In early 1997, I had recently moved to Washington, DC and incorporated NGP Software, Inc. I was looking around for work for my one-person firm that might help Democrats win elections. I had a degree in computer science and some professional programming experience; I was working on a doctorate in Political Science; and I had designed and built—for other companies—two pieces of political software that were fairly successful in the early 1990s. I had some ambitious ideas about statistics, political mapping, data management, and high-level political analysis that I wanted to pursue.
When I looked around, however, I found real needs that were a lot more mundane than my more lofty ideas. I met with a number of the fundraisers and learned about how Democratic fundraising firms ran their businesses. Each company or consultant was different, but they were all dedicated people who were very accomplished in this, their chosen field. The fundraisers had varying degrees of technical sophistication, and, as small firms, fairly limited budgets with which to invest in technology solutions.
I spoke with Dolly Angle very early on in the process. She is a fundraising consultant who had been Martin Frost’s chief of staff and had had prior involvement with a campaign software firm with which I was familiar. Dolly became a friend and helped me a great deal in understanding who was who in the Democratic fundraising world. She introduced me to a number of people who were very helpful in those early days. I am very grateful to her for her generosity.
I also met with Mike Fraioli, a long-time pro in political fundraising. Mike had a thriving practice with a lot of Democratic members of the U.S. House. His firm used a custom Clipper-based database management system that had some inefficiencies, but was the best that I found out there at the time. I evaluated whether I could modify it for him, but found no source code. His $100 check for that one hour of work was actually the first that I cashed for NGP. We did not start working with Fraioli, Inc. until four years later, after a number of his clients started using our campaign software and we had proven ourselves to him.
In June of 1997, I met with Tina Stoll and Peter Sherman of Campaign Finance Consultants. They were truly wonderful to me and I wish I saw as much of them today as I did back then. Tina and Peter have helped many Democratic U.S. Senators and some members of the U.S. House of Representatives raise money for their elections. I did some work upgrading the computers and the networking in their office. I discovered that they were managing their data with WordPerfect, and I could see ways to improve that, so I came back to them in the fall of 1997 with an Access database designed to manage fundraising for multiple clients, and converted all of their data to that format.
Also in the Fall of 1997, I heard that Bob Doyle and Rob Kassir were starting up a new Democratic fundraising firm on the House side called Sutter’s Mill Fundraising and Strategy. They knew that they needed a database and someone at the DCCC had told them about me. Bob and Rob had particular needs and desires and I built them a custom solution. It had the special features they wanted as well as the features of what became our core product. Sutter’s Mill takes great care with their data management and I consider their database as a model of how to use it.
Later that fall, I was able to follow a similar path with Jo Vincent and Sarah Nealley of Assets Consulting -- super nice people. Jo and Sarah worked with a number of U.S. Senators on their PAC fundraising and events. I helped them with their computer and network needs and soon got them converted to my fundraising database.
And so it went with Democratic fundraising consultants. I made almost no money that year and my work was not technically glamorous or cutting edge. But I am confident that, over time, my company made a real difference in helping to increase the efficiency and sophistication in the database management of those firms. My willingness to address real needs, rather than produce a tool that I wanted to build but could not sell, did well for us in the long run.
Eight years later, NGP works with a lot of fundraising consultants. I love it now when I find another Democratic fundraising firm somewhere in the United States that is willing to consider working with us, because I know that we can be helpful. I also know that the kind people who run those firms gave my company its gentle start, its first important introductions to the political technology world, and helped us lay the groundwork for future successes.