Ballot Initiatives: A Revolutionary New Funding Technique


A Revolutionary New Model to Fund Petition Gathering Efforts for Ballot Initiatives

The Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC), the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO), and Membership Drive joined together to run a pilot program to answer one question: how do we continue to fund ballot initiatives in an era of tightening belts? The result: the team may have discovered a new model that can raise $3 for every $1 invested over the lifetime of the members and supporters recruited. 

The team tested three techniques: using petitions as leads to telemarket and ask for donations, training petition gatherers to ask for a small donation after people signed the petition, and positioning fundraising canvassers to approach people immediately after they had signed a petition. This third approach proved to be the most successful.

In the third approach, petitioners worked in tandem with People’s Action’s fundraising canvassers in the field. Petition gatherers were trained in simple lines to refer potential members to the fundraising canvasser. The canvasser would then sign the petition signers up as monthly members. 

By the last three-days of the pilot, the team was averaging .53 monthly members per hour, signing up 13% of the people with whom they spoke. These numbers significantly surpassed the non-profit industry norm of .22 members per hour with a 5-7% ‘yes rate.’ Membership Drive believes that further tests could show that this model could generate $3 for every $1 spent on this fundraising work. Generally speaking, we believe that each canvasser in the field can recruit dues paying members each day who will ultimately pay about $900 over the next five years. While this won’t fully fund an entire ballot initiative, this could generate enough income over time to create a war chest that covers the petition drive and fundraising costs of future ballot initiatives.

You can download the full report below.

“Time – Ask Approach" to Fund Ballot Initiatives

Scholarly literature points to this type of initiative may result in larger gifts than normal as well.  In their study, Happiness of Giving: The Time-Ask Effect, Wendy Liu and Jennifer Aaker found that people donated about 50% more per gift to charities when asked to donate time first (i.e. sign the petition) and then were asked to contribute financially afterwards. Further work would be needed to determine of the petition is enough of a time ask to generate the kind of positive emotional response that increases giving, or if the ask would need to be more of a volunteer or membership ask.

Regardless, Kevin Schulman from Donor Voice who turned us on to the Time-Ask study, argues that canvassers should use, what we call in the trade, “insider tone,” immediately referring to the petition signer as an organization’s member or supporter (noun, not verb, to give the signer a sense of permanence). That label can then be used to frame the money ask in future efforts: “other ROC supporters like you have also done…”

Can My Organization Fund Ballot Initiatives Using a Canvass?

As a rule of thumb, far more people can successfully collect signatures or do electoral canvassing than can successfully fundraise. If your organization does not manage a fundraising canvass, your best option is to hire a canvassing vendor to canvass on your behalf.  The results of this study demonstrate that canvassing vendors should be able to recruit more members per shift than normal, meaning that your organization can negotiate for a lower cost per donor recruited than normal. Membership Drive has worked with several organizations to manage RFP processes to pick the right fundraising partner.

If your organization would prefer to manage an in-house fundraising canvass program, Membership Drive can simplify in-house canvass management, providing program design, technology, staffingoffice director training, as well as senior staff support services. Or they can streamline the hiring and managing canvassing vendors, providing strategy, vendor selection, reporting, donor retention, and ongoing support.

Membership Drive is the industry leading expert in canvass operations. Our team has dedicated their lives to helping progressives across the social, economic, racial, and environmental justice movements by providing the technology, training, and strategic insight to simplify launching, managing, and transforming your in-house or outsourced face to face membership programs.

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, Ballot Initiatives: A Revolutionary New Funding Technique

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