I am often pretty critical of current practices in the GPC. I hope that my readership understands that the criticism is seldom meant to denigrate, it’s intended to promote positive change. When it comes to fundraising, the GPC has done a couple of things pretty well since Elizabeth May took over. First and foremost, the Party has worked out that emails are free, can be deployed in a matter of hours, and are a pretty good tool to gather in resources. In the past, (pre-2006), fundraising efforts were sporadic, and had an ad-hoc nature. “It looks like an election is coming, set up something to go and get $250k from the membership.” A temporary phone bank would get set up, a small group of people would learn on the job, and just when everybody had it figured out, Jim Harris would pull out his magic rolodex, and raise the other $200k in an afternoon or two. The website was the primary fundraiser, and relied pretty much on passive traffic to leave a present as it visited the website. It was a pretty good website, and with the kind of traffic it generated during an election, it was capable of raising some pretty impressive $.
What has been done since then is that fundraising has actually focused on the proven returns of systematic communications, coupled with issues based, and results oriented asks. A recent example is the plea in Elizabeth Mays words to reach deep into our pockets and help retire the election debt. This is a very good way of couching an appeal for money. People can readily agree to serving this objective, and for a certain proportion of recipients, it will justify making an impulsive decision to shell out some cash on the spot. Over the past couple of years, this approach has helped to raise on the order of $250k per quarter, which compares pretty well to past ad hoc efforts.
I have also noticed a second trend in action. When Elizabeth May heads out on the road, she often makes appearances at local EDA events, and fundraisers. There is a revenue split between the local EDA, and the central Party that is very wise. Elizabeth gets to go out and galvanise the troops at a local level. The EDA gets a nice boost, and probably an impressive turnout at a local event. A thousand or two dollars are raised, and shared, so it’s a win-win. This is a laudable effort, and in my mind it is starting to justify the recent focus on Elizabeth’s book tour. With Elizabeth on the move across the country, she was able to hook up with EDA events at a minimal cost. The nicest thing about it is that it is systematic, and provides an ongoing stream of resources, not just a one time dribble of cash, but a regular flow of new recruits, motivated EDA memberships, and cash on the barrelhead.
That’s enough gushing praise from Bluegreenblogger. We currently only have one Leader to gad about the country, and the main thrust of fundraising has a couple of serious limitations. From the standpoint of the fundraising staff, the world is divided into those for whom we have email addresses, and the rest of the world which doesn’t count. The world which counts, (current email addresses of known supporters), is continuously augmented. The website provides a regular flow of new members, sign takers, etc. to populate the email lists. Active EDA’s are out there recruiting new members, and contacts, which eventually flow back into the fundraising database. Elizabeth’s event appearances are probably pretty good at harvesting new names and email addresses to feed into the passive fundraising ‘machine’.
You would think that with the constant flow of people being introduced to the mailing lists, that fundraising would be on a continuous growth curve. Well it isn’t, and the reason why is one of the two factors that will determine our fundraising success. What it boils down to is that for every new contact shelling out a $100 donation, there is a previous donor deciding not to do so anymore. In fact, if it weren’t for the frequent elections, which periodically restock our membership numbers with thousands of new donors, the numbers would look more like one new donor being matched by two donors taking a step back, and donations would be in decline.
There’s no question that money is the mother’s milk of politics. Right now the GPC needs to clobber our $1mm plus election debt, and it would be nice to actually start banking some serious cash, instead of relying on bank loans to fight future elections. Based on the discussion above, there are two ways to do it. Firstly, we could focus on developing new data sources, and adding larger numbers of new names to our fundraising database. This approach is fine, and neccessary. Ideally it would not be a one-off effort. It would involve different communications channels, would be repeatable and ongoing, and would have a quantifiable payoff. After all, in the long run we’d be better off with programs that deliver 2 new prospects per week than a non-repeatable initiative that delivers 20 new propsects all at once. The problem is that no matter how large the email lists got, based on current, and recent past practices all those new names will quickly reach the point of donor fatigue, and the growth in funds raised would level off at a point somewhat, but not dramatically higher than todays numbers.
The second approach is to get to the root of donor fatigue, and improve the retention rate of members, and donors. In the world of Sales, and Marketing, customer retention is extremely important. It boils down to the fact that it is much cheaper, and easier to keep a customer happy and loyal than it is to go out to the big bad world and win new customers. It is in fact so much cheaper that corporations large and small alike set up call centres, offer loyalty rewards, put TV’s and free coffee in their waiting rooms, and put great creative energy into finding and improving ways to meet their customers needs. We are a political Party, so it’s actually not true that it costs us more to gain new ‘customers’. Every election is a blizzard of free publicity, and the outcome is a blast of new resources. That doesn’t change the other side of the equation though. Provided the costs of retaining members for longer is lower than the resulting revenue stream, the GPC is ahead of the game in financial terms. I won’t even get into the bonus in terms of volunteer hours, larger pool of prospective candidates etc.
So what? you ask. We’re not an auto service business that can put a large screen tv in our waiting room, and provide nice loaner cars to help retain customers. In order to find what motivates the membership, then what better way than to ask them? It will take resources, and good planning to actually go back to the membership and systematically uncover what motivates every person. First of all, it will take dedicated staffers, with a proper call centre suite of tools to effectively manage their time and tasks. This will not be pure overhead though. We currently hire Key’s direct marketing to make outbound fundraising calls on behalf of the GPC. This expense could be saved, while the outcomes for the GPC would be enhanced as we widen the scope of the phone bank, and start reaping more rewards than just the membership renewal, or enhanced donation level. By maintaining direct contact on a regular basis we can build a stronger relationship with the members, find out what motivates them, reatin their interest for longer, and therefore put fundraising on a growth track again.
I would also like to add some anecdotal evidence to back up my proposal. Over the years, I have made about 4,000 or more phone calls directly to members of the Party. Far and away the most common response I have had from members is gushingly positive, because for the majority, no-one has ever contacted them unless it was to ask for money. I can definitely tell you that a simple courtesy call to ask about the members interests, and perhaps refer them to the shadow cabinet member responsible for their particular interests WILL result in a dramatic increase in funds raised. Couple this with an ongoing outreach program, and you can start to do things like build volunteer teams to achieve Party objectives. Involve people in their local, and National Party institutions, and generally provide a support team for the Field Organisers out there shaking the bushes for more resources.