A donor’s guide to making your money count in politics

After years of hopeful check writing and election night hand-wringing, I recently decided to take my involvement in Republican campaigns to the next level.

Previously, I’d engaged in politics as a gambler does spectator sports.  I’d choose which candidates I wanted to support, contribute to their campaigns or PACs, and cross my fingers, hoping that those I’d entrusted with my money would work their magic.

Doing so, I’ve experienced some exciting wins and crushing losses, just as any gambler does.

But unlike gambling, which requires as much luck as it does skill on the gambler’s part, I simply sat on the sidelines, convinced that I was unable to contribute anything more than my money, even when I had the skills and expertise to positively affect the outcome of a race.


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Gone, now, is my resignation to merely “hope for the best” and blindly trust others to manage my investment in their candidates.

Gone also is my willingness to acquiesce to their requests for money, without an accompanying expectation of accountability.

The candidate and the message will always be the most important ingredients for the success of any campaign, but I’ve stopped playing the role of blind party loyalist, and started thinking like the businessman I am.

In other words, I’ve decided to take getting an ROI on my political contributions seriously -- especially for Super PACs -- and I’d offer the following suggestions to those who are interested in doing the same.

1. Invest in campaigns that take social media seriously

Media consumption has fundamentally changed in the last few years, but too many in the GOP cling to the same old strategies that have become less and less effective. More broadcast television blindly applied in October of an election year is increasingly tuned out by most voters.

Today, campaigns must have a robust twitter presence and a commitment to building a strong following on Facebook.  Monitoring tweets, originating tweets, and re-tweeting enables candidates to respond in real time to current events, and to shape the media narratives that swirl around them.

Speed kills in politics, and immediate responsiveness results in the perception of a candidate that is more “in touch” with his or her electorate; a perception that would greatly assist Republicans in engaging one of their target audiences, in particular: millenials.

Building large audiences on Facebook is now a must do, as it is a clear pipeline to supporters that can provide sharable information through a wide range of applications. This requires re-allocation of resources away from the old media model and towards a new one, but donors should demand it.

2. Invest in campaigns that use the cloud to organize data

Prospective donors should account for is whether a campaign leverages cloud computing software to organize Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts, fundraising, and other campaign activities.

Cloud computing enables large numbers of computers to share information in real time over the Internet, thus relying on shared resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale.  President Obama’s campaign utilized a cloud service called Amazon Web Services (AWS) during the 2012 presidential election.

AWS helped facilitate the raising of hundreds of millions of dollars, prioritized millions of phone calls, and coordinated thousands of volunteers over the cloud network, while simultaneously reducing expenses, duplication, and other inefficiencies associated with traditional bricks-and-mortar campaign operations.

These technologies are just a sampling of the many that enable campaigns to capture real-time information, respond immediately to current events, tweak messaging, and keep their fingers on the pulse of voter sentiment. Campaigns that don’t embrace these technologies are destined to suffer avoidable losses.

3. Invest in campaigns that analyze data carefully, and make decisions accordingly

Republicans famously coined the term “microtargeting” in the Bush years, taking the technological lead in predictive modeling.

Over the last two cycles, the Democrats leapfrogged us, using new technologies and data mining strategies to inform key decisions.

Today, donors should also ensure that campaigns invest in technologies that use social media outlets, like Facebook, to mine data on individual voter preferences and to map relationships between persuadable voters.

Accessing this information enables a campaign to select the best method of communicating with discrete voter groups, and tailor individualized messages that speak directly to their interests.  In other words, data mining enables campaigns to “go hunting where the ducks are,” rather than shoot blanks.

The Obama campaign made huge strides in this area in 2012, and the GOP must follow suit, and fast. Data mining provides vast amounts of previously unknown facts about voters, both individually and as part of a broader demographic group.

Utilizing this data-based information, campaigns can develop authentic, dynamic, and responsive messaging platforms, rather than promoting those that are based on long-held perceptions or intuition, which results in static messaging and voter disconnect.

It’s no wonder businesses that invest in data-mining technologies consider them the best way to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Every campaign should adopt the same mentality, and embrace this tactical advantage.

My best advice to any donor -- as a businessman, technologist, and one who now demands a good ROI on his campaign contributions -- is to be a part of the solution, by giving only to those campaigns and PACs that maximize your dollars by using technology to better target and inform voters.

Those that get it will thrive; those that don’t will eventually adapt or disappear, saving donors, like us, millions of dollars, and just as many tears.