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How First-time Candidates Can Build a Mailing List

cmdi | Mon Jan 23, 2023

The first time a candidate runs for public office, it can be hard to know where to start! Fundraising may seem especially daunting. Often, candidates raise money through direct mail, but where do you get the mailing list of names to contact? Incumbents can rely on lists of previous donors, but first-time candidates don’t have this luxury. They need to identify potential supporters before they can even ask for contributions.

Here are some ideas on how first-time candidates can build up their mailing lists: 

• Friends and Family: For many first-time candidates, the first step of a campaign is to send a “friends and family letter.” As the name implies, candidates send these letters to let their friends and family know that they are running, ask for support and even fundraise. Friends and family will often make up a candidate’s most dedicated volunteers. While they might be able to provide some initial funds, you will probably need to reach out to other donors.

• Events: Early in the campaign, most first-time candidates begin hosting events, like lunches and coffee chats. For your supporters, these events provide a chance to introduce their own friends and family to your campaign. You also meet potential supporters when you attend or speak at local political events. Every time you host or attend an event, be sure to bring a sign-up sheet to collect the names, emails and mailing addresses of new supporters who want to get involved in your campaign. You can later use these lists for fundraising mailings!

• Your Predecessor: Consider asking for a list of donors from the last candidate from your party to run for the office. He or she might be willing to help. Keep in mind, though, that a current officeholder may choose not to get involved in a contested primary. For a statewide race, however, you could try reaching out to former candidates for various offices.

• Party Committees: State and local party committees can also be a great resource. They might be able to provide a list of potential donors. Of course, during a contested primary, party committees are likely to be unable to help.

Prospecting Lists: If you’re not able to find a free list of potential donors, consider renting a prospecting list from a list broker. For example, if you were running for senate, you could consider renting a fundraising list used by a gubernatorial candidate from your party last election cycle. By working with a list broker, you can access a donor list even if you don’t personally know the candidate who created it.

• Voter Files: Any candidate can get access to voter files, usually through the local county board of elections or a third-party vendor. While these files often come with a fee, they can be very useful. In voter files, you can see voters’ names, addresses and voting histories. The more frequently a person votes, the more likely he or she is to donate to a campaign. In states with party registration, you can even see voters’ party affiliations. That way, you can identify members of your party who are consistent voters – a great potential donor list!

• Be careful: Keep in mind that federal regulations prevent you from collecting names and addresses from other candidates’ campaign finance reports for you own fundraising efforts.

• Build for the future: Fundraising may be a challenge the first time you run for office. Remember that, in the future, you will be able to draw on this hard work and use the great fundraising list you will have created!