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Three principles of a successful political fundraising program


You open your inbox and see two emails asking for money. One is from an elected official running for office this year. She’s asking for money. Her email is beautifully formatted and contains slick images, just like the ten similar emails you’ve received from her this month.

The other email is from your good friend, encouraging you to contribute to a candidate running in a different race. The email is short and not entirely grammatically correct, but your friend gives personal reasons for supporting the candidate and includes a link where you can easily add your money to theirs.

A campaign’s fundraising program often consumes staff time and burns relationships with supporters. But it doesn’t have to.

Want to spend less time fundraising and bring in more contributions? It’s easier than you think.

NationBuilder's Fundraising Coordination Model saves you time by helping you find potential donors and build relationships with the ones you already have. We’re excited to make this program available to you for free, below.

“The NationBuilder way to fundraise takes less time, brings in more money, has the added benefit of not being annoying, and encourages your community to fundraise for you.”

 — Campaign specialist Brad Marsten 


1. Fundraising is about relationships

Fundraising isn’t just about raising gobs of cash today. It’s not even just about raising money between now and election day. Fundraising is not divorced from other campaign efforts, so the same “path of engagement” that includes donations also includes volunteering, hosting events, and even voting.

A fundraising email that raises $10,000 is good, but a fundraising email that raises $10,000, brings in 10 volunteers, adds 20 people to the email list, gets 15 new suggestions in the campaign suggestion box, results in 15 recruited donations, primes your entire list to give more next time, and has help from 30 social media ambassadors to amplify the message, is much, much better.

There’s a big difference. If the first scenario is the goal, it’s often considered okay to spam an email list--in fact, it’s recommended. If the second scenario is the goal then donations are just one of many actions a supporter can take along a path of engagement. In order to keep track of these actions, you need to have someone on your team designated to manage each relationship.

Political fundraising


  • Buy a list, spam a list

  • Strip mine your list  — election day is coming

  • A numbers game

  • Top down 

  • Create a list, cultivate a community

  • Build relationships — election day is not the end

  • A relationship game

  • Peer-to-peer  

In order to build a meaningful fundraising organization, make sure that someone is in charge of managing the relationship with each donor. You can set this up in the NationBuilder system by assigning your fundraising coordinator as “point person” for each donor or prospective donor. You can set this up in the donation page settings.

Actions can then be recorded and stored in a searchable record. You can manage these records by marking the donor’s profile with a “tag” based on relevant elements, such as relationship origin, “big-dollar” vs “small-dollar” status, or willingness to host a fundraiser. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that you’ll be able to tag people based on what actions they’ve taken in support of your campaign, allowing you to know what action they should be prompted to take next. Many fundraising campaigns, for example, have found that asking contributors to give money again within two months helps long term contributor retention, maintaining a positive relationships while also magnifying impact.


These tags will come in handy later, as you can target an email blast at everyone in your database who has a particular tag. It will also help you identify top supporters to build personal fundraising pages and jumpstart your peer-to-peer campaign.



2. Peer-to-peer relationships are strongest

The most important reason to not burn your relationship with potential donors is not always clearly visible. It’s not enough for people to know and trust a candidate: researchers at George Washington University have found that fundraising requests from peers increase the number of new donations to a campaign at a statistically significant rate. This is not surprising, since we know that people trust their peers far more than they trust established organizations. Engaging people to reach out on your behalf to their peers, then, is all but required in order to retain donors (who are incredibly difficult to reclaim once lost) and build lasting relationships with people.

Building a good peer-to-peer fundraising pipeline requires trusting people to speak on behalf of your cause and rewarding them when they do. Because this method relies on targeted relationships, the potential payoff is significantly higher than a traditional top-down fundraising strategy.



3. Fundraising is based on leadership

The key to setting yourself up for success is to build your donation page and pipeline in such a way that none of your donors fall through the cracks. This requires giving your fundraising director the tools to lead the growing community of fundraisers, potential donors, and donors.

One way to do this is to set up reminders for your fundraising coordinator. For example, you might want to remind your coordinator to send a thank you email (or text!) to everyone who fills out the volunteer form. We call those reminders “followups” and here’s how you can set them up on volunteer pages. This type of reminder is invaluable in making sure that staffers keep in timely contact with donors.


Because NationBuilder tracks engagement history, you’re able to identify potential donors, give them tools to recruit additional donors, and move people along a path of engagement.