Early Money: What, Why, and How

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Early Money is absolutely critical. This is one of the things that Sister District does best, and our candidates love us for it. This is even more true now that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it extremely challenging for candidates to connect with voters. Now more than ever, it is critical to hire good campaign staff early, execute a winning digital strategy, make extra time to call and connect with voters, and more — and our Early Money helps to make all this happen.

We know times are tough for many, and health and safety are always the top priorities. But the Republicans are not stopping, and we need to keep our eyes on the prize. So if your community is able to give during these challenging times, thank you. If you have questions about how to message around fundraising, don’t hesitate to reach out to your organizing staff member.

Now, check out this guide to why early money matters, and step-by-step guides to throwing your first events of the year.

Early Money: What, Why, and How

(Your candidates’ future constituents will thank you.)


Our candidates’ primary ask of us is to help them speak with their voters (phonebanking and canvassing), and to raise money to help them more effectively and efficiently speak with their voters. They have a special request around Early Money, the receipt of which has such incredible value to a campaign’s chances of achieving their goals for voter contact that I’m going to capitalize those words from here on out to give it the gravity it deserves. It’s not early money. it’s Early Money. (We capitalize it because it’s THAT important.)

What is early money?

By early money, we mean funds we raise for candidates as soon as we can, aimed at helping jumpstart and catapult their campaigns. For our purposes, Early Money can generally be thought of as dollars raised for candidates before Labor Day.

Why is early money so important? What does it do for our candidates’ campaigns?

  1. Hire talented staff right away: Talent makes all the difference in starting and executing an effective electoral campaign. At our 2020 Summit, James Conway shared with us that in 2019, our candidate Josh Cole had $10,000 left over from his 2017 race and thus was able to hire James as campaign manager three months sooner than he otherwise could have. This Early Money allowed Cole to scale faster: he met with new donors and built support from key stakeholders earlier; they developed a Field Plan1 earlier. And the dominoes fell from there — because they had the money, they hired talented Field Organizers sooner and got a jump on recruiting, training, and directing volunteers all over the district. The rest is history — Josh had lost by 73 votes in 2017 but we raised $82,500 for him (7% of his total fundraising) and he won in 2019, becoming the first Black person, and the youngest ever person, elected to this seat. Particularly in 2020, with so many campaigns up and down the ticket hiring and having already hired talented campaign staff, we need to do everything we can to help our candidates hire right away.
  2. Early Money Is Like Yeast: Our partners at Emily’s List wanted to make this point so emphatically, created their own name out of the acronym. Many donors wait on the sidelines until a candidate demonstrates an ability to raise money. It’s plain to see how this could become a problem. It’s like at a high school dance with a bunch of kids looking at their sneakers until a few people take the plunge and start dancing and then the dance floor fills up. The same thing can happen with our candidates. If we raise money for them right away, we can help them prove fundraising viability and other donors will jump in. Can I have this dance?
  3. Get your central argument, core messaging, and name ID2 out there right away: You may have heard the adage that “if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you”. This is very much the case in elections. Early Money helps a campaign introduce the candidate to voters right away through radio, TV, digital, mailers, earned media and more. Campaigns want to control narratives that define a race and it’s incredibly valuable to get out in front of the opponent to set narratives. Another adage is useful here: “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Increasing name ID quickly at the start of an election is critical, especially for challengers. Early Money helps scale name ID efforts and good campaigns will create messaging that creates positive name ID, make central arguments, and set favorable narratives that have lasting power. But they need the money to do it effectively and to tell their story before their opponent does it for them. That’s where we come in.
  4. Free the candidate up to speak with voters: Our candidates have to spend considerable time – generally speaking, hours each day – making phone calls through lists of donor prospects to ask for money. This is necessary because the candidate tends to be a campaign’s best fundraising tool. But the time spent making these calls comes at the expense of other things, like, for example, knocking doors to talk to voters. Quick aside: we made over 50% of the phone calls Josh Cole’s campaign needed in their efforts to help staff identify, persuade, and mobilize voters. This meant the Cole campaign could put more of their local volunteers on doors to speak with voters face-to-face, our #1 voter contact tactic. This is an example of the hand-in-glove relationship we have with our candidates’ campaigns, which extends to the candidate’s time as well! The dollars we raise – and the Early Money dollars we raise are particularly crucial here – are dollars the candidate doesn’t have to raise. We help release some of the pressure that would otherwise keep candidates on the phone making cold calls instead of knocking doors to speak with actual voters!

1 strategic plan for resource acquisition and deployment related to, among other things, achieving goals related to voter identification, persuasion and mobilization
2 “Name ID” indicates, roughly, the percentage of an electorate familiar (definition depends on the poll/study) with a candidate

Ok, I’m in. What’s next?

The next step is to start organizing fundraisers! If you don’t know where to start, reach out to your organizing staff member. They can connect you with whatever you need, from templates to veteran leaders ready to talk shop to our Organizing Fellows who an help you make phone calls to recruit for your events. In the meantime, Also check out the Fundraising section of this Resource Library, and our Step-by-Step Guide to Virtual Fundraisers!


UPDATED 4/13/21