Copyright © 2013 Dean Allen
The first week in February I was invited to accompany a prominent national tea party leader to Washington, D.C. for a school on Campaign Management. To be honest, I consider myself an expert on the subject and did not think there would be much I could learn. I agreed to go anyway for two reasons. Any political activist worth his salt knows the immense value of networking. There would be 100 students and 25 faculty members from all over the USA.
My other reason for agreeing to go was the reputation of the sponsoring organization, the Leadership Institute. As an alumni of a two day course the L. I. taught here in 2007, I wanted to visit the national headquarters, actually in the D.C. suburb of Arlington, VA, and see the operation first hand.
When you participate in a school at Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute, they only expect you to work a half a day. . . and they do not care which twelve hours it is! We were in class slightly before 9:00 AM and rarely got out of class before 9:00 PM, taking our meals in the classroom. On Wednesdays L. I. has a special breakfast program featuring some prominent conservative speaker. Thus on Wednesday we started at 7:30 AM. The Leadership Institute does far more than merely teach the nuts and bolts of politics; it is one of the iconic inner sanctums of the conservative movement. As an organization exempt from federal income taxation pursuant to § 501 (c)(3) of the IRS code, they are absolutely non partisan, but make no bones about being unabashedly conservative.
I have completed quite a few seminars over the last several decades and taught dozens of others myself. I have a lot of experience with public speaking and training people, most recently as the Brigade S-3 officer in the South Carolina State Guard for three years. I am well qualified to evaluate training methods and instructors. I was highly impressed with the Leadership Institute. Each staffer had a well defined role, had obviously rehearsed it, and the whole operation worked as smoothly as a fine watch.
I have dozens of friends who share my deep concerns for the future of our republic, we frequently talk politics. There is a clear difference when you listen to an experienced professional who does politics for a living. This was the faculty at L. I.
A very effective pedagogic method is to relate information about real campaigns that illustrates a particular subject or method. Hearing these inside stories from real campaigns of conservative candidates all over the country is fascinating. You become a vicarious part of those campaigns. I ended the week with 102 pages of hand written notes. I will not attempt to summarize the material presented, other than to say it covered every phase of a campaign from thinking about starting, all the way through to the victory party on election night.
For the better part of a week we were completely immersed in the political process and surrounded by like minded conservatives. Since 1979 the Leadership Institute has trained about 120,000 conservative activists. Many of those L.I. alumni have gone on to become elected officials, serving in congress, state legislatures, and even in the parliaments of 13 foreign countries! The hallways inside the Stephen P. J. Wood building are adorned with the photo’s of many of those graduates who are now public servants. Thousands of other L.I. grads have gone on to become full time campaign professionals or have joined the staff of various elected officials, conservative think tanks, and non-profit organizations. L.I. has its own unique culture that must be experienced to be understood.
The quality of all the people at L. I. is outstanding but several of these really stood out for various reasons. One of these was Stephen Sutton who taught some excellent classes and related a number of interesting stories about campaigns he has worked on. That’s not why he stood out. After each hour of instruction, we took a short break. The classrooms are on the third floor of the five story Stephen P. J. Wood building. When you get off the elevator on the 3rd floor there is a reception area dominated by a large wooden table.
Mr. Sutton places stacks of books by various well known conservative authors on that table. He encouraged each student to take any title he wanted, and as many copies of any particular title as the student wanted. I thought about gleefully shouting “Free books!” but as a conservative who understands economics, I knew nothing is ever free. One of the young Ron Paul supporters in our class explained the concept very well. He said “When someone gets something he did not pay for; someone else has to pay for something he did not get.” That about sums it up. So, how does the Leadership Institute give away free books?
L. I. classes are a very good value for the nominal cost involved. In addition to being exposed to 25 or more very sharp faculty members, the school includes your meals. Great if you like Chic-Fil-A or pizza. Also included is rather spartan housing in the basement of the Stephen P. J. Wood Building. That saves us out of town students the expense of a hotel room which I am told in considerable all over the Washington, D.C. area.
The Leadership Institute is able to provide so much value at modest prices because most of the faculty are unpaid volunteers, several of whom are L.I. alumni themselves. L. I. also has a broad base of financial support from thousands of donors all over America and the world. I am writing this blog, at least in part, to send a very sincere thank you to those faculty members who have enriched my life and those donors whom I will probably never meet.
In any event, Stephen Sutton became my instant buddy once I discovered he gave away books at no additional cost to me. It gets even better. There was a book about the tea party movement, written by former Congressman Dick Armey. Stephen Sutton said take as many copies of that book as you want. We will give you all the copies you ask for. Several students took stacks of the book. I took two cases of the book. Not to be outdone, the tea party leader traveling with me took three cases.
The Campaign Management School is a 12 hour a day intensive seminar, but it is also much more. It was really 24 hour a day immersion in the subject because I lived with the other students in quarters that resembled a military barracks, including a day room, and common shared latrines. (Bathrooms for you civilians.) We spent every waking hour together, quickly forming lasting friendships. When you take the course, which I strongly recommend, bring a big stack of your business cards and plan to leave with those of 100 or so new friends.
The course included a couple of hours from several different speakers who owned direct mail companies and explained how direct mail solicitations work. We have all received direct mail solicitations. Did you ever wonder why they are all written in a similar manner? We had dozens of questions about every aspect of a direct mail appeal. Each time we asked how something worked, we were told basically “I have no idea how it works, we just know it does.” We asked how you knew this or that particular thing worked? We got the same answer over and over “Because we tested it.” One of the keys to effective direct mail is constant testing.
There is an old axiom, money is the mother’s milk of politics, nothing is harder than raising money. . . or more important. L. I. offers a wide variety of training courses. The first week in March I was back in Arlington, VA for the very intense four day Comprehensive Fund raising School.
This time there were no free books but I was renewing old friendships with other students, faculty, employees and interns. There were also a lot of new students and additional faculty members.
The fund raising school follows a dual track. Some methods are oriented to raising money for non-profit organizations, while the other portion was devoted to political campaign fund raising. The political money is tougher to raise. There are contribution limits on who may give, how much they may give, and it must be done in a much shorter period of time, a year or less – sometimes in just a few months. It is also more difficult to raise money for a challenger; particularly a challenger who is opposing an incumbent in a GOP primary.
Organizational fund raising has a lot of similarities to political fund raising There are two big differences, there is no time limit on funding an organization. Your goal is to develop relationships with the donors supporting your cause. Then deepen and strengthen those relationships on an ongoing basis over the rest of your lifetime. In some cases those relationships will end only when the donor has left a portion of his estate to your cause at the time of his death.
The other big difference is the ability of non-profit organizations to do prospecting to build a house list. A political campaign cannot afford to do any mailing that does not immediately bring in more than it cost to send out. Organizations, on the other hand, may prospect getting donations, but possibly not enough donations, to cover the entire cost of sending out the appeal. The L. I. faculty explained, those who contribute to your cause become part of the growing house list of your organization.
You prospect to grow this house list. Then you will mail to this house list, usually several times a year, for the lifetime of the donors on the list. Over time, those donors will make repeated contributions and as your relationship develops with them, the dollar amounts of those donations will also increase. Organizations have years to develop those relationships where political campaigns do not.
As someone who has made donations to candidates and causes over a lifetime, and raised funds for them, I am fascinated with every aspect of political direct mail. It was interesting to see 50 or more examples of various direct mail appeals that have been sent out over the years – and to speak with the folks who actually wrote and used those appeals. It was great to be able to ask questions of someone who has raised millions of dollars for candidates and causes just like those I support.
Other fund raising methods were covered in detail as well, including various Internet based methods, and staging political events. My own interest is focused like a laser right now on political direct mail. Once again, one faculty member stood out from all the others who were very good. She was Mrs. Tammy Cali, the Chief Operating Officer at Bruce Eberle & Associates. Eberle has a client list that runs from Ronald Reagan to Herman Cain. They have raised over three billion dollars for conservative candidates and causes in the last thirty years.
I sat on the front row, took notes – lots of notes – and asked questions. . . uh huh, lots of questions. Then after class, I followed up with instructors asking even more questions in private. I had a strong interest in Eberle & Associates. Since they are one of the oldest and clearly the most successful, I had to know all about how they operated. Tammy Cali suggested I attend the International School of Fund raising two weeks later in London, England. This was in part because the owner of the company, Mr. Bruce Eberly and his wife would each be teaching at that international school. I liked the idea but did not have the slightest idea how I would get to England, I had done well to come to Arlington, VA twice in as many months. I did have a burning desire to know more about fund raising.
The last speaker of the school in Arlington was Mr. Miguel Moreno, who heads up the International Division of the Leadership Institute. He spoke with just the slightest hint of an Hispanic accent that told me English was not his native tongue even though his English was flawless. Miguel described the International Fund raising School. He covered the impressive resumes of the faculty, and painted a glowing picture of the campus of Wellington College outside London, England. Fund raising is not simply an academic exercise for me or for the L. I. faculty. I told Mr. Moreno I wanted to attend some day. He informed me that “some day” would be in two weeks and it was possible for me to attend, in part because of a generous scholarship I had just been awarded on the spot. With a deal like that, I committed to use my new fund raising skills and raised the money for my trip – thanks in part to the generous assistance of some donors here in South Carolina.
I am deeply grateful to Miguel Moreno and to the donors, both L.I.’s and my own, who made my participation in the International School of Fund raising possible. Morton Blackwell is noted for saying “You can’t save the world if you can’t first pay the rent.” The Leadership Institute has taught me that lack of money is simply a lack of being organized and a lack of asking for the right things, at the right time, in the right manner, and from the right people.
Unless you are independently wealthy, there is no more important skill than political fund raising The last week in March, I was off to merry old England for the International School of Fund raising
Harry Potter fans will be delighted to know, there is a very real Hogwarts. . . it is Wellington College, about thirty miles southwest of London, England. Established in 1859 by Queen Victoria, the college is named in honor of Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington. The Iron Duke as he was known, rose through the ranks to become the youngest non-royal Field Marshall in the British Army by 1813, at the age of 44. Commanding British, Dutch and German forces, he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and was subsequently twice the Prime Minister of England.
Wellington College was established to educate the orphans of British officers killed in combat. Many of these went on to the nearby Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst – the British equivalent of our West Point. Eventually Wellington College became an exclusive, that is to say expensive, boarding school for the sons of the British upper class. In 2005 it became fully co-educational.
The International Fund raising School has been held annually at Wellington for the past five years. If you have never been to Wellington College. . . put it on your bucket list! If you are passionate about art, sculpture, history, architecture, landscaping, culture or politics, you will not be disappointed.
I missed the coke machine and the Chic-Fil-A available at the Wood building in Arlington, the quarters at Wellington were better and the English food was interesting and plentiful. The lights in the bathrooms were activated by motion detectors and there were no light switches. That was really nice except for those occasions when you were in the middle of a shower and the lights went off. I can also assure my gentle readers Global Warming definitely has not yet reached England. I left Wellington College on April first and there was still some unmelted snow on the ground.
The Leadership Institute once again brought together an impressive student body from 24 countries, including about a dozen who were Members of Parliament from their respective countries. I met an English lawyer who specializes in defending what we in the United States would call First Amendment rights. He assured me the English do not enjoy this right we take for granted. I met the newly elected president of Conservative Future. With over 15,000 members, Conservative Future, the youth organization of the Conservative Party is the largest youth organization in the country.
One young lady at the conference explained she worked in a public library in Kazakhstan. I donated a copy of my book Rattlesnake Revolution to that library. The young man who translated the presentations into Spanish in real time is originally from Peru, we are now friends. A lawyer who fights corruption in Lagos, Nigeria, took home a copy of my book, we are now friends. Other students were with non-profit charitable organizations and ministries. These included pro-life organizations in six countries.
I met a man who is a principal in a major New York public relations firm. When I gave him a copy of my book over lunch, I had no idea he specialized in marketing and promotion of conservative authors. He is now working hard to make me a celebrity and my books best sellers.
The faculty was as impressive as the student body. I have already mentioned Bruce Eberle. Others included the former chairman of the California Republican Party; and, of course, there was Morton Blackwell. Morton teaches a class very few people in the world are able to teach. In just under two hours, he can show you how to create and use a fund raising appeal that is guaranteed to work. This is from a man who has raised over a hundred million dollars during his lifetime. Rather than summarize his presentation and fail to do it justice; I simply recommend you attend the school.
I titled this essay Hogwarts for Politics for a reason. When I read the very first Harry Potter novel years ago, I was amazed at the fertile imagination of author J. K. Rowling. Among other innovations were the four houses at Hogwarts. Once I took the grand tour of Wellington College, I realized the college was indeed divided into houses. Only there were not four houses at Wellington, there are seventeen!
Upon entering the campus to register we pass through a huge gate covered by an archway. This leads to an ornate courtyard, or quadrangle, about half the size of a football field. There you are surrounded on all sides by busts, statues, portraits and even a few Gargoyles. Crossing this courtyard, you enter the Great Hall, which is part of the original 1859 construction. Inside the Great Hall are several giant oil paintings including one of the Duke of Wellington leading troops at Waterloo. There are portraits of a dozen famous generals and a few prime ministers all either with connections to the Iron Duke, or to the college.
Directly across from the main entrance on the far wall is a large display case containing the actual black cape Wellington wore at Waterloo and the sword he carried. There was another feature of the decorations in the great hall that was not immediately understood. There were huge wooden doors attached to the walls at intervals. Each pair of these doors were considerably larger than a regular door to enter a room. Each bore the name in gilded letters of one of the houses at Wellington College.
I opened several of these pairs of doors to see what was behind them. I saw they covered posters listing the names of some of the alumni from those houses. Each name was followed by a date such as 1912 or 1935. There was nothing to tell me about those names so I closed the doors, finished my registration and proceeded to my quarters. There was no Sorting Hat but the powers that be had put me in the Orange house for the duration of my stay. Orange was a modern structure built in the 1970′s. The meaning of those names on the walls in the Great Hall would be explained to me later.
I learned each of those names, almost 1,000 in all, were the alumni of that particular house at Wellington who were killed in WW II. I was stunned there were so many. The date after each name was the year he graduated from Wellington and some of them were quite young. Not all the deaths were on far away battlefields in France, Germany or North Africa. Wellington College was bombed by the Germans several times during WW II and the Headmaster was killed in one of those air raids. He had just led a group of students to the safety of a bomb shelter, and was heading back across the campus when he was killed.
I have been a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for forty-four years, three of those as the elected Grand (state) Chaplain for South Carolina. I have participated in numerous Veterans Day memorial services over those 44 years on November 11th. I was reminded at Wellington, November 11th is not an exclusively American holiday. Our British cousins continue to solemnly commemorate Armistice Day too. I was told one of the most impressive of these memorial services is held at Wellington College. I hope to be able to attend one of those services in the future.
Our classroom most of the time was a converted gymnasium where we sat behind long tables. The faculty stood on a raised stage at the far end of the gym. I soon fell in the habit of drinking two and sometimes three 750 ML bottles of Glenlivit each day. A friend asked how I could drink three bottles of Glenlivit a day and still function? Glenlivit does distill some of the best single malt scotch on the planet. My friend was unaware Glenlivit also sells water, and sparkling water, in bottles very similar to those that hold their good whiskey. As I said, the Leadership institute culture must be experienced to be appreciated.
We had students and faculty from four continents, most of the folks in the room learned English as a second language and we were in a foreign country. In spite of these things the school was conducted in English with Spanish translations available for anyone who wanted to wear the earphones provided.
More importantly American political regulations and tax laws have driven and shaped how fund raising grew to maturity in the USA. In much of the rest of the world our tradition of private fund raising for charitable causes never developed. Many countries in Latin America do not have home delivery of mail, which would present quite a challenge to an American style direct mail campaign.
What fund raising professionals have found to work in every culture and in any language is having a clear and defined mission, a detailed budget, qualified management, transparency and accountability that measures the result achieved. Those principles apply all over the world. So too do basics like asking for the money and thanking and acknowledging donors.
The weather was cold, I was told unseasonably cold. Wellington College did not waste a lot of money heating buildings, jet lag is tough on us middle aged folks, and long hours, day after day, are hard work. This was definitely no vacation – all that said, this was one of the most informative seminars I have ever attended. I learned a huge amount about the fine points of high dollar fund raising.
I will definitely be back at Wellington College next year. I now know how to raise money and I have already obtained some clients. Yes, Harry Potter fans, Hogworts is very real. . . the last week in March each year, very real magic happens within its hallowed halls.