What Canadian parties can learn from the Conservative Party's fundraising success

Elections Canada released financial reports filed by all federal Canadian parties for 2011 in July, with the exception of the NDP (to be filed August 30). Graphic by Beth Hong for The Vancouver Observer.

The Conservative Party of Canada's record-breaking year for fundraising is due to their aggressive and strategic targeting of key ridings since 2004, according to a former top adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

"The Conservative Party has made a more concerted attempt since 2004 to enlist supporters systematically for each election," said Thomas Flanagan, professor of political science at the University of Calgary, conservative political strategist and pundit in an interview with The Vancouver Observer. "You have to focus on middle class ridings that are on the cusp."

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Through their sophisticated voter tracking database system (Conservative Voter Information Database), the Conservative Party tracks detailed demographic information of all households in these key ridings, such as religious background, ethnicity, and voting patterns. There are a reported 75 'middle class ridings' where the Conservatives have tracked this detailed information since 2004. 

Flanagan said that the Conservatives' tactic of persistently calling and emailing people was a key part of gaining and retaining supporters and financial donations.  

"If you do this every election as the Conservatives have done and you focus on 60 or 70 ridings, those ridings have changed to Conservative," he said. "You're going to build up millions of people who say they support you...and you fundraise from those people."

He estimated only five per cent of supporters will give money, but five per cent out of the two million on the Conservatives' calling and email lists can add up to a lot.

The Conservatives raised $22.7 million from donations, $1.09 million in membership fees and $2.1 million in “other” revenue for a total of $25.9 million, according to the party’s 2011 annual financial report on the Elections Canada website. 

Donations to Canadian political parties in 2011. *Note: The NDP will file their return by August 30, 2012. Graph by Beth Hong for the Vancouver Observer.

This is far ahead of all the other major federal parties. The Liberals rasied $9.8 million, the Greens raised $1.7 million, the Bloc Quebecois just over $1 million. The NDP's financial report will be filed by August 30.

The Liberal Party is playing catch-up with the Conservatives, using a new voter tracking software similar to the Obama 2008 election campaign which includes more sophisticated data-tracking for voters' values and engagement with the party. 

Adam J. Smith, former national director of the Liberal Party's fundraising efforts from 2010 to 2011, said that the real advantage of this database is the ability for Liberals to connect with their voters.

He said that the Liberals will continue to use this software into the 2015 election.

He also criticized the NDP and Green parties for not harnessing new technology to its fullest extent to engage voters.

The Green Party's Elizabeth May said that her party has expanded its fundraising base since 2010, and said that they are expanding their use of social media. Their strategy is to engage on a direct basis. "A lot of relatively small donations make all the difference," she said in a telephone interview with The Vancouver Observer.

Smith admitted that technology is only one part of the equation for a political party to win at the ballot box.

"You need to have a motivated volunteer base to control operations on the ground, you need fundraising dollars, and you need compelling policies." 

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