The pros and cons of engaging political leaders

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Fundraising is a community endeavor, and our communities include the politicians who are elected to represent us at all levels. Current, former and prospective elected leaders are often involved in fundraising, providing great value. At the same time there are challenges related to engaging politicians as fundraising volunteers. With this column we discuss the pros and cons.

When a politician partners with your nonprofit you may find that doors which were previously closed are now open. These leaders know everyone. And they are surrounded by others who know even more people. They know people at the grassroots, in the churches, and in the executive suite. They know artists, philanthropists, and strategists. Politicians are connected. And when they believe in your organization they can work miracles.

Elected leaders bring name recognition to your project. When a politician aligns herself with your nonprofit she can bring attention to your work. People who may not have the time to talk with you will take a call from her. A post on her Facebook page attracts a new audience.

Politicians also have lists of donors and volunteers they may be willing to share with you. They can help you attract resources, or help you secure the right new board member(s). They can also provide access to their staff. When your work is in alignment with that of a politician’s vision it can be a win-win for all parties.

While the above benefits are real and true, there are also challenges you may encounter. Depending on their reputation a politician may overshadow your organization. People may come to an event where a politician is speaking, but they may not be coming to support your organization – they may be coming to press their cause with the politician.

You also have to remember that with any political leader half the people love that person, and half don’t. That can put your nonprofit in a bind, especially when you serve and advocate for all people regardless of their political beliefs. It’s also important to remember that politicians are always raising money for themselves and others in their party. While you may want them to serve in a leadership role for your fundraising campaign, they may not be able to give the time required, nor the resources to make a leadership level gift.

Other things to consider include flexibility, dependability, and accessibility. Local, state and/or federal regulations related to ethics and conflict of interest can impact the extent of their involvement. The reality of their position means that when big issues break they have to drop everything and focus on the issue at hand. This can mean they have to cancel or reschedule important meetings.

Here’s our bottom line: engage all members of your community, including politicians. Just remember that a politician may or not be the right person to lead your fundraising. Consider the real or perceived conflicts when making your decision. An ideal role is that of trusted advisor.

Copyright 2017 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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