Fundraising That's Fun:

Party Now to Fight the Right

by D-J, Hans Brinker Productions, Portland, OR
House and dinner parties are not merely fundraising tools for your campaign. They are social gatherings of your supporters where you can recruit support, volunteers, goodwill, and money.

Money is only one asset the guests will bring with them. They also carry their own stories and histories, ideas and skills, anger and frustrations. They have contacts with other groups of people, at home and at work, that could support the campaign. And they carry a lot of energy with them that you can channel toward the benefit of your campaign. Using house parties as part of a well-rounded campaign strategy will strengthen your base of support as well as your finances, and can be a fun, social way to help you win an election.

Your first task as House Party Coordinator is to find the hosts - people who have a natural talent for hospitality and who enjoy having guests over for dinner. The fundraising staff of your campaign will have developed lists of donors; start with these lists to find the pioneers of your support. Augment your list with names gleaned from the address books of fellow campaign workers. Send these people an inspiring appeal to consider organizing a house party, where they will provide the guests and the campaign will provide materials and perhaps a speaker for the evening. You and volunteers should make follow-up calls a few days after your list has received the mailing. Provide options for your contacts; if they don't want to throw a party, might they like to attend one? Or might they be able to provide names of friends and associates who might attend a party?

Be prepared to make lots of phone calls, to talk to many answering machines and voice mail services, to call people back again and again. Depending on the sense of urgency and involvement in your community, your sign-up ratio will range between 1 out of 10, to 1 out of 25 calls.

When you talk to potential hosts, help them brainstorm guest possibilities from groups they might already be involved with. Ask them to consider: co-workers; pool-shooting buddies; neighbors; gym members; church groups; community groups; etc. If they would prefer to host something other than a full dinner, they can gather around a potluck, barbecue, picnic, cocktail party, dessert, or brunch. Make sure the hosts and their guests realize the party is also a fundraising party (ergo: don't forget your checkbooks). How much money can the host ask from the guests? A golden rule in fundraising is that you do not under-ask. People tend to give less than you ask for. However, there is a very fine line between over-pricing and creating an embarrassing situation for your hosts and their guests. Remind your hosts that having the house party and sharing information about the campaign is a successful event in and of itself, regardless of the amount of money raised. The money raised can only make the event MORE successful.

It is likely that many of your hosts will never have thrown a house party for a political campaign. Boost their confidence and level of preparedness by sending them a house/dinner party package containing:

Depending on the size of your campaign and the number of parties planned, it may be possible to arrange for a campaign staff member, a senior volunteer, or a well-known supporter of your efforts to appear on behalf of your campaign. They should be able to make a short speech about where campaign efforts stand, answer several of the most frequently asked questions about the issue, and give clear and practical examples of how campaign funds are being spent. If your speaker is not a campaign staffer, try to match the speaker to the crowd - a teacher's union official to a group of educators, a minister or rabbi to a group of fellow congregants, etc. This person will also be responsible for making the pitch for funds following the brief presentation, and should confer with the hosts prior to the evening to settle on a reasonable amount of money to ask each attendee to donate.

If an outside speaker is not available, you, as the house party coordinator, are responsible for meeting with the hosts to answer their questions and prepare them to briefly present current information about the campaign and ask for donations. Make sure to provide them with sufficient information to do this, as well as handouts to distribute to the guests. During the week prior to the party, check in with the hosts to answer any last-minute questions and get a sense for the number of people they expect to attend and a rough approximation of the amount of money they hope to raise.

House parties affirm your supporters, help develop a pool of volunteers, raises your campaign's visibility in the community, and can raise anywhere from fifty to thousands of dollars.

With enough advance planning, you can use the house party strategy to create a citywide, countywide, or even a statewide momentum of support. Select a target date and ask your hosts to schedule all parties on that specific date. Doing so creates the impression that on that particular evening, hundreds, even thousands of like-minded people in the area are sharing an experience for the benefit of the campaign. Develop a catchy motto (during Oregon's Measure 9 campaign, we used "Dine against 9") and advertise the evening. You may very well have potential hosts calling you asking how they may be involved.

If you decide to do a multiple party evening, you may take it a step further by contacting supportive local restaurants in your area and asking them to donate a portion of the proceeds from their business that night to the campaign. This provides an opportunity for those who can't or don't wish to host or attend a house party to be involved as well. When approaching restaurant owners, be prepared to answer the following questions: How will you advertise their commitment? What other restaurants are you contacting? Will the event be publicized broadly enough to bring in a significant number of customers there because of the link to the campaign? On the night of "Dine Against 9" in Oregon, several restaurants were filled over capacity with our supporters.

To thoroughly fill out the evening and bring everyone together on the special house party day, organize an after dinner dance party! Create an opportunity for ALL of the house party guests, ALL of the diners at selected restaurants, ALL of your volunteers and staff, and ALL of your supporters who didn't attend a house party or restaurant benefit to come together and celebrate.

Arrange for a local dance club or other social space to donate their facilities for the evening (or charge a nominal user fee). Hire a DJ to play a broad spectrum of popular music. Form a "host committee" of a few local celebrities, known for their work or their "hipness." Word of mouth will be your most cost-effective advertising. Charge a minimal amount at the door (sliding scale). Each host should make a brief speech during the event, and someone - either a campaign staffer or one of the hosts - should make a brief pitch for donations. Not everyone attending this party will have given earlier in the evening. Keep the party cheap, simple, but fabulous. You can build on the good mood and excitement most of your partygoers will be into already. A good DJ, a no-host bar, and a popular party space will create a good time - and successful event - for all.


Revenues to expect: Expenses you will encounter: Allow yourself a contingency/petty cash fund for small supplies and last-minute details. Don't forget to bring checks to the event. Most professional suppliers need to be paid upon delivery.
For more information or to request a complete Fight the Right Action Kit, call NGLTF at 202-332-6483, TTY 202-332-6219.