The NCSL Blog


By Katie Ziegler

Research about women in politics tells us there is a perception among potential female candidates that fundraising is too large of a hurdle for them to overcome and run for office. Respondents think that they will have a harder time raising money than men.

Roundtable discussion at Women's Legislative NetworkThe Women’s Legislative Network convened a group of legislators and friends at NCSL’s Capitol Forum to discuss fundraising, share ideas and learn new strategies, and support young women getting started in politics.

We were joined by former California Assemblywoman Charlene Zettel, who is now the interim CEO of the Red Cross of San Diego and a board member for California Women Lead.

California Women Lead is the state’s largest nonpartisan association of female leaders, which provides a positive environment for women to discuss issues and develop relationships across party lines.

Before the last gubernatorial election, the group collected the resumes of more than 1,000 women qualified to serve on state boards and commissions, which they then presented to Governor-Elect Jerry Brown (D). Today they are pleased to report that California’s governor-appointed state boards and commissions have a majority of women serving. Serving in an appointed position is a valuable first step to building your resume for a legislative campaign.

The group agreed that the task of raising money is still different for female candidates.

Women’s networks of friends and business contacts often look different than men’s, and may be less able to write large checks. It also can be more difficult for women to ask for contributions for themselves (as opposed to a charitable cause or for someone else).

For that reason, it is important to start laying the groundwork for your future plans as soon as you can. Recognize that people donate because of their relationship with you and because of their self-interest, and work to learn as much as you can about what motivates them as you cultivate your relationships.

The experienced legislators in the room noted how they can help women just entering politics by introducing them to donors and influencers, thus paving the way and helping them build their networks.

If you don’t have a challenger, consider still doing the work and raising funds, which you can then use to support other women (depending on the specific circumstances of your state’s rules). Supporting others is a great way to build your influence within your state, especially helpful if you are considering a leadership position.

In today’s world of social media innovations to aid fundraising, the group agreed that you still can’t overlook grassroots work. Door knocking, phone calls, endorsements, and in-person events go such a long way. Also consider the snowball effect: Ask everyone who donates to tell someone else about their support for you. If an individual can’t donate, ask them to commit in some other way: with names, signage or walking the district with you.

We had fun sharing some of the creative ideas for events the group has held or considered. Think about a concert performance with volunteer musicians, a fishing tournament, clay pigeon shooting, providing spa treatments, a cowhand cookout, or a twist on a classic: a mini golf tournament.

No matter what strategy you employ, everyone agreed, don’t forget to say thank you to your community and stay connected to your constituents.

For a refresher course on negotiation, consider picking up a copy of  “Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want,” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. 

Katie Ziegler is the program manager of NCSL's Women's Legislative Network.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.