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.
To help our community work through these challenges, I’ve been sharing a few core strategic ideas and practical activities that I have used to alleviate the pressure for PAC professionals during times like these. So far, I have shared the importance of paying attention to your program and why culture matters.
This week, I will explain the final step: Demonstrating the Value of Your Organization.
Communicate with constituents and officeholders:
Going dark is not an option: With people consuming news at a rapid pace, it’s important that your organization remains a leader in information sharing. Be sure to issue regular communications, host webinars, provide research and send articles to educate your constituents on what is going on in the marketplace. Being thoughtful and present is the solution to communicating your value in a crisis.
Open a dialogue: It is also key to communicate with officeholders about how the crisis is affecting your business, industry, employees or members. Open a dialogue with officeholders to provide your observations and insights about the economic and legislative impact on your group – including the impact of the CARES Act. These conversations will help you to educate members of Congress on how their constituents are experiencing this pandemic and will in turn provide valuable information to pro-business supporters of your company or industry.
Be candid about your budget: First, set a budget and go through your candidate list to determine how much your program will disburse this election cycle. Second, tell candidates and officeholders how much you can give (even if it’s lower than previous cycles) and by when they will receive the funding. One you tell them, make sure to follow up your words with actions. Don’t overpromise.
Be smart about your giving: If your PAC is making contributions now, don’t forget to request attendance at future events for your lobbyists, employees and members down the road in exchange for your support. Fundraisers will be open to this as they know the value of your support in an election season where individual contributions are lacking.
Implement a holistic approach to government affairs communications:
Paint the big picture: To help your employees or members understand the role of the PAC in relation to the other aspects of your government affairs program, and its value, focus messaging on the three core activities of government affairs: people (grassroots), issues (lobbying) and money (PAC). Creating tools will allow your stakeholders to see how your program rests on a three-legged stool, the benefits of each aspect and why the PAC is vital to keeping it upright. While these are holistic messages, they can still be PAC branded.
Set your cadence: Double or even triple the frequency of your communications to cut through the clutter and win attention. Educate first, engage second and solicit last. A simple schedule for education, engagement and solicitation may be as follows:
Weeks 1-4: How has the stimulus package affected your industry specifically? Talk about it with your employees or members by sending weekly updates about how the stimulus package is affecting their business. Highlight government affairs’ role in securing passage of helpful policies and alleviating the pain associated with this crisis. The process of honestly and transparently communicating about the work of government affairs is essential to demonstrating its value during uncertain times.
Weeks 5-8: Lay the foundation for engagement. Send weekly communications including articles on upcoming issues, testimonials from employees or members, profiles of your donors or congressional champions and more. To keep the messaging tight and easily digestable, focus on no more than the top three things your government affairs team seeks to accomplish for your business or industry when Congress gets back to work.
Weeks 9-12: Tired of bad news? Likely, so are your donors and prospects. In a negative news environment, you have the opportunity to fill their time with positive engagement opportunities. Use this time to reengage your constituency through townhalls with members of Congress, virtual meetings with regulators or officeholders and calls-to-action to get constituents involved on issues of significance. Grassroots action is a gateway to PAC giving. These activities will create an authentic sense of involvement and connection to your cause among prospects and donors.
Weeks 13-16: Now is the time to launch your PAC campaign. While this schedule pushes your PAC campaign into the normally slow summer months, this is no normal election year. Activities that usually occur in the spring will now be at their height in the summer. By using the first three phases to create awareness, give your prospects information they may easily recall and finally engage in policy matters, your constituents will be ready to act financially. The final step is to launch a solicitation campaign and encourage giving to the PAC when the general election season is in full roar.
Diversify your program:
Unusual times call for unusual tactics: Don’t limit yourself. While direct contributions provide value, so do engagement activities. Issue advocacy, GOTV, partisan communications and independent expenditures are all excellent ways to show candidate and officeholder support. Don’t count out advertising through social media and television, direct mail or phone calls either. These are all bonuses that candidates will remember far beyond a simple PAC contribution.
The best part: You don’t need PAC money to accomplish any of these engagement activities. You may pay for these efforts with treasury (soft dollar, corporate) funds. And you don’t even need to leave your home office to fulfill these activities.
I hope you found this series of articles helpful. As you navigate this challenging time, remember to alleviate pressure by paying attention to your program, keeping your culture in mind and demonstrating your value.
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.