Money in Politics

Political Fundraising During a Pandemic?

April 01, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Political Fundraising During a Pandemic?
Money in Politics
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Money in Politics
Political Fundraising During a Pandemic?
Apr 01, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2

How are campaigns navigating the coronavirus pandemic? Are they fundraising? How? Kelly Dietrich is the CEO and founder of the National Democratic Training Committee, the largest Democratic campaign training program in the country. He joins the Money in Politics Podcast to discuss what he is hearing from campaigns as they retool and recalibrate, and shares how he is coaching campaigns during these uncertain times.

Show Notes Transcript

How are campaigns navigating the coronavirus pandemic? Are they fundraising? How? Kelly Dietrich is the CEO and founder of the National Democratic Training Committee, the largest Democratic campaign training program in the country. He joins the Money in Politics Podcast to discuss what he is hearing from campaigns as they retool and recalibrate, and shares how he is coaching campaigns during these uncertain times.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   0:05
I'm Andrew Blumenfeld, and this is the money in politics podcast. It will not come as a surprise to you, I'm sure to learn that we have received a surge in questions, in demands, and interests pertaining to how campaigns are forging ahead during the Coronavirus pandemic. There is so much anxiety and fear, there's anger. There's also a lot of confusion, and we hear all the time from people who are working in and around political campaigns that are trying to figure out how to navigate in this new reality. One thing that's especially tough that strikes me is that campaigns are inherently social entities. They literally require other people to survive. They need donors, they need volunteers, they need voters. Campaigns actually aren't really much more than the people that make it up. So how do campaigns manage all of that? While the world requires social isolation? This is something that campaign and political professionals are grappling with, and it's something that we wanted to explore further. And what about the economic crisis that is following this health crisis around for political fundraising? This is a real double whammy there, having to adjust how they adapt to the new realities of the pandemic and remote work and canceling public events. They also have to contend with the difficult task of soliciting contributions during a major economic downturn. Literally, every day we're talking to dozens of political professionals, journalists, candidate's campaign staff, vendors, donors you name it about this issue we're hearing about what is happening on the ground. From their perspective. They're asking for us to help share best practices. And today we wanted to share with you the insight of someone who has been fielding perhaps even more questions than we have from Democrats around the country. His name is Kelly Dietrich. He is the CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee. He is someone who knows a lot about campaigns. He knows a lot about fundraising, and he is a tremendous coach and mentor to Democrats up and down the belt across the country. We wanted him to weigh in on what he's seeing and what he's advising during this Corona virus pandemic. But first, let's hear a message from our sponsor. You're listening to money in politics brought to you by call time. Aye aye. Campaigning is hard. Why not make fundraising easy? Using automation and artificial intelligence. Call time. May I? Let's you fund raise five times faster with easy to use tools like instant donor research, automated voice mail drop and donor scoring. So you're always calling the right person at the right time with the right ask go online to call time dot a I schedule a demo and start your free trial today. Well, Kelly, thank you so much for joining us today. I think this is just such a crucial and critical time to get people like yourself who understand this space and have seen it from a variety of angles and are now engaging with so many candidates and staff all over the country to weigh in and help us make a little bit of sense of it. But before we dive too deeply into the topic, actually, if you just want to start by introducing yourself a little bit kind of what you do now and maybe some of the work that led to what you currently D'oh.

Kelly Dietrich:   3:17
Yeah, absolutely. And thanks for having me on it. Really appreciate it. My name is Kelly Dietrich. I am the CEO and founder of the National Democratic Training Committee. the nd t. C. Because our name wasn't long enough for if we had that that had to develop the acronym Andy T. C. We offer free training to any Democrat anywhere in the country, online and in person, and that in person has a big asterisk around it in today's the current situation. But we trained more than, uh, well, almost 50,000 plus people. Over the short four years we've been in existence, we have created an online academy at trained Democrats and Dot or GE, where any Democrat who wants to run for office work on a campaign or be a part of their local leadership can come and learn the best practices. How to be more successful talking with voters running a campaign start to finish, those 70 courses that are available online can walk you through everything from so you think you want to run all the way to what to do on election night. Our job, our goal. Our mission is to try to identify the best practices in Democratic politics and spread them out as far and wide to as many Democrats across the country as possible so that we is a party enjoy more success at the local state federal level. We build a deeper bench of candidates for future office. We help grow the Democratic brand at the local level by empowering people who are willing to go door to door in their neighborhoods and communities do so as effectively as possible. And finally, we think it builds a bottom up approach that complements the Democratstraditional top down, which is we spend a lot of money focusing on, you know, President Senate US House There are tens of thousands of local offices up this November, with people knocking doors being the face of the Democratic Party in there. Immunity if we teach them how to do one or two points better overall, think of the difference that could make statewide

Andrew Blumenfeld :   5:24
absolutely on. Actually, the focus on down ballot is one the lines really closely with how we think about things. And frankly, in any other time we would have been chatting with you about kind of traditional best practices up and down the ballot and how we make sure all candidates, regardless of size of campaign, have access to the best possible tools and strategies and approaches. And yet, where we find ourselves right now is trying to make sure that every campaign, including the very largest in those at the very top and then of course, all the way down to and including school board everything in between basically helps to create these best practices in addition to then helping to disseminate them. So I'm talking, of course, about the fact that campaigns are entirely having to retool and re imagine how they're gonna approach campaigning, fundraising, you name it in the in the age of this public health crisis. So I'm curious. What are you hearing from candidates and staff about how they're beginning to re imagine this? And as they're starting to develop these new best practices for this new age,

Kelly Dietrich:   6:27
I was quoted in Politico, I think today Sorry don't mean some ago I was quote, there's there's a funny story with this. I have a six year old daughter. My wife runs her own her own business. We have a six month old puppy world where all the corn team together here in in Chicago. I have seen the movie frozen to about 186 times at this point, and I was asked a very similar question. What you just asked by, Ah, David Seiders, who writes for Politico in my response to him was, It's that that this is this is crazy. Up is down, north is south. And as it's coming out of my mouth, I realized that while yes is an apt description of what is taking place, it also stems from frozen to it is a quote from an okay. That kind of ties together your whole situation.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   7:21
Least you didn't break out into song. I suppose that is

Kelly Dietrich:   7:24
not something anyone, anyone, deeds follow those people listening to the spot gassed up. Thank you for enduring this much. No, look, it's It's a crazy time in everyone, whether you were running for school, board for state rap or even Congress at this point, everyone is trying to figure out what is our current reality. You can no longer send people door to door to talk to voters. You can't have volunteers in your headquarters. You can't have a headquarters open right? No one could have seen this coming. And so people are hungry because the reason we're in this mess not the only but part of the reason that we're in this mess and that it is so bad is the failure of leadership from the top of the ticket in the White House all the way down, right? The quote unquote loyal opposition that GOP I guess we are the loyal opposition to the president, but the GOP has for the past four years, at least. But we all know it's been much longer, really divested itself, sold itself, sold their soul to following Trump, who can be a better trump supporter. And the administration is focused on short term benefits for their friends, for the rich, for the people paying dues at Mar a Lago, as opposed to the long term health of the economy for the country. And we're seeing it now. We're seeing it by their lack of regard for science, their disregard for international relations. I could go on a tangent about this all day, but the point is that those feelings that we all see is Democrats have been fighting for greater access. Healthcare have been fighting for paid sick. We've been fighting for all these things. Now we see why we need that. It's not because yes, it is. You know what? Yes, it is because we're a bunch of do gooders who want to make the world a better place. Hug a tree. It'll make you feel better. But more importantly, it's the right thing to do financially for humanity economically, like it doesn't matter. So you take those feelings of everyone feeling frustrated. Everyone being angry, everyone being pent up. We want to make this change. We want direction. How do we adapt? And so at the training committee, we have been working overtime the past couple of weeks trying to pivot our materials, trying to show our online lessons, trying to develop new content to help people understand this new reality. And we are uniquely positioned in Democratic politics. Do that as our online school again. Train democrats dot org's I'm gonna hammer at home. It's free. Anyone can come tell your friends. Tell your family we can take 100 people or 100,000 people on that site. Now it's That's not a challenge to the Russian box out there to overwhelm the site. But the truth and what we're telling people is that why you can't go door to door while you can't be out there doing face to face. The fundamental strategies remain. The tactics differ. Yun still need to know your win number. You still need to know how many people you have to get to vote for you so that you're winning on election night. Whether that's 100 or 10,000 you need to know that number, and then you have to adapt your plans to meet that number. So that means people have to get a lot more aggressive on the phone, on texting, on digital, in social forces, a lot of people to adopt new technologies, new ways of communicating that aren't always there. Go to they're not. They're most comfortable. Many people, especially competitions, do well face to face right where people, people want to be out talking to people you gotta pick up that phone were part of the solution.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   11:11
Yep, and specifically then about fundraising. It's It strikes me that one of the things that's so difficult about the fundraising conversation right now is that everything you just said about sort of the moral case for better leadership ties directly to the case someone can make for why they're campaign. Their candidacy matters now more than ever. And so that's a great pitch for fundraising. Except that it also would run up against potentially the high levels of anxiety, the high levels of economic distress. Right now, how are you kind of coaching people to think about how to be delicate and balanced? And how do they approach that situation?

Kelly Dietrich:   11:51
So is there are no magic answers, right? We joke in our fundraising trains that there's no magic list. Right? You gotta build your own list.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   12:00
Yeah, I remember you had a lot.

Kelly Dietrich:   12:02
Yeah. I started in politics in the late nineties, and everyone wanted to mail the Clinton list.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   12:08
Why don't we

Kelly Dietrich:   12:09
just get the Bill Clinton list? We'd have so much money.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   12:12
Yeah, I think

Kelly Dietrich:   12:14
there is no magical list. There's no magical answer for this, right? You need to call people and convince them that you're part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem. And you? Absolutely, just like you would at any other time empathize with people, Talk to them, don't talk at them, talk with them, give them a chance to explain their troubles, their thoughts, their ideas, their frustrations to you, right? Call time should not be a one directional conversation, right? You should be asking someone and someone says, Well, where do you stand on the bailout or whatever right? Realize that's an opportunity for you. It's not the opportunity for you to get your message, and you could do that should. But it's an opportunity for you. Say, Well, that's really interesting. Why don't you tell me what you're thinking right? Because they want to tell you where they stand. Yes, they kind of want to hear you. They want to tell you what they're thinking. Give them that opportunity and then use that toe build to give them hope to give them strength. Be the leader that you want to vote for, right? There's a great sign here in Chicago on one of the shops down the street that says, Be the CEO that your mom always wanted you to marry. I love. That holds true to be the elected official you always wanted to vote for. Why's that? To be somebody else? It should be you. And if you're not the best person for it, why are you running? So I get I don't get frustrated. I understand it, but I fired up when people talk about how it's awkward and it's heart. Yes, yes, it is. But this isn't easy. It's never been easy. And you know what? We need people to make certain this stuff doesn't happen again. I need you. My daughter needs you. Your family needs you. The future of American agents of you have to be uncomfortable for a few minutes. Toe asked someone to help make the change that we all want. I'm really sorry. You're gonna have to be uncomfortable, but get out there and do it.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   14:17
Yeah, well, And I think having that mindset also is a powerful way to probably ease those kinds of internal demons that you have about asking people for money because it shifts the conversation from one of I'm soliciting something of you for me, too. I am leading a direction. I'm leading a movement here that I want you to be a part of. And there's a variety of ways you could be a part of. But one of those powerful ways is to chip in your dollars. And frankly, at a time like now, where I can't ask you to go knock on doors for me, maybe giving 25 bucks. 100 boxes, Actually, in some ways, the easiest, fastest, most socially distanced away Made a pitch into your kid, man,

Kelly Dietrich:   14:57
Right? Like some of us, you know, we're at home. We don't have time. I've Like I said, my six year old is here. We got a six month old puppy. On

Andrew Blumenfeld :   15:05
top of

Kelly Dietrich:   15:05
that, I would love to be able to phone bank and text bank for people. I can't, right. There are three ways anyone can support your campaign. They can vote. They give you their vote, they give you their time. They give you the money. They're all just is equally valid. Is any of the others?

Andrew Blumenfeld :   15:20
Yep. Yep, yep. Well, I'm curious. With all of the changes that that campaigns are quickly adopting. I'm assuming. And even from our experience, we've seen there are some that seem maybe better positioned to have adapted more readily than others. Some that had already sort of adopted a variety of technologies or had just proliferated the ways in which they were reaching donors and voters before all of this happened. Are you seeing the same thing? Are there kinds of campaigns? Candidates, staff that were better position to tackle what is, you know, tackle. It has been thrown their way. And does that sort of help you communicate to campaigns the sorts of things they could be doing now, just to continue to stay flexible and to stay viable and competitive during this really tricky times?

Kelly Dietrich:   16:06
Yet you're really good campaigns in all of my trainings. I usually ended the fundraising training with one slide that says every campaign is a train wreck. The most organized and well funded train wreck usually wins. Uh, that's no more. That's that's never been more true than than now. But the campaigns that or organizing that they have a campaign plan, they know what they're trying to accomplish and can lay it out and that they know. Then they can measure and adapt right, even when things drastically changed when reality gets turned upside down. So we have seen campaigns that have been more open to try new things and to measure them to make certain that they're working. So campaigns that have been pro actively engaging in texting programs. This is hard. It's and look, When I was a young whippersnapper, I remember embracing the advent of fundraising databases in keeping records on the computer as opposed to just the call she nowadays. Texting is the new technology that people who are older like if you text me from a political campaign, I'm not responding to you, but most people do, right, and we're adopting it here. The training committee. We sent out text for some of our virtual trainings that we've done, and we saw 25 30% open rates, which is unheard of. I saw a stat that said, Ah, 80 plus percent of all text messages are red within two hours. I mean, that's crazy, right? I mean that they don't respond. Your message is still getting there. And it's an evolution of the way that society communicates. And we have to constantly remind ourselves we're not. Our voters were not our donors. This is not for us to be successful. We can always think about what would I do? We have to think about what do they need right and think that way. So texting. If you're running A If you are running a comprehensive state of the art call time operation, I know of a certain call time tool that could be very helpful. Commission sleep like you on your own.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   18:19
Please go for people should

Kelly Dietrich:   18:21
know about that. Sit there listening to this, right. Because at this point you have limited time. You have limited money of limited people. So whatever you can do to reach more people in less time, that costs you less money. Great. You need to do that right. And then you need to leverage those technologies, those strategies into areas that haven't been done before. Maybe, you know, you were really good about fundraising. These regards. Well, great. It's time to pivot over to field. Just because you got to get more people over there, right? Take it over to Facebook. Let's find people, right. Can you direct message people on Facebook? We have seen people doing that with some success, because if people aren't answering their text, some of them are on Facebook and will answer there. So yeah,

Andrew Blumenfeld :   19:03
so I'm also mean you mentioned the Bill Clinton list and ah, it occurs to me and I sort of alluded to this before, but it occurs to me that we're all grappling with the health crisis, of course, first and foremost and then in The very, very immediate background of that is the economic crisis and the uncertainty of the economic times for so many. I just wonder, as you think, back on fundraising during great economic times and bad economic times. Are there any lessons that you impart on? You know, aside from all of the uniqueness of the moment of it being so health driven and all the isolation and all of that, there's also just the fact that we're entering some very, very scary economic times for a lot of people. And I wonder how you've seen campaigns adapt to that in the past. That may be useful today.

Kelly Dietrich:   19:53
Yeah. Look, the financial crisis, the market crash in 2008. Similar, right? We've been through recessions in downturns. Uncertainty after 9 11 right? There were a lot of times where the nation has had critically important things. Now this is subtly different and drastically different in many different ways than all of those in the past. However, the fundamental in from my experience from from viewing those campaigns in that time, the fundamental variable that determine whether or not a campaign was gonna be successful in raising money, was the ability for candidate in the campaign toe ask, Are you willing to pick up the phone where you're willing to talk to people and work through this? People want to be supportive. They want to help. They want to make a change. You have to give them that opportunity again. It's there's no magic bullet here, right? There are strategies to help you as your tactics change. But at its core, it's relating with people. It's showing empathy. It's showing compassion. It's giving them hope and asking for what you need to help them make the change.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   21:12
Yeah, yeah, Young, as we've mentioned now, a couple times, it's It's in some ways, that desire for changes in its starkest relief during during a time of crisis, you know, economic health or otherwise I was really struck on. I think it was Tuesday of last week that I was speaking to campaigns congressional on down, who were operating in Ohio, and they had told me, you know, as late as 11 o'clock the prior nights, you know, hours before polls were supposed to open, they were getting conflicting information about whether or not their election was even going to happen. Ultimately in Ohio. It did not, and they had a lot of questions about. We just spent down to zero basically, to get ourselves to today, only to find out that today is not the day. And I don't actually know when Election Day even is. And how am I gonna go back and re raise all that money that drove home for me? The level of uncertainty that exists and certainly in my own personal professional life, it is stunning to me how different the day looks at the end of the day as compared to the beginning and how that has been true now for weeks on end. I guess the question here is just how do you talk to campaigns? What kind of advice do you give to campaign staff and political professionals about dealing with uncertainty? What are the steps that they can take that are going to mitigate the risks that are gonna make sure that there is positioned as they can thio to tackle the challenges that come their way when times were just as uncertain as they are?

Kelly Dietrich:   22:47
Well, I'm glad you're throwing me the easy questions.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   22:52
That's a look.

Kelly Dietrich:   22:53
This maybe this is certainly some of the most challenging campaign times. And I can only imagine sitting in on Ohio campaign when that happens. Right? And you've spent all your money, you're ready to do all your outrage and then truth. Things change. There are certain factors you can control, their certain factors you cannot control. You build a plan to meet as many as you can. The changing of Election Day is nothing you can't control.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   23:25
Yeah, right. Exactly.

Kelly Dietrich:   23:27
Trying to plan for that? I don't know how you how you good, Right? Because what do you do? Like you not spend down? Because you don't know if it's gonna change. And then you old back resources and it doesn't change. So you have to make plans for each of the viable contingencies. Right? And this is this is just my advice. Part of the reason I started trained Democrats the training committee is because this type of experience, this type of information was being walled off and wasn't being accessible to anyone who couldn't afford it, right. Could they hire someone who knew how to run a campaign? Could they? They had endorsed by a big special interest group that would help them get that experience. And we want to make certain this is out. Federal. Our job is to collect this information, so I would Look, it's gonna be amazing later this summer, this fall to start collecting from the experience that all of these campaign managers and candidates had. How did they handle it? What worked? What did? Because right now you have to. My advice is to plan for the contingencies that you know you could Dio, Can you manage and stagger your cash flow to hold back and avoid as much as possible before you know what? Go no go date. But at some point you have to commit. I am hopeful that many of the immediate primaries are already being pushed back and you're not going to run into the You know, the primary is supposed to be in a week and they're canceling it. But you cannot stress enough to anyone who runs. You gotta have a plan. You got to know where you're going. That plan is gonna completely change between now and Election Day. But that's okay. At least you know where you're going, how you're getting there, and you're measuring of adapting over time.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   25:09
Yeah, absolutely. Well, then maybe actually, a good sort of final place to land here on that note is what are the resource is that you're pointing campaigns toward Maybe just also remind us all that you and your organization are doing so that those that are listening the crisis obviously is ongoing. The reality, as we've just discussed, is changing every day. So having a few resource is that maybe folks can be consistently checking in on or no will be there along the way. As a support system, I think might be a nice place for us to end.

Kelly Dietrich:   25:41
Yeah, absolutely. At nd t c, we have our online training at Train Democrats that or it's available 24 7 It's on demand. It's completely free. It's It's not a bunch of webinars or power point presentations and people talking at you. These are professional adult learning, online learning courses that will give you not only the big theory about why you're learning something for your campaign, but break it down to how to put it to work on your campaign right away. We're also implementing I think, President, we have more than one t. We're doing with three or four a week virtual training each week. That schedule is up at trained democrats dot org's backslash events. Go to the site. You'll see it. There's a banner at the top. Please share those far and wide. Many, many other groups are also out there trying to be helpful if you come in and register an account with us if you tell us about yourself. Well, actually send you an e mail with all the other groups that are providing resources and helping. I do want to give a shout out. I know I'm gonna leave off a ton of people. I know I apologize, but run for something has put up a cove in 19. General resource is Paige. If you go to run for something dot net, I think it's on the front page. You can see there. They have everything from Cove in 19. Resource is to candidate. Resource is from groups all over the country doing amazing work. So those are the two places we've really been pointing people. We have a Facebook group at private Facebook group where people can ask questions. They can interact and help each other, which we have seen an explosion of activity over the past week or so. And then finally, anyone who has campaigned questions consent them. Two questions at trained democrats dot org's questions at train democrats dot org's. We're collecting those trying to respond to a CZ many as we can, and using those is the basis for blog's and our virtual training's etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We just wanna help as many people as we can.

Andrew Blumenfeld :   27:48
That's fantastic. Those air really terrific resource is I think the I am especially taken by this notion of a Facebook group, because I I like you am really interested in seeing what people learn from one another as we go. And then also, I think, as we get further and further away from this and have and are able to take a step back and reflect, I think we're gonna find some people did really phenomenal things and really thoughtful, innovative, impressive, you know, shows of leadership and campaign style, and it will be nice if along the way, some of us can can learn from from those that are being Trailblazers in that regard. So that's great.

Kelly Dietrich:   28:23
I completely, completely agreed. If anyone listening out there has stories or examples or lessons that we should know or understand sent him to us, Man. I mean, we've gotta get I agree with you. We've got to get this information out to as many people as far and wide. This possible Democrats, we need to be constantly learning, involving adapting and getting better at our craft. And we need to be thinking not just about November 2020 but long term. How you let's make certain that we're building the infrastructure now so that four years, eight years, 10 years from now we're not in the same space

Andrew Blumenfeld :   28:54
once again. Yeah, well, I completely agree. And I'm so grateful for what you do. I'm so grateful that you came on to share with us. Thanks so much for being here, Kelly. Really appreciate it.