A successful Libertarian Party
1. Maintains an accurate, up-to-date database of members and prospects.
2. Sends out a prompt, professional information package to interested prospects, and sends out timely membership renewal notices to current members (if the state or national party doesn't handle this for you).
3. Engages in ongoing, constant prospecting to increase the size of the organization.
4. Publishes a regular, decent-quality newsletter to keep members and prospects informed. Uses newsletter to publicize activities and success.
5. Has a bank account, a Treasurer, and an ongoing, implemented plan to raise money.
6. Runs candidates for political office whenever possible. Monitors elections (or registration numbers) which effect ballot status, as necessary.
7. Is active in the political system -- whether through elections, referendums, lobbying, or whatever.
8. Has regular, publicized, productive, & interesting public meetings. Has regular meetings of party leadership to plan strategy & projects.
9. Has an organized media outreach plan -- which can include press releases, press conferences, and personal contacts to promote the party and earn publicity.
10. Has leadership dedicated to growth, success, & professionalism - and determined to avoid factionalism, arguments, and obstructionism. Party leadership has a solid, realistic vision for success.
Your First Meeting
Here's is a first-hand account of how Ken Bisson in Steuben County, Indiana, publicized, organized, and conducted the first meeting of a new county Libertarian Party.
First I'll tell you a bit about my county. Steuben County has 30,000 people with 7,727 voters in November 1998. Of these, 49 voted straight-ticket Libertarian while 1,517 cast straight-ticket Republican and 1,006 straight-ticket Democrat ballots. The Libertarian Party statewide candidates matched the statewide averages of 2%-4% here. There has never been a Steuben County meeting of Libertarians before. The first non-Bisson Steuben County resident joined the LP after I did an OPH [Operation Politically Homeless] booth here July 1997. As of February 1999, there are seven LP members here (four of them Bisson family members!).
In advance of the meeting, I mailed inviting letters to the three LP members (not in my family), nine folks whose names I had collected at the '97 OPH booth and six other friends or prospects on my list. I had the meeting listed in the "Community Calendar" area of the local daily and local weekly newspapers. A reporter from each paper called back and did a story, which they also printed this week.
Last night I phoned nine of the above invitees. I was told eight would be attending and I expected six. I arrived at the meeting site (Pizza Hut) 10 minutes early and found two people already there. One of the LP members had brought a friend! Within the next eight minutes there were 11 of us there. Everyone was actually early! Of the seven Steuben LP members, five attended. (Only my two teenagers were missing.) The six non-members were a diverse group. That was perfect for the meeting I had planned.
I used the Advocates "Seminar 1" technique of starting with a few passes around the table with each person answering easy, getting-to-know-you type questions. Everyone gets involved and gets to share a bit about their interests. I then explained the growth of the Libertarian Party, and shared that as more and more people joined us, they should find an active group they could "connect" with. The group at the meeting represented the type of folks that would be joining in the next few years -- politically interested people with a respect for individual responsibility.
I told them that by learning what type of group they would like to join, I could develop a type which new members would enjoy. Our purpose at the meeting would be to explore the opportunities. I then asked Ellen (my wife and fellow Libertarian) to lead 20 minutes of "brainstorming" to collect ideas about successful local groups they had joined in the past and suggestions of what they would enjoy in a Steuben County Libertarian group.
We then selected five of their ideas for more discussion. They included concepts like the timing of meetings, subject matter, goak, and locations. Everyone felt comfortable sharing their ideas and contributed. After a brief Q & A opportunity, I closed with a final "roundtable" asking each attendee to share a "highlight" of the evening. This is another valuable Advocates technique. It gives the meeting a clear ending and everyone leaves with a focus on something they enjoyed as a result of their attendance.
On the way to the car, I had three people offer to help man a future OPH booth and two other general offers to help in the future. Most importantly, Ellen and I had FUN. We are eager to move on from here and build a Libertarian group in our community! I think we're off to a great start.
The following is simply a recommended set of guidelines for affiliates to use in the candidate selection process:
General Appearance:The candidate should be willing to offer a professional appearance. This includes being well groomed, and in business attire.
Professionalism:The candidate should be willing to learn techniques of public speaking, professional debating styles, public contact.
Philosophy:The candidate should be willing to read the Libertarian Party Platform of both your state and National party, and be prepared to either defend or deny the planks contained in both.
Financial Resources:The candidate should be of sound financial health, and made aware of the potential drain on resources. The ideal candidate will have a steady job that they are proud to include in their biography, and the financial resources to invest in their own campaigns. (At least 5%)
Skeletons:The candidate should be made aware that anything in their past could become public knowledge. That the public "right to know" includes their personal, and financial lives. Those who have serious negatives in their past or current lives should give serious consideration as to how public knowledge of these issues could reflect upon their lives and the reputation of the party.
Extremism:Recognizing that this is entirely a judgment call, and that all of the positions of the LP can be considered extreme, the local affiliate must make some kind of judgment as to whether a potential candidate is simply too whacked out to represent us publicly.
The fact that an individual does not meet, or is unwilling to try to meet all of the above criteria does not preclude them from being involved in campaigns. There is an entirely different selection process for campaign managers. Those whose personal lives simply cannot tolerate public scrutiny can be every bit as vital to the process by serving as a campaign manager.
Success 99 Notebook
The campaign plan is your road map to success. It should be created in two forms. One for you and your closest advisors, one for dissemination to potential contributors and PACs. Create your version first, then modify for dissemination.
1 Goals for the campaign. Win? Percentage? Increased name ID for future runs? Define the debate? Balance of power? Party building? Increased clout for the LP?
2 Strategy: Who will be your targeted voters and what reasons you will give them to vote for you.
3 Detail the research that you have done regarding your district, your opponents, etc., that provides the back-up documentation for your strategy.
4 Tactics: How you will reach this group with the message.
5 Timeline for the activities involved.
6 Budget required. Use the Minimum and the Maximum.
7 Fundraising game plan. How you will raise the money required to implement your strategy and tactics.
8 Resources available besides money. Who do you know? The additional resources that you will draw on. Do you belong to a church, club, etc. that will provide supporters?
Take the information above and create a presentation "flip chart" version of same, using sheet protectors and a binder. You will use this to show to your major contributors during meetings with them. Provide as much information as you possibly can without giving away your secrets.
Create a modified version of the same plan, as described above. Leave out the details that your opposition could use against you. This should be the "executive summary" version, which can be left behind with contributors or given to media. It will speak in generalities of who your targeted voters are, why they will vote for you, how you plan to reach them and how you will rally your resources to accomplish same.
Your campaign plan will show that you are serious. No bank would loan you money without a business plan. This is the political equivalent. It should also create a sense of urgency. You have a lot to do in a very limited amount of time!
The Absentee Voter Plan is virtually a separate "plan within a plan" to reach a group of people who vote days, sometimes weeks, before Election Day. Depending on the district, they can represent a large block of voters, have a fairly consistent demographic (seniors) and are identified by the clerk who provides the voter lists. Absent voters (AV's) need to be contacted and AV ballots need to be monitored as carefully as possible.
They are mostly senior citizens who are highly likely to vote. Target your outreach pieces accordingly!
This is an area where voter fraud is most likely to occur.Large percentages die between elections, but somehow manage to vote anyway. The laws about counting AV ballots vary from state to state, but if verification of signatures and ballots is the responsibility of an appointed or an elected city or county clerk, the possibility of tampering remains a concern.
Libertarianism is what you probably already believe.
Libertarian values are American values. It's America's heritage of liberty, personal responsibility and working to build a future for your family. That being free and independent is a great way to live. That each of us is a unique individual, with great potential. That you own yourself. You have the right to decide what's best for you.
Americans of all creeds and colors built a great country with these ideas. Let's use them to build America's future.
The Libertarian Party is your representative in American politics.
Libertarians are the only ones who respect you as a unique, competent individual.
We want you to be able to make your own plans and keep what you earn. To live, work and play your own way. Your imagination should be your only limitation.
The Libertarian Party is the only political group working for everyone's liberty on every issue, all the time.
You have a better choice than just left and right.
The libertarian way gives you more choices in politics, business, personal life, every way.
Today's liberals and conservatives have rejected America's Heritage of liberty and responsibility. They want to put us all in their straitjacket. Americans built a great country without shackles. It's time to take them off again.
Break free of the useless left-right spectrum. Think freedom on all issues. Think libertarian.
I want the compassion we all share for the truly needy to mean something, to work.
Private charity works, government welfare doesn't.
After 30 years of big government welfare, poverty has increased. Government employees take more out of welfare than the poor. Private charity delivers much more for much less with money compassionate people give voluntarily.
We can do more good for the poor and cut federal taxes by hundreds of billions by replacing the government welfare plantation with voluntary community programs.
Over 25 million Americans are occasional drug users, not addicts.
Our history with legal and illegal drugs proves that relatively few people are unable to handle addictive substances.
All the hard drugs were legal before 1914 and there were few addicts. Studies show that addicts can be productive and don't commit crime when they can get inexpensive drugs. Law enforcement admits that the drug laws can't stop drug use.
Let's decriminalize drugs and save the billions of dollars wasted harassing peaceful drug users.
The public schools have failed our children.
We need competition in the education business so that the consumers can control it.
Today, one out of five teenagers is functionally illiterate.
Colleges must teach reading and writing. Private schools educate better at half the cost.
I propose a tax credit for anyone, or any company, who pays for the education of any child in any school, public or private. This will bring competition into education and put the control where it belongs, with the students and their parents.
There are three options in American politics today.
Utopia is not one of the options.
First, is the status quo. Big, expensive, intrusive government. The second option is to make government even larger and more socialistic. Third, is the libertarian option. Cut government, cut taxes, get the politicians out of your business and personal affairs, and let you solve your own problems.
Upon reflection, most Americans prefer the libertarian option. Its not Utopia, but its better.
I want to break the chains of poverty and help the disabled.
First, remove laws that prevent work. Second, privatize welfare.
Permits, licenses, zoning, labor laws: They all stop people who want to work. Especially minorities. Repeal those laws. Private charity is more compassionate and delivers the goods better than the government welfare plantation.
We can't make a perfect world. We can help the poor by replacing inefficient government programs with voluntary assistance.
Alcohol prohibition tore America apart once. Now it's the War on Drugs.
Threats of jail won't stop drug use. They do make it harder to help people who need it.
Prohibition created organized crime. The drug laws keep it alive. Drug dealers corrupt the criminal justice system, paying off cops and courts. Before drugs were illegal, Americans handled them with few problems.
Let's respect the right of people to control their own bodies. Decriminalize drugs, help those who need it, and have the police protect us from real criminals.
Guns are inanimate objects. If you own a gun and use it responsibly, you violate no one's rights so you shouldn't be penalized.
The poor in high crime areas feel the need for guns to protect themselves more than anyone. The police don't provide security. No one should be denied the right to own personal protection. Outlawing guns only creates an underground market with problems like those in Prohibition.
Let's have stiff penalties for the negligent or criminal use of guns and leave peaceful, responsible gun owners alone.
A great way to help the poor is to let them go where the work is, regardless of international borders.
People have the right to travel anywhere -- so long as they do it at their own expense, without violating the rights of others.
Economic studies show that most immigrants want to work short periods and return home. They stay longer because illegal border crossing is dangerous and costly. The same studies show that immigrants are productive. They don't take jobs, they add to the economy.
Respect for human rights and compassion for the world's poor require that we relax immigration restrictions.
The income tax is evil, and it's unnecessary. We can, and should, replace it with voluntary financing for legitimate government functions.
We had no income tax before 1914. America was prosperous. It wasn't trying to be a world policeman -- nor nanny to everyone. If we limit the federal government to national defense and protecting our constitutional rights, we wouldn't need the income tax.
Replacing the income tax with voluntary financing methods for government should be our goal, and we should begin now.
[By David Bergland]
As Libertarians, we frequently encounter comments from statists that strike us as ill-founded, poorly considered, poorly supported, and (in some cases) abysmally stupid. Sometimes we describe these comments as "knee-jerk", meaning that the comments are offered reflexively, rather like the jerking response of one's knee to the tap of a mallet. Most Libertarians find such comments irritating; some Libertarians have little patience with such comments.
However, Libertarians are not immune to the problem of offering knee-jerk responses. I submit that "knee-jerk libertarianism" is no more appealing than "knee-jerk liberalism" or "knee-jerk conservatism."
Furthermore, knee-jerk libertarianism can make us appear stupid, intellectually sloppy, or unconcerned about the welfare of our neighbors. Unfortunately, since there are still relatively few Libertarians, we do not have the luxury of being able to make ill-considered remarks on a regular basis. In this article, I shall identify some important types of knee-jerk libertarianism and suggest corrective measures.
For the purposes of this article, I define knee-jerk libertarianism as a reflexive, ill-considered comment about some aspect of libertarianism. Note that the comment may be factually correct, but inappropriate in some manner. Please bear in mind that it is very easy to engage in knee-jerk libertarianism. Indeed, every Libertarian I know (including myself) has exhibited symptoms of the disease at some time; in some cases, the symptoms are mild, whereas in other cases the patient may be beyond help.
In the interest of brevity, I'll restrict myself to the most common and important types, each of which I have identified by a pithy phrase. As the reader will discern, many of the types overlap.
I suspect most readers are aware of the joke: "How many Libertarians does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: None. The free market will take care of it." Unfortunately, the punchline of this joke is frequently the response one hears from Libertarians in response to difficult questions about the environment, medical care, welfare, and Social Security, and many other important areas.
The free market has many virtues, but perfection is not one of them. There are plenty of cases where a free market mechanism may not produce someone's desired "optimal" outcome. In a market-based society, it is possible that some people will be unable to obtain life-saving medical procedures, that old-growth forests may be logged, that buildings of unique architectural or historical significance may be leveled in order to build a parking lot, that some types of flora and fauna may become extinct due to human activities, and so forth. Of course, in most cases there is little (if any) reason to believe feasible non-market arrangements will produce superior outcomes. In any event, Libertarians should understand the limits of markets.
A closely related type of knee-jerk behavior involves overselling the product. I attended an event in which an LP candidate for national office claimed that in a Libertarian society, real economic growth rates would be 10-20% per year. This assertion may be true, but no evidence was offered in its favor; I found the assertion to be extremely optimistic, as did others in the audience.
While I believe a Libertarian society will be better than conceivable alternative institutional arrangements on both moral and prudential grounds, it will not be Utopia. Libertarian societies will have all manner of serious problems, some of which may be intractable. Furthermore, the costs of moving from where we are to where we want to go may be very high. For example, if we were to eliminate Social Security tomorrow, some people might be badly hurt.
One of the most common (and irritating) types of knee-jerkism involves Libertarians who offer apodictic opinions concerning matters of public policy about which they are ignorant. A Libertarian acquaintance of mine gave a speech in which he blasted the Food & Drug Administration for causing pain, suffering, and death as a result of its review process for new drugs and medical devices.
Unfortunately, he had virtually no knowledge of the actual FDA approval procedures, and offered precious little rigorous analysis or peer-reviewed data in support of his argument against FDA fiat and in favor of consumer choice. As a result, even though his basic point (FDA regulations can, and do, injure people) is correct, regulation supporters were able to obscure that point by using his errors and poorly supported assertions to cast doubt about his condusions.
One of the more damaging forms of knee-jerk behavior involves making unwarranted assumptions about government employees. First, many of the LP's best activists receive a government paycheck. Second, government employees frequently are the best sources about the day-to-day problems and failings of government action. Third, flippant derogatory comments about government employees may insult prospective members.
An example of this was relayed to me by friends: During a public speech by an LP candidate for national office, the candidate suggested that "members of the Armed Forces are postal workers in khaki." While the remark was evidently an attempt at humor, a U.S. Army captain in attendance who had indicated a desire to learn more about the LP was not amused. He left the event without seeking additional information about the party.
Fourth, comments which cast unjustified aspersions upon government workers may not resonate with the general public. An example: When I was growing up in my hometown of Pulaski, Virginia, the Post Office employees were among the nicest folks in town. They were polite, helpful, dedicated people who worked hard to do a good job. I attended the public schools of Pulaski; the overwhelming majority of my teachers were wonderful, intelligent people who really cared about the children whose education they assisted. Some of the sarcastic comments I've heard by Libertarians concerning government employees just won't play in Peoria (or Pulaski.).
A contender for the title of "most frequently-displayed type of knee-jerk libertarianism" concerns the failure to understand how most people perceive the benefits of government. While Libertarians may see certain government programs as costly activities of questionable benefit that should be provided by the market (if at all), our neighbors may see substantial benefits at a reasonable cost from a benevolent government doing the job for which it was established. This should not be surprising, since the benefits are usually easy to see while the costs of government are frequently difficult to calculate.
A type of knee-jerk behavior that is difficult to avoid involves assuming that your comments will be understood as you intend by your audience. When I discuss ending the power of the FDA to regulate the choices of consumers, I envision the typical benefits of freedom of choice: Lower prices, more diversity, more information, less suffering.
However, some who hear my comments may have a different vision: Thalidomide-deformed children, improperly-tested medical devices, botulism, salmonella, etc. In connection with point #5 above, many people may see the FDA as the protector of the people against dangerous drugs, faulty medical devices, and tainted food, without realizing that FDA protection also produces victims.
This type of knee-jerk libertarianism usually manifests itself in a lack of patience with those who are not immediately convinced of the justice and/or prudential benefits of a libertarian society. I must work constantly to keep my knees from jerking violently in this matter, since much of my outreach effort involves explaining libertarianism to college students.
Some of the students respond with hideously illogical or inaccurate comments as to why libertarians societies won't work, or why libertarianism shouldn't be tried. It is a struggle to refrain from dismissing these students as hopeless; fortunately, I have learned to keep my mouth shut until my knees stop jerking and my brain starts working.
My own story may be instructive. When I first encountered the libertarian perspective as a college student, I found some basic moral appeal in libertarianism but didn't immediately accept the philosophy. It took roughly three years before I became a Libertarian. When I now encounter a student who seems hostile to libertarianism, I ask myself whether today's Dr. Lark would have dismissed Mr. Lark of 1976 as unworthy of further attention.
Fortunately, the major corrective procedures are easy to describe. Unfortunately, they are sometimes hard to implement, typically because of the time and effort required.
Those who advocate a libertarian society must be scrupulously rigorous and honest in their analysis. As stated previously, honesty and accuracy will build credibility; a lack of intellectual integrity may make us look like fools or charlatans. (How do you react when some statist offers an inaccurate, illogical, or dishonest defense of his position?)
In conjunction with the preceding point, if you are going to criticize government programs on prudential grounds, it is incumbent upon you to get your facts straight. Don't make errors upon which opponents of the libertarian perspective can pounce and thus deflect attention from your major points.
In doing your homework, develop a set of easily digested/easily remembered examples that illustrate your points.
The term "rhetoric" has come to have a somewhat negative connotation. However, the term originally meant the process of structuring an argument so that it takes its most effective possible form. In particular, the argument is structured so as to flow in a natural, easily understood fashion. Advocates for liberty should invest the time to prepare a basic argument in favor of a libertarian society; a useful method is to write out the argument as if you were to give a lecture on the subject. A related point: Examine your vocabulary to determine how your advocacy can be improved. Try to determine how your comments are interpreted by non-libertarians.
Many of the arguments in favor of libertarianism (or against statism) are not easy to understand; indeed, in some cases, the arguments seem counterintuitive. It should be no surprise that it takes people time to consider fully our arguments. There are several extremely bright people in the LP who took several years to evaluate the libertarian perspective before coming to accept it. A little bit of patience with a prospect usually pays off handsomely; even if you can't convince someone to become a Libertarian, you may be able to keep that someone from becoming hostile.
When you challenge a statist to accept the libertarian perspective, you may be asking that person to reject assumptions and positions held for many years. Indeed, that person may be faced with the prospect that he has advocated programs that have actually hurt people the programs were meant to assist. This can be an extremely painful process, and we should have compassion (or at least understanding) for those undergo this process.
There is simply no substitute for this: to improve your advocacy efforts, you must practice. This is true whether your efforts involve discussing libertarianism with friends during a coffee break or addressing a lecture hall filled with unsympathetic people.
About the author:James W. Lark, III is an adjunct professor in the Dept. of Systems Engineering at the University of Virginia. He is currently serves as advisor to the student Liberty Coalition at that university. He advises college and high school libertarians throughout the country on promoting libertarian ideas on campus. He has lectured and conducted workshops on the subject of campus organizing at several state Libertarian Party conventions, and at the Libertarian Party national conventions in 1987, 1991, and 1996. He is also is the vice-chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, and serves as secretary of the Jefferson Area Libertarians (Charlottesville, Virginia).
Speaking on Campus
[By James W. Lark, III, Ph.D., Advisor, The Liberty Coalition]
Here are four ways to develop a media list for your state or local party -- ranging from the easy to the labor-intensive, and from the expensive to the free.
Bacon's offers a comprehensive, nationwide guide that lists 200,000+ media contacts at 40,000+ different outlets. CD-ROM and hardcover books are available. Purchasers must sign contractual agreement not to violate property rights by unauthorized duplication.
The phonebook-sized "Yellowbook" lists contacts by type of media; alphabetically by personnel; by subject or specialty; and geographically. While less comprehensive than Bacon's, the Yellowbook is useful for big-city markets but considerably less effective in smaller markets. Also available on CD-ROM.
Most local libraries have media guides that list phone and fax numbers for reporters, editors, and producers. One example: Gale's Directory of Publications & Broadcast Media, available in most public libraries.
If your organization has more time than money, you can still employ the single most accurate way to compile information about media in your area: Simply pick up the phonebook and call them. In just a few hours, a small group of volunteers can compile a completely up-to-date list. Ask for the name of the reporter who handles political news, as well as the phone and fax number, and you're in business, immediately.
Here are 36 tips about how to get more media coverage for your state or local Libertarian organization. These suggestions are straight from media professionals -- the White House reporter for USA Today; the Washington correspondent for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain; a booker from CNN cable network; and a producer for a Washington-area radio station. These tips were collected at a seminar at the National Press Club entitled: "How to Get Media Coverage for Your Issues and Spokesmen," sponsored by one of Washington, DC's most successful public relations firms, Creative Response Concepts (CRC). Quotes are verbatim from the various journalists.
(2) Prepare a list of the three main points you want to make. Be prepared to make these points several times, in slightly different ways.
(3) Be ready to set the stage by giving a 30-second description of the problem/issue. Usually, this resembles the first paragraph of any standard news story. Don't assume that the host/audience knows anything about the issue.
(4) Be able to explain why this issue is important to the average American, in terms that they can understand.
(5) Study your opponents' arguments. Anticipate their criticisms. You can do this by preparing a list of obvious questions, then "role playing" with a friend to practice your answers. Most tough questions can be anticipated. Note: When coming up with "tough" questions, DON'T think like a Libertarian! Think like a Republican or Democrat.
6) Be prepared for seemingly easy open-ended questions -- which can be more difficult than you expect. Examples of common open-ended questions: "Tell us why this is an important issue." "Why are Libertarians concerned about this issue?" "Tell us a little about the Libertarian Party."
(1) Speak in short sentences, and avoid jargon. Be lively and animated. Don't speak in a monotone. Remember: Radio and TV are primarily entertainment. If you are not (to some degree) interesting and entertaining, you will not be invited back.
(2) Show your personality. Humor and the use of real-life examples will make you more likable, and consequently, more credible.
(3) Back up your opinions with facts.
(4) If you use statistics, put them in context, ideally by using a colorful metaphor. Example: "Many people say that too much money is spent on political campaigns. Interestingly, Americans spent three times as much money in 1994 on potato chips as they did on political campaigns."
(5) Be ready to supply a Libertarian solution. Remember, criticism of an opponent's position is only a vehicle through which we can present our ideas.
(1) Say "um." One way to avoid it is to pause for a second before answering a question in order to gather your thoughts.
Nothing is an absolute when media are involved. Nothing is a given when elections come along. However, candidates can really help themselves out by following a few mostly common-sense steps in their dealings with print (and other) media.
BY BARBARA GOUSHAW
From 0 to $250,000
The History of the Jon Coon Fundraising Plan
BY BARBARA GOUSHAW
Fundraising is a Selling Job.You must sell potential contributors on the idea of contributing to your campaign. In politics there are two types of contributors. Those who are ideologically aligned with you, and those who seek political access. Contributors to Libertarian campaigns are primarily of the ideological group, since selling the idea that we will provide potential contributors (or PACs) with access to the halls of power is not something that we generally have to offer, and is potentially a violation of Libertarian ethics. Access to the candidate, however, can still be a motivation, as people love to have a political candidate listen to their opinions and complaints.
First we wrote the plan.This is the political equivalent of a business plan. We detailed, in general terms (specifics remained confidential, but were also in writing) who our targeted voters were, our plan to reach them, why we thought they would respond to our message, what the costs were to accomplish the plan, and the time-frames for accomplishing it. This became the foundation of our fundraising game plan, as well as the campaign plan itself.
At first it was just Jon and I. (Later there were others who volunteered to help with this project.) We began the fundraising process by obtaining the Michigan Libertarian Party mailing list. Then we called them.
We did not write them a fundraising letter.We called them, explained who Jon was, (outside of a few party activists, no one really knew Jon) what he was running for, and the basics of the plan. Then we asked them, not for money, but for an appointment to meet with Jon at their home. Closing with: Agree to meet with Jon. Talk to him. Ask him questions, and if you like what you hear, consider supporting his campaign. We got about a 40% yes to the meeting.
Then Jon would go to their house, and explain the plan, and pitch the pledge program. The vast majority of people that he met with became financial supporters, campaign volunteers, or both.
Some folks were so dazzled receiving the phone call and the offer of a meeting they agreed to contribute without a meeting. (Now that Jon has been identified as "Michigan's most prominent Libertarian" by the media, people actually brag: "Jon Coon came to my house!") Those who volunteered as a result of the meeting were invited to join the phone banking effort.
Some folks requested printed info when they received their phone calls, so we sent out a "basic information packet" with a contribution form. Some gave as a result, but most times this was a simple a way of getting us off the phone without saying "no." Some gave later. Some gave when they received the follow-up phone call after we had sent the information.
Once Jon had some experience under his belt with this type of fundraising, we organized public meetings. Some were organized by us, (these generally went better) and some were organized by the affiliates.
The first was timed to coincide with the "official" announcement of his candidacy. We rented the auditorium at a local community center, then contacted a local talk-radio station, and spoke with the producer of a "semi-Libertarian" talk show host. Explaining that we wanted to officially announce Jon's candidacy on his show, we booked the interview for the day before the public meeting. Jon went on the air and as part of the interview, pitched the public meeting. 150 people showed up at that meeting and committed to contributing over $8,000 via the pledge program.
This continued as part of the plan, throughout the campaign: Organize a public meeting, get a radio interview to promote it, and pitch the pledge program. Many of the people who came also "discovered" and joined the LP.
A pledge program is generally a loser for "D's and R's" but can work really well for an LP candidate. Why does it work for us and not for them? We believe that people commit to a pledge and then bail out on it when the D's or R's do something that they don't like. Political pundits say that people won't fulfill their pledges, yet we had a 90% fulfillment rate. Those who did bail on us had a good reason (laid off, etc.) A few quit, however, over his stands on the issues.
During the events, or the home visits, Jon would ask people to join the pledge program. Contributing, on a monthly basis, what ever they could afford, until the end of the campaign. He always knew what the per-month number would be to take them to the maximum limit, and that was what he asked for. We kept track of our pledges, sent them a monthly reminder/newsletter and gently called to remind the ones who felt behind. The pledge base gave us a great budgeting/income tool.
Next to the Candidate and the Campaign Manager, the fundraising chair is the most important position on the campaign. Seek out someone who sells for a living, i.e.: Insurance, cars, stocks etc. These are folks who can take a "no" and not get discouraged.
Our fundraising chair, an insurance salesman named Al Garcia, raised thousands for us through a series of "breakfast meetings" with business people. Many of the people he invited were his friends, but as this program progressed, other staffers and volunteers thought of people that they knew that were appropriate invitees for these ongoing meetings. This program absolutely requires a personal invitation from a supporter who will encourage the person to attend the meeting.
Similar meetings that were promoted to the business community simply by mailing invitations were a dismal failure. Al also raised close to $21,000 at our state party convention during a challenge from a supporter who offered to give the maximum if 10 others would match it.
Jon did many personal appearances with non-Libertarian groups. Optimists, Veterans, Bikers, Gun Groups, United We Stand, virtually any group that wanted him, got him, and our supporters were actively encouraged to ask their organizations to have him speak. We did not fundraise at these engagements. Instead, Jon would ask them to sign the "clipboard that was being passed around" if they wanted more information about him or the campaign. Then we would follow up with a thank-you-for-attending letter, a lit piece and a request for funds. Time permitting, we would also make a phone call. Many of these folks, particularly the bikers, vets and gun people, became contributors and volunteers.
We also did a series of fundraising parties and events: Your basic dinner and speech with a pitch for funds after. Some of the most successful were the "Wild Game" dinner and the evening at the race track. The track event was titled, "Put Your Money On A Winner." We sold dinner tickets, and set up a competition between the tables of attendees to see who could contribute the largest portion of their track winnings back to the campaign.
The gun issue was hot in '94, and we organized the largest pro-gun rally in 20 years, which was held on the steps of the Capitol building in Lansing. (The extensive details of the organization of this event are available, if desired). Several times during the event, our volunteers passed through the crowd bearing five-gallon pails collecting cash from the attendees. After they made a donation, they received an orange Jon Coon lapel sticker, so that they would not get hit up again. (Although some gave every time the bucket came around!)
Our supporters and contributors received a monthly update throughout the campaign. It contained campaign news, a recap of media coverage, dumb things our opponents had done, upcoming events, etc. And of course, there was always a strong pitch for funds and information about whatever project we had going that required them to donate. It kept them feeling like they were part of what was happening, and never, ever lost money. Usually it generated double what it cost to get out.
In the last few weeks of the campaign, we called all of our contributors again, requesting money for advertising.
We asked, and asked, and then asked again for support. We asked in person, we asked on the phone, we asked at events, we asked by mail, we asked in ads in the national LP News. We asked when we thanked them for their last contribution. (A thank you is a must!)
Because our contributors are primarily ideological contributors, the majority of your funds are likely to come in the last few months, as things heat up. Access contributors, like PACs and the politically savvy major donors, give early. This can be challenging in the budgeting process for us, and is one of the major advantages that the incumbents will have; particularly because the media tends to judge a campaign's success by how much it has raised.
Finally, make certain that you have budgeted for the post-election expenses, because contributions end on election day unless you are the winner.
There are three myths about direct mail fundraising...
Fundraising isn't begging.Standing on the sidewalk and harassing people for money is begging. Fundraising is the act of describing something that needs to be done, saying how much it costs, and asking people if they value the proposed project enough to help pay for it. If they don't value it, they won't give. If they do, they will. It's just like any other economic exchange.
People won't pay for what they don't want. In addition, direct mail is passive. People get to decide, in the comfort of their own home, whether or not they want to give. No one is standing over them with a gun. If you aren't doing direct mail fundraising then you should be. You have projects you want to do that other people will also want to see done. Give them the chance to help.
Only the market can determine whether or not you are asking for money too often.If you start to raise less and less money from each appeal, then you're asking for money too often. If you're raising more and more money with each appeal, then maybe you should try asking more often. If the amount of money you raise is fairly consistent, then you're probably asking for money just about the right amount of times.
The Republicans mail fundraising letters to their members 52 times a year. That's once a week. They wouldn't be doing that if it wasn't profitable, and people wouldn't be giving enough to make it profitable unless they were geting personal satisfaction from it. The national LP mails fundraising letters about once a month. We would do it more often if we had more immediate ability to effect public policy as the Republicans can. And as we gain that ability, you can bet that we'll start to mail more often, as the market dictates.
Personal opinions about how short or long a letter has to be in order for people to read it are worthless.What matters is what the market tells us. And the market says long letters tend to work better. This has been confirmed by so many split-list tests that, as a general proposition, it's no longer even debated. However, it's important to understand some of the reasons why longer letters tend to do better. To understand this, we have to understand the different kinds of people who read direct mail.
There are four types of people who read direct mail . . .
- Those who don't read it at all, but throw it right in the trash.
- Those who read just the beginning and the ending of a letter.
- Those who skim the highlights.
- Those who read the entire letter.
There are two types of direct mail letters ...
A fundraising letter is any letter that is mailed to people who have already given you money in the past. It's almost impossible to lose money on a mailing of this kind.
A prospecting letter is any letter that is mailed to people who have never given you money before. It's almost impossible to make money on this kind of letter. Prospecting letters are valuable only in terms of the future income you will receive from any new contributors to discover.
Good prospecting letters are much harder to write than good fundraising letters. Doing so will be beyond the ability of most local organizations until they are large enough to hire professional copy writers. However, the suggestions made below will allow you to write a good fundraising letter.
There are two cornerstones to a good fundraising letter. . .
- The unique sales proposition (USP)
- The complete sales argument
Before you start to write a fundraising letter, you should try to figure out what it is about the project you will be proposing that will be uniquely valuable to your contributors. This unique selling proposition will provide the substance for your appeal.
The second thing you should try to do is figure out all of the questions and concerns that contributors might have about your project. This will allow you to construct a complete sales argument. It is the number and nature of the concerns and questions you will have to address that will tend to make your letter longer rather than shorter.
A good fundraising letter has five parts.
- Plans (or the project description)
- The request for money
- The reminder
- The postscripts
It's very important to build continuity between your fundraising letters. You want the letter you write this month to refer to the letter you wrote last month, and point to the letter you plan to write next month. You do this by using a "plans and progress" approach.
You begin by reporting the progress you have made with regard to the plans you described last month.
You continue by explaining how that progress relates to the plans (projects) you are going to talk about this month.
Then you describe your plan, and address all anticipated concerns and questions.
Then you describe how much the project is going to cost and ask for the money to pay for it. The best way to ask for money is to list a whole series of contribution amounts, from high to low, so that the reader will be able to see that the amount they have in mind will be of value to the project.
This has been tested over and over again -- if you don't list a series of amounts then the reader wonders whether the amount they have in mind will really help, and they tend to not give.
After you've asked for the money you remind them about what you've accomplished in the past due to their support and express the hope that they will be able to help you again, so that you can take the next step forward. Then you thank them and sign the letter.
Then you include two PS's. The PS's are for the people who tend only to read the beginning and the end of a direct mail letter. Therefore, you will want to try to recapitulate your sales argument, in miniature and, if possible, do it in such a way that they are teased to go back and read the letter as a whole. In the second PS, you will want to remind them of your deadline in order to create a sense of urgency that they should send their check right away. This is also the point at which you remind them about any "premiums" you may be offering, and tell them that they will be sent just as soon as you get their contribution.
A note on premiums: You will want to keep the total cost of fulfilling a premium to 6% of the gift that is required to receive that premium. By far the best kind of premium is what is called an "identity" premium, which is anything which serves to make the contributor feel good about having contributed. A good example of this would be to put their name on a plaque that will be displayed either in your headquarters, if you have one, or at your public meetings.
In addition, there are nine techniques that will enhance the readability of your letter...
- Invincible questions
- Bulleted items
- Foreshadowing (or teasing)
- Short paragraphs
- Broken paragraphs and broken sentences
- "Stopped" sentences
You want to begin the letter with something that draws the reader in, and makes them want to read further. Invincible questions are good for this purpose. An invincible question is any rhetorical question which you can be certain your reader will answer in a positive way, and which will tend to excite their curiosity about the contents of the letter. The invincible question will tend to foreshadow your unique selling proposition.
A good second step is to then list all of your recent progress, using quick bulleted items, and, while doing so, foreshadow, or tease about your project, or unique selling proposition: This should be easy, since at least some of your progress will have set the stage, in some sense, for what you want to propose.
Then, when you get to the part of the letter where you want to describe your project, it might look like this . . .
When you have laid out the basic skeleton of your letter -- your progress, your plans, your request for money, your reminder, and your postscripts -- you will then go back and work to enhance the readability of your letter still further.
. . . so that the sentence continues after a line of white space and centered the way this one is (the centered text containing the significant part of the sentence).
This is a form of highlight, so that important points don't get lost in the blur of words, and your skimmers can pick them out from the rest of the text.
The man walked into the room. (You now know that a man has walked into a room, but you're led to wonder why.)
He walked over to the table and picked up the gun that was lying there. (You know that there's a gun, but you don't know why, and you're led to keep reading).
He looked at the gun for a moment and then put it to his head. (The tension is built up slowly but surely, so that you have more and more information, but are left with questions. Each "stopped "sentence answers a previous question and then asks another -- why is the man putting the gun to his head?)
[By Perry Willis]
Take a clipboard with a volunteer sign-up sheet wherever you campaign.
Treat them like gold.
Keep accurate records of their names, phone numbers, etc.
Give them something to do as soon as they offer to help.
Remember to express your gratitude sincerely.
Pay attention to each individual's strengths and weaknesses and assign tasks accordingly.
Schedule 50% more volunteers than you think you will need for any project.
Keep them "in the loop" as much as possible. Make them feel part of the campaign.
Keep an eye open for the really competent ones who may be moved up to a staff job.
Make sure you have a volunteer coordinator who is OK with making lots of phone calls.
Help your candidate remember their names.
Have the candidate show up (briefly) during volunteer events and thank each person.
Try to have a job for the kids, too. Shredding sensitive documents is a good one.
Help them to stay motivated by sharing good news and making them feel important.
Encourage the candidate's spouse to participate in volunteer activities.
Be upset if people say they will be there and don't show. Ask them again next time.
Ever get angry at the volunteers.
Ever criticize staff, other volunteers, or the candidate in front of them.
Talk about some volunteers in front of others.
Forget to thank them for their efforts. Remember they could be doing something else!
Let them leave non-campaign materials around your headquarters.
Let the hard-core, long-time Libertarians scare the new people.
Allow volunteers with "good ideas" to sidetrack your plan.
"When you have contributed 100 hours or $100, then you are entitled to an opinion on what I am doing."
The Role of the Chair
The job of Chair in the LP is very tough.
The Chair needs organizational and administrative skills, diplomacy, sales ability, people skills -- while understanding what Libertarianism is all about. The Chair needs patience, self control, and an ego capable of dealing with criticism and abuse without resentment.
Beyond this, the Chair needs to have good judgment and be an effective listener. It takes creativity to deal with grossly inadequate finances and far too few effective volunteers. The Chair should get as much help as possible.
This combination of traits is rare.
It is easy to get frustrated. Inevitably, the Chair discovers the job has far more responsibility than authority. The Chair's real "power" comes from the personal respect he/she receives from the members and the Board or Committee. This respect must be earned.
One key role of the Chair is to resolve conflict and find ways to get people to work together effectively. In many cases, this means mediating disputes. In other cases, it means finding ways to work with the Chair's critics to find reasonable solutions. In all cases, it means staying calm and making sure people focus on the issues and not on personality clashes.
The Chair has the responsibility to make the first move when a problem comes up, and be willing to admit he/she may be wrong.
The Chair must be thoughtful and avoid acting rashly. Proposals should be well thought out prior to presentation and implementation. This mean talking ideas over with as many people as possible and listening to what they have to say. It means being flexible enough to change the plan when good suggestions are made.
The Chair should encourage participation and seek the input of others before decisions are made. People work harder for proposals they helped to develop.
The Chair needs to understand the "business" of running the organization. This includes fund-raising, budgets and finance, database management, inquiry processing, newsletter publishing, etc. These "details" can destroy the organization if they are not handled correctly. And beyond all of this, the Chair must understand libertarians.
Few people are ideally suited to being Chair,but most people can be effective if they understand what needs to be done and what being Chair means.
[By George O'Brien]
Gresham's Law of Activists
There are some people in the libertarian movement who are bad activists. Even though they may be "OK" ideologically, they do not forward the cause of freedom. Even if they do make positive contributions, on balance they actually harm the movement.
It is not always easy to spot a bad activist at first glance. No one is perfect and many outstanding activists slip into bad habits from time to time. Nonetheless, the bad activist tends to be remarkably consistent.
Virtually every bad activist puts his or her personal (or factional) interests ahead of the purpose of the organization or cause. The good activist expresses his or her individuality through the choice of joining the organization if it identifies with his or her personal interests. The bad activist will sacrifice the interest of the organization for power, status, enrichment, or some other form of short-term ego gratification.
It is harder to be a good activist than a bad one. But if the Libertarian Party is going to accomplish anything, we need a real "gold standard of activists" to defeat Gresham's Law of Activists and not put up with bad behavior.
There are some ways to spot a bad activist as opposed to a good activist: