Newsletter subscribe

DrPolitics, Newsletter, Politics

Dr. Politics: Developing Your First Donor File

Posted: April 15, 2017 at 3:44 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Dwight Patel

So, you have now filed as a candidate, gotten a treasurer and put together a Facebook Live video when you went to Annapolis to file your papers to run for office.  Now you need to start raising money!  For a first-time candidate, it’s a struggle to find donor lists, since other campaigns have learned that such contacts are like gold and don’t share that information.  Your first option is to review your Christmas card Lists.  This is the best place to start because you are sending cards to friends and family, who are more likely to support you by sending a few bucks.  

When I ran for the first time in 1994, I was 22 years old. My Christmas card list consisted of about 15 names of friends who were in college and few relatives. Then I went to my folks’ Christmas card list. I was able to use that combined group twice, which totaled about 100 names.  My first announcement said that I was thinking of running for the MD House of Delegates and would need about $30,000.00 (in 1994 dollars) to mount a credible campaign.  My second correspondence was thank you notes with a suggestion that they give me one or two names in their network to donate to my campaign.   I suggested between $50 – $250.00 and left a blank for another amount to donate.

After I sent out the initial mailing (BTW I did it all on my dining room table with my campaign manager and my best friend), I got the first wave of responses a week later when my friend and campaign chairman’s mom gave $500.00. I immediately put a gold star next to her name, along with others who gave generously.  I developed a system of Gold, Silver, Red and Blue stars.  Gold was $500 and above –Silver was $100 to $499, Red was $50 to $99 and blue was anything from $1 to $49.

In response to the first wave of donations, always do a handwritten thank you note at the very least, and when you receive donations of $100.00 or more, pick up the phone and personally thank them.  Why call and write a thank you note, you may be asking yourself?  HERE’S THE ANSWER: If anyone thinks enough of you to donate $100 to your campaign, they believe in you, AND it also gives you the opportunity to ask them to host an event for you, which would be a great opportunity to meet and greet to collect business cards from their friends, which thereby lets you build your own donor base.

All of my donors became shareholders in Dwight, Inc.  One of my political mentors told me to give them each a title and put them to work.  So, I followed his advice.

Donor Class Range Title
Gold $500 + Colonials
Silver $100 to $499 Terps
Red $50 to $99 Blazers
Blue $1 to $49 Eagles

As you might have guessed I picked my school mascots for my titles.

I asked my Gold and Silver Donors to join a finance council.  My friend Andy’s mom was the chairman of my finance council.   She had a gift for getting her friends and people in her network to part with money for her son’s friend’s campaign for House of Delegates.   My finance council consisted of Andy’s mom, my brother, my doctor and my dad’s lawyer.

My first mailer cost me $36.80 for First Class stamps. The paper and envelopes cost me about 35 bucks.  I hand wrote each request to give it the personal touch.  So, I did my first mailing for a grand total of $71.80.  I made about $7,500.00 after using that first list. (P.S.: It isn’t normal to get this kind of return.  I think I got much of this support because one I am the youngest in the entire family, and I was 22 years old, studying Architecture at the University of Maryland GO TERPS!!!)

I grew my list of 115 to 639 names, with referrals from the initial 115 I started with. The list included phone numbers and addresses. In 1994 not many people had email – In fact, the only ones with emails were people my age.  So, I had a few emails of my friends. What was amazing was that the initial mailer brought in a total of 639 names.

After going through my high school yearbook, and adding people I went to school with at George Washington, I got another 127 names to go after.  Other resources that I’d use if I were running today would be Chamber of Commerce directories to do a cross reference with Data Center to identify the Republicans and create prospecting lists; I’d also hit up the George Washington and University of Maryland Schools of Architecture alums as well as Montgomery Blair High School Alumni, since we had the very first Republican club in any Montgomery County Public School with 80 + members.   I’d also still start with the Christmas card list.

Final Thoughts

Fundraising is hard, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get more than 10% return on your first mailing.  In the world of campaign fundraising direct mail, you are doing a great Job if you get 10% from a prospecting list.  Don’t rely on just direct mail– Use the internet, buy targeted Facebook ads, and don’t under-estimate the power of Twitter.  Remember this is a marathon not a sprint, so be like the tortoise and not the hare.  You want the small streams of cash coming in, which will become the mighty river, and YOUR CAMPAIGN IS THAT RIVER.

One More Thing…

I highly recommend taking the campaign fundraising class taught at the Leadership Institute (   If you click this link , you can register for the LI Fundraising School in September.   If you are interested in taking this class, please reach out to me at [email protected], I’d be happy to call Morton Blackwell and see if can get you a discount on School you are interested in attending.