COVID-19 Toolkit: Considerations and Risk Assessment for Your PAC
June 5, 2020
By Tori Ellington
Our professional lives have been severely impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Now we must find ways to cope long-term, including adjusting public affairs and political involvement strategies in response to social distancing, a struggling economy, work from home and a number of other factors. Below, you will find an assessment of considerations and risks to analyze before determining your PAC strategy for 2020 and beyond. We also share Council resources to guide you through these efforts.
How are others handling their PAC responses to the COVID-19 pandemic? The Council has conducted two surveys to date and will continue surveying our PAC community to gather feedback on how organizations are pivoting strategies. View the survey results for COVID-19: Impact on PAC and Advocacy Efforts. View the survey results for COVID-19: Continuing Your PAC Response.
To hear an initial reaction to the crisis from experts in industries under pressure, download the April 16 webinar COVID-19 and the PAC: Managing Strategies during a Crisis.
Here are a few things to consider as you take stock of your PAC efforts.
- Have you paused, and is it time to resume? According to the Council surveys, an overwhelming majority of PACs have paused their solicitations with great uncertainty and varying plans for when to resume. Communicating across your organization, conferring with your PAC board or key stakeholders and considering all factors is important as you determine how to proceed.
- Evaluate the current financial situation your members or employees are facing. Determining when and how to begin soliciting again means taking into consideration whether or not your eligibles are on the frontlines, if your company or industry experienced layoffs, or other factors that could impact how they perceive a request for financial support at this time.
- Consider a modified solicitation plan. Simply delaying your solicitation campaign a few months may be an option. Or, you might have to restructure and make significant changes to fundraise while remaining considerate of your employees or members. Consider making a “soft ask” or suggest giving as opposed to asking upfront. Another option is to segment your eligibles and only target those who hold executive or leadership positions or who consistently give year after year.
- Start looking at 2021. This year will continue to be unpredictable, but you can use what you have learned and be proactive. Start to plan for 2021, especially if you anticipate raising less than expected in 2020. As you look forward, review the Council’s resource on Elements of PAC Communications: Solicitations.
- It is an election year. Now is the time for your PAC to be active. Election years are critical to PACs in terms of providing support. You likely have planned to contribute to a long list of candidates. Review your budget so that your PAC remains impactful, even if you have to adjust contribution amounts.
- What is your check cutting process? If you typically distribute checks in person at events or have bylaw requirements preventing you from giving out checks at the moment, consider implementing a new temporary policy. Solutions like virtual events can also help maintain interaction for each contribution. A majority of campaigns are accepting ACH and wire transfers as well as credit card payments.
- Re-evaluate your candidate budget to confirm or adjust priorities. Who had you planned to contribute to? Does this approach still make sense? These are the types of questions you should ask when restructuring your PAC budget for the year. If there is less money to distribute, consider factors like electability, re-election cycles, champions in Congress and areas critical to your organization. Consider creating one, two or even three different budgeting tiers based on anticipated fundraising scenarios over the next few months. This will allow you to better manage cash flow and ensure support to your top priorities.
- Stay informed on elections and candidate predictions. Subscribe to Impact, our flagship newsletter which includes monthly insights by the Council’s Senior Political Analyst Nathan Gonzales.
- Determine your PAC’s role during this crisis. This will help form the tone and content of your communications. Will your PAC’s purpose be an information center, to offer networking opportunities, provide policy and legislative updates or will your communications remain the same? Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate the value of your PAC outside of traditional campaign financing. If you have a PAC charitable match program now is a great time to highlight its impact, including identifying charitable organizations at the forefront of pandemic relief efforts.
- Consider non-political communications. After initially identifying any unique challenges facing your community, consider sending non-political, friendly reminders such as recipes, fitness tips during quarantine or holiday wishes. Find ways big or small to show your community that you are there for them.
- More targeting. Segment your audience according to factors such as title, salary, previous donors, years of involvement, etc. Then, decide which communications will be appropriate for each group. This might mean providing differing messages and communications to various segments within your organization. Even if you choose to restart solicitations only with executives or higher-ranking individuals in the short term, make sure you continue to communicate in other ways with your remaining stakeholders as appropriate.
- Improve the quality of your communications and increase your digital/social media presence. Focus on quality over quantity – refer to the Council’s resource on “Creating an Impactful PAC Content Strategy.” As much of our professional lives have moved online, consider expanding your PAC’s digital presence and taking advantage of virtual opportunities for your political programs. Make sure you are staying compliant while engaging in PAC activities online and via social media by virtually attending the Workshop: Online and Social Media Compliance for PAC and Grassroots during COVID-19.
- Virtual programming is a great way to stay connected and deliver valuable content. Consider providing a virtual town hall to your donors or eligible population with topics such as legislative or advocacy updates, a speaker series, trivia or virtual happy hours. Many candidates and elected officials, keynote speakers and political prognosticators are eager to speak to groups and are more accessible. Don’t be afraid to try creative ways to stay connected as telework measures extend through the summer.
- Determine comfort level of all parties involved. Talk to your board, internal leadership, lobbyists and fundraisers to determine when everyone feels comfortable attending in-person events again and what safety measures can be taken to ease concerns.
- Consider switching to virtual. Candidates are extremely willing and able to facilitate virtual events, whether it is by industry, one-on-one, or with a larger group. These events encourage more participation and discussion in comparison to a traditional lunch or coffee hour.
- Adjust giving expectations for these new types of events. Virtual events cannot be expected to raise as much money as in-person gatherings, and many PACs are tightening budgets. Be open and honest with fundraisers as you work to find a solution.
- Address concerns upfront. The security of online platforms, unknown participants and privacy questions are common concerns. It is best to address them before the event starts. Once in-person events resume, communicate with attendees in advance to ensure they feel safe in the fundraiser environment and take all necessary precautions.
- Communicate openly and often. Frequently update your board or executives on the budget, fundraising predictions and all PAC activities. Get their ongoing feedback to make sure you are acting in accordance with your organization’s COVID-19 response guidelines and individual approach in mind.
- Manage expectations and adjust goals. The reality is that most PACs will not likely meet their original fundraising goals for the year. This is understandable during such trying times, but still must be communicated to adjust expectations for the next update or meeting as well as long-term planning.
- Lean on your board as a resource. Survey them for feedback to understand what your audience and community needs from you right now. Adding a personal touch to fundraising is more important than ever so that PAC members feel seen and part of a larger community. Consider beginning or enhancing a peer-to-peer strategy and begin with your board as leaders. If you are wondering where to start or want to audit your current program, review “The Key Steps to Building a Peer-to-Peer PAC Program.”
For more COVID-19 resources, articles and information please visit the Council’s COVID-19 resource page Working Through COVID-19 Together. It will be updated frequently as we continue producing more resources and content to support our profession throughout this time.