Why Local Parties need to get serious about fundraising

Piles of money. Photo credit: czbalazs - http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1236662British Politics is changing. Money buys elections (mostly) and there is no doubt we saw that in May. The Conservatives pumped money and resources in to marginal constituencies and backed by their aggressive national messaging, won.

Being a Liberal Democrat usually means the same old story, lots of enthusiastic volunteers at election time and everything on a shoe string budget, with the big money reserved for a few strategic seats.

Our party is caught in a catch 22 :- money raised by our small and competent fundraising team at HQ is invested in constantly urgent and evolving campaigning needs, ongoing costs and giving a leg up to marginal constituencies that are winning but short of money. That means though that our party, unlike our Conservative and Labour party rivals, doesn’t have a fundraising network to support our key seats all over the country. However great our staff may be, a small team of 3 or 4 can never hope to help our entire party organisation.

That’s entirely understandable as a smaller party, but it leaves us with a tricky dilemma. If we are being outspent by other parties, even in those seats where money is flush, how can we hope to compete as campaigning moves forwards to more expensive, personalised direct mail?

We can’t and so we need to get serious about fundraising.

So what does that mean?

It means thinking about what is a fundraising event and what is a members event, that happens to raise some funds.

In my day job I often use what I call “the minimum wage rule” with the volunteers I work with. If you could have worked the same number of hours you put in to your fundraising event at the minimum wage and made more money, then your event as it stands wasn’t worth doing. It either needs dropping, adapting in order to make more money, or adapting to become a members event, that happens to raise some funds. Arguably, we should double that, but we have to start somewhere!

It also means, not reducing all of our fundraising efforts to either a series of events or a series of standing order campaigns, that never quite materialise with the promised riches of “just getting 500 people to give us £5 a month.”

Charities and non profit groups get their income from a variety of sources and so should we. Our local parties need to get braver at asking high net worth individuals for money- and not taking an initial no as the final answer.

Our web presence should be geared towards extracting a financial contribution- web pages for US politicians have an initial splash page asking for money for a reason- it works!

Locally we should be networking with businesses, to target both their support and their cash. And finally, we should be having a brave conversation with local members about leaving us a gift in their will.

If local parties are maximising their fundraising revenue streams then 80% of the money will be coming from 20% of their fundraising efforts. That’s an approach I use with the fundraisers I support.

On reflection at the minute, we are pretty good at getting that 20% of available cash from 80% of our effort, but we forget, wilfully or not, the other far more valuable slice of the pie.

Without money we will continue to flounder. HQ can’t get it for us, we have to get serious and get it ourselves.

* Michael Kitching is a Liberal Democrat Member, previously from 2005-2018, rejoining after the 2019 General Election - @mwkitching

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9 Comments

  • While I would not disagree about the importance of campaign funds, I dont agree this is a change. If you want an example of how to win an election look at the SNP. What you need is a compelling argument, something which is somewhat lacking all together in English politics at the moment. UKIP have a single policy party which hits home to a sector of the eelctorate, but truth is while many voters might agree, its still not something they care about much at all. So barring that, yes propaganda and patronage matter.

  • peter tyzack 22nd Jul '15 - 9:10am

    Michael makes some good points here, but he needs to explain more.. perhaps Michael could make this just the first of a series on this topic, please?

  • peter tyzack 22nd Jul '15 - 9:24am

    having been PPC, Local Party Chair, Treasurer, Event organiser(not all at the same time) each role has a particular angle on raising money.. and it is certainly NOT ‘someone-else’s job’.
    Starting point is that every event must cover its own costs, every event should have a collection bowl or ‘spare change’ bucket (even a small meeting) and its an absolute law of the party that every event has a raffle. But all that, albeit needed, is small stuff compared to what we really need to raise. The local campaign Standing Order is quite successful, and to some extent I think we should have set rates for our membership fees(much like National Trust) with donations on top of that, rather than our ‘recommended fee -but pay as much as you can’ mentality.

  • Another source is one which has been successful in many parts of the country – regular payments from Councillors who earn regular allowances. Our councillor numbers are sharply down, so those in parts of the country where there are a few left should ensure that payments are agreed and made.

  • I couldn’t agree more with Michael, Tim13, and Danny. I would extend Peter’s point about events covering costs – it can be useful if an event is hosted (i.e. funded) by a willing member or supporter as often people will donate a location and food and drink which allows an event to take place, or underwritten by someone who will give the ‘seed funding’ for an event to take place. As for high net worth individuals, I think of fundraising as rather like matchmaking, it is about matching those with funds or resources to those with the vision and values they share. It is why professional fundraisers are often sociable individuals who love a good party and are well organised people (who like order). I do sigh when LPs say ‘we must raise more funds’ then proceed to put that job onto the least outward person least likely or able to deliver it. As for legacies, hurrah, someone else is talking about these. There will be legacy training at Autumn conference, and legacy drop-ins, and there is a party Legacy Manager who can help and advise along with willing party members who love doing legacy work.

  • Michael Kitching 22nd Jul '15 - 10:43am

    Hi Peter, I don’t want to pretend that I have all the answers, but I think I might be of more use to the party (alongside other fundraisers who are members) in helping to train up existing supporters. I don’t know how useful getting in to the detail would be on here.

    The point I was trying to make in this article, if not slightly too diplomatically, is that we need to stop pretending that raising a few hundred pounds is good enough- we need volunteers who are skilled enough to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds. I’m organising some training here in Norfolk, but may be tempted to travel to help others in exchange for some petrol money. If you are on Facebook, drop me a message.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Jul '15 - 10:50pm

    A really hard-working candidate, such as Maidstone had in 2015, gets stuck into al these things.

  • My sense is that there are two quite different targets here, and two big problems:

    Target 1: “fund-raising” events get people together, so they have a role in buiding the human capacity/connectedness in the local party — there is a fine line between things that people will see as “social” and as “fund-raising” which depends on context, but it means some “fund-raisers” can be about building human capacity — social capital — rather than party funds. In church contexts I have known successful appeals happen where most of the money comes from wealthy donors, but they give because of the human connectedness these sorts of events builds up.

    Target 2: yes, raising money, which means lots of ingenuity on the ground. One model I was really impressed by was Barack Obama getting millions of Americans each to donate $5 which built a wide commitment to his cause.

    Problem 1: if we are serious about wealth inequality we have to recognise that some of our members have less money than others. Pushing “fund raising” is fine if it is pushed to people who can afford to give more, but needs to be done in a way that does not alienate those who can’t. Just as an illustration, I know someone who heard Tim Farron at a leadership hustings saying “your arms will ache from the piles of leaflets you have delivered, your pockets will be lighter because of the donations you have given…” and their reaction — driven by real poverty was “Is this the party for me?” It is vital that we do things in our internal processes that don’t marginalise the people our public voice seeks to include in society.

    Problem 2: There is a huge imbalance in terms of sources of funding different parties have access to. We don’t have the Tory access to business / milionaires or Labour access to unions. We also suffer because we are so much smaller than the other parties in terms of our capacity to raise money and run a national campaign on an equal footing. Reform of party funding would be great, but is not something we can deliver on, so we have to ask “What can we do with the resources available?” which becomes the more imaginative question of “What opportunities does our apparent financial weakness offer?” — the latter sounds crazy but is a way of re-thinking the situation to find a way forward as we can’t magic millions out of thin air.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '15 - 8:46pm

    The Tory comment in the Times was that they put fundraising and spending under the same person. as a business would, avoiding a conflict of priorities.

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