ZURICH, SWITZERLAND — February 7, 2021 — Here is the untold story of the 2020 U.S. election: the nature of fundraising is dramatically changing.
It used to be that Republican candidates would usually have more money than Democrats. This had to with the nature of fundraising, which was essentially based on courting big donors. The trend I am now observing is that fundraising is moving towards a model with a large number of small donors.
Joe Biden, for example, literally had millions of people who donated say 20, 30 or 40 bucks. These people are not invited for a dinner, and they do not expect to ever meet Joe Biden nor to take a picture with him. The driver here is not access or prestige, it is emotion. If people are angry or worried, they usually want to do something about it. As a campaign, we have to give them an opportunity to do something, for example, to donate money.
When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, it soon became clear that Donald Trump and Republicans would be able to fill the vacant seat and change the majority of the highest court of the land for decades to come. It deeply worried liberals across the country. However, it also turned out to be some of the best fundraising days for liberal candidates.
And the trend is not limited to Joe Biden. Democrats running for the Senate or the House also raised big amounts of cash. Jaime Harrison, Democratic Senate candidate in South Carolina, broke the quarterly fundraising record for a senatorial candidate. He raised $57 million. During the primaries, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two most liberal candidates, were extremely good fundraisers.
You could also call this approach message driven fundraising. The ingredients for this are the following: First, well, a message that is tremendously emotionally appealing. Second, one needs good data to target potential donors. And third, it takes a tremendous amount of work to repeatedly ask for money and make it happen. The key here is to ask the same donor base again, and again, and again.
American political consultants are already starting to try and export the model to other countries. Whether or not it will work, remains to be seen. Fundraising is deeply rooted in the local, political culture. But with more and more people (constantly) being online, it can at least serve as an inspiration to candidates, parties and advocacy campaigns around the globe.