This year, Democrats are hoping for a Blue Wave to sweep Republicans out of office, and women across the country are hoping for a Pink Wave to usher in a record number of female elected officials. But none of that will happen without a Green Wave—dolla, dolla bills yo.
And while women are running for office in record numbers, and more female donors are supporting women (and men) running for office—it’s not enough.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, we’ve seen a record-breaking 182-percent surge in female contributions to campaigns this cycle over the same period in the previous presidential. Amazing.
Despite the 182-percent increase in female donations, male donors still account for 69 percent of all contributions. Way less amazing. And unfortunately for female candidates, that gender imbalance is also reflected in their ability to fundraise, and ultimately secure a victory in November.
Many women running are running true grassroots campaigns and relying on actual small-dollar gifts—and a lot of them—to power their campaigns. (So when you receive fundraising emails written by people like me saying your $5 really matters—it really does.)
Meanwhile, so many men have the advantage of relying on political institutions (corporate, committee, and PAC dollars) to line their campaign coffers.
Take, for example, the CA-25 faceoff between Democrat Katie Hill and Rep. Steven Knight. Hill has been able to note on the trail in suburban L.A. and Ventura counties how while some 70 percent of her donations are from individuals giving less than $100, the Republican incumbent has the same share coming from PACs. Hill emerged as the Democratic nominee in June despite refusing to accept PAC money.
She’s since taken in some PAC contributions, including $10,000 from Equality PAC, which has helped Hill outraise Knight by some $750,000 as of the last quarter. Still, many female candidates this cycle are sticking to pledges not to take corporate or PAC money, which creates an added hurdle.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a great talking point. What better motivator to voters and small-dollar donors than to say: “This campaign isn’t being bought and paid for by special interests.” The only problem is, will ignoring those donations be worth it if the campaign runs out of cash in October?
And then there’s the problem of access. Even if a female candidate wants to accept corporate and institutional money, chances are, they don’t have access to the types of networks men have. Enter female giving circles.
These networks of female major donors, largely supported by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, are trying to change the narrative around female access to campaign funds. But while these emerging giving circles are hitting the ground running, it’s hard to imagine they can offset decades of law firm happy hours and golf tee times that male candidates rely on to broker funding deals.
Which means it’s more important than ever that women cast the widest net for donors and donations—and that can only happen if female candidates use their resources wisely. One of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck is to invest in a diverse digital program. With digital, you can raise name recognition, fundraise, persuade voters, and do a GOTV push at a fraction of the cost of TV, and with far more accuracy.
But while a smartly run digital program can mean the difference between a W and a “we did our best” on election night, it’s important to remember that blowing up and “going viral” online is the exception and not the rule. We can’t all be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or MJ Hegar.
For women who haven’t built a massive organic following and don’t have the funds to build an audience, or a massive email list, build your network strategically—online and off.
If a major donor can’t max out, can they connect you with folks who could help build your email list via loan, swap, or joint action? Is there another candidate running in a nearby district that will host a joint event or fundraiser with you? Can you start a giving circle of your own to not only help your campaign, but foster goodwill for other candidates who will come after you?
With just over two months to go, every day, and every dollar matters, especially for our female candidates. If Democrats want to see a Pink Wave in November, we better hope that in the next 60-ish days donors send a Green Wave their way.
Cheryl Hori is the founder of Pacific Campaign House, a progressive digital campaign firm.