By Dan Ekstein, Sagac Public Affairs
“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.” — CONFUCIUS
Political strategists usually favor Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and his Art of War over Confucius, but things might run a bit smoother in the nation’s capital, and in our state capitals, if we all lived by the maxim above. To succeed—whether in a political or grassroots campaign, or in your goal of growing your PAC and political engagement program—it’s important to acknowledge what you know and what you don’t know, and even to acknowledge where your organization might be limited by its imagination.
For budgeting purposes, this means that the first question you’ll ask is, “Where are we lacking?” and the second will be, “Who can get help me fill in those holes?” Sometimes accounting for what we don’t know means creating a new staff position, or maybe even a new team. Other times, and often, it means looking outside your organization to independent consultants and vendors.
What do we need? If you decide you need to turn to outside experts, the next task is to define the scope of what you want that vendor to do. That question is easy to answer if all you need is better technology, like a more streamlined database, or a mobile optimized website. If so, then all you need is a company that provides a specific product. That’s easy, and there are numerous specialized vendors that can provide creative low-cost solutions.
The trickier question is when your needs are numerous, and don’t fit into one bucket. Or when you’re not even sure what you’re lacking—you just know you’re kind of stuck in a rut.
If year after year, your PAC participation numbers are struggling to grow by even low single digits, chances are you need a more than just a product – you need a partner. You need someone who will make it a priority to understand your culture, your existing technology and challenges, and your internal rules. In other words, you need a firm that can help you PROACTIVELY figure out which tools you have, how they are (or are not) working together, and which unique solutions will work for your organization and donors.
There is no one size fits all solution when what you need is a partner. You need a firm that will make an investment in you, your team, and your organization, and take the time to develop and implement a strategy that is tailored for you.
Find the right partner. In addition to looking for a firm that can provide a bespoke plan of action, you need to find a firm with a strong record of execution. In addition to having a dedicated team of experts, from communications to administrative support, and having the data and technology that can help you grow receipts and membership, this firm will be able to respond, be transparent in pricing and help you develop a set of metrics that reflect a solid Return On Investment (ROI). For example, how many emails did they send to donors and prospects? How many calls were made to prospective donors? How many total new donors and members signed up and how much did bottom lines increase?
The right firm won’t only be able to show results for your PAC; they’ll be able to prove their partnerships. They’ll be able to tell you how many times they met with their clients, how many emails they sent to them, and how many miles they traveled alongside them. The right partner should be invested in your growth, not theirs.
No matter the size or your organization or your budget, asking for a new partner is difficult. All of us are prone to falling back on how much we’ve traditionally spent, or how things have always been done. Too many managers are afraid their bosses will question their efficacy if the can’t “do it all” in-house. Too many executives are worried their association boards and corporate leadership teams won’t see the return on investment potential and therefore won’t approve expensive vendor contracts. And too many senior leaders don’t understand the day-to-day operations and get caught up in the shiny new “cure-alls” that wouldn’t work with their organization’s systems and operations.
Identifying what you don’t know, and asking for the resources to address it, is difficult, but vital. The difference between a project manager and a partner often means the difference between 4.5 percent annual growth (the average for federal PACs) and growth rates ranging from 30 percent to 45 percent (Sagac clients’ average over the last decade).
Those are numbers that, at the end of next year, you’ll be proud of.
Dan Ekstein is a partner at Sagac Public Affairs, a national firm that provides communications, market research, fundraising, and issue advocacy solutions to hundreds of political, nonprofit and corporate organizations. Sagac and Ekstein are industry leaders in the implementation of comprehensive strategies for political finance operations. The firm’s clients represent more than one-third of all federal qualified funds raised each election cycle by corporate and trade association PACs.