Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to Talk about Something you know Nothing (or Little) About

(For Jacquelyn Moritz, 1923-2013)

So, there I was, on my way to an Emerge training in Walnut Creek, California, to speak on Direct Mail Fundraising to a group of eager female students learning how to run for office. All good Democrats. All spending good money for this course.

Now, Emerge is one of my favorite training programs.  It takes a limited number of students each year in a 7 month intensive weekend training program that introduces them to the world of politics, campaigning, fundraising, and everything else associated with running, and winning, an elected office.  They meet top-notch campaign consultants, polling gurus, elected officials and other professionals who provide valuable lessons in what is really a crash course in the rough and tumble political game.

The last two years I spoke on Negative Campaigning  - the good, the bad and the truly ugly, when there is place for it, how to do it in a classy way and how to react if it's done to you.

This year they said no negative campaign talk, just how to raise money through the mails.  I said yes, naturally, although this is not my strong suit. No fundraising is. I know the fundamentals, I give them to my clients and I say go out there and ask, ask ask.  But give a talk on it on the same ticket as some of the best in this field, yikes!

I realize I was only asked at the last minute because someone else, and better at the topic, dropped out.

Also, it was a hard time as my beloved mother in law, Jackie, who I had spent a lot of time with over the past few years, had suffered a fall and a hip replacement the previous week, but never recovered, and that morning at 2:25 she had died in her sleep.  I had been up since then, and if I had not promised to fill in on short notice, would have backed out of the talk myself.

So there I was navigating the twisted route along the 80 freeway maze to Route 24 to Walnut Creek. At least it wasn't raining. I timed it so I got some yummy pasta and salad to fortify me, as they were just finishing the lunch break, then to hear Shari Rubin, a real fundraiser give her talk.  She's perky and young, making me feel old and tired.  We exchange cards and I am up.  My talk is basic, write those letters. Snail mail still works, but keep them short. One page is best. Target them. Ask for the money you need.  Tell people what it's for. Follow up.

Follow up. The most important part of any campaign, the follow up, whether with fundraising or persuading the voters. They must hear from you over again. They must be addressed personally and often.  In fundraising, until they run screaming from the room shouting a loud "NOOOOOO!!" as they go.

Keep good lists, cull the ones who are repeatedly unresponsive; change addresses, so simple, so easily overlooked.

Ask and ask again; once they've made an investment in your campaign, they will want to see it pay off, with you in office.  And remember you are not asking for money for yourself, but your campaign, and the causes you champion that your donors and supporters believe in.  You win, they win.

Mercifully my talk was short without too many questions. Merciful for me, for the students. "First time that's happened," says Kimberly the enthusiastic Executive Director of Emerge California. "We're ahead of time."

Of course that's only because I didn't have all that much to say. And I'm not perky, young, cute or an expert in this particular field. I do sometimes surprise myself though, knowing more than I thought I did. So I wasn't unmitigatedly awful.

I say goodbye, drive home and attend a family gathering in my mother in law's assisted living room. Wine, snacks, stories and home to bed early. A very surreal day, sad and uplifting all at once.

As a good Democrat and active member of her community well into her eighties, I don't think Jackie would have had it any other way.
                                                   Jackie in her kitchen in Pt. Reyes 2010.