One of the most common questions candidates (particularly challengers and those seeking open seats) ask me is "When should I start fundraising?" My answer, almost always, is the sooner, the better.
I give this advice not for the potential benefit of Bulldog and our portfolio, but because it is widely misunderstood just how long it takes to raise significant funds, especially in today’s hyper-partisan political environment in which building relationships takes more time than ever before.
Many times, candidates will rebuke my advice citing concerns of upcoming quarterly reports, negative media attention and hoarding cash for future use. While I truly understand all of these concerns and explanations, my experience both on the campaign trail and as a consultant understands these claims to be largely misguided.
Time is on your side
The earlier you file, the quicker you can start fundraising. Having more time allows for the development of a more thorough organization, cultivation of new relationships and a proper implementation of a finance strategy. This also enables the candidate to have more availability to build the campaign from the ground up and prevents against rushed and last minute dialing for dollars. On campaigns, time REALLY DOES equal money.
Does everybody know your name?
How many people really know who your candidate is? Is his or her name recognition really that strong? For most candidates seeking state or federal office for the first time, chances are better than not that your name recognition does not exceed 15%. Combating name recognition issues takes time and ultimately cash. Simply put – the quicker a campaign can raise capital, the faster it can address its awareness issues by hiring more staff, persistently showcasing viability and by being seen and heard everywhere that matters.
Early funding helps win the messaging wars
It is essential to effectively and seamlessly disseminate a campaign's vision, mission, values and legislative agenda as quickly as possible and through as many platforms as available. Websites, TV ads, direct mail and even social media can cost money. Without showcasing a clear and coherent message, potential donors and voters will not know what the campaign stands for and how it differentiates itself. Your campaign may think it has the best politcal talking points since George Washington, but if it does not maintain the capital to communicate those messages widespread, it will be impossible to continually prove viability.
Playing Defense in Fundraising
I am not sure who first said it, but the phrase "The Best Defense is a Good Offense,” truly applies to political campaigns – especially if a competitive primary is to occur. Being the first to approach a PAC, solicit a donor group or speaking to financial prospects will have long-term benefits. While you may not receive a donation right away, the campaign has the ability to prevent a person or organization from donating to the competition, which sometimes is as useful as a contribution.
It's is so important to remember that in fundraising, the early bird almost always gets the worm...