PAC Award Winners Reimagine Fundraising
Early last year, International Paper spun off its North American Consumer Packaging business, with serious consequences for IP-PAC, the parent company’s political action committee. IP-PAC would lose a significant number of members who were contributing a combined $40,000 a year.
Meanwhile, something else was happening in the broader culture that also convinced the IP-PAC board to change its approach. “In the current political environment, we began to realize the levels of cynicism and divisiveness that were evident in any discussion of politics,” says Meaghan Joyce, International Paper’s political affairs manager. “We knew then and there that — considering the loss of all those contributions resulting from the transfer of employees — we were going to have to talk differently about the PAC. That was necessary if only to get and keep people’s attention.”
Joyce and her colleagues were determined to frame their appeals in more engaging ways. Adopting a fresher approach, they not only made up for the losses but saw contributions increase. For their efforts, they won for International Paper the 2019 Outstanding PAC Award in the Corporate category. The winner in the Association category is the Orthopaedic PAC, the political arm of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The finalists and winners were recognized at the Council’s National PAC Conference in early March in Miami.
For most of its history, the Orthopaedic PAC relied heavily on telefundraising efforts. “Then we started to see a sharp decline over the past couple of years,” says Stacie Monroe, the association’s senior director for political affairs. “Traditionally 50 percent of our dollars came from telefundraising, but it had become less of a revenue stream. We knew we had to create new fundraising mechanisms.”
To that end, Monroe and her team — with a very small budget — shifted to a peer-to-peer focus. They enlisted the PAC’s most enthusiastic members to appeal to their colleagues to join and contribute. “Rather than reaching out by phone or email, we asked them to do so at events already designed for that purpose and at their many professional society meetings,” says Monroe.
Orthopaedic surgeons tend to be subspecialized. There are more than 20 orthopaedic subspecialties; surgeons might be hand or foot surgeons, trauma or pediatric surgeons. That means they belong to an array of professional organizations and attend many educational courses throughout the year.
A Deeper Penetration
“Fortunately, our PAC is also the PAC for all of those different societies and organizations,” Monroe says. “We go to their meetings as representatives of the entire specialty and can make our appeals with our PAC champions, who then follow up with personal asks. Our goal was to achieve a deeper penetration at these different meetings, and we also wanted to empower our physicians to do the fundraising themselves.”
With that in mind, they equipped their Capitol Club members — meaning those who give at least $1,000 a year — with Orthopaedic PAC Black Cards, made to resemble elite black credit cards. Embedded in the card is a USB attachment loaded with Ortho PAC materials, which include a slide deck and mobile-giving information. “We challenged each state to ‘black out the map,’” Monroe says. “Each state that raised more than $100,000 or had a 21 percent or higher participation rate was colored black on our state map, which was updated online and in our quarterly newsletters.”
The team also rolled out a mobile platform for real-time fundraising. “Before that, we relied on direct mailers and asking members to go to the website, but we’d lose some of them in the process,” Monroe says. “Of course, we still accept checks that are mailed in, but now members can simply scan their credit card in real time.”
And the results?
The PAC raised a record $4 million in 2018. Contributions are up 14 percent over the prior election cycle. On the mobile platform alone, peer-to-peer contributions increased 68 percent. Including mobile, website and checks sent through the mail, receipts are up 15 percent.
And the budget?
“The only real expense was $5 for each of the Orthopaedic PAC Black Cards,” Monroe says. “The cost for the whole campaign, not counting staff time, was only $5,000. Again, that’s because we have our members doing the fundraising in person, peer to peer.”
International Paper’s efforts were similarly successful.
Relying on what Joyce calls a more “conversational” approach, IP-PAC made its first major appeal to employees a year ago at an informal lunch at the company’s Memphis, Tennessee, headquarters. “We got away from doing boring PowerPoint presentations and written materials, and we opted for a town hall format with our CEO,” Joyce says. “We salted the crowd with a few PAC champions who had been encouraged to ask tough questions, and then we opened it up for a discussion. What surprised us was the way other people in the audience — not just the champions — began to ask really detailed questions about the PAC.
“We’re used to inquiries about policy, but these people were getting into matters of process, of how we decide who we will support. This was encouraging because it showed how interested people were. They really got into the weeds, and while we were prepared to answer those questions, we weren’t really expecting it.”
In the last week of the campaign, IP-PAC hosted a PAC Carnival, with board members and PAC champions staffing the booths. Games included Member Benefit Ring Toss, a PAC Match Wheel and (are you ready for this?) Pin the PAC Support on the Candidate.
The games were designed to start conversations and, by all evidence, they did. “We signed up 250 new members and raised $1.7 million for the two-year election cycle,” Joyce says. “That means we made up for the $40,000 we lost when the company spun off its North American Consumer Packaging business, and added another $40,000. That’s gratifying.”
“Every year, PAC managers and PAC boards take increasingly original and compelling approaches to their work,” says Kristin Brackemyre, the Council’s senior manager, PAC and advocacy practice. “We love seeing the creative programs they develop and then how effectively they execute them. Orthopaedic PAC and IP-PAC continue the long tradition of demonstrating excellence in tackling challenges with innovative solutions.”
In addition to the winners, finalists in the Association category were the American Chemistry Council and the National Electrical Contractors Association. Finalists in the Corporate category were Corning and Marathon Oil.