PAC Award Winners Meet Challenges With Heart and Tech Know-How
If you think your life changed about this time last year, imagine what it was like for anesthesiologists. They don’t just put you to “sleep” and manage your pain during surgery. These physicians also supervise patient care before, during and after surgery.
They also have special training in taking care of very sick patients in intensive care units (ICU). So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and restrictions of all kinds followed, their focus of their work suddenly shifted, and the conditions under which they do their jobs became vastly more complicated.
“The pressures our members were under became much more intense,” says Nora Matus, director of congressional and political affairs for the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). “This was a time when they needed to hunker down, and the last thing we wanted to do, as their professional association, was to get in the way of their care for their patients or take their attention from those responsibilities.”
And for that reason, the American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC (ASAPAC), which Matus manages, put its customary fundraising program on hold.
But with the passage of time, conditions changed again, and PAC activities could resume. The results of ASAPAC’s new efforts were impressive enough to win the Council’s 2021 Outstanding PAC Award in the Association category.
The winner in the Corporate category is Dell PAC, the campaign arm of Dell Technologies. The winners and finalists were recognized at the Council’s National PAC Conference in late February.
“Between the postponement of fundraising campaigns because of COVID and corporate decisions to pause political contributions after the events of Jan. 6, this has been an incredibly challenging year for many PACs,” said Council President Doug Pinkham. “And yet, we still saw many companies and associations come up with innovative ways to bolster support for their PACs. That’s why we’re especially proud to present our awards this year.”
Many of ASA’s members have small practices. They had to shift their work dramatically when COVID hit and were no longer doing some of their routine work, causing their earnings to drop off significantly.
Some of them were struggling to keep their practices going and their team employed, and “some didn’t take a salary for weeks and even months,” Matus says.
But by mid-summer, the anesthesiologists were beginning to tell the PAC board they might be ready to find the time and energy to think about their profession’s policy needs again. “They actually urged us to get active again,” Matus says. “Now ordinarily, our fundraising is highly competitive. Our members enjoy the competition. But this year, it seemed that a different approach was called for — one that emphasized a theme of ‘Shared Sacrifice, Resilience, and Coming Together.’ We wanted to make this effort about cooperation, not competition, and about giving at whatever level the member felt comfortable with.”
The PAC board also realized that not all of its members were in a position to contribute as generously — or competitively—as they had in years past, or as they might like this time around. “But there was definitely a desire to get our fundraising activities going again,” Matus says.
So, activities resumed on August 26, but with a somewhat different spirit. The PAC hosted a Day of Participation, with a Zoom webinar with three panels — including members and anesthesiologists who hold elective office — and, according to Matus, “several hundred people were on the call.”
The webinar reflected the substantive shift the association had made in its efforts to help members throughout the pandemic. The D.C. team, which ordinarily directed PAC-related activities, stepped back and took direction where possible from the physicians themselves. “The physicians explained what they needed to weather the storm, and we stepped in to help,” Matus says. “The D.C. office turned its attention to COVID economic relief. While ASA leaders provided clinical expertise to the administration, at the staff level we connected our members to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Small Business Administration to obtain grant money to get them through the lean times brought on by the cancellation of elective procedures and the continued decline in surgical volume.”
The Day of Participation provided an opportunity for members to discuss what they had experienced and also learn about political initiatives undertaken to provide relief to their small businesses. In one of the calls, a PAC board member interviewed female anesthesiologists who are current office holders or who are candidates for office.
Then, over the next 24 hours, ASAPAC raised more than a million dollars — $1,006,975, to be exact. “The lesson for us and, I hope, for other PACs in a situation like this,” Matus says, “is that with a thoughtful and strategic emphasis on participation and a sense of community among donors, the dollar figures should take care of themselves.”
When Daniel Walsh took over Dell Technologies Inc. PAC after two years with the company’s community involvement programs, he had, in his own words, “no experience with political campaigns or with PACs.” Besides that, the only communications professional who had worked on the PAC — and only as part of her larger responsibilities — left the company and was replaced with someone who also had no previous PAC experience.
Do More with Less
“All this happened at the same time that the pandemic hit — and at the same time we got a directive from the C-suite,” says Walsh, Dell’s political director. “Dell is a tech company, we were told, so we needed to use technology to make our PAC program succeed.”
These were significant challenges, not least because Dell’s PAC fundraising had always been what Walsh calls a “face-to-face program. At one point, I was spending so much time on the tech side that I had to go to my boss to talk about how I could do that and devote more time to our events. We were having 10 to 15 events a year at that point.”
To address all of these concerns, Dell PAC partnered with DDC Public Affairs, Dell HR data scientists, and Dell Legal Operations to create an interactive, automated dashboard that tracks its PAC financials, contributors to the PAC, eligibles information and contributions by member and by state.
Although the dashboard does not track employees’ personal data, such as race, gender or sexual orientation, the PAC has also partnered with the company’s Diversity and Inclusion team and its Employee Resources Groups (ERG) to host co-branded events. (Massachusetts has been identified, for example, as a location with a substantial Pride group and worked with the Pride ERG to bring the co-chairs of the Equality PAC for a roundtable.)
“Thanks to the dashboard, we’re now able to better identify what our team members are interested in and who they’d like to hear from, so we can create relevant events for them,” Walsh says.
The results have been impressive. Since the dashboard’s rollout at the start of the 2019-2020 election cycle, Dell PAC has increased its receipts by 62% and its membership by 25%. “We’ve also doubled the number of PAC events, from 17 to 36,” Walsh says.
And Walsh has high hopes for what it will mean in the immediate future. “We’re now beta testing an app based on the dashboard, so when I am going to an event, I’ll be able to see how much we gave to each candidate, how many people are in the district — all that data we’ve been developing for the dashboard. We hope to go live with the app in the next few months, and that should kick things up another notch altogether. I’m very optimistic.”
The Outstanding PAC Awards are presented annually at the National PAC Conference. Winners are invited to present their campaigns during a special conference session. Could your organization be a future winner? Learn more.
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