By Trey Richardson
Over the last several weeks, political fundraising has declined due to the stressful and uncertain circumstances COVID-19 has created for our country.
In addition to the direct health consequences, the near shutdown of our economy has led to oppression in terms of 17 million jobless claims and a reduction in U.S. economic output of 29%. Yet, post-pandemic consumer spending is up 23% (60% increase in liquor sales, video games and streaming services).
Having endeavored in political finance for my entire career, I have served through many ups and downs in the market, albeit nothing quite like this.
These experiences, and working through them, have allowed me to grasp a few core strategic ideas and practical activities that I have used to alleviate my own program pressures as well as those for PAC professionals during times like these. Overall, keep your PAC operations moving by paying attention to your program, remembering that culture matters and demonstrating the value of your organization to your donors, prospects and members of Congress.
First: Pay attention to your program.
Get your infrastructure in place:
Strategy: There’s no better time to take a fresh look at your strategic and action plans, making the necessary modifications to align your plan with current reality. Don’t spin your wheels trying to adjust your program to this crisis without first sitting down and thinking through it critically. Next, put it in writing. If it’s not in writing, it’s not a plan.
Data & IT: Another proactive activity to do during this time is to clean your prospect and donor files. Update your information and gather additional data, so when you are ready to launch your communications, you have a clean set of data from which to work. Further, clean up your IT infrastructure, check that your technology is free from errors and ensure your website is up to date and allows for online and payroll contributions.
Communications: To get ahead, do the work you can now. Create visual assets and content for communications early. This way, you will be prepared for the day when you have the green light to send communications to your prospects and donors again. While you may need to edit content down the road, it will still put you in a better spot to have a draft of your campaign in place.
Accounting: Ensure your accounting systems are established and running smoothly. This will allow you to easily issue checks to candidates, as well as retrieve contributions. If you run into problems, talk to your bank. They are there to help you.
Assess your risks:
Plan for more than the worst-case scenario: Times of crisis require a practical approach to risk assessment. Review your donor list for risks and develop scenarios for reductions in PAC cash flow. It’s not enough to stop at developing a “Plan B,” solely for the worst-case scenario. You also need to think through scenarios C, D and E, so you are prepared no matter what comes.
Creating your plans: We recommend creating plans for 10%, 30% and 50% PAC revenue reductions. Put triggers in place to implement cuts to candidate giving for each of these possibilities. For example, if your PAC only raises $200,000 this year, how will that affect your disbursement activities?
Conserve your program dollars:
Cut expenses: While the world is determining what is essential vs. non-essential, you need to do the same within your own program. Cut all non-essential expenses, reduce budgets and adjust top lines as well. Many of these unnecessary expenses will already have been reduced such as travel, meetings and events.
Focus on renewals: On the other hand, turn up your efforts when it comes to increasing your receipts in an appropriate way. While soliciting new donors at this time is not recommended, you can focus on appealing to those who have been PAC supporters in the past to renew their membership. If you always send out your dues billing and donor renewals at this time of year, don’t be afraid to keep with tradition. Your members have likely already budgeted for this and are expecting it.
Make the call: Use letters, invoicing, emails and calls to contact past and lapsed donors. Picking up the phone and contacting your donors even when you don’t have to is one of the best things you can do to keep your program relevant and your membership committed.
Be the knight in shining armor:
Heroes in a crisis are remembered: As individual contributions to candidates continue to significantly decline, PACs have the opportunity to step up and take on the role of “hero” in the political finance marketplace – a refreshing change to being perceived negatively. Congressional candidates need funding now more than ever and will grow increasingly frantic as we approach the June 30 FEC deadline. Recipients will remember those who helped them in their time of need.
Concentrate on reelection efforts: Prioritize congressional leaders and key committee champions who are up for reelection this year. Your champions will need funds early on to ensure they have the resources to wage a competitive campaign.
Hold on out-of-cycle contributions: For officeholders who are not currently in cycle, consider waiting to provide them with financial support until their reelection is imminent. This will help you conserve your resources and make the strongest impact possible for the 2020 election year.
Look out for my next article on how to capitalize on your organization's culture to alleviate pressure and find solutions that will help you adapt to this crisis.
Trey Richardson is managing partner of Sagac Public Affairs and GR Pro, national firms that provide communications, market research, fundraising, issue advocacy and independent expenditure solutions to hundreds of political, nonprofit and corporate organizations.