By Dan Ekstein, Sagac Public Affairs
“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi
What Is A Direct Giving Program? Congratulations – your corporate or association PAC is one of the nation’s largest donors to federal candidates and your success rate in competitive races is the envy of other PAC directors. So after setting even higher receipt and participation goals for the next election cycle, what’s next? How do you enhance the culture of giving in your company or association?
The answer is a direct giving program that facilitates opportunities for members of your executive team to make personal political contributions directly to candidate campaigns and political party committees.
To launch a successful direct giving program you must:
Set A Strategy And A Timeline. An organized process is necessary to ensure your organization gets credit for executives’ contributions, but it is also necessary to gain executives’ buy-in.
As you did with your PAC, you must outline goals and tactics, set a strategy to achieve your mission and create a detailed timeline that your contributors can follow. While you follow this process for your PAC in creating a successful direct giving program, you essentially transform yourself from a PAC director into a political director. You’re no longer just facilitating events and requesting contributions from employees or members, you’re asking the top leaders in your organization to invest personally in candidates because you are confident of the potential for election year success. To this end, you’ll need to be sure to be fully integrated with your government relations team so they can help you identify the candidates who are advocates for your industry’s long-term issues.
Providing a timeline of events for the next several months to a year will also prevent executives from feeling overwhelmed by the number of contribution requests and event invites you’ll be passing their way. At the outset, your executives will know the universe of events (and the contributions suggested for each event) and understand their purpose so they can plan their contributions and calendars accordingly.
Emphasize The Voluntary Nature Of The Program. Another reason it is wise to outline an annual strategy rather than simply sending information about events as they’re scheduled is that you want members of your executive team to participate, but you do not want them to feel forced to give to candidates on which they have fundamental disagreements that have nothing to do with your industry. To that end, you must acknowledge the deeply personal nature of individual contributions and respect executives’ own political philosophies in your program messaging. Your program should aim to give guidance to executives by giving them a menu of options from which to choose, not forcing them to choose all or nothing.
Be Bipartisan And Bicameral. This step needs no explanation. Not only will you need bipartisan supporters in Congress to get your policy initiatives through. To ensure your executives have an opportunity to exercise their personal preferences, you’ll need to offer them a bipartisan slate of candidates in both the House and the Senate. Obvious choices include House and Senate leadership and the chairs and ranking members on committees of interest to your industry.
You Don’t Have Much Time With Members, So Amp It Up. Even though your organization might get more attention from legislators by adding a direct giving program on top of a PAC, candidates for federal office, especially the leaders who you will target, are always pressed for time. You need to look for creative ways to maximize your event. Hold a town hall with employees before a closed-door policy roundtable with executives. Cap the candidate’s visit off with a short PAC fundraising lunch. Make sure you invite engaged listeners and advocates to all of these events – no potted plants! To get this done you must maintain good, close relationships with candidates’ fundraising staffs. They will know what their candidate’s schedules will look like in advance and can help you look for blocks of time when the candidate will be available for a longer morning meeting versus a quick breakfast.
Next, work through your state policy and government relations’ department to invite in-district leaders who can speak to the local importance of your issues. Don’t forget: while candidates are not likely to turn away checks from corporate or national organization leadership, they prefer to meet executives who are also their constituents.
Finally, remember to follow-up with candidates’ staffs on any questions voiced by event participants. Open communication will show candidates your organization is engaged and will also prove to executives that they can trust you to turn their voluntary political dollars into answers.
Don’t Forget To Involve Your Legal Department. Because there are so many options for structuring your event, and because individual giving limits recently changed, you must remember to include your compliance department in all discussions. The staff will help you navigate the delicate waters between PAC and personal giving by making sure the correct entities within your organization are paying (or pre paying) for each component of the event.
Dan Ekstein is 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.