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I've only been politically aware the last 4-5 years, and only in the last couple of years have I been moved to make significant financial contributions to candidates and causes.

Because I have a fresh perspective on fundraising from a donor's perspective, I thought it might be useful to articulate the do's and don'ts for successfully extracting a donation from my wallet.

Rule #1 after the jump.

Rule #1: Tell me what you're going to use the money for.

If your campaign needs money to air a TV ad, fund a direct-mail campaign, or hire staff, then say so.  Ideally, you should enable me to view the ad (YouTube) or direct-mail flyer (link to image/PDF on campaign site) to decide for myself if it's worth supporting.

As a small donor, I am extremely leery of donating to open-ended funds.  Sorry, DSCC and company, but I would rather target my funds to something tangible.  Dumping my $100 into an account awash with $20M or more doesn't exactly reassure me that my donation will make a difference.

Scorecard: About 40% of the fundraising appeals I've gotten this season have stated a specific use for my donation.  This is a huge improvement over 2004, where less than 10% came right out and said what they wanted the money for.

Rule #2: If I have previously donated to your campaign, and this is your first contact with me since said donation, SAY THANK YOU!

This one drives me up the wall.  If I make an out-of-state donation to a campaign, and the next thing I hear from them is a generic fundraising letter, they get NOTHING from me.

Look, this isn't hard: create one form letter for the general list, and a second form letter for people who have donated recently.  Say "thank you".  Frankly, if you don't have the courtesy to thank me for my donation I begin to doubt you'll represent my interests as much as I originally might have believed.

Scorecard: Miserable.  Very few of the campaigns get this right.  It's not rocket science.  Bright points: Jon Tester and Jim Webb.

Rule #3: Send me a personal appeal from the candidate that rings true

Exhibit A in how to do this right is the letter I got from Jon Tester.  I could tell before I finished the first paragraph that he'd written it himself, and that meant a lot to me.  The personal details about bringing in the harvest on the farm were a great touch.

Campaign managers: fix the typos, correct any egregious grammar mistakes -- but for Pete's sake let the voice of your candidate shine through!  Don't bother sending me generic, boilerplate direct-mail pieces.  My bullshit detector goes off by the end of the first sentence, and seconds later the whole package is in the recycling.

Scorecard: Needs improvement.  Again, see the Tester and Webb campaigns as shining examples of how to do this right.

Those are my rules, or at least those are the big ones.  How do you, dear Kossacks, decide whom to support with repeat donations?  I'll update with the best ideas from the comments, as well as a few more of my own that I don't have time to wordsmith at the moment.

Originally posted to AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 05:51 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  thank you, great post! (6+ / 0-)

    as a serial donor I hate all the junk mail i recieve, it goes in the trash unopened.

    A rule i might add for campaigns - if the donation comes by the internet respond by email - not mail.  

    Also, postcards are better than letters - also cheaper.  

    Use postcards for all campaign mailings. FACT postcards are in many ways the preferred format in business advertising (ever noticed how many you get).  

    A postcard campaign should (in addition to campaign content) direct people to donate by internet: (faster, quicker, better, less paperwork, quicker second check, etc).

    How do you know a Republican is lying? Ask one: If the Republicans can lower gas prices for 60 days before an election, why won't they do it all the time?

    by ca democrat on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 05:48:56 PM PDT

    •  Had to get this off my chest (5+ / 0-)

      I've wanted to say this for a while.  Hopefully at least a few candidates will read this Diary.

      I concur on the respond-in-kind rule (email begets email).  Postcards have their strong points, but I have to say that there's room for both -- the letter from Jon Tester was a nice piece of political craftsmanship.


      (-3.00, -5.28) -- I'm a libertarian capitalist Democrat

      by AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 10:40:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Direct mail response rates (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Land of Enchantment

      It might seem that a postcard would be most effective way to communicate via mail, but direct mail industry statistics don't support that. Packages typically outperform postcards. Direct mail response rates are tracked in amazing detail, and groups can gauge exactly what works best for them and then develop a "control" package that later efforts are tested against.

      It's also interesting to note that many groups find that the more pieces they include in the envelope, the higher the response rate. That's why you see the letter, the brochure, the smaller letter from someone else, the one-sided flyer, and the response form all in one envelope. Or the big giant envelopes with petitions and address labels and even pens.

      Everyone (including me) will tell you that they don't read their junk mail. But, then again, if you think about it there probably is something you opened -- like that Jon Tester letter you mentioned. Since direct mail campaigns are typically budgeted to be profitable if they get a 1-2% response rate, the marketers don't care if the vast majority of people pitch the package. The ones they care about read it.

      I have not seen research on effectiveness of responding only by email to people who donate by email. Personally, I prefer email and read more of it than I do mail. (Although I can't begin to read all the email appeals I get and throw a lot of those away unread, too.) I have seen studies showing that overall email response rates are declining and it is getting harder and harder for emailers to get through spam filters. It would be interesting to see a study that tested responding to donors only via the medium they choose.

      All that said -- many Democratic campaigns ignore all the direct marketing techniques and make all kinds of mistakes. (Like not thanking donors. Or sending everyone the same letter no matter where they live or how involved they are.) The Republicans have been focused on direct mail since the eighties and have developed amazing databases, as well as lots of historic behavior on what their donors respond to. We need to get better direct marketers working on our side.

  •  I donated (5+ / 0-)

    to 4 out of state races and got thank yous from 3 of them--Eric Massa, John Laesch, and Joe Sestack.  They also wrote in the letter/card what they were using the money for.  As it was my first time ever donating to campaigns it certainly reinforced donating in general, donating to out of state candidates, and to these 3 guys in particular.

    "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, and the dream shall never die." Ted Kennedy

    by sobermom on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 05:49:50 PM PDT

    •  I'm sure it also increased the chances... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      besieged by bush, Irish Patti

      ...that you would donate to them again if they asked.  It definitely works on me!

      One thing campaigns in general and Democrats this season in particular should be careful to remember is that many donors are new to the experience of giving to political causes.  My unscientific opinion is that the circumstances we face today mean that many people who have never donated before are opening their pocketbooks -- and it's more important than ever to make sure they feel appreciated and respected.


      (-3.00, -5.28) -- I'm a libertarian capitalist Democrat

      by AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 10:43:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Kerry campaign pissed me off (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I don't have oodles of money.  But I put in a lot of time volunteering.  Registering voters, doing up a couple of precinct spreadsheets (his campaign wouldn't share electronic files with locals, saying they were "proprietary"), groundwork for events, raising money for and sending out issue mailings locally, finding homes for and delivering yard signs.  And so on and so forth.  Out of pocket for most of the associated expenses.

        And still, I'd get those fundraising letters, asking me to send them money.  Every week.  Like all the work I did, and out of pocket expense, were nothing.  Like the only thing that I'm good for is writing a check.  

        Why should I send them money?  All they did was inundate with innumerable TV ads, plus more requests for money.  For the most part (with one exception), didn't get anything from them to help with any of the local work.  (In the bluest county - and one of the poorest counties in the country - in the purplest state!!)

        I sent replies sometimes, asking that they quit sending their damn letters.  They never stopped though.  Until the election was over, that is.  They never did act like they really wanted to win.  Not from where I sat.

        Our local county grassroots activists could have done so much with the money they spent on a single local market (=Albuquerque) TV commercial.  And no one would ever have noticed that there was one less of them.

        Disappointing and annoying.

  •  I got great thank yous (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlphaGeek, blueyedace2, RosyFinch

    from John Laesch, Carol Gay and Linda Stender in addition to the people you name above.  They are classy  candidates.  In fact, I feel bad Linda keeps sending me thank you notes as I give $5 each week.  

    Anyway, I give to the candidates though the internet.  So my advice is have a link to actblue or have a nice website for donations.  No paypal.  

    •  what I dislike (4+ / 0-)

      are the endless fundraising letters from Democratic bigshots for Hillary or Bob Casey.  Please, I know they have a ton of money already, they don't need my little donation.  These guys should have been supporting Tester and Webb -- and Carter -- like we were.

      •  Contributions to the "big shots" are inefficient (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Baldwiny, AlphaGeek, blueyedace2

        I have to believe the internet has democratized fundraising to the extent that the 10,000 contributors that make multiple contributions each campaign cycle - now allocate those resources more efficiently and effectively than the parties ever could.

        In other words:

        Multiple smaller campaign specific internet contributions are a more effective and efficient method than a single large contribution to a major party.

        How do you know a Republican is lying? Ask one: If the Republicans can lower gas prices for 60 days before an election, why won't they do it all the time?

        by ca democrat on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 06:03:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  This is my pet peeve (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AlphaGeek, blueyedace2, myrealname
        Here in Ohio, we are fighting for the life of our state. Electing the Democratic ticket literally means the economic future of this state. Never in my memory have the Democrats run a better slate of candidates, while the Republicans have an entire ticket of useless, corrupt, ideological bottom-feeding scum. I'm deeply frustrated that I have little to give any of them financially, particularly those like attorney general candidate Marc Dann

        who has a well-known, well-funded opponent who has outraised him by a large margin and who is so completely corrupt and do-nothing that she will set the state back dramatically if she gets elected -as she has a good chance of doing. (The rare coins guy got past four years of her watch as auditor)

        Then I get these desperate pleas for money from Hillary. "My opponent will say and do anything to smear me." "The Republicans want nothing more than to stop me." Blah blah blah. Hillary, they can say you are a serial-killing, pedophile terrorist who tortures (oh wait, they like that!) infants (in fact they probably already have). You are still going to win by a huge margin. You do not need my Ohio money!

        At least John Kerry is usually begging for money for specific worthy candidate. i know he's not running. But Hillary barely needs to run either.

      •  Heh (0+ / 0-)

        I wouldn't call Bob Casey a big shot -- he's not even an incumbent, and lost his last campaign for office.

        Hillary, on the other hand... fsck Hillary.  From what I understand, she has raised the bulk of her staggering war chest (way over $100M) through large donations, and is in fact the queen bee of the NY-area fundraising scene.  She doesn't need my money, doesn't particularly represent my interests, and... well, I'll stop there.

        As you say, any letter an individual donor gets from Hillary at this point should be in support of another candidate in a tight race.  Pity she hasn't been doing that more.


        (-3.00, -5.28) -- I'm a libertarian capitalist Democrat

        by AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 10:49:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Tell campaign not send more letters ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      worriedmom, Doolittle Sothere, ritzl

      There are a number of campaigns that I have given several times. After the first donation, I tell them that one thank you is enough. If I keep receiving thank yous, then I think about stopping these donations.

      By the way, please think about sending $5.01 donations ...

      9/11/2006 ... Day 1825, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

      by besieged by bush on Sat Sep 16, 2006 at 10:16:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hear! Hear! Glad to see this ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlphaGeek, Irish Patti, blueyedace2

    ...piece. And glad to see you back with us after such a long hiatus. (I still link people to your emergency series.)

    •  speaking of which (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AlphaGeek, blueyedace2

      have you thought about publishing that thing, as a .pdf or otherwise? i'm considering printing the whole series out.

      crimson gates reek with meat and wine/while on the streets, bones of the frozen dead -du fu (712-770)

      by wu ming on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 06:12:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thought about it lots (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wu ming

        Felt guilty about it plenty of times, even planned on working on it during my 3-week, 4500-mile driving-around-the-West vacation this summer.  (Didn't happen, most of the time I was lucky if I had the energy to upload that day's photos to Flickr before crashing for the night.)

        I'm almost caught up on home improvement and repair projects, so I'll put this back on the list.  Feel free to harass me until I deliver.


        (-3.00, -5.28) -- I'm a libertarian capitalist Democrat

        by AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 11:09:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks, MB (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Irish Patti

      I've been lurking and keeping up with the goings-on, just haven't been moved to toss a Diary into the raging torrent of mediocrity rushing past.

      I think there's a definite disconnect in the way a solid majority of Democratic office-holders and candidates treats individual donors.  Respect for your supporters means saying thank you when they help you out, and it means engaging with them as individuals instead of asking for yet more money with Standard Reply Number Six from the form-letter generator.

      I continue to be amazed at how many people have read the emergency-preparedness series.  I'm still interested in developing it into a book, but between time/energy constraints and not knowing where to start it hasn't happened yet.


      (-3.00, -5.28) -- I'm a libertarian capitalist Democrat

      by AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 11:04:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I liked the thank you cards sent by Jack Carter (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlphaGeek, blueyedace2, RosyFinch

    I donated a small amount to Jack Carter's campaign in NV.  I don't live there, I just think if he is anything like his father, we desperately need him in the U.S. Senate.

    He sent back a postcard with a picture of himself and the back basically said thanks for the support and then it was signed -- it looks like a real signature.  

    I thought that was great.  I have given much larger contributions to other candidates without any thanks whatsoever.

    •  I got two of those... (0+ / 0-)

      but I've got a soft spot in my heart for Sarah, Jack, and of course Jimmy.

      The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. -Howard Zinn

      by blueyedace2 on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 08:03:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  How about (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlphaGeek, blueyedace2

    don't just write when you need money!  

    "The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves." - William Hazlitt

    by tryptamine on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 06:07:19 PM PDT

    •  True dat (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Even better than a fundraising letter that asks for money is a simple thank-you note telling you what your donation is doing for the campaign, and what they're up to.

      As I noted above, it's the difference between sending a form letter and having a respectful conversation with your supporters.  I don't need the illusion that the candidate knows who I am personally -- but I sure do appreciate a 'thank you' and some news about how things are going to make me feel like my contribution is valued.


      (-3.00, -5.28) -- I'm a libertarian capitalist Democrat

      by AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 11:12:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Absolutely (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        I mean, it's not as if we can't figure out that a campaign can always use more money. Tell us what you've done with our contributions, give us news, skip the overt appeal for more (unless there's a specific thing you'd like to do and fund) and it would be less annoying and likely at least as effective.
  •  Proofread! (5+ / 0-)

    Maybe this is petty, but when I get a letter from a big campaign that I know includes well-educated professionals, and it has a bunch of problems with spelling, grammar, and typesetting, I just want to give up.  It does not scream "I am competent and will be very careful with your money".

    One spelling error, maybe.  It happens.  But this year I got one of these "hey, give again, please" letters that had multiple problems.  Grammatical, spelling, and typesetting errors.  And I knew that it hadn't been read by a grown-up before leaving the campaign.  That scares me.  

    So my rule #4 is: proofread.  Spellcheck is not enough.  If you know a teacher or good writer, ask them to help.

    "Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people--we go on." Ma Joad, The Grapes of Wrath

    by rocketito on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 06:52:23 PM PDT

  •  Paul Hodes (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlphaGeek, blueyedace2, RosyFinch

    made phone calls this week to the people who'd given to him through ActBlue for whom he had a phone number.  That was pretty cool.

  •  I wish it was possible (4+ / 0-)

    for campaigns to correlate their donor lists to their voter lists.  I hate donating money unasked to a campaign and then continuing to get tons of mailed flyers, visits from canvassers and robo calls afterwards.  What a waste of money and effort - clearly I'm already going to vote for the candidate. Save all the convincing for someone else!

    •  It is possible, they just don't do it... (0+ / 0-)

      With today's databases, they absolutely can run lists that screen out people who have previously donated or volunteered or whatever. In fact, many of the database management software systems the larger campaigns are using can even tell them exactly which link in which email you responded to, which events you attended, and exactly how much and how often you've donated. (And they can generate lists based on that data and more in all different kinds of combinations.) So, why do we get endless calls from people we're already supporting? All I can figure is lack of training and lack of coordination among different areas of the campaigns.

      Of course, on the other hand, I have lived in my house for over 10 years and a Democrat has only knocked on my door once about 8 years ago. No lit drops, nothing. (And I live right a few miles from DC -- by no means a rural hard to reach area.) Not even during the 2004 presidential race. I wouldn't mind if I thought they were skipping me because they knew I was voting, but I've asked and none of my neighbors get canvassed or lit dropped either. It's very odd. I would have done it myself in 2004, but I went to PA instead 'cause I figured Virginia was a lost cause.

  •  Thank you.... (5+ / 0-)

    It was a great ride.

    With my $1 limit on donations, snailmail thankyou's just wouldn't work. I tried to email when an address was included, tho I'm afraid I missed some. The majority of my contributions were face to face.

    If you want to know how I spent your dollar, well,  there's an accounting here,

    I ultimately spent $662.66 or so, the exact total will be clear when I receive my phone bill. Breaks down to 1.2 cents per vote, compared to the $12 Senator Kohl dropped for every vote he  received.

    Still got ~$250.00 I'd planned to spend on an ad in the Onion's Milwaukee print edition, but I never came up with copy I really liked. That, along with any settlement the campaign receives over my illegal arrest for gathering signatures, will be rolled over to a new PAC so that the money can be donated to House challengers who share my values. Commitment to resist censorship schemes and roll back the failed drugwar are prerequisites.(Any suggestions for the PAC name?)

    51,377 votes for US Senator.

    by ben masel on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 08:02:06 PM PDT

    •  You've got my utmost respect, Ben (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Immigrant Punk

      That said, perhaps you should call it the Tilting At Windmills PAC.  :)  I kid, I kid.  It takes people like you, with the bravery to approach politics differently and the smarts to make it work, to create the dynamic tension so lacking in the electoral process today.  

      Without the Ben Masels of the world counterbalancing the radical corporatists, they would clearly distort the political landscape far more than they can manage now.  I hope one day to have half the courage of my convictions as you exhibit.

      Hadn't heard about your arrest -- is there a Diary on that in the archives?


      (-3.00, -5.28) -- I'm a libertarian capitalist Democrat

      by AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 11:26:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Let's not forget... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlphaGeek, RosyFinch

    our own Barry Welsh. Got a nice post card signed by him. As far as "big name" Dems, I really don't mind any mailing that Russ me.

    The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. -Howard Zinn

    by blueyedace2 on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 08:12:28 PM PDT

    •  +sends... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tryptamine, AlphaGeek

      Insert above.

      Another pet peeve I have is candidates with no schwag. When I contribute to a campaign, I'd also really like to pick up a sticker or tshirt or something.

      The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. -Howard Zinn

      by blueyedace2 on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 08:32:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I saw a diary here for a Michigan candidate (5+ / 0-)

    that I was interested in.  The diary had a link to the website, but there was no information given for donating via snail mail (I don't do donations via internet).  I went back to the diary and commented about the lack of info and got a response right away with an offer to find the info I was looking for. I will definitely donate to the candidate - Carl Williams - not only because we desperately need to take back the House, but because of the individual attention I got so quickly.

    •  Dkos is neat that way, isn't it? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tryptamine, myrealname

      Where else can you question a Montana candidate for Senate as he liveblogs from his kitchen, bitch to a Representative about pending legislation, and question subject-matter experts on a wide range of topics -- and get personal, direct answers back from them?

      On the other hand, the torrent of crap in the Recent Diaries list is sometimes a bit much.  Good thing I'm not in charge of deleting idiotic and superfluous Diaries...


      (-3.00, -5.28) -- I'm a libertarian capitalist Democrat

      by AlphaGeek on Fri Sep 15, 2006 at 11:20:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Act, don't ask (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlphaGeek, someone else, Naniboujou

    The #1 factor that gets me to donate money to a campaign is when I read something here or on other blogs about what they are fighting for, or fighting against, a great local story, a passionate speech, just about anything EXCEPT a request for money.

    "I do not like broccoli." - George H. W. Bush

    by Son of Broccoli on Sat Sep 16, 2006 at 08:25:10 PM PDT

  •  My favorite... (3+ / 0-)

    The DSCC has sent us three fundraising mailers.  All three have mispelled my fathers name in a different way.
    And this is after I've twice asked them by phone to please save their money and remove us from their list - we prefer to donate directly to candidates (because I don't trust Schumer not to do something dumb like, I dunno, support Joementum?).
    Oh well.  I think the fact that they're actually outraising the Republicans for the first time in a decade or more has fried a few synapses...

  •  Thank You's, yes. Preferably email. Grammer... (0+ / 0-)

    and other niceties, try to get past it.

    I contribute to a campaign because of what that candidate does or can do for the country and/or for me.  Not because they are nice and/or erudite.

    In fact, I would think less of them if they spent time correcting the odd grammatical anomaly as opposed to knocking on a few more doors, or travelling to some place not previously visited.

    Matter of fact, the scrappier, the better.  But always with a sense of decency and respect for the working class.

    Now after they get into office, I expect some repectful response to my respectful inquiries.

    It's full of stars...

    by ritzl on Sun Sep 17, 2006 at 12:16:53 AM PDT

  •  My pet peeve... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Land of Enchantment

    No matter how much or how little I always seems equal or less than the amount of money the campaign spends asking me for MORE money.

    They call it pollution. We call it life.

    by Naniboujou on Sun Sep 17, 2006 at 06:50:28 AM PDT

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