to identify people.

There’s a two step process in doing effective fundraising. The first is you raise all your money not at the event; you raise all your money in assembling the host committee. It should truly be if your host committee shows up to the event, you’ve got eighty percent of the money if you never sold another ticket and the room is full.

It’s almost like, if you want to think about it, a fundraiser is just an excuse to collect checks. It is almost like a thank you party for people who have already committed to give. It is not a, “Hey, we hope you come and we get a check.” If that is the way you approach it, you are going to have a bad fundraiser.

You have to think of your fundraisers more like a wedding and less like a last minute party. At the wedding, everybody’s RSVPed. You know how many people are coming. You’ve given a head count to the cater. You know who the best man is. You know who the maid of honor is. You know how you are going to walk. You know how you are to talk.

Everyone knows at a wedding, you don’t throw that thing together at the last minute because you only get one (or four or five) in your life. You want to make it stick and count. There’s people there to take pictures. It is something people remember.

Instead people treat their fundraisers like it’s a beer run. It’s not a beer run. You just do it once and you do it right. So you want to get together a really strong host committee. You want to ask them for specific amounts. They either need to commit to raising a certain amount or giving and/or raising or just giving, depending on the situation.

Then you need to invite people who are below that level at different tiers. You start high and you work low. You don’t leave any meat on the bone. If you have to come back for a second pass, that’s okay if you have to do a second event to mop things up. But it should be truly mopping things up.

All of your best relationships, all of your best donors, all of your favors, should be called in at your first fundraising event. And it also sends a message. One thing you have to recall about campaigns is for three quarters or three fifths of the raise, the press has nothing to report on that’s concrete or verifiable except your fundraising disclosures.

One reason there are so many campaign managers and very few fundraisers is if you are fundraiser, your success gets reported on and it is indisputable. If you are a campaign manager, it is different. There’s, “Oh, well, we should have got them this time. Ah, well, the wind wasn’t right. The electric wasn’t feeling it. The message was imprecise.”

When you are the fundraiser, you’ve got at least four to eight periods where your butt is in the public eye. Either you did it or you didn’t. The money is in the bank; it’s irrefutable. And it scares people. It drives people out the race and it discourages other donors from giving.

Not only do you need money for your race just like you gas for your car, that money is a deterrent. It is intimidating. It is disheartening to your competitors. Money begets money. So once they see a big pile of it in your bank account going into the election, it will keep other donors from giving.

Donors are usually not giving because they have some kind of undying commitment to the candidate. Most of these people that give money, they’ve given in every race. It’s sort of a hobby of theirs.

Some people watch soccer or play sports; there are some people who like to go rub elbows at political events and give money. It’s just what they do. It’s what their friends do. It’s what their little circle of friends do at Hardy’s or at the golf club or wherever they are at. It’s what they do.

So when they look down and they see that someone is losing advance financially, they don’t want to bet on the horse that is going to lose. So often they will change their bet. So that’s why getting out there exceptionally early and raising a whole lot of money is really important. You can hardly start too early.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. So if you are going to plan this event that you are going to focus and work towards, how much time in advance should you be starting that? Six months? A year? Whatever you can?

Brandon Lewis: You need to be building relationships six months to a year in advance. Number one, you need to warming your friends and family up to the idea you are going to be running for office. You need to get their advice, support, and buy in before you go to city hall and pull your papers.

Some people have big rings of contacts, depending on what they’ve done for a living. If you are a businessman and you’ve been involved in the Chamber of Commerce or if you run a company and you have lots of suppliers or you are lawyer and you’ve swapped favors with people for twenty years, you have a big and long list of people who owe you something.

More likely, people who run for office have a very short list of people who don’t have any money. If you are school teacher and you’ve been a school teacher all your life and all you know are school teachers, school teachers don’t have a lot of disposable income, nor are they inclined to or typically give a lot of money.

There’s lots of other professions that are kind of similar. So if you are in one of those professions where neither do you have much money nor anyone you know has money and now you want to run for office and you know that you need money, it’s a good time to make a list of people who have it in your community who routinely give it and to go see them about a year advance.

Say, “Mr. Smith or Daddy Warbucks” or whoever is in your area, “I’ve been thinking about running for city council. You’ve done a lot in this community. I know you’ve seen a lot of political races. I’d really like to just come and ask you your advice.” You get his advice and you leave without asking him for any money. Before you leave, as you walk out the door, say, “Will it be okay if I gave you a call if I needed to talk to you again?” “Sure, by all means.”

But here’s what most people do, John. They screw around. They wait until ninety days before the election when there are fifteen candidates in there and they start trying to make these visits. It’s hard to look like you are asking somebody for this advice and not their money when you needed their money a month ago.

People just don’t think this stuff through very hard. Frankly, it’s because most people don’t feed their family with it. Most people take elections that seriously anyway. If I could offer any encouraging words to people out there who are running for office, the best campaign does not win! It does not win. It’s the least crappy campaign.

There are ten things you need to do really well in a campaign. Most campaigns are going to go out there and check off two of them. If you can check off four or five, you are going to win. One of those most important ones is the money because it is like taking out the garbage without a garbage bag; nobody wants to do that job. But that’s what you’ve got to do.

If you are willing to get dirty and you are willing to work and you are willing to hear no and you are willing to ask your grandmother for fifty dollars, you can be a great fundraiser. Once you know what to do, it has little to do with strategy and tactics; it has everything to do with just doing it.

John Tsarpalas: Right. I think a lot of it is just doing it.

Brandon Lewis: Oh, it is. It is all of it. I’ll tell you a quick story and then I’ll take your next question. I worked on a judge’s race here in town not too long ago. I typically don’t work on small races, but except for candidate coaching, I don’t do a whole lot of actually doing the fundraising anymore. Because I used to own a business myself before I did any of this and I sold it, and now I am back in business again.

We had three judges running for the same race. We did one fundraiser. One of them raise a hundred and twenty thousand dollars for a little judge’s race. A little judge’s race right here in a mid-sized market in the south where we had like a thousand dollar per person caps. That means he had to raise a lot of money. It wasn’t like he could just get it from a couple of people.

There was another person who raised thirty thousand dollars. There was another person who raised about forty. Same people, same opportunity. One person was very determined. His mindset was, “That’s my money in your pocket. You just haven’t realized it yet.”

He would talk to people and he would ask them for a specific amount of money. Actually, he couldn’t ask so I had to call and follow up on the ask. He was very assertive.

The other person had a whole list of people and she wouldn’t call a friend. She wouldn’t call family and she wouldn’t call this person or that person. By the time you got through the laundry list of excuses of who she wouldn’t call and what she wouldn’t do, there was very little left to do.

She could have done probably not just as well, but similar. It could have been at eighty. It could have been at ninety. But, no, she hit thirty. Now she won, so again good advice out there. As much as you dislike fundraising, if you like it just a little, there’s a good chance you’ll like it a little bit more than your opponent and you can win.

John Tsarpalas: It is necessary. I had a woman I was coaching not in fundraising, but she asked for some help on some other things. But she could not ask for money. I told her, “You are not going to win. You’ve got to ask for money.” She couldn’t somehow see herself doing that.

If you can’t go there, then I don’t think you should be running. You’ve got to be able to ask. People are willing to help. You don’t have to ask for huge amounts. Do you run into that mindset often?

Brandon Lewis: Yeah, it is the de facto mindset. Of all of the candidates I have worked with as a fundraiser, I’ve spent most of my time not dealing with, except maybe two or three exceptions out of scores, getting the money and following up on stuff. I spend all my time trying to psychologically break down the barriers that the candidate has erected in front of himself or herself.

The biggest enemy you’ll ever face in fundraising is not your opponent; it’s you. If you will commit totally to doing what’s necessary, you can outrace just about anybody, even people with connections, because people are inherently very lazy. Not to be rude, people that run for office are lazier than most.

That’s been my experience. It is a side deal. It is a side deal to most people and they treat it as such. It’s an experiment. A better way to put it is this: Most people will not change their oil. They won’t!

Won’t change their own oil, but, buddy, they will walk out the door and run for office not having ever been anywhere, read a book on it, saw anything, talked to anybody besides an old man at Hardy’s who one time held a sign back in 1970-whatever for Barry Goldwater. And he’s an expert, right? He’s never been paid for his advice, but he’s an expert.

So it’s the dumb, deaf, and blind leading the dumb, deaf, and blind. People just go out and they run. The good thing is in the land of the blind, the one eye man in king. In running races, you don’t have to do much. A better way to put it is I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you.

When you are running for office, you really just have to not suck as bad as the next person for state and local. When you start running for statewide and in some cases congressional, the stakes are higher. As the markets get bigger, it gets more complicated to have a good showing.

But for most of your state and local stuff, if you put together a good, organized effort and if you will focus on the things that actually move the dial and not on the things that make you feel good, you can have a really good shot at winning.

John Tsarpalas: Yes. I think I am going to do a podcast on the things that make you feel good and you shouldn’t be spending time on them. But I understand it. They are running in a general election and they want to go to the Republican events because everyone there is friendly and telling them how great they are. They need to go see independents and go to places you wouldn’t normally go to.

Brandon Lewis: It’s not even Republican events; those people are just lying. Anyway, here’s the thing I will tell you. If you are going to be good at fundraising, and on that point, you need to look at every week in every month and you need to put fundraising on your calendar first.

You need to eat the frog first as Mark Twain would say. If you had two frogs to eat and you had to get up and eat them every morning, my advice to you would be to eat the biggest frog first. That big frog is always, for ever candidate that I’ve ever met… I’ll put it this way. I’ve never met a candidate who put off something fun to do fundraising. There is nobody I know who loves raising money. Nobody.

John Tsarpalas: I know one guy and he is great at it. He raises a ton of money, but he loves it. What he tells himself is, “This gets me closer to my goals.” He is just motivated by his goals.

Brandon Lewis: That’s the thing. If you don’t have a big enough goal, John, and if you don’t know that this is tied directly to the goal, then you have to constantly will power your way into it. It’s very difficult to do that with anything.

But you have to put those things on your calendar first, John. You have to realize that you buy a list of everybody who votes. There are three of fours and four of fours of people who vote a hundred percent of the time seventy-five percent of the time in races just like yours (not presidential or anything else, just yours). We know where these damn people live. We got their phone number. We got their address. We got everything we need. Let’s go talk to them.

When you show up to a Republican event… I am good Presbyterian Calvinist. They were predestined to vote for whoever for county clerk they were going to vote for. They decided it in their mind in 1972. You are not going to move anybody in the room. And they can’t help you anyway! They don’t do anything.

Most people who go to Republican events have never participated in an election and actually done anything to speak of ever. Ask, “When’s the last time you knocked on door, made a phone call, or gave a donation?” I bet thirteen or fifteen percent of the room would raise their hand.

The rest of them are professional eaters and greeters. They eat, they show up, they shake hands, and they gossip. But they aren’t going to actually work on the campaign or give you money. So you need to go find the people who will. Those are typically your friends, your family, people that you know.

Now do you have to go there and make a good showing? Do you have to go there and not be conspicuously absent? Absolutely! But if you ever spend time there and you have not done your fundraising duties for the day, the week, or the month, shame on you. If you lose, you deserve it.

John Tsarpalas: Right. You are right. Okay, so they are going to get out there. They are going to start calling people. They are going to sit down in advance and talk to somebody and ask their opinions. Then they are going to get back to them eventually.

So you are putting together a list of people that you are going to be able to call on. You are picking people who tend to know other people for your host committee. How do you choose host committee members?

Brandon Lewis: When you look at host committee members… And host committee is just nomenclature for insider speak. You have people who are your finance committee and that’s kind of like a permanent committee of people who help you raise money. You have host committees that are specific to events.

Now where this gets kind of important is when you are running for Congress or when you are running for an election as a state representative and there are five counties or three counties in your district. Generally speaking, people do not cross county lines. It’s just a thing. In some cities, they don’t cross city lines. So you have your little universes of people that you have to pull together.

Now for host committees, and even finance committees, there are few things you are going to look for. Number one is you are looking for somebody who will give you a bunch of money. That’s number one. Number two, you want somebody who will raise you a bunch of money. Number three, you want somebody who can do both of those things and who is maybe recognized in your community.

That’s the trifecta. You’d love all three. But some people can give a little and raise a lot. You have to kind of set thresholds.

I’ll tell you what a finance committee and a host committee isn’t. It’s not your state rep and your mayor and a bunch of people you put on the invitation who are not going to give. That is what political events are for.

What people do so often is have a fundraiser and put all the elected officials’ names on there. There isn’t a soul in that group who is going to give you any money. Now if they commit to give you a thousand dollars, by all means put them on the invitation.

For the most part in politics, if you drew a Venn diagram, in one circle would be political people and the other side would be finance people. There would be a little sliver of overlap. That’s about it. What people do is they try to push both of those circles together and they are indiscriminate in their identification. Those are not the same people.

Most of the people that give money look at the political running around and wrangling and bull crap and gossip and are like, “I am making three hundred, four hundred, five hundred thousand dollars a year. I don’t have time for this stuff. I will write you a check because my time is more valuable than my money.”

Most political people are, “I really enjoy all this stuff. I can give you my time because it is in many cases not as valuable as your donor’s,” at least from a financial standpoint. And they’ve got more of it. You’ve got to use people according to their skills and according to what they will contribute.

What you don’t want to do is put people who aren’t money people on finance committees with other money people because they will start looking around the room and they will quickly realize that certain people are not pulling their weight and are frankly more of a distraction. It ruins the morale of your finance committee and your host committee.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. I get that. Very good. Are you looking for someone who can volunteer to put together the actual event and take care of that? You know, call the restaurant or find the venue you are going to have it in and will coordinate that stuff for you.

Brandon Lewis: In a way. The thing I always tell people is it is ideal. You just need to have it in somebody’s house that is nice and big enough to hold it. You don’t need to spend a bunch of mental energy or time worry about where you are going to have your fundraiser. What people want to do is plan a party without raising the money.

After you have physically reserved a venue, either with a homeowner or a local area or event venue or whatever it is, you can get the rest of the event put together two days before if you were pressed. All the food, the nametags, and everything- two days. Okay, what you cannot do is put together the invitation that should have been mailed three weeks in advance of the event and the host committee that was put together two weeks in advance of the mailing.

See, it is the raising of the money that takes all the time, not that planning of the party. The party should not cost very much money. In fact, if you can do it, you want to have it at somebody’s house who will donate the food and beverages as their gift in kind. Of course, do whatever kind of compliance business you’ve got to do to keep up with that.

That’s what you want. You want to not spend any more money than you have to to get that thing put on. The other thing I will tell people about events is the invitation is the bait. The phone call is the hook. If you go fishing and you cast bait out without a hook, you just kind of give your bait away.

If you send out invitations and email out invitations (and you should do both in tandem) and if you don’t have somebody who is assigned to that individual to personally recruit them to attend, invitations do not make people come to your event. Don’t think that some kind of fancy guest of honor is going to pull the weight of one on one recruiting.

It is better to have good one on one recruiting and no guest of honor than a guest of honor and no one on one recruiting.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Let me say this another way; if you aren’t calling them and asking them to attend, they won’t come.

Brandon Lewis: No, for the most part, no. Truly everybody who is anybody should have been called and had an opportunity to be on the host committee at a certain level. If you have an event and you have a $1,000 host committee… And I outline all of this in the book. We’ve got templates and everything you can use to follow so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for all kinds of financial documents and tracking, fundraising letters, etc.

Say for example you have a host and co-host level that is $1,000 and $500and if your tickets are $250 a couple, anybody who could have given $500 conceivably or $1,000 should have already been called and put on the host committee.

If anybody is a stretch to give the $500 and you called them and they said, “I can’t afford to do the $500, but we will come for $250,” maybe you add a friends level for $250 and then you bump it down to $100. Basically the event needs to be done from a fundraising standpoint before you ever mail the invitations as much as possible.

John Tsarpalas: I got you.

Brandon Lewis: So you need to looking down at a tracking sheet and you’ve got thirty-four hosts at a thousand dollars. There’s $34,000. You’ve got forty hosts at five hundred. There’s $20,000. You have whatever friends. And then you start tracking your attendees.

So even if everybody gets hits by a bus and can’t make it that night or it gets rained out or there is a snowstorm, you’ve got this big pile of commitments. Not only that, but you should be trying to get the money in the bank in advance to the event when you can. Not everybody will do it; some people will.

The event frankly is just a perfunctory social requirement of collecting the check. And that’s it.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, so can you give me an example of a call. You are calling me. You know I can give you $500, or you assume I can. What does that sound like?

Brandon Lewis: I’ll just kind of do it. Most people spend too much time small talking and they never ask for any money. I have worked with a handful of candidates who ask too brashly, too early without small talk. But that is the exception, not the rule.

It goes something like this. You pick up the phone and you get John on the other end. You say, “Hey, John, this is Brandon. How are you doing? How’s the wife and kids?” and all that business.

So there comes a point somewhere, two or three minutes into the conversation, depending on how well you know the individual. Of course you should have built report or visited them in person if you don’t know them personally very well. This should not be a cold call asking for money if at all possible, although you will have to do some of that and you shouldn’t be afraid of it. But it is not the best.

You simply go: “Hey listen, John. You have been following Republican politics in our area for a long time. We have assembled an exceptionally good team. We’ve got a great game plan on how we are going to win this election. We’ve identified all of our voters. We know exactly what we need to spend and where we need to spend it.

“We are going to be able to try to get city hall off your back, because I know you own XYZ Printing Company down here and they are taxing you to death. The thing is it is going to take money to do it. And you know this.

“And that’s why I was going to see, and hopefully I can count on you and Judy. Would you be a host for $2,500 a couple for our event we are having at Larry and Susan’s house next week? Could you do that?”

And then you just shut the hell up and you let him answer yes or no. What you’ll get is this, John, and this is important for candidates to know their list and their people. You be quiet and you see what they say.

Either they say, “Sure, put us down.” “Great, how do you spend your wife’s name?” or they’ll go, “Wow, that’s a little bit more than what I can do.” “Well, we do have a co-host level at $1,000 Would you and Judy consider that please?” Then you are quiet again.

Take a couple runs at that and then finally there’s the whole, “Well, what would you feel comfortable with?” And then they say, “Well, we can do $500.” “Well, we will put you down at the friend level. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. We are also getting some people together to raise some money.

“We can put you down at the friend level, but at the host level you can actually raise and/or give $2,500. Are there any people at your law firm or do you have any suppliers or anybody that you could call? We could kind of give you our donor list and you could look over it and pick some people.

“Sure, I think I can try that. If you’ll send me four or five names, I’ll give them a call.” “We’ll send you the list over and you can take a look at it and just tell us who you will tag. We’ll let them be yours.”

The thing is you’ve kind of got a best, better, good basement that you are kind of working on. You start up at the top and you try to get every cent. It’s like squeezing an orange. If you do it by hand, you don’t get much out of it. But if you put it on a juicer, there’s a lot in there.

So you keep asking and getting everything you can out of this person as a donor. Often if you don’t get the most possible on the first pass, you may not ever get it again. If you leave it on the table and say, “I’ll go back and get it later,” well, candidates run out of steam. Political landscapes shift. People run out of money. People then know why you are calling them. So it is best to get as much as you can on the first pass.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. When you are talking about these different levels of donation, are you literally publishing that on the invitation?

Brandon Lewis: Oh, yeah.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Brandon Lewis: And if you are squeamish, that always kills me. People are squeamish about putting the levels. It is fundraising; put the levels. “Host- $1,000 a couple, Co-host- $500 a couple, Tickets $250 a couple.”

If you ever say to people, “minimum suggestion of $100” and all that kind of wimpy, weak kneed bull… Leave that off the invitation. Just pick a number one. Everything you do in fundraising is about specificity, specificity, specificity. It kills ambiguity and it is excellent. It works. You’ve got to get specific in everything.

You wouldn’t say, “Well, on Election Day, I want to get, give or take, twenty thousand votes.” Well, if you need twenty thousand to win, being specific about how you are going to get there is kind of important. If you are ten thousand votes off, that’s not good enough. Best not to even run.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Brandon Lewis: So you’ve got to get specific about this stuff. You’ve got to be specific if you are going to Burger King. “What do you have?” You can’t even tell someone at the register at Burger King, “Well, you know, something.” They’ll look at you like you are crazy! And yet people try to apply that to their political races.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay, so you’ve asked me and I’ve said, “Well, I’ll go in at the $500 level as a host.” Or better yet, I say, “Well, you know what? I can probably find some people and raise $2,500 along with my $500.” So what happens then? Do you say, “I need the checks by…” or do you call later and say, “How’s it going?”

Brandon Lewis: You want to encourage them along the way. You want to send them, if you can… This gets into a little bit more inside baseball. When someone says, “Okay, we are going to give $250. We are going to raise $2,500 and my wife and I will give $1,000 or $500,” now they’ve got $2,000 to get to where they are going. They pick a list of people.

You send them the information. They check them. Usually all you need to give them is first name, last name, phone, and email. You send them maybe five or six blank invitations they can hand address and send out to people.

You have to tell them, “You have to make the phone calls and send a follow-up email.” You just send them a template. We used to give them a script and we used to give them an email script. It is in Word. It’s simple. And then they make the calls.

You need to have about two weeks between the time you start your phone calls and the time that you print the invitation. When you print the invitation, it needs to say up at the top, “As of” and a date. Because if you are smart, you can call people and say, “We have sent the invitation out, but we are sending out another email invitation. We would love to list you on that. We are also going to list all of the host committee at the event on a little plaque.”

So you are kind of constantly dangling that. You don’t ever want to. Really, you can in truth continue to put the host committee together up until the day before the event and in some cases the day of. You want to keep using that as a motivation for people to give and a bargaining chip.

John Tsarpalas: Got you. Okay. And then my experience is getting the check. You are telling them they need to bring the checks to the event? You are chasing them later? What happens? Bring them where?

Brandon Lewis: Well, what you do not want is the candidate or the candidate’s wife at the event table when people come in. You need to have the nametags preprinted because you can keep up with who owes you money. It’s very uncomfortable and the candidate cannot do it. The wife cannot do it.

Another reason they don’t need to do it is because if they are anywhere near the table and if somebody shows up without a name tag on and they don’t remember who they are, it’s awful. And it is embarrassing. You don’t want to put your candidate in the situation where they have to do that.

So you need to put a volunteer there. You put a volunteer there. It is even better sometimes to have a volunteer who doesn’t know anybody because then they don’t have to go through that same embarrassing stuff.

Here’s the magic words. They walk up and you either put a dot besides their name tag that said that they paid and you have a little Excel sheet there or you just use these magic words when you know that they did not give a check yet. You go, “Did you bring your check with you or did you give it to a host?” They have to say something.

It gives them an out. And they may have. A lot of people will have a host on the host committee and maybe they are at a law firm or corporation or they know each other from church. He was tasked with raising his $2,500 and he wanted to physically bring in his $2,500. He had collected the checks. He’s driven around town. And he does have their money.

More often than not, they just have not paid. So at that point, they’ll kind of sheepishly look at you. And then they’ll pull out the checkbook and they’ll start writing the check out. You just thank them profusely. You give them their name tag for them and their wife.

I keep using the first person here because men make up, as sexist as this is, if you start looking at all the donations and do an aggregate, about ninety percent. Men just for whatever reason give politically. Women typically do not as much.

However, the best fundraisers I have ever seen are women. They do a better job at it. There just are not as many of them doing it.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay. So someone has pledged but they don’t show up. Who calls them to get the money the day after?

Brandon Lewis: Well, depending on the size of the campaign, whoever is helping you with fundraising. If you are working on a state or local campaign, you are not going to ever be able to afford a professional because the metrics just don’t work out. But you have somebody who helps you. It might be your campaign manager or whoever. It really doesn’t matter.

What I always recommend is you take a piece of paper (these are things that are in the book), cut it in thirds, and you write little pledges on there when they pledge. You mail them a pledge thing with a return envelope and a personal little note. And then you mail it to them in the mail.

I learned this when I worked at the Muscular Dystrophy Association as a program coordinator. We would put them on carbon paper. So you’ve got white, yellow, and pink. So you keep them in a file box and you just keep mailing them until people mail their money back in. And then you make phone calls.

Sometimes people will not pay. They will make pledges. Their name will go on the host committee and they will not pay. And then they will later say things like, “Well, I didn’t know” or “It wasn’t clear,” in which case you just politely let it go.

When people show up to the event and they haven’t paid, you just politely let it go. Now, you know they showed up and didn’t pay. But you can’t make a scene. So you just politely let it go and you move on.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, very good. Well, I think you gave people a good outline of a simple way to approach this. It just takes doing it.

Brandon Lewis: It does. It does. And there are lots of nuances. I sit here and make it sound easy. I remember working on my first U.S. Senate campaign. I had a lady who was really a mentor to me who taught me a lot. Every time I would stick my head in her office and ask a question, she’d go, “It depends.” She’d ask four or five questions and then she’d go, “I’d do X.”

So with me, it’s very much the same way because I know that there really are, as straight forward as all the fundraising seems, four or five ways you could approach every situation. However, there are some fundamentals. There are some basics that you need to adhere to.

In closing, the thing I would tell people one good reason to pick up my book is this: Fundraising is done the same way in every state, every municipality, and every county across the nation. When I went and spoke at Campaign and Election Magazine’s tech conferences and major conferences, you get three or four fundraisers around a table and nobody is doing anything different to speak of.

There are a handful of nuances in really big races that mainly have to do with large scale fundraising through mail and digital. But in state and local races, you are just not going to get enough of that to even worry with it.

So once you figure out what to do, you don’t need to ever… The most dangerous thing you can ever do with political fundraising is experiment. It’s always going to blow up in your face. With every campaign, I would work with a candidate and they’d say, “Well, I think this and I think that.”

In every campaign, I would have to let them run one event or take one thing and do it their own way. When we raised zero money to speak of and they put all of this time into it and there was nothing to show for it, I would always politely then say, “Well, now that we have proven that you don’t know anything about fund raisings, can we just do it the way that works?” And then we would start doing it that way.

So if you are out there, don’t get idea people on your committees. You just go straight at them. You know what to do. Don’t mess with the formula because it has been proven over and over again to work.

John Tsarpalas: Well, thank you. Thank you so much. How can people find your book? Find you? Tell us.

Brandon Lewis: Well, it’s real easy. All you have to do is Google How To Raise Money for Political Office. The book is at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and iTunes. You can get it anywhere, anywhere online books are sold.

To my knowledge, it’s the only book in existence on the topic, so it is certainly the best. It’s very comprehensive and very detailed. It goes through it. It’s not just a collection of stories and anecdotes; it’s more like a technical guide to what you need to do from start to finish to raise money for your campaign.

John Tsarpalas: Well, first of all, you are a good storyteller, so it probably is interesting and has some good stories in it.

Brandon Lewis: It is a very thorough and detailed read. We go through a lot of assessments. I do not put as many stories in there in hindsight as I should have, but everybody who has ever bought it and used it… I get all kinds of emails and mail and stuff. “We just followed the book. We just followed the book.” That’s exactly what you’ve got to do.

Just like diet and exercise never changes. Every time you try it if you are trying to lose weight, it works. The book just talks about the basic premise of fundraising and what everybody who is anybody in fundraising is doing across the nation. You can do it as a state and local candidate too, as long as you will take the time and the effort to do it.

John Tsarpalas: We’ll have a link in the show notes at to the Amazon page for this book. Thank you. Just good talking to you. We’ll talk again. Thank you.

Brandon Lewis: Alright, John. Thank you.

John Tsarpalas: If you’d like to buy Brandon’s book, you can find it at because we will have it on our resource page. And we’ll also have it in the show notes.

If you enjoy our program, please tell your friends about it. Spread the word. We are trying to build a community. We’d like feedback from people. We’d love your questions. We are here to help. So write to me at Thanks for listening!

Brandon Lewis: Well, what you do not want is the candidate or the candidate’s wife at the event table when people come in. You need to have the name tags preprinted because you can keep up with who owes you money. It’s very uncomfortable and the candidate cannot do it. The wife cannot do it.

Another reason they don’t need to do it is because if they are anywhere near the table and if somebody shows up without a name tag on and they don’t remember who they are, it’s awful. And it is embarrassing. You don’t want to put your candidate in the situation where they have to do that.

So you need to put a volunteer there. You put a volunteer there. It is even better sometimes to have a volunteer who doesn’t know anybody because then they don’t have to go through that same embarrassing stuff.

Here’s the magic words. They walk up and you either put a dot besides their name tag that said that they paid and you have a little Excel sheet there or you just use these magic words when you know that they did not give a check yet. You go, “Did you bring your check with you or did you give it to a host?” They have to say something. It gives them an out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *