We see this truth both in religious and secular culture. In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, the master replies, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many.”
Frequently I’m asked by young people how they can break into politics. Often, in their mind at least, they’re looking for the shortest path to being on TV, making a ton of money or significant fame. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those goals, but allowing yourself to be too fixated on a hack or short-term payoff means you’re going to miss the best strategy.
It may be intoxicating to look at the 20-something on Fox News or MSNBC and dream of sharing their level of fame and popularity but that’s likely not your best path. Even if you could snap your fingers and achieve it, the average career life expectancy of folks who ride that lightning is very short. Much like in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, I’m going to put my money on slow and steady. That’s where long-term success originates.
This tongue in cheek quote from Adlai Stevenson perfectly captures the feelings of many candidates. But it also brings into perspective a central question of campaign strategy: “How do we differentiate ourselves from our opponent?”
Most first-time candidates launch their campaign with the belief that they can win on their virtues alone. If only the voters could learn how awesome they are, victory would be assured. This is not far off the mark since every campaign should start out by first establishing why THEY are the best candidate, rather than talking about why their opponent is the bad guy.
As a candidate, you are a leader of your campaign and you’re seeking a much larger leadership role through elected office. Now is your time to demonstrate to those around you that you can lead well. If you can’t pass the leadership test on the campaign trail, why should I believe that you’ll suddenly transmogrify into an awesome leader upon winning the election?!
The first place to set the tone for your leadership within the campaign is by setting the pace and tone. You shouldn’t expect anyone on your team to be more focused, work more hours or invest more heavily in the campaign than you. If you want honesty and transparency to be key values within your future public administration, show yourself to be honest and transparent within your campaign and to your team.
And once you’re setting the pace for the team, don’t be a jackass and beat people over the head with how much harder you’re working than they are! Of course, you’re working more hours than anybody else. It’s YOUR campaign!! There are plenty of constructive ways to deal with team members who are slacking. Comparing their work to yours is one important way NOT to do that.
What happened was that I stopped viewing fundraising as a zero sum game. This isn’t just about me taking money from one person and putting it in my campaign account. If my candidate or cause is actually serious about the difference we’re saying we’ll make, then it’s an investment. It’s a positive sum game.
With that outlook, it became much easier for me to pitch donors on supporting my cause or candidate. Because of a shared set of beliefs, I’m asking them to join me in a cause. To invest in a mission that we both believe in. From there, I need to make a clear ask for a discrete cause and give a specific deadline. That’s the ask!
Even with the right mindset though, nobody is more effective at asking for money than the candidate. Their presence and the fact that the candidate is the one making the ask makes it more likely that they’ll say yes. Plus, nobody is as good at sharing the candidate’s passion or beliefs than themselves.
Put these two lessons together and you should be off to a great start as a fundraising candidate. Practice is all that remains!