New research from the Public Affairs Council finds that association political action committees are more effective when staff and board leadership fully embrace their fundraising roles.
If you want your association’s political action committee to make the greatest possible impact, you’ll need the full commitment of board and staff leaders to act as champions and fundraisers, according to the Public Affairs Council’s biennial study of what makes association PACs successful.
According to the 2019 Association PAC Benchmarking Report [membership required], engaged leaders both boost a PAC’s visibility and increase its fundraising capabilities. “PAC involvement by association senior staff executives, association board members, and the member leader, such as the PAC board chair or elected president, remains crucial to the success of the PAC,” the report states.
The 81 associations that responded to the survey included both individual membership societies and trade organizations. Their responses covered federal PAC activities and receipts during the 2017-2018 election cycle.
Respondents said their staff executives most often engaged by attending PAC events (77 percent), making formal endorsement of the PAC (70 percent), signing or sending solicitations (57 percent), and soliciting the board (52 percent). These were the top four activities for volunteer leaders as well.
Boards members are also key donors, funding roughly a fifth (19 percent) of the average association’s PAC. About half of board leaders contributed the maximum amount allowed by law. And 59 percent of respondents identified peer-to-peer fundraising by volunteers as the most effective form of solicitation.
“PAC size makes a difference in peer-to-peer solicitors,” the report notes. “The median size of an association PAC using peer-to-peer solicitors was just over $1.1 million compared to $276,319 for associations that do not engage in peer-to-peer.”
Other key findings:
Super PAC participation is rare. Only 6 percent of respondents said their association contributed to a super PAC in the 2018 election cycle, and 63 percent said it had never contributed to one. Sixteen percent said their organization has a policy that prohibits super PAC contributions.
PAC resources are lean. Even though funding targets are rising, staffing has remained the same for the past three election cycles, according to the report. The average PAC continues to operate with one dedicated professional staff member and half an administrative staff member, often assisted by outside vendors and consultants. In addition to facilitating donor engagement, PAC managers are involved in get-out-the-vote activities, political education, and ensuring transparency about the association’s political initiatives.
“In the absence of higher staffing levels and larger budgets, PAC professionals need to continue to improve management practices, incentivize engagement, gain and leverage the support of association leadership, and activate volunteers across the organization to grow and strengthen their political programs,” the report says.