Rolodexing Your Contacts

How to start an effective campaign fundraising program

Rolodexing is the process of sorting through your personal network to determine who you can ask to support your campaign, and in what way. It’s called ‘rolodexing’ because it involved going though the contact cards you kept in an address book or a rolodex. Now your phone and email contacts fill that role - but the process is still very similar.

Assemble all your lists

Find all your contact lists. You’ll want to start with your phone and email contacts, but don’t stop there. Do you have a contact list for a club or neighborhood association? How about old coworkers or classmates? Spend a little bit of time tracking down every relevant contact. Preferably, the lists should have actual contact information like phone number and email address - if the list doesn’t have them, you’ll ultimately need to find that information in order to make rolodexing useful.

Format and combine the lists

With all your lists together, you’ll need to put them all in the same format. I generally prefer to create a master Excel spreadsheet and paste all the data there. This involves some formatting of each list to ensure they all match up when pasted together. Be careful here and don’t rush this stage of the process. If you accidentally separate contact names from their phone numbers, it won’t be easy to fix your mistake. Once you’ve assembled the different lists, go through and combine duplicate entries.

Assign asks

Add a column to your spreadsheet for asks and then go through and assign an ask to each contact. Some contacts may need non-monetary asks: introducing you to a group or hosting an event, for example. The vast majority of your contacts, however, should be assigned an ask in dollars. Ultimately your budget will be the largest determination of how many voters you can reach, and contributions to your budget are the most critical support anyone can offer your campaign. That’s why you should err on the higher side when determining ask amounts.

One way to decide an ask amount is to think about this person going out for a big celebration meal - the kind of thing they’d do maybe once a year. They’re treating their family to a fancy dinner with drinks, appetizers, dessert, etc.; how much will they spend on that meal? For some people, it will be $1,000 and for some people it will be $100. This will help you decide what a good ask will be. Remember: most of the people in your network have probably not been closely involved with local political campaigns before. They’re looking to you to tell them what an appropriate donation would be.

You are looking for “No”

When assigning asks, you don’t actually want everyone to say “yes” right away. That indicates that some of these folks would have given more if you had just asked for more. That’s why you want to err on the higher side with your ask amounts. For those donors willing to give big, we want to be sure we don’t leave money on the table. For those unwilling or unable, we can simply make a lower followup ask when they refuse our initial benchmark. In fact, your call scripts should include lower asks for when your contact declines at first.

Next steps: call sheets and call scripts

The list you just rolodexed will become you first round of fundraising calls. You should be looking at 200+ names with aggressive asks. For many campaigns, roughly half of the final budget will be raised from personal contacts, so be thorough at this stage and don’t miss anyone or set your sights too low.

To begin making calls, you’ll need to create call sheets for these contacts and a call script to guide you during the conversations. Software like IDP can help you easily create digital call sheets, or you can go old school and create paper sheets manually. However you do it, move fast and get started - you can fiddle forever, but fiddling doesn’t grow your voter outreach budget. Check out our guide to starting call time for more help with next steps.

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