Dr. Politics: Planning Your First House Party
By Dwight Patel First Vice Chairman
So, for a quick recap, you have found a treasurer, filed your papers to become a candidate for office, and sent out your first direct mail to raise money from your Christmas card list. Now you are ready to have your first House Party.
The first thing you need to do is find a speaker, who will be your headliner. It can be a state delegate, a state senator, congressman, or any current or former elected official. At my first event, I had Congressman Peter King (R-NY) as my headliner. Remember, your speaker doesn’t have to be an elected or formerly elected official. You can have authors, newsmakers or pretty much anyone you think would be a draw.
STEP ONE: FIND A VENUE
Before inviting your event speaker, you should find a location for your event. Discuss the timing and other details with your finance counsel and finance chairman, and be sure to get commitments from the prospective host of your event. Then SET A REALISTIC GOAL of how much money you’d like to raise at this gathering. IMPORTANT: Do NOT invite press to your fundraisers. Many speakers don’t like having press at a fundraiser. Furthermore, you don’t want to have the media report any possible negative aspects of your fundraiser.
INVITING SPEAKERS, 101
When you contact a potential speaker, be sure to give him/her specific dates for the event. Don’t tell them that you’d like them to speak sometime between July and September, since this drives schedulers crazy, and also makes you and your campaign look like newbies. Instead, send a message that reads something like this:
Dear Rockstar Speaker, I am having a campaign event… Would you be available on July 14, 16, 24 or 26, 2017? Then identify the location, specify if it’s a private home or public venue such as a hotel, park, public school or any other public place. Allow for 8 to 10 weeks (remember this is your first event you will need the extra time) prior to date to invite the speaker.
[So, if you are targeting mid-July for your event, you need to have your invitation out by May 5. Allow two weeks for response (sometimes it might take longer, so plan for rejections as well as alternative dates offered up by speaker’s office) Your speaker should confirm by the end of May.]
Also, follow up with the scheduler after you have made the request. If you don’t hear back in within 3 weeks, you need to move on. The best way to get a speaker is to know someone in their office. When I invited Congressman Peter King, I knew his scheduler and his chief of staff. I picked up the phone and called Carolyn to let her know my invite was in the mail (this was before everyone used email) and asked her to keep an eye out for it.
NOTE: I’m not saying a cold invitation won’t work, but contacting total strangers who don’t know you makes it harder to get a commitment from them. Also, you will get rejections (it is very hard) but don’t take it personally. The fact is, members of Congress and newsmakers receive thousands of requests per day. If you are doing a cold invite, there’s a 90% chance is you will get a rejection. Chances go up if you know someone associated with the office of your speaker. I’d make a list of people you’d like to invite. Contact your local Republican Party or the State Party. Many times, they can help you get a speaker for your event.
YOUR SPEAKER HAS ACCEPTED
Ok, you just got a call from your speaker’s scheduler, and your speaker has agreed to headline your event. The first thing you want to do is inform your host that the speaker has agreed and will be doing the event at his/her home on the previously agreed upon date. Design the invitation and send the invitation to the speaker for approval. You don’t want to send out invitation out without the Speakers Team reviewing it. Ninety percent of the time they are fine with it, but during my experience, I have had a few speakers make changes to the invitation.
SPEAKER’S APPEARANCE GREEN-LIGHTED BY HIS/HER OFFICE
Your invitation has been approved by the speaker’s office. Now you need to do the following:
First put event information on your website, tweet out your speaker and date, create a Facebook event, use targeted Facebook ads (these ads can be focused so that only those in your district will see them) [I will explain more in my later column on digital campaigns]. Send out e-invite via Constant Contact, MailChimp or a Google Group. (Repeat this campaign every week, but don’t send out after business hours (It can be labeled SPAM, so best time to send is M – F between 10 am – 4 pm)
Second, send your invitation design to a printer or go to Staples and make 500 copies. Printer V staples it all depends on time. I’d recommend for the first event designing an oversized 6 x 9 postcard (please go to MCGOP.com/Dr.Politics to view examples of various postcard designs and best practices).
If you do a postcard, it will cost you roughly the same as mailing via First Class Mail. If you go to Staples and get 500 copies of your invitation, you will want to get your campaign volunteers to come over one night, buy them dinner, have them stuff and hand address the invites. More people are likely to open a handwritten invitation than a preformatted, labeled invitation. Also, if they are mailing to people they know personally, have them put a little-handwritten note on the invitation to their friend. If possible use brightly colored envelopes.
When I had my event with Congressman King in 1994, I bought Red, White and Blue envelopes from Kinkos. I found that I got a better response rate from the colored envelopes than I did from the standard white number 10 envelope. In 1994, I also included an RSVP envelope stamped and addressed for them. In this day-and-age, I’d say you should still do that, since some of your more senior supporters may not want to go online to pay for an event. However, you do want to include a link where people can purchase tickets or just donate online for your campaign (Again, will cover more on this topic of Digital Campaigns in an upcoming issue)
YOUR INVITATIONS ARE OUT
So, now that your invites are out, does this mean your job is done? After one week of mailing out invitations, you and your finance team can prioritize invites. You should call the ones who gave from your first mailing FIRST. If they gave more than $200.00, ask them if they’d consider being on your host committee for this event. If they will ask what their responsibilities are for being on host committee, tell them that they should sell 10 tickets or more. Not all will say yes, but a few will.
After you have called your $200 + donors, call the rest of your list, and also ask them if they have friends who’d be interested in your campaign and issues. It is important that you, the candidate, make these calls. Set aside a couple of hours every day where all you do is make calls. Remember, these are people who have given to you before or were referred to you by people who have donated to you before.
TWO WEEKS OUT
By now, you should have an idea of how many will be attending your event. Make follow up calls and touch base with your speaker.
You also need to start fine-tuning the logistics for your event, i.e. make sure you have volunteer sign up forms, lapel stickers, bumper stickers, yard signs, tee shirts and your palm cards ready for the event. (I will cover more on campaign collateral in a future column) At the very least, you want everyone leaving with a bumper sticker placed on their car that day. Make sure you have responsible people at registration who make sure everyone gets a receipt, collect name and address, email phone and cell phone numbers. You want to plan for someone to put a lapel sticker on all of your guests. Decide who will be introducing you, your speaker and any other dignitaries in attendance. Decide on a volunteer who will take pictures of your event as well as posting pictures on Instagram, Facebook and Tweeting at your event. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBLE PERSON doing this.
Very important! As a candidate, DON’T MICROMANAGE YOUR EVENT. Keep your cool, and DEFINITELY keep a smile on your face. Greet your guests. Introduce your guests to any and all dignitaries at your event and let your donors have some face time with your guests. Don’t hoard the guests for your inner circle. When Congressman King spoke, he made it a point to shake hands with pretty much everyone in the room. This made the guests feel that they got some one-on-one time (Remember, Congressman King is great at retail politics and pressing the flesh – Not all guests are like this)
WAS YOUR EVENT A SUCCESS?
Here’s the answer: Your event was successful if you got within fifteen percent of your goal. Other factors: Did you get new names for your campaign team? Did you get others willing to host another house party for you?
IMPORTANT: Within 72 hours, send out thank you notes to all who attended the event. Also, issue a press release about your event after the fact. Don’t give specifics on how much you raised – Just state that you hit your goal.
Your first event will be one of the hardest and bumpiest of your entire campaign. Don’t become disheartened if your first fundraiser only has 20 people. Manage your expectations and don’t confuse your campaign with running for president. Many candidates, including yours truly, made that mistake in 1994.