If you mention to political insiders that you're seriously considering running for office, one of the initial questions you will likely hear is: "How much money do you think you can raise?"
The reason they ask this question, is because if the answer is "Zero" or "I'm not sure" or "I don't want to fundraise," then they are probably – and correctly – going to discourage you from running. Unless you are some local sports hero, well-known TV personality, financially independent, or have obtained significant notoriety in other ways, you will need money to run a campaign to convince people to vote for you. Even if you are one of those things, you still probably need to raise money.
But most candidates do plan on raising money. They just aren't always sure how to answer the question posed above, especially if they've never raised money before.
Projecting how much you can raise is helpful for two reasons. First, if you project that you probably can't raise very much, you should probably re-evaluate your candidacy. Second, it helps you create a roadmap for turning your projection into a reality.
So how do you start?
You should start by creating a list of basically everyone you know. The definition here of "everyone you know" is basically anyone you can get ahold of via phone, e-mail, or otherwise and expect some sort of response. This will be a very large list. We will call it our "Prospective Donor List" (PDL).
I would start by looking through your phone contacts. Anyone in your contact list you have spoken with in the last 5 years can probably be included in the PDL. It's better to start this list big, so be conservative with adding people.
I would then probably go through your Facebook friends list and apply the five year rule there as well.
Do the same for your e-mail contact list. If you're feeling particular ambitious (and a tad tech-savvy), you can use plugins that allow you to extract all e-mail addresses from your inbox beyond just your contacts.
You should now have what is likely a reasonably large list.
(I should probably state that these people should all be on reasonably good terms with you, but you probably figured that part out already.)
Now, in a column next to "Name", you should create a column called "Estimated Donation."
For each name on that list, ask yourself: "If I were to call this person and ask them for money, would they say yes, and if so, what amount would they say yes to?"
If you want to be aggressive, everyone should have some sort of value. Your old neighbor who you haven't spoken to in four years ever since they moved? Imagine a hypothetical conversation with them in which you tell them how excited you are to be a candidate. If you asked them for $10, would they give it to you? $5? If you think the answer is truly zero, then put zero.
It's ultimately better to try to get something out of everyone. It shouldn't really impact the overall accuracy of your projection (unless you have thousands of those $5 friends), but once you can convince someone to invest in your campaign, they become a stakeholder. And that initial $10 may turn into $50 or $100 over time.
Meanwhile, there will be other names on the list who will hopefully be far more generous. Your wealthy uncle? He might be good for $1,000.
Your best friend since elementary school who is now a wealthy, high-powered banker? Hopefully he's down for $5,000.
You should be able to make reasonably educated guesses of what people will donate based on the strength of your relationship along with their ability to give and propensity for generosity. You may have lifelong friends who may not be able to donate much because they don't make a lot. And that's okay.
Once you go through every single name, you'll have your total. And if you've really thought through all of your relationships, it should be a number you're willing to (somewhat) put your reputation on. Because that's the answer you'll be giving them when they ask how much you can raise, and you don't want to be the person who raises $500 when you said you'd raise $20,000.
When you get to the point where you actually start asking these people for money, a funny thing happens. There will be people who you thought were basically guaranteed to give the amount you projected. And it turns out, when you call your wealthy uncle, he says he can only do $100.
(Some candidates understandably take this personally, but you should try to avoid doing so. People are funny about money, and it's probably not the best idea to re-evaluate your relationship with them based on how much they wanted to send to a political campaign, even if it's YOUR political campaign).
Then, you will call a lifelong friend who isn't very wealthy. You had them down for $100. They answer the phone and they get excited for you and volunteer to donate $1,000.
Like so many other aspects of life, some people will exceed your expectations, and some people will fall well short of them. When it comes to your fundraising, they will surprisingly cancel each other out.
More often than not, your total projection will be reasonably close, assuming you were diligent and thoughtful when building your list. You'll just get there on a much different path than you thought.
This process requires a lot of organization and diligence to organize, and you will likely have to try to contact these people several times in some cases.
But raising money from this core group of immediate supporters is what's going to give your campaign the initial oxygen it needs, and it will show more traditional political donors that you have what it takes to win.
Once you're able to maximize your own personal circles, other political donors will start to get on board, and everything begins to snowball from that point.