Having a well-stocked war chest early in the cycle has never been more important given the strategic imperative for candidates to get paid media up early, scare off primary opponents and have the seed capital necessary to staff up. But all of that depends on having the staff power necessary to run a robust fundraising operation.
“Having a fundraising staff in place is the most important part of a campaign apparatus. If you can’t pay for it, you can’t win on Election Day,” said Lindsay Jacobs Seti, executive director of GOP fundraising shop Majority Money.
“There are a lot of folks that had been willing to relocate for a campaign before who are not as willing to move cities or move towns, and that is a direct result of everything going digital in the age of COVID,” she said. “But in the same vein, there are still ways to manage a call time. There are ways to do peer-to-peer fundraising despite that gap.”
Jacobs Seti noted she will sit on Zoom with a candidate while she or he is making calls on their phone “so I can overhear everything and continue to feed calls.”
“There are ways around that having-someone-on-the-ground piece, but no doubt that finding campaign talent can be difficult,” she said.
What makes that staffing shortage such an acute issue is how powerful early money has become in deciding competitive races. In Virginia, for instance, soon-to-be inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) dropped more than $800,000 on ad spending across broadcast, cable, digital, radio and satellite in May. His campaign ramped that up to $3.1 million in June before climbing to $11.5 million in October 2021, according to data compiled by AdImpact, an SaaS platform that tracks and analyzes advertising.
“Being successful with your fundraising early is important for a variety of reasons. It allows you to get the staff that you need in order to scale. It gets you the seed capital you need in order to go on the air. [And] it shows additional donor prospects that you’re serious about this, that this race is winnable and you’re building an infrastructure that is a winning campaign,” said Jacobs Seti. “You have to be able to raise that money early. There is no other choice at this point.”
This staffing shortage when it comes to finance isn’t just an issue on the right. Democratic fundraisers have also warned that they’re having trouble filling these positions.
“It’s still a struggle because the need is so high,” Maria Diaz, director of campaign sales at Grassroots Analytics, a Democratic fundraising shop, recently told C&E.
In fact, to help its client campaigns hire staff, Grassroots Analytics recently went so far as to create an internal position dedicated to recruiting talent from universities and other potential sources.
“I think Democrats in general just need to do a better job of getting the word out there,” said Diaz. “We know a lot of the jobs in politics can be learned on the job and a lot of the issues with people breaking into it are people not giving them a chance if they don’t have two-to-three cycles of experience.”